Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tolkien and the Great Easter Eucatastrophe

Note: When J.R.R. Tolkien couldn’t find a word to express precisely what he was thinking, or trying to convey in his writing, he would simply invent a word. As he was a philologist, this is not difficult to imagine. So, when conveying the supreme purpose of the fairy story, what Tolkien calls the Eucatastrophe in his essay On Fairy Stories, he could find no word that suited his definition. This led Tolkien to coin the word, eucatastrophe. It comes from the combination of two Greek words, meaning ‘eu’ for ‘good’ and ‘katastrophe’ for destruction. In other words, it is a good catastrophe, the kind of event(s) you never see coming or least expect in a story. The Gospel, Tolkien says, is the story of the greatest eucatastrophe, that joyous sudden turn from death to life. And not only is it beautiful, but it is historically true and reliable. Here is Tolkien in his own words on the great Easter Eucatastrophe.

On Fairy Stories

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction; it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused. (Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, On Fairy Stories, p. 155-156).

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
"I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love." (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 89).

Monday, April 21, 2014

C.S. Lewis and the Grand Miracle of Easter

Note: Although there certainly are many more, here are a few of my favorite quotations from the writings of C.S. Lewis that only add to the joy and supreme gladness of this day.

On Miracles

In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders…

…In this descent and ascent everyone will recognize a familiar pattern: a thing written all over the world. It is the pattern of all vegetable life. It must belittle itself into something hard, small and deathlike, it must fall into the ground: thence the new life reascends…

…The doctrine of the Incarnation, if accepted, puts this principle even more emphatically at the centre. The pattern is there in Nature because it was first there in God. All the instances of it which I have mentioned turn out to be but transpositions of the Divine theme into a minor key. (C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p. 179-181).

Thus, as Lewis goes on to say in a later chapter:

He [Jesus] is the ‘first fruits,’  ‘the pioneer of life.’ He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. This is the beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened. (C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p. 237).

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

“…though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that if a willing victim, who had committed no treachery, was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, p. 163).

Easter Sermon: "The Facts of Life"

+ The Resurrection of Our Lord – April 20th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Series A: Jeremiah 31:1-6; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is Easter all about? Seems like an obvious question today. But it’s a question worth asking, and answering. Because there are a lot of answers out there, yet only one is right.

Just try asking someone - like one of those “man on the street” segments – what’s Easter all about?
Chances are you’ll hear all kinds of answers about fluffy bunnies, colored eggs, and marshmallow critters that could survive a zombie apocalypse. For most people, Easter equals spring.

Problem is, none of that has anything to do with Jesus’ physical death and resurrection. If that’s what Easter is about, we’re all wasting our time here this morning. As St. Paul reminds us, if Jesus is not raised from the dead, then our preaching and your faith are worthless. You might as well enjoy our Easter breakfast, grab your baskets, and get the Easter egg hunt started early.

Of course, someone might answer the question by saying: “It’s the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.” That’s a bit closer to the truth, but it’s still wrong.

Easter isn’t the day we believe Jesus rose from the dead. We believe because Jesus rose from the dead.  We celebrate because Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as an historic fact. It’s the pivot point of all human history. Christianity isn’t a fairy tale, but reliable history: facts attested to by eyewitnesses: first the women who went to the tomb, then Peter and John, then the other disciples, then 500 men at one time, then James, and finally Paul. It’s a matter of fact, just like George Washington crossing the Delaware River or Hannibal crossing the Alps.

So what’s Easter all about? Well, let’s listen to the story again; after all, we can never hear it enough.

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were on their way to the grave.

That’s the consequence of sin: Death. Adam’s sin. The world’s sin. Your sin. My sin. It all leads to our grave. Our sin really is that bad. It’s not a cosmetic defect that needs removal, like a wart or mole; it’s more than skin deep; it’s as deep as the grave. No wonder it causes us anxiety, fear, terror, despair, guilt, and suffering. Death is the great instrument in the hands of sin; or rather, it was sin’s great instrument until Christ defeated death by dying for you. That’s what Jesus was doing for each and every one of you on Good Friday.

So, that first Easter dawn, the women weren’t only going to see Jesus’ tomb. They were also going to see their tomb, and yours, and mine too. Jesus’ death is your death. Jesus was laid in our tomb. Jesus’ grave is your grave. That’s a fact.

And here’s one more. Don’t skip over the importance of the fact that the women are the first eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. It’s important. In the 1st century, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in a court of law. So, if the Gospel writers were trying to fabricate the story of Jesus’ resurrection, the last thing they would’ve done is to include the women finding Jesus first. But the fact that it is included means that it lends greater strength and credibility to the facts.

But there’s more to this story.

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 

I love Matthew’s attention to detail here: the angel sat on the stone. He’s not tired. He’s not lazy. He sits on the stone and mocks death. Puny stone. Puny grave. You couldn’t hold Jesus. Jesus is victorious over sin, Death, and the grave. The tomb is empty and so is Death’s power over Jesus and you.

This angel is a messenger, not a cute, cuddly Hallmark card angel. Angels are holy. They evoke fear. The guards trembled. The women were afraid. We’re afraid. That’s what sin and death do: they cause fear and doubt. But there’s no need to fear. Not today. This is no angel of death, but a messenger of life. He is your messenger, a herald of the greatest news that has ever has been and will be reported.

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.

As he said.     

Three little words. They’re so ordinary you might pass them by; but not today. As he said. Jesus’ Word is unlike our words. You know what I mean. When we yell at the stoplight to turn green it doesn’t happen. When we tell our children to pick up their toys it rarely happens the first time. When we shake our fists at players or politicians on TV they don’t listen. But not so with Jesus’ word. His word is action. When he speaks things happen: blind men see. The lame walk. Dead men rise. Sins are forgiven. When Jesus makes a promise he keeps it. Jesus is truly a man of his word.

Jesus’ Word is reliable just as his death and resurrection are historical and trustworthy events.

You can trust him when he says things like -“the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

And you can trust him when he says to you: “I AM the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die forever.”

And how do the women react? Probably the same way we would.

They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” 

They witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. They saw his bleeding, mocking, and agonizing death. They watched Jesus die; saw him buried.

But into the void and silence of their grief a voice spoke a single word they didn’t hear coming.


What a delightful, joyful, unexpected word. Jesus says the equivalent of “hello, good morning.” It’s the greatest good morning in the history of the world.

And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. The same feet they saw pierced on Friday now walk and receive the women’s hands in worship. Jesus’ resurrection is no metaphor. He was real, warm-to-the-touch real. Jesus’ death and resurrection is remarkably physical, right down to his feet. Someone once observed that ancient and modern ghost stories never include feet. Ghosts don’t have feet. Jesus has feet. Jesus lives.

Jesus’ resurrection is an historic fact. His tomb is empty. Jesus lives. Jesus rose from the dead in human history. And that’s certainly a good reason to celebrate Easter. But there’s more.

We celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead as an historic event, but also because what he has done in history is for you. Jesus died for you. Jesus rose for you. Easter is good news for you.

And our world needs good news. We see the suffering and death on our TVs, in our neighborhoods, schools, and families. Sadly, the television doesn’t keep suffering and death at bay. In addition to all our weekly worries, bigger and more personal problems gnaw at our existence. I know I’ve wronged others. I know I’m going to die. And I know I’m powerless to solve my problems of guilt, suffering, and death. I need rescue.

Think about it, if you’re drowning in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean, do you need Michael Phelps coaching you on your butterfly stroke, or a Coast Guard helicopter to rescue you? Rescue.
So when it comes to humanity’s greatest problems, do you need a religious guide, coach, or guru telling you what to do and how to behave, or a Savior who’ll rescue you from your suffering, guilt, and death? You need a Savior.

Jesus – and no one else – claims to take your wrongdoings, shame, and failures and nail them to His cross. In all of the world’s religions you have to ascend, merit, and earn your way to heaven; but not in Christianity. In Christianity God descends. God is born, lives, suffers. God is killable. God dies. God rises from the dead. And he does all of this for you. And more, the same body,  broken in death is now given for your life; the same blood, shed for you on the cross is now poured out for your forgiveness.

Easter is Jesus’ declaration: “I’m your Savior. I rescued you. The devil hurled every last one of your sins upon me. And I’ve answered for them all. The grave is empty. Death is dead. And the devil is sapped of his strength. He is done. Finished. Over.”

Jesus is the first human over whom death has no mastery. Death is undone. Death is reversed, Death works backwards. Death no longer has dominion over Jesus, or you.

So join the women in rejoicing with great joy: The fast is ended. Let the Easter feast begin. The table is set. Jesus is not in the tomb but he is here, in the Supper, right where he promises to be.

Jesus died and rose for you! And in Jesus’ rising from the dead, you are given the promise: you too will rise. That’s a fact.

And that’s what Easter is all about.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Vigil Sermon: "The Greatest Story Ever Told"

+ Easter Vigil – April 19th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings there are these mysterious characters known as ents, ancient, tree-like creatures. As we’re told in the book, their language is beautiful, “but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to."

That’s exactly what Easter Vigil does. Any good story worth telling takes a long time to say, and to listen to. This is especially true on this night of nights.
Tonight God tells the story of His people’s salvation from Creation to the flood, from Israel’s Red Sea rescue to the resurrected valley of dry bones, from Job confessing his Redeemer to the women running to the tomb and finding out their Redeemer was not there. He had risen.

Job’s redeemer, their redeemer, your redeemer – He lives. Jesus crucified is risen.
Tonight God tells the story of salvation. We listen. And we rejoice. For this is also our story. Every word, chapter, and verse of the Easter Vigil readings unfolds the story of your salvation, from sadness to joy, from death to life.

But this isn’t just any old story. This is no fairy tale. This is the greatest story ever told for it is both beautiful, satisfying our deepest needs and longings; and it is true, historical, and trustworthy. Your faith is founded on facts. The facts of salvation handed down to you faithfully in the Scriptures where God tells us this one great story. Page after page the story becomes clearer, the light of Christ grows stronger, and the story unfolds.
Chapter 1: Creation.

In the beginning the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep. And the Lord said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. But Eden's radiance was swiftly covered in shadow by the wicked serpent; and man’s perfection was marred by temptation, disobedience, and death. But do not think we’re innocent bystanders of history. We’re active participants. We, the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, are born in sin and only increase it. Yet, out of the night of sin, a light shines. God promises a child, one who’ll be born in human flesh; he who shines with uncreated light. And He who most wonderfully created our human nature will yet more wonderfully redeem it.
And the story goes on…

Chapter 2: The Flood.
Mankind was fruitful and multiplied, but so had our sin, like a gangrenous disease infecting all of creation. And so, according to God’s strict judgment he condemned the unbelieving world through the flood; yet according to his great mercy, he preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all, that likewise in our saving flood of baptism all sin which has been born in us from Adam, and which we ourselves have added, has been drowned and engulfed forever in a surging fountain of divine goodness and mercy. And you are kept safe in the holy ark of the Church. The light of Christ’s resurrection washes out all sin.

And the story goes on…
Chapter 3: The Exodus.

Israel is caught in the middle: Egypt, Pharaoh, and slavery behind them and nothing but a fluid fortress in front of them. Death all around. But not for Israel. And not for you. The Lord of Hosts camped between Israel and Pharaoh’s army with a pillar of sacred fire; likewise Christ sets up the tent of his sacred flesh and stands between you and the grave. How beautiful are the feet of the people of God who walked on dry ground from slavery to freedom, from death to life. How beautiful are the feet of Christ who brings you out slavery and into freedom by his great exodus on the cross. The light of Christ’s resurrection gleams ahead in the Promised Land.
And the story goes on…

Chapter 4: The Valley of Dry Bones.
“Son of man, can these bones live?” Our bones are wasted away. We are dust and to dust we shall return. Dead, sin-parched, dry bones. Ezekiel has no answer just as Adam, and you and I – we have no answer. But Jesus, the true Son of Man does. Can his bones live? Oh, yes they can; they do. The same Lord who breathed new life into Adam will breathe the fresh air of his resurrection into your life-less pile of dry bones. It is the Easter Vigil. Hear the rattling of Christ’s tomb opening as loud as those dry bones being knit together, sinew, flesh, and tissue. Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves. O my people…and I will put my Spirit in you and you shall live. Do you see it? The light of Christ’s resurrection fills the valley of the shadow of death with light and life.

And the story goes on...
Chapter 5: Job.

Everything he had - goods, fame, child, and wife even life itself - was wrenched away. Everything that is, except the Lord’s promise. Satan could send suffering, boils, and bruises, but he could not remove the Lord’s promise. For he could not contend with Job’s redeemer and yours. For us and for Job fights the valiant one whom God himself elected. With an iron pen and led he engraves his love for you forever, not in a rock, but in his hands, head, and feet. And what’s more, your Redeemer lives. Our sin and death destroyed him, yet he stands in victory over them for you. See how the light of Christ’s resurrection now shines brilliantly through the flesh and bone of Job’s redeemer and yours.
And the story goes on…

Chapter 6: Jesus’ Crucifixion.
To the unbelieving eye it appears that this is the end of the story, Satan’s last laugh. Jesus is betrayed, beaten, and mocked. The Lord of life hangs dead on a tree, that’s twice now that a tree has overcome God’s people. It appears that death wins, evil prevails, and all hope is lost. But then there’s the sudden twist in the plot, the unforeseen, unexpected event in this greatest story. The instrument of death becomes the means of our life. By the tree of the garden all men fell in temptation. But by the tree of Jesus’ cross all mankind are led back into Paradise. By the tree of the garden the curse spread to all men. But by the tree of Jesus’ cross, he overcomes the curse for you and all mankind. And though the darkness covers the face of Jesus from the 6th to the 9th hour, the light of Christ is not so easily dimmed. Christ cries out: “It is finished.”

And the story goes on…
Chapter 7: Jesus’ Resurrection.

Tonight the seal of the grave cracks open and the morning of the new creation breaks forth in the darkness. Death’s dark shadow is put to flight.
Tonight Jesus leads Adam and Eve, Noah and his family, Job and each of you out of the blackness of the tomb and into the joyful radiance of the eighth day sun. This is the night when we receive from Jesus more than we lost in Adam; when we, like Noah, find rest upon a mountain where the Lord provides; when we’re saved through a watery exodus and enter the Promised Land; when the Spirit of God hovers over the face of our dry bones and breathes Christ’s life into us as he did at our Baptism; when we stand with Job and the women at the tomb to greet our risen Redeemer.

Tonight we rejoice! You are God’s holy people. And the story of your salvation doesn’t end here. Quite the opposite; it’s just beginning. Easter Vigil is the story of Christ’s resurrection from the dead; which means it’s also the story of your resurrection from the dead. And this is the one story that never ends and never gets old. Tonight we rejoice in hearing it again and again and again.
The dawn of an endless day has arrived at last. Your Sabbath rest is won. Your salvation is secured. Sin is banished. Death has lost its sting. Hope is not lost. Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Come, and join the women in running to see Jesus. See the place where he lives for you and where he pours out his body and blood for you, just as he promises.
Here in Christ’s church, the story goes on…

For it is the greatest story ever told. And it is yours – tonight, tomorrow, and forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Sermon: "Cross and Creation"

+ Good Friday – April 18th, 2014 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Genesis 1-3; Isaiah 53; John 18-19

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1)

But for a short time the darkness will overcome Jesus. For a short time creation reverts into chaos, disorder, and destruction. The sun is blotted. The earth trembles. Angels weep. The Father forsakes his Son. And the Father sends his Son, his only Son, into the black thicket of our transgressions to be our substitute. The Lamb of God goes willingly to the slaughter, led into our plague of death, and death and passes over us and onto Jesus. Jesus dons the shackles of our slavery and we go free.

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. (Mt. 27:45)

At creation darkness covered the face of the earth. At Jesus’ crucifixion, darkness covers the face of him who spoke creation into being. At creation, the Word of God cast out the darkness. At Jesus’ crucifixion, the Word of God made flesh is cast into darkness. At creation, the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep. At Jesus’ crucifixion, the Spirit departs, leaving the Son of God to hang in the deep abyss of our sin.

Creation and the Cross.

Jesus’ work of salvation ends where his work of creation began, in darkness. But don’t let the darkness blind you from what God is doing there on Calvary. For on the cross God reveals his answer to our sin and death. At his crucifixion we see most clearly who God is. This is how God loves the world, and how makes it his again.

Jesus, our second Adam comes to undo everything that we lost through the first Adam.

In the first garden, Adam and Eve heard the Lord walking about while they hid in guilt and shame. In the second garden, we hear the Lord praying as he prepares to bear our guilt and shame.

In the first garden, God warned that one tree in the garden would bring death. As Jesus leaves the second garden, the tree of his death becomes your tree of life. 

In the first garden, God declared a curse and death for all mankind. Outside of the second garden, the Son of God became the curse and death for all mankind.

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— (Gal. 3)

Creation and the cross.

Where the first Adam failed, Christ, your Second Adam, prevails. Where we are entangled, ensnared and choked by temptation and sin, Christ your Second Adam allows the cords of our death to bind him, nail him to the cross, and breathe out his last for you. Where the first Adam brought eternal death and suffering, Christ your Second Adam brings eternal life and peace. Jesus, the firstborn of creation becomes the firstborn from the dead, but not for himself. 

For you.

Jesus’ crucifixion is the great turning point of history. For one day, creation is turned upside down. 

Everything we have – our sin, guilt and the curse of death – rests on him so that everything he has – blessing, forgiveness, and eternal life – can rest on upon us. The Creator dies for his rebellious creatures. The Great High Priest offers his complete and perfect sacrifice. Jesus hangs in darkness to bring you into his eternal light. Jesus dies to give you his life. Jesus is your Second Adam who accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life also might rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome.

Creation and the cross.

Out of the darkness of creation the Lord spoke light and life into being.

Out of the darkness of the cross Jesus brings eternal light and life for you.

Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, even on Good Friday, even as he hangs in the gloomy shadows of death for you. The darkness deepens, but not for long. Out of the dim and despair of his tomb, Jesus will bring forth the light of a new creation. Today Creation leads Jesus to the cross. Tomorrow Jesus’ cross leads to a new creation.

But for now, Jesus’ work has ended. All is accomplished. Your salvation is fulfilled. You are safe and secure in the cross of Christ.

And God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the 6th day.

And on the seventh day the Lord rested in the tomb from all his labors he had done for you.

It is finished.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Holy Thursday Sermon: "Jesus' Last Will and Testament"

+ Holy Thursday – April 17th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Exodus 24:3-11; Hebrews 9:11-22; Matthew 26:17-30

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Few things humble us more than signing a Last Will and Testament. It brings to our eyes the mortality we try to ignore daily. But there before the lawyer and the witness, before God and the pen everything is disclosed. Every signature the Death needles you more painfully than a tattoo artist. There's no death removal by laser treatment. Dust to dust. Signing a will and testament is literally signing your life away. It's not fun. It's not supposed to be. However, it is necessary. And it is good. Parents love their children in life and in death.

There's nothing you wouldn't do for them. Provide for their needs. Prepare them for the future. And give them life - an inheritance - out of your death. How much do you love me, daddy? This much. Nothing is withheld from you. All that is mine is yours.

There are few things more humbling than this. But there is at least one thing more humbling, no the most humbling thing of all. And he is the definition of humility, the spring of self-sacrifice from which all humility flows.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)  he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

In the Old Testament a covenant was not simply made; it was cut. That’s the literal word for covenant making: “to cut a covenant.” In the OT forgiveness was a bloody affair. You heard Moses: blood on the altar, blood on the people, blood everywhere. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

The New Testament is no different. God still cuts a covenant with us. Forgiveness is still a bloody affair. But the chief difference, of course, is that now we have a new Lamb. And this Lamb gives a New Testament: his flesh and his blood. Jesus will give us nothing but the best, Himself. His blood. His purity. His holiness. His redemption. His spotless conscience. All to cover our impurity, our unholiness, our rebellion, our soiled, sin-ridden flesh.

Jesus cuts one last covenant in his own flesh. It’s a covenant and promise that works backwards and forwards. Backwards, for it fulfills and consumes all the sacrifices of the OT. Every jot and tittle of the Law, every sacrifice, and word of the OT finds its fulfillment in the covenant God cuts in the hands, and feet, and side of Jesus. A covenant that also works forward. From the cross to the chalice. Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Supper continue to do and give what he promises.

The Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ Last Will and Testament for you. Take eat. Take drink. This is the cup of the new testament - the last testament, the everlasting testament - in my blood. Made by the perfect Testator. He is the one who pre-deceases you. That's the legal term for what the Scriptures confess: Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the dead. That's good news for all of us. You are heirs to a greater, everlasting will and testament, signed and sealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.

For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.  For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.  Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood.  For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,  saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry.  And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. (Hebrews 9)

Christ, your Testator, has dipped his pen into Calvary's bloody inkwell and signed his life away to us, his wayward, rebellious children. The Law's demands – the 10 commandments you and I have not kept - have been satisfied. Though we deserved no inheritance, not a penny – and though we squander our Father’s riches daily - he still gives you all he has, freely.

Behold the cross, a divine notary public, declaring to all the world that the undersigned, hereby declares you the benefactors and heirs according to His name. There on the cross your mortality and immortality are both seen clearly. The death you deserved, Christ dies. The life you didn't deserve, Christ gives to you freely.

Death has lost its sting. Yes, it pokes, prods, and pricks us here in this life. But Death no longer has dominion over you. Jesus has taken your death. He is your Testator. His death is the guarantee of all he promises you. He gives you his body and blood. Take eat. Take drink. He gives you his death and resurrection. It's yours in Baptism. His promise and testament are yours. Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven.

And that's the chief difference between our Will and Testament and Jesus' Will and Testament. Ours ends on this side of the grave. His does not. His destroys the power of the grave. His is an everlasting covenant, a Testament without end. Our pain and suffering is but a shadow, our legal documents but a copy of the greater suffering endured and the greatest inheritance given by Christ for you and for the world. For Jesus is not only the giver of the inheritance. He himself is our inheritance. That's the joy of heaven come to earth. On the night in which He was betrayed…

…Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 

That Holy Thursday - the long-suffering night, the betrayal, the trial, the mockery and beating, the stripping and cruel coronation, the death march to Good Friday - none of that was any fun for Jesus either. Then again it wasn't supposed to be. But it was good. And it was necessary. Jesus loves us little children into birth and life in His Name. He loves you to death. And that means nothing and no one will snatch you out of his hands. Just ask him; He still has the scar-tissued parchment to prove it to you.

There's nothing he wouldn't do - nothing he hasn't done - for you.

Tonight we taste and see that the Lord, and how his mercy endures forever. His table is prepared. Jesus provides you with a holy meal. Jesus’ body and blood is your food of forgiveness, your bread of life, your manna in the wilderness, your inheritance, his new testament to you.

Tonight we join Moses and all the saints as we behold God, as we eat and drink.

Tonight we are gathered in the Holy Place where Great High Priest Jesus pours out his eternal redemption from the cross to the chalice.

Tonight the Lamb of God without blemish gives you forgiveness without limit marking the very doorposts of our heart and soul with his blood.

Nothing is withheld from you. “All that is mine is yours,” Jesus declares. “I, the undersigned, do hereby declare it”

“Take, eat; this is my body…Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood of the new testament, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Palm Sunday Sermon: "Entrances and Exits"

+ Palm Sunday – April 13th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: John 12:12-19; Isaiah 50:4-9; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:20-43

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Palm Sunday is a day of entrances and exits. Think about how many times we enter and exit places.
This morning you’ve already entered several rooms in your home, your car, and here into the Lord’s house. In a short while you’ll exit this church and leave the liturgy of the Divine Service for the liturgy of life in your vocations where you’ll enter into service where Christ has stationed you.
Entrances and exits surround our weekly routines: grocery store, school, work, and home.
Entrances and exits are also a part of our earthly life: in birth we enter, at death we exit. But that is not the final entrance. 

There is also your exit from sin and death in Holy Baptism – such as Jennifer and Donovan receive today. Our old sinful nature is drowned and buried and a new nature in Christ arises. Baptism is also an entrance, the doorway into the kingdom of God, a new birth by water and the Spirit. That’s why many churches place their baptismal font at the entrance of the church, a physical reminder that we enter the Church through the waters of Baptism. In Baptism we exit death and enter into Christ’s death and life for us.
Our Christian life is full of entrances and exits. Members move away and enter a new church home. Family and friends die and enter eternal rest awaiting the grand entrance of the Resurrection. And new members join. Confirmation continues. Baptism gathers God’s children into the ark of the Church and into the arms of Jesus and they’re blessed. We enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise as we kneel in the Holy Place and receive Christ’s body and blood. Heaven enters earth. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross enters our mouth.
Palm Sunday is a day of entrances and exits, for you and for Jesus.
Today Jesus enters the holy city riding atop a prophesied donkey:
The crowds wave palm branches and shout the words of Psalm 118: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Today we join the crowds in this sacred song. Hosanna! Lord, save us.

Jesus entered Jerusalem for this reason. Jesus is your Hosanna. Jesus comes in the Name of the Lord for you. Jesus enters Jerusalem to save you. It is just as the prophet Zechariah foretold:
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
    sitting on a donkey's colt!”

Jesus’ life is also full of entrances and exits. Before Jesus entered Jerusalem he entered the home of Mary and Martha. And upon his Word, Lazarus exited the grave.
Before that Jesus entered a village and healed a blind man so that he could exit the darkness and enter Christ’s life-giving light.
Jesus entered the homes of the sick and the sinners. Jesus entered the synagogues proclaiming that he was the promised Messiah who would give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, raise the dead, and free us from bondage to sin and death – a grand exit.
Jesus entered the towns of Samaria in order to rescue the outcast and outsider.
Jesus entered the wilderness in order to endure temptation for you and rebuke Satan for you, and to tell him to exit his presence at once.
Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan in order to enter into your death as your substitute.
Jesus entered the temple as a 12 year old boy with the Word of God upon his lips.
Jesus entered the temple at eight days old in order to fulfill the entire Law by receiving circumcision and his name, Jesus, for he shall save you from your sins.
Jesus exited the womb of Mary; he entered this world with our human flesh all so that he could make these entrances. So that he could make the most important entrance of all: into Jerusalem, through the gates, up to the temple, up to upper room, out to the garden of Gethsemane, into the city, up on the cross. This is the hour for which he came. Palm Sunday gives way to Good Friday. Palms give way to passion. Triumph gives way to crucifixion.
Entrances and Exits.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
The Palm Sunday crowds are right. Jesus is a king, But He is no ordinary King. His kingdom is not of this world. His donkey is borrowed. His royal robes are worn only in mockery. His head is crowned with thorns. His throne is a cross. His spends his Sabbath day rest in the tomb. He goes to holy war by dying for His people and kingdom. Never has the world seen such a King as this one.
Jesus exits Jerusalem and enters the judgment and punishment of our sin. He goes to the cross, to his death, for all the times we’ve entered into sin. There’s no deadly sin we haven’t stuck our noses in. And for all that – the sinner we are and the sin we do - we deserve to be ones entering our graves. But we’re not. Jesus takes your place. Jesus enters Jerusalem and exits it again for you. Jesus enters the cross for you. Jesus exits his last breath for you. Jesus enters the tomb for you. All so that Jesus’ mercy never exits from us, no matter how often we’ve entered into sin.
For Jesus did not stay in the tomb. Jesus exited. Jesus rose. Jesus lives. Jesus entered death and came out again, taking you and a fallen world with him. And like OT Ruth we confess: Where you go, I will go.
Jesus leaves the grave behind. Jesus ascends. Jesus enters the eternal reign of heaven. But Jesus does not leave you alone.
Jesus fills His church, this place - and every place where his word, water, body and blood are given – with all of his life-restoring, sin-forgiving, heaven-opening entrances and exits. The cross of Christ is the key and the door to paradise.
This is what Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is all about. Through all of Jesus’ entrances and exits you are saved, hallowed, blessed, given mercy, redemption, and the guarantee of an exit from death and an entrance into life.
Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Today we join the crowds and sing Hosannas as we enter the Holy Place and Jesus draws us to himself again. He gathers us around His table, His body, and His blood. His forgiveness of sins and eternal life enter the doorway of our lips. Hosanna! Blessed are you who come in the Name of the Lord!
Palm Sunday is a joyous reminder that in all the entrances and exits of life, Christ goes ahead of you, Christ goes with you, and Christ goes for you.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.