Monthly Archives: March 2008

The Resurrection of Our Lord

“Wonder, Fear, Great Joy”

Matthew 28:1-10

 

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

Have you ever had a dream so startling that it made your mouth go dry and your stomach drop?  Your face flushed and you woke up, soaked in sweat.  The dream was so vivid and disturbing that it took you a minute or two to decide whether it was just a dream or whether it had really happened.  I imagine that the two Marys must have had something of that feeling, but what was happening to them was really happening.  As they went early to view the tomb, a feeling of unreality must have settled over them like a dense fog.  In this story, there is no one completely faithful to Jesus.  Oh, their sweet piety is touching; in the other gospels, we are told that they are going to anoint Jesus’ body for its permanent burial.  But anointed corpses are still corpses; dead is dead is dead.  Nothing to see at this tomb but fear and unbelief.

We all know the story.  The angel, the empty tomb, the risen Lord, etcetera.  Come on, Marys, we want to say.  Don’t you remember!  As He said.  He said it at least three times in Matthew’s Gospel, that He would be handed over, tried, condemned, mocked, beaten, and crucified-and, on the third day, raised again.  How could you have forgotten?  But surely our own thoughts and feelings are not above reproach.  Have we forgotten Him who said “Do this in remembrance of me”?  Perhaps the remembrance has become a mere mental recreation of the scene before the cross and the scene before the empty tomb.  Maybe we have made the remembering into a psychological parlor trick.  Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary may have come to mourn a dead man, but at least their mourning was turned to fear and great joy.  Can we muster even half that?  How is it that we’ve lost the wonder, the fear, the great joy of this festive day.  Why do I, why do you, come here on this day?  What does it mean, beyond chocolate and colored eggs, beyond the big dinner and the gathering of family?

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The Vigil of Easter

[I preached St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Sermon, which follows]

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?  Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?  Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary from fasting?  Let them now receive their due!

If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their reward.

If any have come after the third hour, let them with gratitude join in the feast!

Those who arrived after the sixth hour, let them not doubt; for they shall not be short-changed.

Those who have tarried until the ninth hour, let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.  The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour, even as to those who toiled from the beginning.

To one and all the Lord gives generously.  The Lord accepts the offering of every work.
The Lord honours every deed and commends their intention.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike, receive your reward.  Rich and poor, rejoice together!

Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day!  You who have kept the fast, and you who have not, rejoice, this day, for the table is bountifully spread!

Feast royally, for the calf is fatted.  Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the banquet of faith.  Enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s goodness!

Let no one grieve being poor, for the universal reign has been revealed.

Let no one lament persistent failings, for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the death of our Saviour has set us free.

The Lord has destroyed death by enduring it.  The Lord vanquished hell when he descended into it.  The Lord put hell in turmoil even as it tasted of his flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said, “You, O Hell, were placed in turmoil when he encountered you below.”

Hell was in turmoil having been eclipsed.  Hell was in turmoil having been mocked.
Hell was in turmoil having been destroyed.  Hell was in turmoil having been abolished.
Hell was in turmoil having been made captive.

Hell grasped a corpse, and met God.  Hell seized earth, and encountered heaven.
Hell took what it saw, and was overcome by what it could not see.

O death, where is your sting?  O hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are cast down!  Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!  Christ is risen, and life is set free!
Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead.

For Christ, having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Christ be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!


Good Friday II

“Yahweh Remembers: He Pours Out”

Zechariah 12:10-14

 

The Word of God for our consideration tonight comes from the prophet Zechariah, chapter 12: [Zechariah 12:10-14]

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

Look upon your God; you have pierced Him through.  Your coveting and stealing have made stripes on His back.  Your lying and murdering have put thorns into His blessed brow.  Your dishonoring of parents and those in authority have put nails through His hands and feet.  And your desecration of His holy day, your misusing of His Name, and your multiplying gods have pierced His side, marking Him as one dead.  Behold, this is your God.  You have killed Him.  Do you mourn for what you have done?  Do you mourn as bitterly as if you had lost your only child, knowing that your body would bring forth no others?  Weep bitterly, O people, because you have looked upon the one you pierced, and seen in Him the everlasting Son of the Father.

The earth itself mourns: the rocks split in agony, the land shakes in terror, the created lights of the sky hide their faces in grief, and all is darkness as the eternal God dies.  And here we gather, the members of each family by themselves, confronted with a blasphemy so enormous that it is a wonder that existence did not cease immediately.  “God must die.  It is a lie so monstrous that to suggest it invites instant annihilation-except that God accepts the verdict” (Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon, 27).  And we mourn, each for our own self and for our own sin.  But if mourning is the only conclusion to what happened on a Roman cross, then there will be no end, because there is no end to your sin or mine.  Keep digging, and you will find nothing but death and more death.  And so God pours out “a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy” (Zechariah 12:10, ESV).  He pours out His own Spirit upon us so that we do not continue to hide our faces in tears and mourning.  There is no hope that way.  But our God is a God of hope, not of despair.  If you did not have the Spirit, you would not cry out for mercy and plead for grace.  Even more, if you did not know that this one was pierced for you, you could hope for neither mercy nor grace.  Your sin is too great for mere wishing and wanting.  You need the drastic and devastating grace of God in Jesus Christ: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV).  In “Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19, ESV).  It was precisely because the families of the world could not reconcile themselves to God, and because God did not need to be reconciled to the world, that God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself.  The best works of human ingenuity could not do it.  Neither could the profoundest grief and regret.  And it is here that we come to the heart of the mystery, the divinest irony: only the Son of God pierced through and murdered could forgive those who pierced and murdered Him.  God accepts the capital sentence, the verdict imposed upon Him by His pathetic creatures, and He dies for them.  This is love.

So, beloved, “stay a while in the eclipse of the light, stay a while with the conquered One.  There is time enough for Easter…The life of all on this day died.  Stay a while with that dying” (Neuhaus, 2).  Here, these three short days, are not three days in the history of the world; they are the history of the world.  Time itself is bound up with these hours, and there-here-the life of the Christ is given for the life of the world.  Stay and watch, for just a brief moment.  The Resurrection is nothing if not the resurrection of the crucified one.  It is not for nothing that St. John saw a “Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 3:6, ESV).  No, because He was slain, and by His blood He ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 3:9).  And so we, too, find our home.  “Here, through the cross, we have come home, home to the truth about ourselves, home to the truth about what God has done about what we have done.  And now we know, or begin to know, why this awful, awe-filled Friday is called good” (Neuhaus, 34).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/14/08

Good Friday I (Seven Last Words)

“The First Word: What Do You Know?”

Luke 23:34

 

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

The first word: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, ESV).  His cross carried by another.  Multitudes mourning and lamenting Him, to whom Jesus says, “[D]o not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children…For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry” (Luke 23:28, 31, ESV)?  Thieves on either side of Him; as promised, He is numbered among the transgressors.  Naked and alone, while soldiers throw dice for His clothing and the insults of the people fall on His holy head.  And in the midst of this chaotic and appalling scene of human blasphemy, Jesus speaks: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And they didn’t.  They could not see God bloodied and gasping for breath.  They could not see their sin weighing Him down.  But that is precisely the monstrous crime of sin-filled men and women: they could not and would not see God, because seeing might lead to believing.  “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11, ESV).

And what do you know?  Do you know what you are doing?  Do you know what your little biting remarks do to that person for whom Christ died?  Do you know how your lustful glance degrades that daughter of Christ?  Do you know that your bitterness over that perceived slight poisons every word you speak?  Do you know how your lack of forgiveness mocks Christ’s death every bit as much as those crowds gathered before the spectacle of another crucifixion?  And Christ speaks: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And we don’t.  We do not see others as blood-bought children of the living God.  We do not behold Christ in them.  We treat them as unworthy of the forgiveness which, just as undeservedly, God has freely bestowed upon us.  The wood is dry, and we do things of which those crowds could not have conceived.  And so it is all necessary.  The betraying and the denying.  The handing over and the sentence of death.  The bearing of the cross and the falling.  The carrying of the cross by Simon, stained and soaked by the Savior’s blood.  The weeping and lamenting, the crucifying, the gambling, the mocking, and the dying.  All necessary, because you and I have no idea what we are doing.  We have done it so long that it is our nature, and even when we know, we still do it.  And the one who says, “Father, forgive them” provides the way by which that forgiveness is given.  Nothing but the blood of Jesus can save people who don’t know what they are doing.

So, today watch and see and know.  Listen to His words from the cross.  Know that it is your sin on the shoulders of the crucified one.  Know that His blood pools in the dust of this old world and flows in a saving stream to all corners of the earth.  Know that He is God in flesh, dying for everything you have done and everything you are.  And know that His first word from the cross will be His last word for you on the day when you stand before His Father: “Father, forgive them.”  Because He knows what He is doing, and He does it for you.

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

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/13/08

Holy Thursday

“Yahweh Remembers: He Removes Uncleanness”

Zechariah 13:1-9

 The Word of God for our consideration this Holy Thursday comes from the prophet Zechariah: [Zechariah 13:1-9]

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

The fountain has been opened.  It flows unceasingly for the people of God, for you.  Yahweh says, My people have been fouled by the filth of their sin for too long.  And so, in anticipation of His death, our Lord wrote His last will and testament into the minds of His Apostles.  “Take, eat; this is my body”; “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28, ESV).  As Jesus hung on the cross, He gave His last breath.  And then, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34, ESV).  “Rock of Ages, cleft for me,/Let me hide myself in Thee;/Let the water and the blood,/From Thy riven side which flowed,/Be of sin the double cure:/Cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r” (LSB 761, st. 1).  But the fountain of cleansing was opened even before that moment.  With every stroke of the whip, new wells were dug.  With every hole made by a thorn, new springs of purity were opened.  And with the nails in hands and feet, the life of the Living God flowed forth and watered that blessed ground.  This fountain of living water, this fountain of cleansing from sin and uncleanness, is the one from which we will drink tonight.  Perfect, divine Body, broken for us!  Holy, purifying Blood, shed for us!  The mystery is beyond telling.

Why, then, would we refuse this miraculous gift of God, for whatever reason?  Why do we not hunger and thirst for His righteousness as often as we can get it?  No, thank you, Jesus.  I’ve had enough forgiveness today.  But in the very thought or utterance of those words, we show that our condition is worse than we first thought.  Which man is sicker, the one who recognizes that he is sick, or the one who denies that the cancer has spread throughout his whole body?  Will you pretend that your flesh has no hold on you, that you are untouched by the world and its temptations, that the devil does not prowl around you every waking moment, whispering the seeds of sin into your ears until they are implanted and full-grown in your mind and heart?  Take heed of the danger at every turn; sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you.  Take and eat; take and drink, that you may be strengthened against every temptation.

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Issues, Etc.

If you are at all concerned about Lutheranism in America, read this.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein


The Sunday of the Passion

“See, We Are Going Up To Jerusalem”

Matthew 20:17-19; Matthew 27:11-66

             In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Are we there yet?  The perpetual question of every child in the backseat of carriages, station wagons, minivans, and SUVs since time immemorial: are we there yet?  And just as those children know that the destination at the end of their journey is grandma and grandpa’s or the campground or Disneyland, we, too, know that the destination at the end of Lent is Easter.  We’ve already had six weeks of this Lent stuff: somber music, no Alleluias, ashes and sackcloth, repentance and sin.  And maybe that’s just too long, leaving us claustrophobic and exhausted by the time Holy Saturday rolls around.  We long for a reprieve from all this purple and black and solemnity.  Are we there yet?

Not yet; and we should not travel too hurriedly, as if we already know all about sin and death and cross, and all we really need now is the good news and the accompanying good feelings.  It is true that what we need, as a human race, is some good news, but we do not need clichés, platitudes, sugar-coating, and triviality.  In order to know how good–indeed, how wondrous and incomprehensible–this good news is, we must first know how bad–indeed, how evil and shocking–is the darkness in our own hearts.  We have some miles to travel before we arrive, but we are on our way.  “[A]s Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem.  And 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'” (Matthew 20:17-19, ESV).

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