Sunday, March 23, 2008

Issues Etc petition

I am sure that almost anyone who would find their way to my blog has probably already heard about the cancellation of my FAVORITE radio program, Issues Etc, as it has been amply publicized through the numerous other Lutheran blogs out there. However, if by chance you have not, please view the online petition to reinstate the program.

If you are a listener, I'm sure you've probably signed already. If you don't listen, or haven't heard of Issues Etc, please check out the monthly archive and listen to some of the program. I wouldn't want or expect non-listeners to sign, just for the sake of having more signatures, but give the program a listen and I think you will quickly realize what a jewel our church has lost.

My personal feeling is that this show was an invaluable resource, and I almost couldn't download the programs fast enough, to go home and listen to them. It kept me informed on a host of issues, ranging from Biblical and theological issues, to news events in the broader and politics. Highly respected and knowledgeable guests from areas of apologetics, ethics, politics, and a slew of theological topics kept my thinking and my faith rigorously engaged in Christ-centered, cross-focused dialogue. A tremendous outreach worldwide, and a shame to have lost this. My hope and prayer is that this decision will be reversed soon. God bless!

Easter Sermon on John 20:1-8, "The Message of the Empty Tomb"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. The sermon text for this Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord, is John 20:1-18, our Gospel reading. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal. 1:4-5)

Today is a day of doxology! That is, a day of high worship and praise to our Resurrected Lord and King. Today the church bursts forth with its songs of Alleluia, to acknowledge and worship the mystery of our salvation, which precedes and exceeds our lives. Today our Alleluias leap forward from the tomb, together with the Risen Lord. “Break forth, hosts of heaven, in jubilant song and earth, sea, and mountain their praises prolong!” We sing and lift our voices because today is a day of Victory. So we join in our victory shout: “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!”

Yet we can’t fully understand that Easter is a day of Victory, until we first realize what the victory is all about, and why Jesus had been in the tomb in the first place! As some of you remember from Pastor Fricke and Pastor Cassidy’s recent dialogue, many would like to skip past or forget about Good Friday, and go right on to Easter. I’m not referring to whether or not anyone came to or were able to attend Good Friday services, but that often, even for those of us who do attend, we’d rather not think about Good Friday at all. Leave the somber songs and shadows behind, and skip to the celebration! Yet we cannot separate the celebration of Easter from Good Friday and what happened there. Just as there is no Easter without Good Friday, so also Good Friday cannot be called “Good” unless it is followed by Easter. So let’s take a closer look, and see what the Message of the Empty Tomb is.

The Empty Tomb speaks of the defeat of a powerful enemy. It speaks of God taking on the powers of darkness singlehandedly, and defeating them by His blood shed on the cross (Acts 20:28). The reason we can’t separate the celebration of Easter from Good Friday, is that Good Friday, the day that Jesus died, shows us how fearsome our enemy was. It took no small battle or conflict to defeat this enemy of ours. The three-fold enemy of sin, death, and the devil stood poised against us, with our eternal life in the crosshairs. And God stepped in between. You and I and all of humanity faced eternal judgment for our sins, which really are rebellion against God.

Though we shudder at the pains Jesus endured on the cross, and would want to deny that we had any part in it, it was the sins of each and every person that He suffered for on that cross. That is to say, the cross shows us that we have repaid God pain for His love. His love in coming to seek and to save the lost. Worse than unintentionally hurting a friend—whether we wished it or not, our sins burdened Christ at the cross, and were the cause of death for our Lord. Yet the miracle of Good Friday, and the miracle of Easter is that Jesus bore this burden of our sins willingly! And that He did not bear them in futility or to no purpose, but so that they might be buried with Him in that tomb! And our sins do not rise with our Resurrected Lord from that tomb, but stay buried forever. So forgive us, Lord, for the times when we have hidden our faces from your Crucified One, Jesus Christ. Forgive us for despising and rejecting the man of sorrows, who was acquainted with our grief. (Isaiah 53) Teach us to mourn, that we may truly learn how to rejoice—to rejoice in the One who was wounded for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; and punished to bring us peace and healing through His wounds. Yes, Lord! May we learn to rejoice that this our crucified Lord is also our Resurrected Lord, who has shattered sin and death’s hold over our lives!

Yet even on that first Easter morning, it took a little while for the joy to take hold. When Mary and the women went to the tomb of Jesus, fear still haunted the grave. How deeply did the sorrow of Good Friday still weigh on their hearts!? How short an absence, that Jesus was gone for but three days, and the whole world of the disciples had fallen into hopelessness, fear, and despair. How incomparable His presence, that living and teaching among them would be one who so deeply knew our human hurt and human need. His words spoke to the depths of the human heart in ways that were deeply unsettling for the prideful and the vain, and were profoundly comforting to the lost and helpless. And they came to pay what respects and honors they had to the dead body of Jesus, whom they had seen crucified and died. But the stone had been rolled away from the tomb!

Mary Magdalene ran to the disciples Peter and John, to tell them that the body of Jesus was missing! As if to worsen the grief of Jesus’ death, had His enemies now taken His body for further dishonor? Again, it’s fear that haunts the grave. The difficulty with which we face death echoes the realization that there is something unnatural and deeply saddening about seeing the body apart from the soul, its life. We still hold the body in reverence after death. We can understand the anxious fear and grief that Mary experienced when the body of Jesus was missing. Could their abuse and mistreatment of my Lord not end with His death? Would they further disgrace Him by taking His body too? Yet she did not have the full story. John and Peter arrive at the grave. Perhaps gripped by the same fear of the grave, John does not enter, but sees the burial cloths.

Bold Peter dashes into the tomb without hesitation, giving courage to John to follow. The sight in the tomb is a puzzling one. Who could have taken the body of Jesus, and how? With the blood-stained burial linens and the burial cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head left behind? If someone had moved the body, the cloths would have gone with it. You can imagine that the blood-soaked cloths would be difficult to remove from the body, and unnecessary if someone were trying to steal it. And everything was neatly folded and separate? Whatever had happened, there was no rush. Still adding this all up in their minds, Peter and John returned to their homes—John having seen and believed. Not fully grasping yet what the Scriptures had taught: that it was necessary for Jesus to rise from the dead. But fear was losing its grip.

Mary Magdalene, still grieving and assuming Jesus to be dead, isn’t even consoled by the appearance of two angels in the tomb. She pleads with them, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put Him.” Confused and misled by fear and despair, Mary turns around to see the Resurrected Jesus Himself, in living human flesh! Yet her thoughts are still so shaped by death that she cannot see clearly to recognize Him, till He simply speaks her name: “Mary!” Instant recognition! Suddenly fear had not only lost its grip, but Jesus’ Word had broken its hold altogether! Clouds and mists of uncertainty were vaporized as the Risen Son came into her presence.

Isn’t it just like that for us? Fear still haunts the grave for many today. We fear death and the unknown, and this is obvious from all the superstitions that develop about ghosts and spirits, about graves and battlegrounds of the dead. But even for those who hold no superstitions, the death of loved ones can be a trying time when fear and despair confuse and mislead us. Clouds and mists of uncertainty may seem to block the sunlight from us. Death shapes or rather distorts our thinking. We may endure a time of anger against God for taking away our loved ones. Or we may simply grieve the loss. And so the message of the empty tomb, the message of Easter, comes all the more sweetly to us in our sadness.

For God views us, like Mary, in our fear, despair, and grief; and He calls to us. He calls us by name. Jesus calls us by name from our fear and distress over death. He calls us through His Word and through Holy Baptism, where we are named as God’s own child, and buried and raised with Him in the baptismal waters. Does God allow us to dwell for a time in uncertainty, to test our faith? Yes, but His comforting Word is quick to follow and strengthen us. What then, does Easter tell us about the death of our loved ones? It teaches us that Christ is the firstborn from the dead, and that in Christ, all who believe shall follow after Him in His resurrection to life. So death is a defeated enemy, but the last enemy to be destroyed before heaven (1 Cor. 15:20-26). As the hymn puts it, “O where is your sting, death? We fear you no more; Christ rose and now open is fair Eden’s door. For all our transgressions His blood does atone; Redeemed and forgiven, we now are His own” (LSB 480).

The message of the Empty Tomb, then, is that Christ has overcome death and the grave. That we have become the beneficiaries or recipients of a truly cosmic battle—that God has defeated the powers of evil, and exchanged our guilt for His innocence through His death on the cross. Although we repaid God with pain for His love, through our sins that nailed Him to the cross, He willingly endured this so that He might rescue us from the deadly powers that held sway over us. The message of the Empty Tomb is of an earth-shaking victory (literally, there was an earthquake!) that brings us forgiveness and life, as the spoils of that victory. The victory that cost Jesus His life. “But short was their triumph; the Savior arose, And death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes. The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high; He lives, yes, He lives, and will nevermore die!”

So knowing that we have been the recipients of so great a victory, we go together with Mary to tell our brothers and sisters of Jesus, our Risen Lord, who has gone to His Father and Our Father, to His God and Our God. We have learned to grieve, so that we might learn to truly rejoice with full knowledge. We sing our Alleluias and raise our glad voice in the hymns of Easter, to rejoice that fear and death have lost their grip over us! For we share in the victory of the crucified and risen Lord. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.