Third Sunday of Easter

“What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It?”

Parts 3 and 4: Salutation/Collect through Creed

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

“The Lord be with you.” (“And with thy spirit.”) This is not, “Hi, how ya doin’?” “Fine; you?” As the one whom you have called to carry out the responsibility before this altar, I am speaking the blessing of the Lord Jesus to you. And you, as the body of Christ in this place, are affirming the call and the ordination. When I was ordained and installed here, you promised to honor and uphold me as your pastor, and that you would receive me, show me that love, honor, and obedience in the Lord that you owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over you by your Lord Jesus Christ. When we speak this Salutation to one another, you are renewing my ordination and my installation as your pastor. You are saying, “Yes, we have called you by the Holy Spirit to gather our prayers and speak them to God before this altar.” They do not cease to be your prayers, however. I say, “Let us pray.” We are praying together. But since God is a God of order rather than disorder, one of us must speak on behalf of all. And so, as I invite all who are gathered to pray, I “collect” those prayers into a single, concentrated prayer, which sums up the Church’s focus for the day. It is the reappearance of the thread which began with the Introit, and which we will see again in the readings, Gradual, and sermon. As we look at the Introit, Collect, and Gradual for today, we can begin to piece together a picture: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1, ESV)! “O God, through the humiliation of Your Son You raised up the fallen world.” “Christ has risen from the dead. God the Father has crowned him with glory and honor, He has given him dominion over the works of his hands; he has put all things under his feet.” The fallen world has been raised up because Jesus lowered Himself; but the Lord is still Lord, and those who are under the Lord’s dominion, that is, those who recognize the risen Lord as their Lord, also dwell together in the unity of the Spirit given by that Lord. We, as this united body of the Lord, offer together our prayer to the Lord of all creation. “Grant to your faithful people, rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys” (Collect for Easter III).

There are two major parts of the one Divine Service. The first is the Service of the Word, in which we receive from the mouths of God’s apostles and prophets His Word. Up until the readings, we have spoken. Now we are silent as God speaks. Through the readings, we are slowly building, as we begin with the prophets who foretell salvation through the name of Jesus. “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). Week to week, we hear again the words of God that He spoke in those many and various ways. Following the reading from the Old Testament, we have the Gradual, the use of which is at least 1500 years old. The Gradual acts like a step as we move from the Old Testament to the New; from the shadows to the substance, which is Christ (Colossians 2:17). The Epistle, as you probably know, is always a section from a New Testament letter (which is what “epistle” means), and so we hear from both the forerunners of Jesus and those He sent out into the world. (“Apostle” means one who is “sent out.”) We are not in the practice of using the Verse following the Epistle, but it is really the second half of the Gradual. The Verse for the Third Sunday of Easter is “Alleluia. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. Alleluia. Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? Alleluia.” As we hear the Verse, we are again moving upward, from the prophets and the apostles to the words of Jesus Himself, for which we stand in reverence. “…now in these last days, [God] has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1).

As I say or chant “The Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, the 24th chapter” I make the sign of the cross three times, praying that God would make holy my mind, my mouth, and my heart as I speak His Word. Before and after the proclamation of the Gospel, we give glory and praise to the Jesus who is present among us. This is the Word of God in our flesh, speaking His Word to us. “[Y]ou have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word,” the Word that stands forever, “is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25, ESV). It is only by this proclaimed Word that men and women are saved, and it is only Christ by His Spirit who can open the minds and hearts of blind and dead people. Jesus says, “‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27, ESV). It is Christ who speaks, Christ who interprets, and Christ who enlightens hearts and minds.

In the Name of this Christ, let us now pray as His redeemed and unified Body; and, as that Body, we pray for holy minds, holy hearts, and holy ears to hear the Word of God which He speaks to us. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. We have heard the Word of God, beloved, and so we speak back to God His promises. We have nothing which we have not first received (1 Corinthians 4:7). All our confession, all our prayer, all our theology, is (or should be) a speaking back to God the gifts and promises that He has given to us in His Word. The Word “creed” comes from the Latin word for “I believe,” credo. We have two creeds which we use regularly, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed, which we will use today, is a baptismal creed. We find in it the basic confession of the baptized Christian, which is why a candidate for baptism speaks the Apostles’ Creed. The questions have been asked since nearly the very beginning of Christian congregations: Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in God the Son? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? In the answers to these questions is the essence of our Faith. And our answers are not some abstract thoughts about God. The confession you and I make as we speak the Apostles’ Creed is as personal as it gets. This is the story of your salvation. You are saying, “I believe that God has created me and all creatures.” “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.” “I believe that the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith.” As we continue to speak this Creed after many centuries, we find ourselves in the midst of the great cloud of witnesses, among whom were those early Christians who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). We, too, holding up the Creed as the summary banner of what it means to be a believer in Christ, are devoting ourselves to the teaching of the apostles, after whom the Creed is named.

The Nicene Creed is similar in many ways to the Apostles’, but it, like the Athanasian Creed, was forged in the heat of controversy with the enemies of Christ. At that time, as today, there were those asking the questions: what does it mean that Jesus is true God? What does it mean that He is true man? Who is the Holy Spirit? The Church searched the Scriptures for answers to these questions, and the Creed we have today is the result of that searching. Christians take this Creed, like the Apostles’, not to be the testimony of a single group of people in the fourth century, but as the unanimous confession of the Christian Church, which bears witness to the Faith of the Scriptures. People have died, and still die today, for the Faith that the Creeds confess, so do not speak the words lightly. As the Church speaks, it is unavoidable that this confession, like other confessions, does not only gather Christians together, but excludes those who do not confess it. Those who believe that God is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are excluded. Those who believe that Jesus is not fully God are excluded. Those who do not confess “one Baptism for the remission of sins” are excluded. Those who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead at the end of time are excluded. This exclusivity is the unavoidable consequence of confessing the Scriptural Faith. But we do not confess it in order to exclude, but that those who do not confess it might hear the Word of God and have their eyes opened by the Lord of the Scriptures. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). This is the promise given to the Church, by which disciples are made: Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV). Baptism and teaching; teaching and baptism: they always go together. In no other way and by no other means are disciples of Jesus Christ made. The promise is for you, who were once far off. But the promise is also for your children. And it is, first of all, the responsibility of parents to teach the promises of God to their children. Those who do not are breaking the promise they made at their children’s baptism, and they are endangering the faith that was given at baptism. It is a fearful responsibility to be a parent. The Faith of the Scriptures, which we confess in the Creeds, demands that we pass it on to our children; but it also promises that the Lord will bless His Word as we give to them what was first given to us. Pray for the strength and the grace to hand these great gifts down to your children.

Having spoken the Creeds so many times, you may need to engage your bodies once again as you speak them. In both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, you may wish to make the sign of Jesus’ cross at “the life of the world to come,” reminding yourself that you have life in this world and the next only because Jesus gave up His life on the cross. In both Creeds, you may wish to bow your head at the Name of Jesus, which we talked about last week. Finally, during the Nicene Creed, you may see me “genuflect,” or bow, at these words: “and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” If you wish, you may bow at those words because of the deep mystery in them. We have the sort of God who would become a man to save us, and be born of a Jewish virgin in Palestine! It is incomprehensible to our limited minds, which is proven by the many attempts to solve the mystery and make it logical and understandable. We forget that the Incarnation, that the Son became a Man, is, by definition “logical” because it was the Word, the logos, who became flesh for us. It is our logic that is off; our reason and understanding that are crooked. And so we bow, because understanding the Incarnation is beyond us. Yet, the Incarnation itself is not beyond us, because it means God with us, Immanuel. “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:13-14, ESV).

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

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/1/08

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