Forth week of Easter May 3, 2020 – “Jesus Is Our Good Shepherd!” John 10:1-10

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St John, the 10 th Chapter.
“ 1 [Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door
but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today, on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. This is the
Sunday in which the believer’s attention is drawn to consider the very intimate relationship he or she has with Jesus. Jesus lays this relationship before His Church with these encouraging and comforting words recorded in John’s Gospel account.

When reading this tenth Chapter of John’s Gospel account, you may also drift in your mind’s eye to the Psalm of David that begins with these words – “The Lord is my shepherd.” Jesus embodies the Shepherd of David’s psalm. He seeks to guard and keep His flock, and lead His flock to the green pastures of God’s grace and the quite waters of God’s Word. Such places afford the believer the untold gifts of God which are rich in God’s mercy and eternally sustaining for faith in the Good Shepherd, Jesus.

Our Lord begins his parable by designating the place where the Good Shepherd tends his flock. That place is named a sheepfold. This is the area that protected by a surrounding wall with an entry point, a gate or a door. Within the walls of this sheepfold, the shepherd tends his flock. The walls are to keep predators and danger out. They also prevent the sheep from wandering away from the watchful eye of the shepherd.

There is one entrance and one entrance alone through which the anyone or anything might properly enter. The person with no intent to do harm or cause disturbance among the flock will come to this entrance. The Shepherd will come to this entrance to approach his flock because it is the path through which he has led his flock. His voice will be heard by his flock and they will become calm and unafraid.

When we consider this sheepfold we are led to understand the nature of the Church. Our Lord has led us to the security of His sanctuary. The walls are the word of God which serve as the defense of God’s people. The gate or door of this sanctuary is Jesus Christ alone. As Jesus says in another place, he is the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Jesus alone.

We are to understand that going through Jesus alone is more than just a passing knowledge of Him. It is fine to know that Jesus lived and died. It is fine to know that Jesus rose from the tomb after lying there for three days. It is fine to recognize Jesus as Lord. Yet, Jesus warns against relying on this cursory knowledge for salvation. He says to His hearers, “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord!” will enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Think of saving faith as a triangle with three equal sides. Each side being necessary for saving faith. Knowledge of Jesus is but one side of the triangle of faith. We must first hear of Jesus to know Jesus. We must then agree that what we learn of Jesus is divine truth. We must then trust this divine truth is eternal life and salvation. Any side of this triangle is lacking, there is no eternal life and salvation. For this reason going through Jesus means having this faith.

This faith is a gift of God which is given within the walls of Jesus’ Sheepfold. Our lord brings us into this fold to tend our lives and strengthen our faith. Within the walls of this sheepfold, Jesus voice is heard as it speaks to us from the pulpit, the fount and the altar of God’s presence. From these places Jesus tends His flock, feeds His flock, and nourishes His flock. The flock recognizes the voice of the Good Shepherd and they rest content in His presence.

The faithful pastors and teachers in the church bring the living word of God to the members of Jesus’ flock. They do not speak of their own accord. Nor do they teach their own truth. They speak and teach only what the Good Shepherd gives them to speak. We consider the disciples of Jesus who spent three years listening to His teaching and observing His ministry. They learn what truth and faith are and bring. Jesus gives them of His spirit that they would faithfully proclaim the word of truth and rightly administer the forgiveness of sins. John writes in his Gospel account, “Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven, if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.”

Likewise St Paul, who calls himself the unseemly apostle, writes in the same way. He cannot speak but of the things which he learned from Jesus. to the Corinthian Church he writes, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He continues later saying, “What I received from the Lord, I also delivered unto you ….” Later on he writes those very familiar words which give the penitent believer peace and hope. Paul writes the very words of Jesus connected to the Sacrament of forgiveness and eternal life. “Take eat! This is my body given for you… Take drink! This cup is the new testament in my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Good Shepherd also exhorts His flock to be wary of those who teach contrary to His word. Jesus calls these false teachers, thieves and robbers who seek to take from the flock the gifts of God. Thieves are those who use deceit wrest the kingdom of God from His Son. They teach a gospel foreign to the Gospel revealed in Jesus Christ.

As Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world so is the Gospel not of this world. Social justice is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Promoting relationships contrary to God’s will and purpose have no place in the sheepfold of Jesus. Saying taking the life of unborn children is to show compassion erases God’s call to preserve and protect life. Those who support such practices in their hearts and minds, if not in word and deed, are placing themselves outside the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd. Those who teach such false gospels are the thieves and the robbers who come to wrest the kingdom from God’s Son and set at naught all He has done.

In contrast to these false gospels, Jesus the Good Shepherd of our souls does not seek social equality, self-serving relationships or ending lives with violence and impunity. Rather, the Good Shepherd equally saves all people with His holy body crucified and His pure and innocent blood shed upon the cross. The Good Shepherd knows us by name and shows divine compassion to us. For God does not delight in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked would turn from their sin and live. The Good Shepherd leads us out of self-serving relationships and teaches us to care for our neighbors in a God-pleasing manner. This is accomplished in honoring the marriage bed, defending the family and building the community of faith according to the will of God.

The shepherd at the gate of the sheepfold will let each sheep enter the fold one at a time. As they enter, the shepherd looks at each sheep to see its condition and minster to injury or wound. Jesus the Good Shepherd places His hands upon each sheep that is brought into His sheepfold. Jesus ministers to our injured souls and our wounded hearts.

We enter Jesus’ sheepfold through the water of Holy Baptism. In that washing with water and the Holy Spirit, Jesus tenderly places his hands upon us and heals us of our sin-injured lives.

The guilt of our sin is cleansed from our lives. The wrath of God upon our sin is exchanged for the life refreshing grace of the Gospel. The eyes blinded by life’s troubles are healed and given to see the mercy of God poured out upon the world in the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

There is more in this washing with water and the Spirit of God. God gives you His eternal promise that He has named you as His own child. Consider God’s words spoken through Isaiah. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” God promises that the trials of life will not destroy you. Nor will these trials of life take from you the gifts and presence of the God who redeems you.

God will shelter you in the sheepfold of His Son. He will guard your life. He has named you as His child and heir of eternal. He will defend your faith that you may endure this life and be found in His presence of the Day of Jesus’ Return in Glory.

The Good Shepherd, even Jesus Christ our Lord, guard your faith and bring you to eternal life. Amen

Third week of Easter April 26, 2020 – “Jesus Strengthens Weak Faith!” Luke 24:13-35

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St Luke, the 24 th Chapter.
“25 And [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We often think we know better than God how things are to be. We plan. We prepare. We
wait. We are disappointed because plans are not brought to completion.

Such is the case for us today. How many families are sitting home with unmet expectations? There are graduation parties that will never be held. There are weddings that have been postponed. There are worship services that have been physically unattended. There are jobs that have been terminated. There are families that are separated by shelter in place orders.

The disciples of Jesus were struggling with unmet expectations as well. The two disciples walking to Emmaus were discussing those things which were leaving them with unmet hopes and shattered dreams. Into this time of uncertainty for both the disciples of Jesus time and the disciples of our time Jesus appears to give strength to those whose faith is tested.

These two disciples are walking a short distance to the village of Emmaus. It is the third day after Jesus death upon the cross. He was taken down from the altar of God’s salvation and laid in a new tomb. His body had been prepared for burial according to Jewish custom. A large stone was used to close the tomb. Soldiers sealed the tomb and were standing guard to keep people out. Yet, they could not keep Jesus in.

While the disciples discuss these events, Jesus comes near them and begins a conversation. Unknown to them, they treat Jesus as a stranger who is incredibly uninformed. They also give evidence of their shattered hopes. For Luke records they are sad as they relay the events regarding Jesus of Nazareth.

They tell Jesus their view of his person and work. They confess Jesus to be “a prophet powerful in work and word before God and all the people.” Do you see in your mind’s eye the Lord as he listens to these words of praise and faith? Perhaps he is nodding slowly as these men relay their account of his person and work. They go on to relay Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion and death.

The men continue to confess their unmet hopes. They confess their confusion regarding Jesus and His person and work. They were looking for the One who would redeem Israel. Such hopes were crushed for these men when Jesus was laid out in death three days before. These hopes included a miraculous restoration of Israel to former glory and power. God had so promised through His prophets that Israel would be rescued from its enemies and established as God’s holy people once again. Now there is something amiss. Jesus did not rise up and rule as God’s King. The throne of David is still empty. Or are these hopes unfulfilled?

These men are not fully raised to glory. They are still living with their feet firmly planted on the sin cursed earth. Their eyes are not fully opened to see the great work of God to redeem them from sin and death. They do not grasp the power of God to bring them to full knowledge of this precious Gospel hope. Their eyes are still fixed on the tomb. Their thoughts are still fixed on Jesus lying in that tomb. Their ears heard the strange word of Jesus resurrection, but they reject this truth as foolishness.

This is the way of the world. The truth may be laid before our eyes in all its glory and splendor. Yet, eyes are still closed to the truth. Hearts are unmovable in the death of unbelief. Minds reject the power of God and accept the weakness of human reason. Consider those people you know who grew up in the faith. They were taught the same truth and doctrine which you have received and believed. Yet, they have neither eye to see, nor ear to hear, nor heart to believe the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. Nor do they acknowledge their need for the death of Jesus. Their hope is only for this world.

Will God change the with regard to the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb? No this truth will always remain unchanged and unchangeable. The death Jesus died, he died for sin. He died once that you may be forgiven and redeemed from sin and death. The resurrection of Jesus is for the justification of you who believe that Jesus died for your sins.

Yet, in our weakness of wavering faith God does not treat as it deserves. God is patient with our weakness that we may be led to the wellspring of God’s grace and be given to drink from the water of life. This patience is shown by Jesus as he teaches the two disciples the truth of God’s Word.

Indeed, Jesus begins in a rather hard manner. He convicts the two men of their weak faith and exhorts them to repent and believe the Gospel. “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?” Jesus does this to remove from their hearts and minds the unbelief which would hinder the Word of God. Jesus desires to wake them from the sleep of doubt and despair and open their eyes to see the wonder of God’s Gospel fulfilled in Jesus who was dead and is now alive again.

Jesus has mercy on their sorrow and seeks to strengthen their weak faith. He does not leave these disciples in their doubt. Nor does Jesus allow temptation to disbelief take root and destroy the gift of God for eternal life. Jesus reminds them of the only source of hope and strength for their troubled hearts and grieving minds. He directs them to the words of the prophets and the writings of Moses.

Jesus opens their minds to see the necessity of sacrifice for sin, and to look with joy and faith upon the Lamb of God who was given as the sacrifice for sin. It would be a great blessing to know which passages Jesus drew upon to confirm His death and resurrection in the hearts and minds of these two men. But then would we search the Scriptures as He instructs us? Instead we now see the response of faith built up and strengthened through the teaching of God’s Word.

These two disciples desire that Jesus remain with them. As they approach their home, they exhort Jesus to stay longer. Their hearts are filled with wonder and a burning desire to learn more. Yet, Jesus discerns he overcame their sadness and doubt. He determines to reveal himself to these disciples and confirm the truth of His resurrection from death. He does this in a familiar manner.

All three are preparing to share a common meal. They are reclining at table and Jesus takes the place as head of the meal. These disciples were still looking on in awe. Their hearts were still eager to hear the voice of this Teacher, their Teacher, though did not yet see Jesus. They wanted only to continue to hear his voice and listen to His teaching. Yet, Jesus determines his work must lead him elsewhere. Jesus takes the bread in his holy hands. As was His custom, Jesus blesses this bread and breaks it. Jesus gives each disciple their portion and opens their eyes to see and their hearts to believe their Teacher is living. He is raised from death.

In this time of our sadness and sense of loss, Jesus would have us continue confident and in true faith. As He desired for his disciples, so Jesus desires for us. Would that we were eager to continue in faith. Would that Jesus would create the same burning desire to hear His Word and sing His praises. Would that we would lift our eyes from the hour of trouble and turn them to the very pages of Scripture used by Jesus to encourage and embolden faith.

Indeed we are in a time loss. The life we knew before this pandemic has all but passed away. We are in a period of mourning that loss. Many live in fear of what could happen. Many live in sadness over what has been given up. Many are confused about what the future may hold. Many face the day to day tasks of caring for those who are ill. Many watch as those who are seriously ill succumb to this disease. There is stress from the burdens placed upon people. There is guilt that more might have been done. There is frustration that life as it was known before may not be known again. There is anger that this present struggle should not be.

Yet, in these moments we must turn to the true Word of God and search the Scriptures for hope and strength. Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” In those precious words of God we hear that these trials are part of the sin-fallen world. These moments are to be expected as we move closer to the day of Jesus’ final appearing. These are moments in which our faith is tested, refined and strengthened. For God reminds us of the truth that this life will some time come to an end.

Our hope, then, is not in what we see, but rather in what we do not see. This time is a call for us look to the rock from which we are hewn by God. As St Peter writes in his epistle: “[Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

In a few moments we will sing these words of confidence and faith in Jesus Christ.

In these last days of great distress
Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness
That we keep pure till life is spent
Your holy Word and Sacrament.
Stay with us, Lord, and keep us true;
Preserve our faith our whole through-
Your Word alone our heart’s defense,
The Church’s glorious confidence. LSB 585 vv 2,6

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Second week of Easter April 19, 2020 – “Peace and Joy in the Resurrection!” – John 20:19-31

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St John, the 20 th Chapter.

“ 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.””

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
How comforting these words are for our day! We have the advantage, if you will, of knowing the whole story of Jesus’ life from His conception to His Ascension to the right hand of His Father in heaven.

Yet, this was not so for the first disciples of our Lord. Their first Easter was not, at first, marked by comfort. They were gathered in fear behind locked doors. Certainly, the disciples had heard the message from the women who had gone to Jesus tomb early that same morning. John and Peter had even entered Jesus tomb and saw the evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead, or at least Jesus’ body was no longer there. Perhaps there is a little Thomas in all of these disciples.

Be that as it may, we have a wonderful commentary on our human weakness and God’s divine strength. We tend to walk by sight. We trust only what we are able to touch and see. We have confidence in only those things that agree with our thinking, or conform to our standard of reality. God would have us to trust what we cannot see, and find value in what we cannot hold in our hands. Trust my Word, God asks of us.

So now we observe the disciples some twelve hours or so after first hearing of the resurrection of Jesus. They have heard the message from the women. They have waited in Jerusalem for Jesus to come to them. Yet, there is an element of fear in their waiting. They are closed in a room behind locked doors. On their minds is the thought that they may face the same end as did Jesus. Yet, their Lord has other plans for His disciples. He appears in their midst to establish those plans.

So what plan is there for us to consider concerning these Resurrection Day events? Consider these things from this Resurrection Day account – faith, peace, joy and forgiveness of sins. Without the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, such things would be unobtainable. Our Lord comes to His disciples as He said, and by His presence among them confirms their faith and prepares them to face the world outside their locked door.

But what is the nature of faith. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Faith directs one to look outside themselves. Faith has an object upon which to look, in which to trust, and in which to hope. Faith brings with it the blessings offered by its object.

In the case of the disciples, Jesus offers them the gift of God. Jesus comes to His disciples gathered behind locked doors and speaks a word of mercy and grace. Jesus says to His disciples, “Peace be with you!” Indeed, these fear-filled followers of Jesus needed peace. Their hearts were cowering, the confidence was crushed, their hope was all but dashed. Jesus comes to them and restores them with two words, “eirene humin.” [Peace be to you all.] Jesus continues this greeting with the bestowing of divine authority upon His disciples. He tells them they are being sent with a message for the world to receive. Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit and proclaims them to be the bearers of God’s proclamation of forgiveness of sins.

As we continue with this account we read of the effect this greeting had upon the disciples. They were glad to see the Lord. Jesus assured them of the reality that he had risen from the tomb. He who was once dead, is now alive again. He holds out his hands and pulls open his clothing to reveal the very marks which accompanied his death upon the cross. The marks of the nails in his hands, and the mark of the spear in his side are living proof their Lord and Teacher had truly died and was now raised to life.

From this appearance of Jesus, and His bestowing of the authority to forgive, we draw this truth. Believing that Jesus rose from death is well and good, but there is more that must be held as truth. For without believing Jesus died and rose for you, there is no benefit. You must believe that Jesus died to atone for your sins. You must believe that Jesus rose from death to show God accepted the sacrifice for your sins.

You must believe that everything Jesus did was for your salvation. You must believe that through Jesus’ resurrection sin, death and hell are rendered impotent, crushed and defeated for you. You must believe that the resurrection of Jesus is not a victory that benefits Jesus, but a victory that is God’s blessing for you. This is the foundation of Christian joy.

Jesus standing in the midst of His disciples teaches this truth to us today. Jesus stands among His disciples not for himself but for them. So also Jesus stands among us today. Where two or three disciples are gathered in His name, there Jesus stands among them. We are troubled today by the separation we must endure. We are indeed fearful of what is befalling our families, our communities and even our nation. We are huddled in fear behind closed doors. We are fearful of even touching one another with a handshake or even a hug.

It is into this time of fear that our Lord would make His presence known to you. He comes to you with words of peace, hope and joy. He comes to you because barred doors, governor’s decrees, and diseases’ afflictions are no barriers to the God who raises the dead and forgives the penitent. God comes to you through the true and faithful preaching of His holy Word. God calms your fear with the resounding declaration that the Son of God was slain for your sins, and was raised from death for your justification. You have peace with God through His son Jesus Christ.

The Word of God does not come with the intent to destroy, but with the power to restore and redeem that which was broken. Take to heart these words spoken through Hosea the prophet of God.

“Come, let us turn to the Lord; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him. Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” [Hosea 6:1-3]

We indeed have been torn and wounded by sin and the fear of death. When we must consider our mortality, as we do at this time, we are afflicted with doubts and worries. Satan will magnify the weaknesses we have by saying the very words which will seek to destroy your hope and remove your security in Jesus Christ. His question will always be the same, because it is all he knows and it was effective in the past. “Did God truly say ….”

However, the answer we give as God’s redeemed children is a resounding yes! For the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the visual we have to hold before our eyes the solid proof of our salvation. While we are afflicted by the outward worldly trial of this present world, we still are at peace because the resurrection hope does not change. The resurrected Lord of Life is with us. He stands beside us and dwells with us as He promises through His apostles and prophets. Living by faith in the resurrection of Jesus, our Lord promises to make His home with us. As He said through the apostle John, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” [John14:23]

The disciples were troubled in the same way. They were afflicted with doubt and filled with fear in their hearts and minds. Yet in their turmoil Jesus comes to them and brings them peace and the assurance of His defending presence. They were encouraged to proclaim the resurrection hope with confidence and conviction. They declare to those who did not see the resurrected Savior, “We have seen the Lord!”

We have the promise of Jesus presence, too. Certainly in Holy Baptism, Jesus comes to us and makes His home with us. His name is placed upon us as is the sign of the cross. Jesus name is written on our lives and His cross marks us as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified. Again we proclaim with the disciples, “We have seen the Lord.” Each time we kneel before the altar of God to receive the blessed body and blood of Jesus, we are confessing the very bodily presence of our Lord cloaked in the earthly elements of bread and wine.

In these Sacraments our Lord speaks to us the words which allay our fears and gives strength to our weak hearts. Jesus says, “Peace to you! Your sins are forgiven! This is the will of my Father. It is so upon this earth, and is true in heaven!” Trust these words for they are founded upon the atoning death of Jesus, and confirmed in His resurrection from the tomb on the Third Day.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen

Easter April 12, 2020- “Raised with Christ!” Colossians 3:1-4

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The text for our sermon meditation is the Epistle of St Paul to the Colossians, the 3rd

“ 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
Of all the great days which the Church of Jesus celebrates, the most joyous day is Easter. Personally, I enjoy the Lenten and Easter seasons the most. The hymns and readings all direct attention to the joy of Jesus Resurrection from death. The Easter hymns fill our hearts with joy and anticipation of the believer reaching the goal of faith in Jesus Christ. Consider the words we sang earlier.

Jesus Christ is risen today Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss Alleluia! [LSB 457,1]

What is wrong with Easter today? Especially this year there is much that prevents us from celebrating Easter as children of God should. We are in quarantine around our communities, nation and even in the world. Borders of state and nations are closed to travel. Families are separated by the invisible wall of illness. Church communities are separated likewise. We cannot gather to rejoice, as is our habit, in the highest and most holy event, the resurrection of Jesus which is the foundation of our faith.

Yet, there are other things we have added to this celebration that tend to render our celebration shallow. Such additions are placed before us as we enter stores. Easter bunnies, the ever-present Easter grass which we add to Easter baskets to nest the jelly beans, peeps and chocolate eggs. After Easter is over the plastic grass seems to reproduce like weeds.

Lest we forget, we must return to these words of St Paul to remember the message of Easter and recount the great work which is embraced in this Holy Day of Days. St Paul writes the words that give us pause and to urge us to reflect upon right celebration of this day. He writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ ….”

What is embraced in these words? We might understand being raised as meaning being brought up from a young age. Parents raise their children. Siblings are raised together in a household. Cousins spend time with their extended family and share certain common events. We learn to know each other and build a relationship with one another.

Being raised with Christ may then mean we are raised knowing Jesus Christ. We were brought to the services of God’s house and heard the Word of God read and taught to us. We gathered at the feet of God’s called servants and listened with ears ready to hear and hearts ready to receive the message of hope, forgiveness and salvation given to those who are called to be God’s people.

Truly the meaning spoken by Paul is different from the meaning just given. We must first look at who is raised. Jesus is raised first. He is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. The raising of which Paul writes is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. When Paul speaks of this raising, he is also referring to the suffering and death of Jesus. For one cannot be raised from the dead unless they first die.

Secondly, in this raising of Jesus we must never forget the element of sacrifice which Jesus made. Sacrifice is the very focus of all that Jesus did in His ministry, life and death. When we look at the life of Jesus, we see this truth placed clearly before us. St Paul writes in another place that the Son of God took on the form of a servant, being made in human likeness and he became obedient unto death on a cross. We may even look at the account of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his struggle, Jesus sacrificed His will for the will of His Father n heaven. Remember Jesus words, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

In our days, the element of personal sacrifice is not always present. It may be more so now because of what we have given up in the face of this pandemic. Yet, we have largely only a distant memory of sacrifice. With everything we have access to today, there are not many people who have to do without. Even those below the poverty line have received blessings and material goods far above those in other countries who are less fortunate. We have turned from thinking such blessings are privileges and turned to thinking of such blessings as our due. We have a right to such things as cell phones, large screen televisions, all manner of electronics, Wi-Fi, internet and fast food.

So we return to Jesus and His sacrifice. In another place St Paul writes, “For even Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us….” This is the foundation of our Easter celebration. Jesus is the Passover of God. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He is the first-fruits of those who fall asleep in faith. His life was sacrificed upon the cross to gain for us salvation, forgiveness and eternal life.

Moreover, Jesus was raised from death for our justification. When we consider this truth, we must understand our relationship with God is restored. The death Jesus died, he died to sin.

The life he lives, he lives to God. This means both prior to death and after His resurrection, Jesus lived to fulfill the will of His Father. God holds the resurrection of Jesus before the world as the proof that sin is atoned for, death is subservient, Satan is made impotent, and the grave is but a temporary place.

We now consider our being raised with Jesus. The verses prior to this reading, Paul writes these words “… having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” [Col. 2:12] In Holy Baptism God worked a miracle in your life. You died with Jesus to sin and death. Jesus’ sacrifice becomes your sacrifice. The blood of the Lamb of God was not painted upon the lintel and door posts of your house. Rather the blood of the Lamb of God was poured out upon your heart and mind. You were marked as one who is set apart by God for eternal life.

Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, is your resurrection from the tomb. You were raised with Jesus in Holy Baptism and accounted justified before God. The guilt of your sins was placed upon Jesus. He took from you the awful weigh of those sins and terrible judgment of God upon those sins. He endured the suffering and punishment of God that you would be reconciled to God and accounted righteous, forgiven and an heir of eternal life.

Each Sunday we recount these truths as we gather in the house of the Lord. The invocation reminds us of our baptism through which we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our confession of sins recounts the need for the self-sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross. The Absolution reminds us of the eternal blessing which comes to us from the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. The Holy Supper gives us the Lamb of God sacrificed for sin. The Benediction reminds us that God placed His name on us in Baptism and made us heirs of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

There is nothing wrong with Easter this year. The gifts and blessings of God will never change. The death of Jesus is still the atoning death for our sins. The resurrection of Jesus on the third day is still the justification for our faith in Jesus Christ. The Baptism in the name of our Triune God still covers sinners in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Supper still gives us the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The Word of God still guards and keeps us in true faith and will bring us to eternal life on the day of Jesus’ Return. May God bless your Easter celebration. May it not be diminished by the trials under which we must live. Rather, may your celebration be heightened by these trials that God has counted you worthy to suffer. He is refining your faith and preparing you for a greater weight of glory in His presence.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.