27 April 2015

Homily for Easter 4 - Jubilate

"Christian Joy"
John 16:16-22

Listen here.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus had gathered His disciples together on the night when He was betrayed into the hands of sinners. He knew that in a matter of hours He would be brutally executed on a cross. His disciples were filled with sorrow. So He comforted them. And just as He comforted His disciples in our Gospel reading, He also comforts you now with the very same words: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn. 16:22).

So, dear Christians, where is your joy? Where is that sheer delight in being raised with Christ, being forgiven in Christ, and living the holy, perfect life that He gives you in His water, His words, and His meal?

Friedrich Nietzsche lived from 1844 to 1900. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor as well as a German philosopher. Nietzsche developed a very bitter, anti-Christian, atheistic philosophy. He viewed Christianity as stain on the history of humankind. Hermann Sasse said this about Nietzsche: “His desperate destitution and loneliness is the loneliness of the modern man” (Sasse, The Lonely Way, I.70).

Yet we Christians can learn something from this bitter, unbelieving philosopher. Here’s one thing Nietzsche said to Christians: “You must sing me a better song so that I learn to believe in your Redeemer; Why are his disciples so joyless in their salvation?” (Sasse, The Lonely Way, I.70). So, dear Christians, where is your joy?

Today we have a good, God-given answer to Nietzsche. As Psalm 66(:1) says, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth.” That’s where today gets it’s name: Jubilate - “Rejoice! Sunday.” Why make a joyful shout to God? Why rejoice? Because of God’s great Easter victory! In Jesus Christ, God has conquered death. He has restored all of His creation. He has given new life and new meaning in life. It’s something to shout about. It gives great joy, great delight. And, as lonely, bitter Nietzsche reminds us, it’s what the world needs to hear: CHRISTIAN JOY.

So, dear Christians, where’s your joy? Where is that sheer delight in being raised with Christ, being forgiven in Christ, and living the holy, perfect life that He gives you in His water, His words, and His meal?

Perhaps it’s hiding. Perhaps your joy is hiding under the sheer burdensome weight of worldly sorrow. The disciples were weighed down with sorrow. Their Lord was leaving them. What would they do? How would they survive life in a hostile world? You see, they’re not that different from us. Nor are we that different from them.

Each of us has personal sorrows, to be sure. Perhaps it’s family turmoil, a son or daughter who just won’t listen and obey, or a parent who just doesn’t seem to understand. Perhaps it’s stress at work; the boss never seems satisfied; you feel like you can never do your job well enough. Perhaps it’s illness—physical illness, such as cancer or arthritis, or mental illness, such as depression. Perhaps it’s the loss of a loved one—and that sorrow never seems to go away completely. Perhaps it’s trouble paying the bills, or losing those few extra pounds. We have our sorrows.

And nature around us brings many sorrows too. Thunderstorms, tornadoes, and earthquakes remind us how small we really are. We’d love to be in control of life and nature, even figure out the path of the tornado or hurricane, or when an earthquake will hit, so that we can avoid the damage and loss of life. But when the natural disasters strike, we get a wake up call. We are pretty small compared to the ominous, dark, green clouds, the high-voltage lightning strikes, and the powerful, rumbling earth. Yes, we have our sorrows.

But the greater sorrow comes in how the unbelieving world treats Christ and His Christians. Christ was crucified because people did not like it that they were wrong and He was right—about God, about death and life, about sin and forgiveness. They did not like it that God would come into the world in the flesh and teach us to repent of our sin. They did not like it that Jesus—not they—would restore the world. And Jesus restores not by demanding better lives, but by defeating death and giving grace and life.

So, to use Jesus’ words, we weep and lament, but the world rejoices. You see, the world did not like Jesus and His followers. It still doesn’t. Christians and Christian preachers are told, “Don’t mention Jesus,” in their prayers and messages. More Christians in Africa have just been martyred by ISIS, complete with videos of the barbaric brutality for all to see. Closer to home, Christians are fair game for lawsuits and government action and conviction by media firestorms and even death threats just because they choose not to participate in so-called “same-sex marriage” ceremonies. We can even hear and read editorials claiming that it’s high time for someone to force—compel—Christians to accept the LGBT lifestyle. Yes, we have our sorrows!

So, where’s the comfort? Where’s the joy? It’s in the words of our Lord Jesus. He tells you what He told His disciples: “a little while.” The sorrow, the pain, the burdens of life in this sin-infected world last only a little while. The disciples would be separated from Jesus only a little while. He would go to the cross, but He would rise again and return. He would go away from them, but He would come back after a little while. And He did, and that’s a good thing. You see, when Jesus went away, leaving His disciples in sorrow, He trampled down sin and death, He reunited all people with God, and He brought life and immortality to light. He did that for His disciples then, for you now, and for all people. In His bitter death and sweet, delightful resurrection, He wins life and wholeness for you. Now that gives great joy!

And think about the joy that you receive every time you come into this place. Church is like no other place on earth. It’s heaven on earth. You see, here Jesus Christ comes into our midst. He comes in His message of mercy read, proclaimed and sung. He comes in His holy, precious Body and Blood. Here’s God, in the flesh, showering you with His grace and mercy, giving you His life. That’s Christian joy! A little while, and you will see Me, Jesus says. Here you get to “see” Jesus with the eyes of faith. You get to hear Him and taste Him. Here’s Christian joy!

So, what helps you endure the sorrows and burdens of life in this broken world? The joy of life in Jesus. What helps you make a difference in the world, in the very lives of people around you? The joy of Christ’s victory over death. What is the only thing that spurs on the Church to carry out her mission in the world? The sheer delight and joy that in Christ you are forgiven, in Christ you have life, in Christ you have perfect peace with God. It’s a reality, and it gives great joy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer proclaimed this great line in a sermon in 1933: “Without the church, the whole world is joyless and miserable, and there is no end to hunger and thirst” (Ascension Day Sermon, 1933; cited in Little Book on Joy, p. 169). Do you want to see Christian joy? Look at how we rejoice even in the face of sorrow and death! Look at how we delight in Christ and His victory over death! That’s Christian joy. And it’s a joy that we can gladly show to the world. Amen.

20 April 2015

Homily for Easter 3 - Misericordias Domini

"The Shepherd Knows His Sheep"
John 10:11-16

Listen here.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is: holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.’ This is why children pray in this way, ‘I believe in one holy Christian church.’” (SA, III:12). So said Martin Luther in the Smalcald Articles. They are most fitting words to hear on this “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Not only do we get to receive the comfort of the Good Shepherd, but we also get to rejoice in being His flock, that is, His Church. As Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Good Shepherd Jesus knows His little sheep, and His little sheep love to hear His voice.

We city-slickers may not know all of the intimate details of tending sheep, but somehow the picture of a shepherd still brings comfort and speaks of protection. But why? I mean a shepherd does not strike you as some kind of super-hero, does he? We can have Superman or Batman or Spiderman, but somehow “Sheepman” just doesn’t cut it. Even Mighty Mouse seems more “superhero-ish” than “Sheepman”! So, what makes Shepherd Jesus so “good”?

Listen to Jesus: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Now, a first century Palestinian shepherd would rarely die defending his sheep. Oh, he might try to act like Superman, Batman, or Spiderman, and risk his life, or put his life on the line. But actually “lay down his life” and sacrifice himself? No way. After all, who would take care of the sheep if he should die? But Good Shepherd Jesus does give His life for His sheep. That’s what makes Him “good” and noble. Jesus also says, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (Jn. 10:18). Remember, no super-hero can lay down his life and take it up again. But Jesus can. He’s no wimpy super-hero. He’s true God and true Man, begotten of the Father from eternity, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.

But that’s not all that makes Him “good.” Good Shepherd Jesus does not just lay down His life for giggles or to show off. No, He “lays down his life for the sheep.” You see, He knows His sheep. He knows you; He knows me. He knows that “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Is. 53:6). He knows that we tend to wander off from His tender care and keeping. He knows that we easily get spooked at the least little noise or trouble around us. He knows that we get absolutely terrified, if and when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

So, Good Shepherd Jesus laid down His own life for you, His sheep. And not only did He lay down His life on a blood-soaked cross, but He also took it up again in His glorious resurrection. Not only was He sacrificed as a Passover lamb, but He is also risen to give you His new, divine, and eternal life.

If you’re not sure of that, just ponder what Good Shepherd Jesus gives you on the altar today—His very own Body and Blood, pulsating with His glorious, eternal, resurrection life, given and shed for you. So think of Good Shepherd Jesus also as your Passover Lamb. He was slaughtered and roasted on the cross, but He is also risen to give you His life.

Look above the altar, in the middle of the reredos. You see the victorious Lamb of God, complete with His banner of victory and His glorious sunburst of a new dawn. Remember that He rose to give you life with Him. But also look at the front of the altar. There you see another animal—a pelican feeding her pious brood. Notice that she feeds them by plucking her own flesh and blood and giving it to them. That’s how Good Shepherd Jesus gives His life for you, His sheep. He feeds you on His own life-giving Body and Blood.

We’ve heard about the Good Shepherd; let’s hear about His sheep. A shepherd is not a shepherd without his flock of sheep. And a flock of sheep must rely on its shepherd for everything, from food and drink to healing and protection. And how does this happen?

I used to think that sheep are nothing but smelly, stupid animals. Well, they are smelly, but a friend who used to be a shepherd once taught me, a shepherd of souls, the truth about sheep. Several years ago, I preached on Good Shepherd Sunday about smelly, stupid sheep. Then a couple of days later I had to get a haircut. Little did I know that my barber had formerly done some sheep-hearding. So, I sat down in the barber’s chair. We began discussing John chapter 10, sheep and shepherds. Then my barber said, “Pastor, sheep aren’t stupid; they just can’t see well. They have to listen for their shepherd.” He then went on to tell me that sheep have such keen hearing that several different voices can call out to them, but they will know the voice of their own shepherd.

That’s what Jesus says about His flock: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10:27). Jesus’ sheep don’t just follow any voice that’s popular or that draws massive crowds or that sells lots of books. Jesus’ sheep, His believers, can discern His voice. They can discern His voice even amidst the din and racket of the shopping mall of modern American Evangelical religion. Jesus’ faithful sheep can discern His soothing voice, even though the noise of things contemporary and theatrical seems to drown it out.

Yes, it does matter what church you belong to, because you will not hear Jesus’ voice at every church. Just because a church has a religious bookstore or a fashionable coffee stand or a rocking praise band on a Sunday morning, that does not guarantee you’ll hear the voice of Jesus. Beware of the religious hirelings—that is, pastors—who merely seek to line their pockets or have good looking numbers on their statistical reports. Chances are, you won’t hear the voice of Jesus from them, because they are puppets of that old satanic wolf who loves to hunt down and eat Jesus’ little sheep.

Why is this important? Not only does Jesus say that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him, but He also says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:28). Now there’s good reason to listen only to the voice of Jesus, and not to the modern, religious mindset. When you listen to Jesus’ voice, you have eternal life! When you listen to Jesus’ voice, no one can snatch you out of His hand.

Two weeks ago at the Easter Vigil, we got to hear three young people confess faith in this Good Shepherd Jesus. They promised to be faithful to Him until death. After all, He has already promised to be faithful to them. Their voices quivered with nervousness, but Jesus’ voice will always give them life and protection. Their promises may seem like mere words, but we pray that Good Shepherd Jesus will help them to keep their promises and rejoice in life with Him. Actually, all of us who have been confirmed and taken these vows need to perk up our ears. All of us need to pay attention to what we’ve promised. After all, all of us have promised “to continue steadfast” in the Christian confession and Church. All of us have vowed “to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.”

Don’t let anything, no matter how popular or appealing, lure you away from Christ and His Church. After all, here’s where you hear the voice of your Good Shepherd. You also promise “to be faithful in the use of God’s Word and Sacraments.” May God graciously help you keep that promise! You will always be tempted to sleep in after a late Saturday night. You will always be tempted to do something supposedly “more fun” than “go to church”—whether it’s shopping or fishing or a Cardinal’s game or a Blue’s playoff game. But remember, the more you stay away from Jesus and His Church, the more you miss out on hearing the voice of your Good Shepherd, and the more you miss out on receiving His gift of life.

But the more you are here, in this place, to hear Good Shepherd Jesus and receive His Body and Blood from the altar, the more peace and joy you always have. You see, your Good Shepherd tends and feeds you through His Word proclaimed and His Sacraments given out. You do need to be in His green pastures and beside His still waters for Him to restore your soul. He does prepare a table before you so that your cup will always run over with His goodness and mercy.

Now we know how Luther could say it: “God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is: holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.’ This is why children pray in this way, ‘I believe in one holy Christian church.’” Here in the one holy Christian Church, your Good Shepherd Jesus knows you, His little sheep, and you get to learn to love His life-giving voice. Amen.

06 April 2015

Homily for the Resurrection of Our Lord

"Speaking of Life"
Mark 16:1-8

Listen here.

P: Christ is risen! C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Friday left us in the darkness of death, the valley of the shadow of Christ’s crucifixion and burial. Saturday gave us a day of rest, just as Christ rested in the tomb from His labors of recreating the world. And today? Well, today we come to life, the resurrected life, the new life in Christ’s image. Actually, it all began last evening. In the Biblical way of telling time, the day begins at sundown the evening before—evening and morning, Day One, and so on. So, we just couldn’t wait! We sat in vigil last night … waiting … and then feasting on this new life in Christ. If every Sunday is a little Easter, well then, this Easter Day is a BIG Sunday. Oh, and the celebration is not done at sundown today. No, we keep celebrating this life, we keep speaking of this life, for a whole week of Sundays. In fact, that’s what we do for all of our lives—speak of this new life in Christ.

But that’s not at all what was on the minds of the women. No, they were still dwelling in the shadow of death. Their devotion for their Lord Jesus had to be put on hold while they piously observed the Jewish Passover Sabbath. On Friday they saw their Lord die. They watched where He was buried. They vowed to return to anoint Him properly. While their Master rested in the sleep of death, they rested on the Sabbath day. And when the dawn of the first day of the week came, they went to finish the burial. They intended to anoint Jesus with spices so that the stench of death would not overtake Him.

Little did they know that while they were preoccupied with death, their Lord was already alive again. In their great devotion and in their dire grief, they neglected to think of the large stone until it was too late. Who would roll it away? They knew it was too large and too heavy for them to move.

Now their preoccupation with death should not surprise us. We too are preoccupied with death. How so? Well, for one thing, look at all the diet plans, all the health magazines, and all the fitness gurus. They all promise one thing—a better, healthier life, a life that cheats death, or at least puts death on hold for a few more years. For another thing, look at how we react to any event that even remotely reminds us of death—children getting hurt on the school playground; adults turning to alcohol or drugs to ease the pressures of family and work; or American citizens held captive by ISIS. And another way we are preoccupied with death is viewing death as a savior. Some look to suicide as a solution to the stresses of life in a fallen world. Some view death as relief from debilitating illness or injury. Remember 29-year old Brittany Maynard, seeking “death with dignity” from her brain cancer? And our culture promotes the killing of unborn babies merely to preserve the convenience or careers of the parents.

As the women went to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices to prevent the stench of death, we find ourselves doing whatever we can to avoid the stench of death. Pass more safety standards for playground equipment. Enact stricter pollution controls. Make sure people don’t eat the wrong kinds of foods. We are preoccupied with death—with avoiding it, ignoring it, and even denying it.

But we cannot avoid death. Just look at the cemetery. The death rate is one per person—always has been, always will be this side of eternity. Ignoring it or denying it is simply living a lie. And the death is not just outside of us, in our circumstances. It’s inside us. The stench of death emanates from within, inside the human heart. Yes, the stench of death begins in each of us, with the jealousies, the anger, the suspicions, and the self-serving motives. You see, the stench of death is what leads each of us to focus on ourselves. But as we gaze inward for answers and solutions, we still find nothing but misplaced priorities and dead ends, that is, death, separation from God, absence of loving and trusting Him.

The women were caught in the cycle grief that first Easter morning. You could say our whole lives are trapped in the cycle of death. The spices that the women wanted to put on Jesus’ corpse couldn’t change His death. The “spices” of our man-made prescriptions for death might smell nice for a while, but they still cannot change the simple fact: we’re all bound for the grave.

“And looking up, [the women] saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.” Their problem with the tomb of Jesus was taken care of for them. Your problem with your own grave is also taken care of for you. Did the women do anything to move the stone? No. Can you do anything to solve your own death problem? No way. But the stone of your death problem is rolled away for you in Christ, the crucified and risen Savior, the Lord of Life.

“And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe.” The devout women had planned on seeing a crucified corpse, not a vibrant young man. The other Gospels say this was an angel, but Mark says, “young man.” It’s no accident, and no contradiction. After all, what picture does a young man bring but youth, vitality, strength, even life itself? And he was dressed in a long white robe—not ordinary clothing, but the heavenly color of God working His life. Something special was happening here. No dead corpse, but rather a vibrant, vigorous message of God’s handiwork.

The sermon preached by this messenger of life that would put the puzzle together. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here.” It can be alarming to be rescued from your daily dilemma of death. There is a certain familiarity with the dead world and the self-seeking desires that come from our inner death. But God’s messenger seeks to calm our troubled spirits, to put our fears to rest. You see, life with the living Christ is much better than living as selfish corpses in the world any day!

The young man’s proclamation gives comfort to the women and to us. If you seek Jesus, you seek the crucified Christ. The only true Savior is the One who was handed over to death. But in His death He destroyed death. In our culture many look for spirituality, but they only want a generic religion, a self-made substitute for the real God. The true Savior is the Jesus who died. You cannot have a resurrection without a crucifixion. You cannot grasp the fullness of Easter Sunday without going through Good Friday. It’s a package deal. The Crucified Christ is the Living Lord.  The Man of Sorrows and death is the God who brings life and immortality to light.

P: Christ is risen! C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

On April 1, 2001, 24 U.S. military men and women were detained and interrogated in China for ten days. Due to a mid-air collision, their plane had to make an emergency landing in Hainan. On April 11, those 24 service men and women were finally set free and sent home. It was big news and their homecoming was broadcast on all the news programs. You could see the pride, the joy, even the exuberance. What a blessing and what a celebration it was to have our service men and women home safe and sound. But that pales in comparison to the victory and the homecoming we have because of Jesus’ resurrection! That ceremony at Whidbey Island, in Washington State, has gone into the history books. But the rich, exuberant celebration of Christ’s new life will go on for eternity, and we, with all believers in Christ, will proudly sing and joyously dance and feast together with Christ for all eternity.

But what about here and now? We aren’t quite to the eternal banquet just yet. Notice what else the young angel-man told the women at the tomb: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter….” These first witnesses to the empty tomb were to speak of Christ’s new life for the world. They were to talk it up with the disciples. And even Peter gets singled out. He who denied Christ would be restored.

In the same way, you are witnesses to Christ’s resurrection life. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Your Baptism joins you to Christ’s new life. You are also partakers of His life in the Lord’s Supper. The very Body that hung lifeless from the cross now gives you eternal life. The very Blood that flowed from His sacred veins in death now pulsates in you to make you alive and keep you alive in Christ. Christ’s resurrected life is your life.

So, how can you keep all this Good News to yourself? Why not joyously speak of life—life in Christ—to people you know? Why not go out of your way to invite your family and friends into the Church, this unique place of Christ’s life for the world? What’s more important for real life—life with God—who wins American Idol, or what Christ has done for you and the world?

You have Good News to tell! The world’s death and your inner death are not the last word. Christ’s new life is! Are you afraid of what other people might think of you, if you “talk religion”? We see what happens to pizzeria owners in Indiana who stand for the life and truth of our risen Savior. We see how, more and more, we Christians are becoming fair game to be hated and despised and threatened. But we still have something—or Someone— the world needs. We have the Lord of Life! We have His forgiveness! We have His new life even now!

So don’t be alarmed. The women were afraid too. But the Bible also tells us that they did indeed tell the disciples. And the disciples couldn’t contain themselves. They also spread the life-giving news: Christ is risen. If you want life, real life, here He is. He will give it to you free.

In a world preoccupied with death, we need some Good News, some news of life. People around us need that same Good News, that same life. In our crucified Christ we also have a Living Lord. And He gives His life for the  life of the world. So, as we enjoy the new life given by Christ, let’s also speak of His life for all to enjoy. “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1). “For I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).

P: Christ is risen! C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

04 April 2015

Homily for Good Friday

What Great Love!
John 18-19

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When we began the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, we prayed: “Almighty and everlasting God, You hate nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness.” We began our journey through Lent and to the Cross by confessing that God hates nothing and no one He has made, and we pleaded for His lovingkindness and mercy in granting us forgiveness.

Now we’ve arrived at the Cross of Christ. Today we pray that God would “graciously behold this [His] family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing…to suffer death on the cross.” Yes, our whole human family needs the pardon and forgiveness that Jesus accomplishes on the Cross. And, yes, we in the Church, God’s family chosen and set apart in our Baptism, also need the forgiveness and life that Jesus gives today.

So, don’t pity Jesus! Don’t walk away today/tonight thinking, “Poor Jesus.” He does not want or need your pity. But He does want to give you His mercy. Yes, our human family, in its sinful, deadly rebellion against God, put the Lord of Life to death. But He willingly plunges Himself into the depths of our sin and death in order to bring us back to life with Him. He can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.” What great love our God has shown in His Son! “With His stripes we are healed.” They were the stripes that we, our sin, and our death inflicted upon Him, but He absorbed them willingly and without complaint. In turn He heals us from the wounds and the sores that the disease of sin and death works in us. What wondrous love!

Right before He went to the Cross, Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

So when you ponder the arrest and abuse of the all-powerful Creator of the world, when you ponder Peter’s three-fold denial of his ever faithful Lord, when you ponder the kangaroo court that lied about the Truth-made-flesh, when you see the Innocent One convicted as though guilty, think “What great love God has for me.” When you consider Pontius Pilate trying to get Jesus off the hook, but then caving to the whims of the angry mob, when you consider how Jesus the great Healer suffers the wounds of scourging, think to yourself, “What great love!” When you remember the soldiers stripping bare Him who covers Himself with light and with the deep as with a garment (Ps. 104:2, 6), think, “What great love!” When the angry shouts of “Crucify Him!” echo in your ears, especially knowing that you, a sinner, would have joined in, think, “What great love He has even for me!”

And what great love flows forth when He speaks from the Cross. First, He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Not only does He forgive those who condemned Him, pounded the nails and jeered at Him, but He also forgives you for all the sins in which you know not what you do.

As Jesus told the thief crucified with Him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43), you may rest assured that whatever you suffer in this life, your Crucified Lord promises that you will be with Him in paradise, even today. What great love!

What great love He showed to His Mother and the disciple whom He loved. Even in the midst of His excruciating pain and His struggle to breathe, the Lord “said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’” (Jn. 19:26-27). In His great love, your Savior makes you part of the same family, His family of faith. May it be to us as the Lord has said.

Then He prayed “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46; Ps. 22:1). Of course, being the Son of God He could not be separated from His Father and the Holy Spirit, but being true Man He certainly did experience the separation from God that we, His creatures, brought on ourselves. So, when we pray in our dark, forsaken loneliness, we can know that our Savior and God is there, in the lonely despair, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). What great love!

When Jesus cried, “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28), not only did He fulfill Scripture by consuming the sour vinegar of our sin and death, but He also showed how He hungered and thirsted for our righteousness. And we need not thirst for life, because the water that our crucified Lord gives becomes in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). What great love!

And what great love as our loving Lord of Life handed Himself over--voluntarily, willingly--into death. He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46) and, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30). He trusted His Father to bring Him out of death and hell, and when He did arise, He brought us out of death to live with Him. So, it’s all finished—His forgiveness for your sins, His victory over death, His gift of life with God. What great love!

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).

03 April 2015

Homily for Holy Thursday

Washed and Fed to Love
John 13:1-15, 34-35

A new commandment I give to you, Jesus said, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (Jn. 13:34). That’s were we get one name for today—“Maundy Thursday”—from mandatum, meaning “command.” We also call it “Holy Thursday” because this is Thursday of “Holy Week.” Whatever the name, the theme is the same: Love.

But how was Jesus’ bickering band of disciples supposed to love each other? How are we? This group of men who argued over the seats of honor in Jesus’ kingdom—how were they supposed to love one another? How are we? Didn’t the Law already command us to love our neighbor as ourselves? So what’s new about this “new commandment”?

Jesus ties His mandate to love one another with the Supper He gives us. Jesus’ words to love one another also go hand in hand with His servant act of washing His disciples’ feet. And it all happened in the Upper Room: foot washing, Lord’s Supper, and Jesus’ new command. It all happened on the night when He was betrayed into death. So it goes for our love for one another. As Jesus’ holy people, we can only love one another as we are connected to Jesus—to His Body and Blood, by His Cross and in His Supper.

John’s Gospel doesn’t give us the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. For that we look to Matthew, Mark, Luke and St. Paul. But St. John is still catechizing us. The Lord’s Supper is woven into the background. Since we know and have the Lord’s Supper, St. John is expanding our horizons on what it means to cling to Jesus’ love and actually to love one another.

The Lord’s Supper is in the background when Jesus turns Old Testament washing water into New Testament wine at the wedding of Cana. The Lord’s Supper is in the background when Jesus feeds the five thousand and proclaims Himself the very Bread of life. “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink,” He said. “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:55-56) The Lord’s Supper is in the background of the whole sermon Jesus preaches in the Upper Room on this night of His betrayal. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5)

Baptism and Lord’s Supper go hand in hand in John. They are just as close as the foot washing and the Supper in the Upper Room the night before He was crucified. They are bound together just as the water and the blood that flowed from Jesus’ pierced side at His crucifixion.

Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him that night. He knew one of His own disciples would betray Him. He knew that all things were given to Him by His Father, that He had come from God, that He was going to God. He knew that the time of His Passover was near—the time when His blood would paint the wood of the cross so that death might pass over.

So, knowing all this, Jesus rose from the table, laid aside His outer garments, tied a towel around His waist and poured a basin full of water. He knelt down. He began to wash His disciples' feet. Then He dried them with the towel He was wearing. Jesus did what no Hebrew slave was ever asked to do—wash feet.

Now foot washing was a crucial part of social etiquette in Jesus’ culture. It was something like our moms saying, “Don’t forget to wash your hands before supper.” They did that, but they also washed their feet. Remember, Jesus and His disciples reclined on pillows at a low table, instead of sitting in chairs as we do. That put your neighbor’s feet very close to your face, and vice versa. Thus, foot washing!

And yet foot washing was one of the lowest and most menial tasks. Only the lowest rank of slave would do it. But here in the Upper Room, the Lord of heaven and earth, the Incarnate Word through whom all things where made, sets aside His own garments and wears the lowly towel of the humblest slave. What extreme humility! The One called Teacher and Lord washes the feet of His disciples!

But Peter objected. “You shall never wash my feet!” Peter is too proud to have Jesus bend down and wash his feet. That same sort of pride keeps us from Baptism, Absolution, Lord’s Supper, and the Gospel preached. It also keeps us from bending down to wash the feet of brothers and sisters in our midst. Surely Jesus is more glorious than a bath, a spoken word of forgiveness, and a bit of bread and wine! Surely washing feet is not a proper use of our great spiritual gifts! Isn’t the real Jesus more glorious, more “spiritual,” than some crucified foot-washer? But that’s not faith; that’s unbelief. “If I do not wash you,” Jesus says, “you have no share with Me.”

So we too must be washed by Jesus, bathed as little children, baptized into His death and resurrection. We cannot wash ourselves. We wouldn’t even if we could. Like little children who play in the mud, we rather enjoy the filth of our sin. We’ve grown accustomed to it. But we cannot come to the table with dirty feet. So Jesus bends down to us in His humbled, crucified humanity to wash us. He reaches down to the dirtiest and most deeply soiled places in our lives, down to the soles of our feet, where we touch the earth from which were made, the dirt to which we return in death. He reaches down to the place where the dirt of our earthly life is ground in and stubborn. And washed by Jesus, baptized into His death, we are cleansed from head to toe.

Jesus’ washing drowns our stubborn pride—the ego of our old Adam. It frees us from the bondage of our pride to serve others in the humility of Christ. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Jesus shows us the posture of the disciple before the world: stooped down as a servant with towel and basin, washing filthy feet. To be a disciple of the Lord Jesus means having your feet washed by Jesus so that you may, in turn, wash the feet of others. It means being loved by a humbled and crucified Christ so that you may be humbled and crucified to love one another, in Him.

And washed by Jesus, you are clean, ready for Supper. You can recline and relax at His table. You can let your defenses down. At His Table, Jesus is host and servant and main course, all at the same time. He gives His precious Body to eat and His Passover Blood to drink. And as fruitful branches are to the vine, so you are to Jesus at His Table. He is the true Vine; you are the branches. You are grafted into Jesus through faith; you receive His life into you. Apart from Him you can do nothing. “Take eat. Drink of it all of you.” His life flows from the cross to the chalice and into your mouths. And His life in you bears fruit. His love for you overflows to your neighbor.

It’s in this context that Jesus gives His “new mandate.” He says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” What’s “new” with this commandment? It’s not the love. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the old commandment from Moses. What’s new is Jesus’ washing and feeding—His Baptism and His Supper of Body and Blood. These are Jesus’ “mandates” for you. This is how you learn to love one another.

Jesus’ new mandate to His disciples is to receive His love in all the ways He wants to give it. Jesus’ new mandate means being loved by Him so that His love flows through you to one another. His love is poured out for you in His death and poured into you in His Baptism and His Supper. His love bears fruit as it has its way with you. It leads you to bend down, wash each other’s feet, serve each other, and live for each other’s benefit.

As we learn to be filled with Jesus’ self-giving love, His love flows through us to each other. As we sang earlier:

“Jesus gave to His disciples
A commandment that was new:
‘Show My love to one another,
Do as I have done for you;
All the world will know you love Me
As you love each other too.” (LSB, 446:5)