Quinquagesima (within 50 days of Easter)
Read Luke 18:31-43
It was a dual festival celebration, the Purification of Mary and Presentation of Jesus in the temple along with Transfiguration.
Two Gospel texts were read for the day: Luke 2:22-40, Matthew 17:1-9
To the church of God that is in Arlington, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
What if it didn’t happen? What if there were no resurrection? What if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead on the first Easter? What would that be like? What would life look like? In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul wrote that, ‘if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.’ According to Paul, our faith would be futile and we would remain in our sins. He went on: ‘If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.’ We would be pitiable. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus – body and all – that first Easter Sunday, would there be any Christians? What would we be?
It’s hard to imagine a world not centered on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. How would the years be numbered? Would Rome have fallen when it did? How long would it have taken for the new world, the Americas, to be settled?
Or, to think about it on a more personal level, what would we believe and how would we live according to that faith, or lack of faith? I imagine we would probably begin by not going to church, and then…
If Christ had not been raised, parents wouldn’t bring children for baptism, nor would they bring their children to Sunday School or to Confirmation instruction. Most would spend the time instead focusing on sports, school events, and other activities every day and every night of the week.
If Christ had not been raised, Sunday is just another day, the weekend looks different because it is not structured around a time for worship.If Christ had not been raised, men and women would live together without the Lord’s blessing of holy marriage. Indeed, every aspect of the human life and body would fall under the authority of the individual. We’d have no grounding, nothing to fall back on to determine right and wrong, good and evil.
If Christ had not been raised, there would not only not be any baptisms, confirmations, or weddings; there would be no funerals, either. Instead we’d find other means of marking the deaths of those in our lives, but with no hope to our own resurrection.
You see, the most pivital event in history is the structure of our society and life. Yet, all too often we take it for granted and live our life during the week without Christ, we go about the seasons neglecting to be strengthened and kept in His grace.
We could certainly go on, but that would be a truly pitiable existence. If you don’t have the actual resurrection of the body, Paul says, then you don’t have Jesus. Thanks be to God, however, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns eternally.
Because he is alive, our whole life has meaning. Baptized into his name, we are a new people. He rescues us from every sin, washes us in His righteousness, and feeds us and our faith with His life-giving gifts.
In this life and world, we are tempted in every way and at all times to believe it isn’t true that Christ has been raised and lives. We are tempted in every way and at all times to live as if Christ had not been raised. Lord, have mercy on all of us! How many of us find ourselves fighting against these temptations? Where can we turn? Where can we go?
To Christ! Go to Christ – turn to him! He is your Savior who forgives you when you are tempted and forgives you when you have given into temptation. His blood is the price that was paid for you, and do not take it lightly that he deemed you worthy of his death. Even though it is freely given, it is the most precious thing. Repent of sin and believe that Christ is risen from the dead for you!
There is no time like the present to refocus and refresh your faith and life in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is as Paul said so stridently and joyfully to his beloved Corinthians: ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’
He is risen from the dead and as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, his resurrection is simply the first of the rest to follow, including yours. You, yes YOU, are his chosen, his beloved. He will raise you, too, unto life everlasting!
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
And so, our chorus, our alleluias, praise the Lord, continues:
(choir sings rendition of Hallelujah Chorus from cantata “How Great Thou Art”)
If you have lived a good life, if you have served the Lord all your days, been faithful in all things and suffered for the Truth, then rejoice. This Easter victory is for you. If you are weary from the battle’s strain, of bearing a cross under fire, of the toll that this faith takes upon a man, rejoice. This Easter victory is for you. Even if you have not always lived a good life but came later to the faith, or if you’ve succumb to temptation and backslid, cursed and lied and stolen, betrayed your family and your friends, even if you’ve struggled with pride and vanity, lust and greed, but still retained, by grace, the faith so that his night you seek Jesus, then rejoice. Do not be in doubt. God is good and this Easter victory is for you.
And even if you have lived a terrible life and done shameful things, and only just now have repented and longed to see the Crucified One, do not be afraid. For the rest in the tomb of Jesus’ death gives rest to all no matter how bad or rotten or wrong they have been. He died for all. He would have even taken Judas back if Judas had repented and believed. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, God and man reconciled. He pays the wages of His love to all who believe in Him. He redeems the wickedness of earth and reconciles the world to Himself, and He rejoices with the holy angels who sing God’s praise for each sinner that repents.
This Easter victory is for you.
Let all rejoice in the goodness and generosity of the Lord. The good and the bad, the greatest and the least, the rich and the poor, the life-long members and the newly converted. Let all rejoice and receive the reward of Jesus’ death and resurrection, of His perfect live and substitution, of His wonderful mercy and grace beyond all telling.
Let all be glad today. The table is set. There is nothing more to do, nothing more to add, nothing more to believe for Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He has welcomed you not just as His guest, but as His precious and beloved Child in whom He is well-pleased.
Let none go forth hungry for righteousness. Let none feel inferior or weak or second-class. Do not doubt your place at the Lord’s table. Enjoy the feast of faith and receive the riches of His grace.
The seal of the grave is broken and the morning of the new creation breaks forth out of night. Darkness is dispelled. Slaves are redeemed. Wickedness takes to flight. Sin is washed away. Innocence is restored. For man is reconciled to God in Christ.
So do not weep for your sins: forgiveness has dawned from the tomb. Do not fear death: the death of the Savior has set you free. He has defeated death. It is no more. It is destroyed. He has captured Hell. He has abolished its cruel justice and mocked every one of its claims. He gave them His Body. He drained the Cup of Wrath. And Death could not keep a hold on Him. Its belly burst and spit Him upon our shores so that life is brought to light. Death is dead. Hell is conquered. Jesus lives. And the victory is for you.
Christ is risen, and Satan is cast down.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and Life lives and flourishes.
Christ is risen, and there are none dead left in the tombs.
Christ is risen, and so too shall you rise.
This Easter victory is your and your day will come. You grave will be as empty as His. So do not be afraid. Do not be sad. Rejoice. Your sins are forgiven, all that is to be feared has been conquered. This Easter victory is for you.
This is not what Jesus wanted.
Of course, he didn’t want the pain. Of course, he didn’t want the humiliation. Of course, he didn’t want the mocking, the beating, the spitting, the dying. But even more than that, Jesus never wanted these people, his people, to reject their rightful King.
And this execution among common criminals is the ultimate rejection of Jesus’ claim to be the one who brings God’s will and God’s Kingdom reign on earth as in heaven.
We kind of like it when people get what’s coming to ’em. We have little sympathy for people who are just getting what they deserve.
But God our Savior desires all people to be saved. Think of that! Our Savior doesn’t want people to get what’s coming to ’em; Jesus doesn’t want you to get what you deserve.
Jesus desires all to be saved, even this thief, even this common criminal who deserves the death that’s coming to him.
The cross is Jesus being mediator and ransom at the same time. The cross is what Jesus is willing to do in order to save people who deserve death. The cross in all its ugliness is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior—because the cross means the kingdom reign of God is coming into our ugly circumstances, even in the midst of sin and the consequences of sin; even in the face of death.
Jesus hangs there in weakness as they pile on insult after insult. The crown of thorns in his flesh is itself a sign of their ironic mocking, a crown for a king; a thorn for suffering.
Jesus, at his lowest point, rejected by people, abandoned by God, cries out words from a psalm, a hymn all about weakness, brokenness, thorns in the flesh, insults.
That ancient hymn begins with painful words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knows that song all too well. But the hymn of Psalm 22 does not end with abandonment. When all around is weakness and suffering and loss, a powerful theme returns to the music:
All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.
a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
The flogging and crucifixion are breaking his body, but what breaks his heart is love, love that wanted to bring these very people into the kingdom reign of God.
That love now speaks an amazing word, a word almost too wonderful to understand: Father, forgive them.
Not judgment, not hate, not vengeance. Even now Jesus stretches out his arms as a hen might gather chicks under her wings; he stretches out his hands to receive nails, and still he prays, Father forgive them.
And in the face of that rejection, Jesus persists. Jesus is unwilling to give up on them, even as they crucify him. Jesus is unwilling to give up on you, no matter how devastating your betrayal, how deep your rejection, how persistent your sin.
In response to those who would push him away, Jesus continues to reach out nail-pierced hands as he prays for the very people who put him on the cross, Father, forgive. And forgiven we are. Amen.
Most of us would wish at times to have a better memory. It would make things easier, we’d stay in contact better with people if we remembered them all, we’d recall all we’ve heard and all our tasks would easily be accomplished. But we struggle with this thing called memory. Students need assignment books and notes sent home, you have a desk calendar at work, and another calendar at home, and still another on your phone.
Of course, not everything is essential to remember. But sometimes we remember and memorialize and honor other priorities and we take for granted and neglect that which is essential. Part of it is that we are so often like Peter on this night, we think we know better, we think we know what is best for us at all times and we want to tell our Lord how He ought to serve us. We want to be washed in certain ways and have things go our own way.
But sooner or later, we repent, we remember the Lord and His mercy. This is the life of the Christian. Remembering. Not just as a mental exercise, but by holding memorial, and remembering with faith the promises given. We need reminders of what God has done. It’s why there was a Passover Seder, to remember the covenant promise, to memorialize and recall God’s saving action in redeeming the people from bondage. They were told what to do, sacrifice the lamb, its shed blood poured out over the door will save. The received the Word, God said do this and they did it by faith.
God said “do this” again as the entered the promised land, and instructed that a memorial be made with stones at the Jordan River.
The reason is simple and clear. We need memorials, we need reminders of what God has done and is doing still for us or we will do as so many do and seek to have things our way and prioritize ourselves.
This is memorial and remembrance that was recalled in the circumcision, recalling God’s promises to Abraham. The covenant is recalled in the eating the of the lamb at the Passover. God’s sparing us from death is remembered in every sacrificial offering made. Throughout Old and New Testament our Lord gives us memorials, reminders, to look toward and trust His Word and promises.
He tells the people: “Remember and forget not the Lord your God” (Deut. 8). “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Ex. 20). “Do not forget the works of God but keep His commandments” (Ps. 78). “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all families shall worship before Him” (Ps. 22). “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life, who crowns you with steadfast love” (Ps. 102).
In all times and in all situations we have physical reminders of what God has done and can remember how He has intervened in times of trouble. It’s why the stones of Notre Dame meant so much to so many. It is not just a place of history, but stones and wood and artwork that proclaimed God’s mercy. It’s why these stones here matter, not just a place many have memories and events, but the place where God gives Himself and washes not just your feet but your soul.
And so we keep what Jesus said. We “do this” that is eat His body, drink His blood, not just as a mental exercise but a memorial that proclaims the death and resurrection we celebrate this week. It’s why this week is the holiest of weeks and is to be highlighted, we need reminder, we need memorial. Our Lord knows this and gives them for us. So eat the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, drink of His blood shed for you.
Do this often. For in this memorial, in this Sacrament, your sins are forgiven. You will never come closer to the Lord than in this meal. When Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, he brought with him a small wafer and vile of wine, consecrated by his pastor. He read from the Gospel of John and had the Sacrament. He later said, “Then I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: The very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements. I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”
Regardless of where it is received, whether in a centuries old cathedral, on the moon, or here on the Arlington Prairie, Holy Communion is a precious gift of God. It’s as close as we can come to Christ this side of heaven. Receive it with a heart of thanks for it is the Lamb given for you. For it is the physical sign, that which you can taste and see, given with God’s Word and promise, to proclaim His death and resurrection, and receive the benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.
First there were 12, then there were 11, and the Church was faced with a problem. The perfect number 12 (the number of the tribes of Israel, for example) was lost by the son of perdition who refused to stand in the mercy of Christ. Was the Church to enter Pentecost and the great mission of proclaiming Jesus and His resurrection now one man short? Something must be done.
They come together and, as usual Peter takes charge. He stands up among the company of the 120 brothers and explains the problem and does not spare any of the gory details. Then he reaches back to the Psalms to justify forgetting Judas and leaving behind the memory of his unfaithfulness so that another might take his office.
Now comes the problem. Who wants to be the successor to Judas? No one would ever live down the memory of such a predecessor.
Peter outlines the qualifications: a man who has been with us, from the beginning, through it all, from the baptism of John until the day of Jesus’ ascension and someone who saw the risen Jesus (that drops the number of candidates). It seems that from the short list, they came down to a shorter list. Two, to be exact. Neither of whom we know anything about except that we know three times as much about the one who was not chosen as the one who was. He had three names and the one who was chosen had one.
And then they prayed. Joseph, called Barsabbas or Justus, and Matthias were praying that they would choose the other one… at least if they were smart. Continue reading
One of my favorite places to drive is the Mackinac Bridge that connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It truly is a magnificent, just over 5 miles long with two suspension towers, each tower standing 552 feet above the water and road 200 feet above the water. Spanning over the union of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. While it is quite a site and magnificent, I honestly couldn’t describe for you the view from the top.
For me, the key to riding over the bridge is to count the towers while driving along the curved middle road. It is a journey to travel over. And while you know the destination you can’t see it, you just know it is there. That’s the journey we are traveling on and we are just to the top of the road this Transfiguration Sunday.
The first tower so to speak is Moses. He lead the people from slavery out of Egypt. He is no stranger of crossing waters and not being able to see the destination. As the Red Sea parted he continued. That’s the thing about the bridge, you can’t see what is coming as the road is still climbing. You have to trust rather that simply what lies ahead will hold you and deliver you safely to the other side. That was God’s people, not seeing what lies ahead, traveling 40 years until they would even see the Promised Land, but trusting the Lord who holds them and leads them to the other side.
As the road continues to climb you pass the tower and only see the road. That road is the Word of the Lord. It continues the climb is represented throughout the Old Testament with Elijah, the prophet. He proclaimed the Word and promise of the Lord. He lead God’s people to trust that which upholds them with the great showing of burning wood and stones in the face of Baal worshipers. And so throughout the Old Testament the road climbed upward. Continue reading