All Saints’ Day

Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17

Dear saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the New Testament Church, God has not appointed certain days or periods of time for His people to observe. There are no particular days or festivals which we are commanded to celebrate.

Nevertheless, in Christian freedom, the Church does celebrate various festivals through the church year. These celebrations are important reminders to us of central articles of the Christian faith. We follow the Old Testament precedent of structuring the year around the great acts of salvation that God has done for us in Christ.

Thus, the Church celebrates Christmas. It is not mandated that the Church celebrate Christmas on December twenty-fifth, nor that we have Christmas trees, or manger scenes, but it is necessary that we recognize and celebrate the virgin birth of Jesus, when God took on our flesh and became man.

The Church celebrates Palm Sunday as Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Holy Thursday when He instituted His Supper for us, in which He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. The Church celebrates Good Friday, the day that our Good Shepherd gave up His very life for us sheep who love to wander. The Church celebrates the resurrection of our Lord on Easter, and indeed on every Sunday. Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday is after all the reason the Church gathers together on Sunday. We have no command for worship on this specific day either, but out of Christian freedom we have chosen to worship on the day our Lord rose from the dead.

While we don’t have specific commands from God to celebrate these festivals, it certainly is necessary that Christians celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and His death and resurrection. How could we not? They are a reason to celebrate with joy the great acts of salvation God has accomplished for us.

This is the same reason the Christian Church celebrates All Saints’ Day. It doesn’t have to be on November first. In fact, we observe it today, the closest Sunday after November first. We could celebrate it in July if we really wanted to do so.

As with the other holy days, we do not have a command that we celebrate this festival, but every Christian certainly must celebrate what this festival is.

All Saints’ Day does not just commemorate a particular saint, but all believers of all times and places; the great multitude that no one can number. On Easter we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, on All Saints’ Day we celebrate our resurrection. We celebrate the fulfilment of God’s promises to us in our inheritance of eternal life. We celebrate the eternal joys of everlasting life which are ours because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

We celebrate Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs of old who are enrolled in heaven. We celebrate the apostles, the witnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry who are now enrolled in heaven. Yet, we also celebrate our beloved friends and family who died in Christ and now rest from their labours.

All the saints, from the beginning of time who died believing in the Saviour who was yet to come, to the saints who have died today believing in the Saviour who did come are remembered and celebrated today.

We remember the saints who have gone before us that we might imitate their faith and good works. However, we do not pray to them or worship them. Scripture sets Christ alone before us as mediator, atoning sacrifice, high priest, and intercessor. He is to be called upon, since we have both the command to pray to Him and His promise that He will hear us (cf. AC XXI). We have no such command to pray to saints, nor do we have any promise that they hear our prayers. Thus, we pray to God alone, even though we commemorate and remember the saints.

All Saints’ Day is special in that we celebrate not just the saints whose lives are recorded in holy Scripture, but also the lesser known saints who kept the faith through daily griefs and joys that no one has recorded. We commemorate the loved ones we miss dearly who died with Christ and thus now live with Him, and we are comforted by God’s promises to them and to us.

All Saints’ Day is consolation to those who find themselves in the loneliness of a Siberian prison camp or suffering the inner alienation within church bodies that have abandoned the truth of the Gospel. It is consolation to those who feel alone, for those who suffer for the sake of the Church, for those disheartened about the evils they see taking place in the church. It is consolation for all whose loved ones died with faith in Christ.

We are not alone, but are part of the Church. We are part of the great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. We will be reunited with our loved ones who died in the faith. We will be in the presence of God forevermore.

Then there will be no more church militant that is attacked from within and without by false teachers and heresies, by abuses and persecutions. There will be no more church militant that is despised and hated by the world. There will be no more church militant that the evil one seeks madly to overthrow.

There will only be the church triumphant, where we will be in the presence of God for eternity, protected and sheltered from every evil. There we shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore. The sun shall not strike us, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd, and He will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

How could the Church not celebrate this great festival? It celebrates the promises of God that have been fulfilled for every believer who has died in Christ. It celebrates the promises of God that will be fulfilled for us when the times comes for us to depart this life. It is a celebration that because Jesus died for our sins, we will never die, and because He rose from the dead, we will live forever.

The Christian Church celebrates even in midst of suffering and loss, abuse and persecution because we have our eyes set on the promises of God which will be fulfilled. We too will be in the church triumphant, whether it is today or tomorrow, next year or decades from now. That is reason to celebrate. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Day of Resurrection

Sermon for Easter Sunday based on Matthew 28:1-10

Dear victors over death: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The women who went to the tomb hadn’t really thought things through. Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, they headed to the tomb where they had seen Jesus’ lifeless body laid with their own eyes. They went with spices to prepare Jesus’ body for permanent burial.

These women had some impediments to accomplishing their task, however. There was a great stone in front of the entrance of the tomb. That great stone was sealed so that it would not be moved. Further, Pilate had given the Jews a guard of soldiers to keep the tomb as secure as possible. The greatest impediment of all, of course, was the fact that Jesus was not in the tomb and He was no longer dead.

The great stone was guarding an empty tomb. The seal, still secure in its place, gave no evidence of the fact that Jesus was no longer there. The guards were securing nothing more than grave cloths in an otherwise vacant grave.

The great stone, the seal, and the guards were no impediment for Jesus to rise from the dead. The angel makes a show of this, mocking such pathetic attempts to keep Jesus in the grave.

The angel caused a great earthquake. Why? He could have moved the stone without an earthquake. The angel’s appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. Why? Oftentimes, angels would appear looking like regular men. He made the guards become like dead men, like they were nothing. Why? They were no threat to him. He sat on the stone he had rolled away. Why? He wasn’t tired. He didn’t need to sit down to rest. He sat on the stone for the same reason he did all the other spectacular things. He did it to mock these insignificant, pathetic attempts to keep Jesus in the grave. This tiny little rock is going to keep Jesus in the tomb? This joke of a seal is supposed to do something? Those soldiers that are like dead men are supposed to secure something? That’s laughable!

Even more, the angel mocks death. Is that all you got? Is that your best shot? O grave, where is your victory? You swallowed up the Son of God, the one who laid the earth’s foundations. You took the life of the one on whom all the sins of the world were laid. Is that your victory?

No, that is no victory. As the angel shows, the grave is empty. The grave could not hold its prey.

Because Jesus had all of our sins on Him, and because He died for us and in our place, and because He rose from the dead, the grave will have no victory when we die either. Death has lost its strength and power.

Death can threaten all it likes. It can try to intimidate with illness and disease, with accidents and catastrophes, but death is impotent. Death can threaten as our bodies fail, as we grow weak and tired, and as we suffer loneliness and depression.

But the angel mocks you, o death. The angel makes a spectacle of how powerless and pathetic you are.

We join the angel. We mock you, o death. Is that all you got? Is that your best shot? O grave, where is your victory? Where is your sting? You are powerless and pathetic.

We will die, but that is no victory for the grave. No great stones or seals or guards of soldiers will keep us in the grave any more than they kept Jesus in the grave.

Our sins will not keep us in the grave. Our sins were put on Jesus, Jesus died for them, and He rose from the dead. Our sins have been removed from us. They’ve been taken away by the Lamb of God and they are no longer ours.

Our tombs will be empty, like Jesus’ tomb is empty. Then we will have a real spectacle as all who died in Christ are raised to eternal life. We will see all the sights and sounds of heaven in their spectacular glory, and be with our risen Lord for eternity.

Christ has taken away all the impediments that would stand in the way of our eternal life. He has given us His Word of truth which keeps us from following the lies of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. He has called us as His own through the waters of Holy Baptism, and thus separated us from the hosts of unbelievers. He gives us His resurrected body and blood to eat and drink so that we will live forever as He lives forever.

So, yes, we mock death. Death is now for us nothing more than a slumber from which Christ will awaken us on the Last Day. When we die, then we will really be alive with Jesus, while our bodies sleep, waiting for the day of resurrection. We go through death only to follow Jesus out of death, victorious because Jesus has given us victory over death. Jesus’ death has swallowed up death. Death has lost its sting forever. So, it doesn’t matter what or who is guarding our tombs on the day of resurrection, because we won’t be there. Our graves will be empty because Jesus grave is empty. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Dead Will Rise

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent based on John 11:1-45

Dear people who will rise from the dead: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Both Martha and Mary said these same words to Jesus. They both suggested that Jesus had failed to do what He was supposed to do. Jesus didn’t come quick enough to heal Lazarus, so Lazarus died.

Did you notice what Jesus did when He heard that Lazarus was sick? Luke writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, so He stayed longer where He was. Jesus loved them, so He did not go. Jesus loved them, so He allowed Lazarus to die. He even told His disciples that He is glad the He wasn’t there, for their sake.

When Jesus did go days later, we see that Jesus loved them. Lazarus’s sisters were weeping along with other mourners. When Jesus saw them weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. Jesus wept.

Jesus’ love and compassion are what moved Him to weep with those who were mourning. Death had taken His friend, and He stood among the friends and family who were heartbroken and mourning. Jesus feels compassion and mourns with those who mourn. Do not think that He is cold and heartless and does not share in the pain of His people. In fact, the Son of God came to earth to take our sorrow and pain on Himself and take it away from us forever.

While visiting a cemetery yesterday, I came across the graves of some of your loved ones; a grave of a dear member I buried; several little graves of those taken so young. I assure you, with each one of those deaths, Jesus shared in the pain of His people. Jesus shared and shares your pain. Jesus feels compassion and mourns when you mourn. Jesus weeps when you weep, because He feels your sorrow. Your loved ones who have passed away are the reason Jesus came to earth. You are the reason Jesus came to earth. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead so that you would know His glory and believe in Him.

As Jesus said, Lazarus’s illness did not lead to death. It led to the glory of God, and the Son of God being glorified through it. Jesus, through the power of His Word, raised Lazarus from the dead.

The same Word which said, “Let there be light” and it was so, is the same powerful Word which raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus is thus glorified, as we see that He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and so many believed in Him. But Lazarus died again. Jesus raised Lazarus back to this life, so he was bound to die again. Raising Lazarus from the dead may have comforted Mary and Martha and those who mourned with them, but for Lazarus, it meant that he had to go through death again.

On the other hand, when Jesus raises Lazarus on the Last Day, he will never die again. When Jesus raises you on the last day, you will never die again.

The comfort that we have from Jesus raising Lazarus back to this life is that it shows us that death must obey Jesus. Death cannot keep its prey. Jesus tells death to give up Lazarus, and Lazarus comes back to life. So, we know that on the Day of Resurrection, when Jesus commands us to rise from the dead, we too will rise.

Jesus’ ultimate victory over death was, of course, His own death and resurrection. Death did its worst, but death could not hold Jesus. Jesus died with the sins of the whole world on Him. Death thus had a valid claim on Him. Scripture says, “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezek. 18:20) With all the sins of the whole world on Jesus, death had billions upon billions of claims on Him. Jesus died, thus He paid all those claims and death has no claim on you. Jesus paid the price of your sins, and He thus redeemed you from death and the grave and He rose from the dead, proving Himself victorious over death.

This is why Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Him, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die.

We can therefore believe in Him who is the resurrection and the life. We can, along with Martha confess, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God.” She confessed this in her mourning, before she knew what Jesus was going to do at that time. She confessed it because she knew that Jesus would raise Lazarus on the Last Day.

We also can confess this during our mourning, because we know that Jesus will raise us on the Last Day. The same powerful Word which raised Lazarus from the dead is the same powerful Word that claimed you as belonging to God in your Baptism. The same powerful Word which raised Lazarus from the dead is the same powerful Word that says, “This is my body… this is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins.” The same powerful Word which raised Lazarus from the dead is the same powerful Word that will raise you from the dead.

To keep you in Himself until the Last Day, He continues to keep you in your baptismal grace. He continues to absolve you of your sins. He continues to give you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith. He continues to keep you in the faith, that faith which confesses, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is my resurrection and my life.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

All Saints

Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17

Dear saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. We know exactly where they are. Their graves are marked so we know where their bodies lie. The Church has always made an issue of showing care for the bodies of the dead and marking their graves. We don’t just dump the bodies of our loved ones into a landfill or cremate them and scatter their ashes indiscriminately here and there.

We lay the bodies of our loved ones to rest in cemeteries and mark their graves. We can visit their graves and we know that the bodies of our loved ones remain where they were laid to rest. Their names appear on the headstones. The headstone confesses that this is not the end of the body. God isn’t done with this body yet. God will raise this body up on the Day of Resurrection.

We confess the Day of Resurrection even in calling these places cemeteries. The word cemetery comes from a Greek word which means dormitory. We confess that everyone who dies in Christ will rise again when Christ raises them as easily as if they were in peaceful sleep.

However, we don’t just know where the bodies of believers lie, we also know where their souls are. Their souls are with Jesus in heaven. To the repentant thief who died on the cross beside Jesus, Jesus promised, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Today; right at the moment of death believers go to be with Jesus, while they await the Day of Resurrection and the soul being reunited with the body. So once again, our loved ones who have passed away in Christ are not lost to us. Their souls are with Jesus and we will see them again.

When one of our members dies in Christ, we report it to synod as a membership loss, but it is really a membership gain. A member of the Church on earth is transferred to the Church Triumphant, the Church in heaven. The Church in heaven gains a member. That is our goal also, to be members of the Church in heaven.

Since last year’s All Saints’ Day, Linda, Frank, Edna, Yvonne, and Elmer have joined the ranks of the saints in heaven. They have joined the angels and archangels in singing praises to God.

That is another reason why our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. Hebrews 12 tells us that in the Divine Service, where God Himself is present, innumerable angels also join us in festal gathering, along with the assembly of those who are already enrolled in heaven; with the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Heb. 12:18-24). So when we assemble here to receive God’s gifts and sing His praises, our loved ones who are with Jesus join us here.

That is the reason the altar rail has traditionally been a semi-circle, even though it is sometimes squared as ours is. We, the Church on earth, kneel around the semi-circle with the image that the other half which would make the circle complete is filled with all the faithful who have died and with all the host of heaven. Common in Lutheran churches in Scandinavia, the circle is actually completed with a similar stone semi-circle rail continuing outside against the sanctuary outer wall in the church graveyard. This confesses the truth that when we commune with Christ, we also commune with those who belong to Him, whether on earth or in heaven.

Our liturgy also confesses this truth with the words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying…” Then we sing the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

Why do we sing the Sanctus? Because that is what is sung in heaven. Isaiah 6 tells us of his vision in the throne room of God where angels call to one another with the words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Is. 6:3)

The Sanctus is one of the oldest parts of the liturgy, possibly in use already in apostolic times. The Sanctus is a hymn of praise that is sung by angel choirs, and we the saints on earth join them in singing praise to God. For a time, the division between heaven and earth is gone. Christ comes down to earth in His body and blood and the saints in heaven and on earth join in communion and in singing His praise.

Is this the best time to be counting the offering? While this is going on, when heaven is coming down to earth, when our loved ones in heaven are singing with angels and archangels and the saints on earth join them in singing, is this the time that we should be sending our ushers out of the Divine Service to count money? Not to mention the other parts of the service that are missed such as the Lord’s Prayer, Christ’s Words of Institution, and the Agnus Dei (another ancient liturgical hymn). Our practice must change and we will talk about it at our Council Meeting on Tuesday.

But back to our main point: our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. We know where their bodies rest awaiting the Day of Resurrection. We know where their souls are – in heaven singing praise to God. We know also that we are in communion with them in holy Communion and we join them in singing praises to God in the Divine Service.

We also will join them and all the saints in heaven in that great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb, clothed in white robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.

This seems like a paradox because blood doesn’t normally make things white. But white is the colour of purity. All saints in heaven and on earth are pure because they are covered by the blood of the Lamb. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world shed His blood to make us pure. Jesus took all our filthy sin and died on the cross for us and in our place and His blood makes us pure. Jesus takes away our sin and covers us with His purity.

That is why we will join our loved ones who have died in Christ. We may have to go through tribulation in this life; we may even have to go through the great tribulation of the end times, but because Jesus’ blood has made us pure, we will join all the saints in heaven before the throne of God where we serve Him day and night; where God shelters us from every evil; where we will hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; where the sun shall not strike us nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd, and He will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Death Pursues Me All the Way

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 7:11-17

Dear saints pursued by death: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The villains in many books and movies can be quite terrifying. Their evil goals and objectives hurt and harm many people. The devastation they leave in their wake is multiplied if the villains are powerful or well-armed. Such villains cause people to flee in terror and hide lest they too become victims.

All of mankind has a very real villain from whom no one can run or hide – death. Death is really something of a supervillain. We cannot outrun death. We cannot hide from death. Death does not discriminate. He takes the old. He takes the young. He takes the unhealthy. He takes the healthy. No one escapes death.

A great hymn puts it this way:

And death pursues me all the way, Nowhere I rest securely;

He comes by night, he comes by day, he takes his prey most surely.

A failing breath, and I In death’s strong grasp may lie

To face eternity today As death pursues me all the way. (LSB 716 st. 3)

We are completely helpless in the face of death. The best medical care may postpone or prolong death, but nothing more. Exercise and a healthy diet increase the possibility of a longer life, but nothing more. When death comes, all we can do is watch helplessly.

Death has a rightful claim on us. God says, “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezek. 18:20) It’s as simple as that. Death doesn’t have to wait until we are 80 or 90. Death doesn’t have to wait until we are diagnosed with a terminal illness. Death doesn’t have to wait for us to be frail and weak.

Death can and does take lives already in the womb. Death can and does take little children playing innocently at the playground or learning intently at school. Death can and does take athletes and health gurus and vegans and vegetarians. No one escapes death.

Death tragically took away a widow’s only son, the only provider and defender remaining for her since death had already taken her husband. Death took away her only remaining reason for living; the only one remaining in her life.

The crowd from her town of Nain was helplessly mourning with the widow. The whole crowd could do nothing to save her son from death. All the doctors and medicine in the world couldn’t do a thing to help. Death took his prey.

Jesus saw this grieving widow who had now also lost her only son, and He had compassion on her. He raised the young man back to life through the power of His Word. So easy. Jesus just speaks, and the young man is brought back to life.

Sure, joy and happiness resulted. A young man’s life was restored. But the only thing that really happened to the young man is that he now had death pursuing him again. The young man was raised back into this life where death will once again come for him by night or day, when he’s young or when he’s old, when he’s sick or when he’s healthy. Death will once again take his prey.

Jesus raising the young man back to life is not the whole story. If it was the whole story, you would have to conclude that Jesus doesn’t have compassion on those widows and parents whose loved ones are not restored to this life. If it was the whole story, you would have to conclude that this life is all that there is, so we should cling to it like there’s nothing better. If it was the whole story, you would have to conclude that, in the end, death is undefeatable even for Jesus.

The whole story is that Jesus here shows His power over death. He not only shows that He is the promised Saviour the Old Testament prophesied would come and raise the dead, but He shows that He has power over death.

The terrible villain that pursues all of mankind every day needs only a Word to be undone. One Word from Jesus undoes the worst that death can do. One Word from Jesus takes all of death’s power away. Jesus faces death head-on and triumphs.

Jesus’ ultimate victory over death was His own death. Death had no claim on Jesus because Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience to God’s Law, but Jesus took our sins on Himself and gave Himself over to death for us. The powers of death did their worst, but death could not hold Jesus. Death could not hold God in the flesh.

Jesus broke the bars of death and the chains of hell. He rose victorious over death and the grave, proving Himself the author of life. Jesus has defeated our great enemy and has routed the villain that pursues us. That’s the whole story.

This means that Jesus does have compassion on you who have lost loved ones even if He does not raise them back to this life. He has compassion on you widows who grieve the loss of your husbands and on you widowers who grieve the loss of your wives. He has compassion on you parents who have lost children and on you children who have lost parents. Jesus has compassion on all of you who grieve and gives you the promise of eternal life.

Jesus will not raise your loved ones back to this life of sin and suffering, but He will raise all believers to new life in the new heavens and the new earth. He will not raise them only so that death can pursue them once again, but He will raise them and you to where there is no more death.

You know that He will do it because you see that all He needs to do is say a Word and the dead are raised. He who created Adam from the dust of the earth will raise us and all believers from the dust of the earth to eternal life. So easy. Jesus just speaks, and we will be brought back to life.

Jesus has triumphed over death, our enemy. This means that when death thinks it is going to win a victory over us at our death bed, it will be a hollow victory because death will not be able to hold us. Death will no more hold us than it held Jesus, because we are baptized into Him. As surely as Jesus rose from the dead, we too will arise.

Now hell, its prince, the devil, Of all their pow’r are shorn;

Now I am safe from evil, And sin I laugh to scorn.

Grim death with all its might Cannot my soul affright;

It is a pow’rless form, Howe’er it rave and storm. (LSB 467 st. 4)

Because Jesus has defeated death, death now is our doorway to eternal life where God’s good healing will relieve all suffering, sin, and sorrow. We will be reunited with all our loved ones who have died in the faith, and death will be no more. Death will no longer pursue us or threaten us. You will not be raised to life only so that death can pursue you once again, but you will be raised to where there is no more death. Alleluia. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

He is Risen!

Sermon for Easter Sunday based on Luke 24:1-12 (Is. 65:17-25; 1 Cor. 15:19-26)

Dear disciples who have the promise of the resurrection: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The disciples didn’t just lose a close friend on Good Friday. They lost their Master and Teacher. They lost their Lord who was supposed to be ushering in a new kingdom in which they were supposed to sit on thrones. They lost all hope.

They had spent three years with Jesus, learning from Him and witnessing Him perform miracles and powerful signs. They believed that Jesus was their Redeemer, who would rescue them and all mankind from every evil. They believed that nothing could prevent the coming of kingdom of God.

Their hopes had been dashed. Two of the disciples confessed as much on the road to Emmaus. “We had hoped He would be the one to redeem Israel,” they said (Luke 24:21). They had hoped, but hoped so no longer. They had lost all hope.

They thought Jesus was God’s promised Saviour. Jesus had taught them for years, shown His power, and taught like no human could teach. Whenever He had been threatened or attacked before, it came to nothing. Jesus had simply walked away from an angry mob that tried to throw Him off a cliff. The angry rulers had been trying to kill Him for a long time, but unsuccessfully. When they had picked up stones to kill Him in the Temple, Jesus escaped from them with ease.

The disciples didn’t understand why, after all that, Jesus let Himself be arrested. They thought they’d be ushering in a new kingdom with Jesus. Peter pulled out his sword against an army, ready to fight by himself; that’s how much he believed in the kingdom of Jesus.

But then Jesus died. His death was witnessed by many, some watching with great sorrow; others with great delight. His death was confirmed by the centurion, and just for good measure a spear pierced Jesus’ side resulting in the flow of blood and water. Then His corpse was laid in a stone-cold tomb. Jesus was dead. Everything was lost. No kingdom. No teacher. No Jesus. No hope.

The disciples’ faith had been crushed. They ran in fear. They had abandoned their Lord at His arrest and then after His death they went into hiding behind locked doors, cowering in terror. They were afraid that they would be killed next.

Jesus had told them many times that He would die, but the disciples didn’t understand. Even when the women came from the tomb telling them that He had arisen, they thought the women were telling idle tales. The women kept insisting but the disciples would not believe. After all, who has ever seen anyone rise from the dead? When do you ever go to the tomb of a loved one and expect them have risen and be alive? The women also did not go to Jesus’ tomb expecting to find Him alive, but they went with spices to prepare His body for permanent burial. It was the empty tomb and the message of the two angels reminding them of what Jesus had told them that gave them faith again. “Remember how He told you… that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise?” (vv. 6-7)

The resurrection of Jesus was not just a reunion with a friend who had died. It was the return of hope. It was the return of faith.

Without the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples had nothing. They had the promises of a dead man. They had more questions than answers in trying to understand what had happened. Without the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples would have been witnesses of the victory of sin, death, and the devil over Jesus.

On Good Friday, the powers of death did their worst. The devil and his angels attacked with all their might. Sin and hell stung with all their strength and the Law of God accused with all its force. If Jesus is still dead, then sin, death, and the devil rule.

Without the resurrection of Jesus, you have nothing. You only have death and hell in your future. If Christ has not been raised, then my preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (I Cor. 15:14). If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (I Cor. 15:17); then there is no reunion with your loved ones in heaven; then you’re wasting your time coming to church today because there is no forgiveness of sins to be had here; then Baptism is an empty circus show and the Lord’s Supper is not the medicine of immortality but just a farce.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (I Cor. 15:20) We have been redeemed and rescued from every evil. Jesus had to die to save us. “[Jesus] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” (SC II.2). His death is the very thing that paid the price and took the punishment of our sins.

Jesus’ resurrection was also necessary to prove that He conquered sin, death, and the devil. His resurrection was necessary to prove that God the Father accepted His death as payment for our sins; as a substitute in our place. His resurrection was necessary to show that the strife is over, the battle done; that the victor’s triumph is won. The powers of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions hath dispersed (LSB 464 st. 1, 2). Sin, death, and the devil have been conquered.

Further, it was the death and resurrection of Jesus that brought about the kingdom of God. Jesus is the promised Saviour, but unlike the expectations of the disciples, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Jesus told as much to Pilate during His trial. Jesus has a new heavens and a new earth waiting for us in His eternal kingdom. We heard about this kingdom in our Old Testament lesson – it will be a joy and a gladness and no weeping will be heard there or the cry of distress; the wolf and the lamb will graze together and the lion will eat straw like an ox; no one will hurt or destroy in all by holy mountain, says the Lord (Is. 65:17-25).

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we do not have eternal death or hell in our future. My preaching is not in vain and neither is your faith futile because they are firmly grounded in the promises of Jesus, our risen Saviour. Further, you are no longer in your sins. Jesus has paid for them and removed them from you. You have a promised reunion with your loved ones who have died in the faith. You’re not wasting your time coming to church today and every Sunday because there is forgiveness of sins given freely here. Baptism is being buried with Jesus into His death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5). The Lord’s Supper is the medicine of immortality because it gives the forgiveness of sins as Jesus promised (Matt. 26:28).

And because Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, His resurrection is the promise of our resurrection. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22) Buried into the death and resurrection of Christ we have the promise that just as He rose from the dead, so we will rise also. Buried into Jesus’ death and resurrection we have the promise of eternal life in His kingdom.

Jesus is risen! Alleluia! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Remembering Saints

Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17

Dear saints of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Death is real. Most of us have come face to face with the reality of death as we have lost friends and family. Some of us have seen death recently and still struggle to come to grips with its reality. But death is real.

In the face of death, the world has no answers. You know this from reading sympathy cards, watching movies and television shows, and listening to eulogies. “Your loved ones are in your heart.” How nice and tidy. The world tries to sterilize and sanitize death: There is no afterlife. The body in the grave is just a bunch of cells not your dearly departed. In fact, let’s sterilize that as well and just cremate the remains so there is no body that gives witness to the reality of death.

Trying to hide the reality of death and sanitize it is an attempt to hide the reality of sin which is the cause of death. If death is sterilized, then maybe sin which is punished by death is sterilized as well.

We can certainly speak of our loved ones being in our hearts in that we remember them. But if they only live in our memories, what does that mean for those who died a long time ago? What does it mean for our great, great grandparents? What does it mean for those who are starting to forget the face of their dear child who passed away or what their dear spouse’s voice sounded like? Living in our memories and hearts is no consolation to the reality of death.

But still, it is a temptation to think this way. That’s why eulogies have even crept into some Christian churches. If we can just speak well of the deceased and talk about all the good things that he did during his lifetime then he will be remembered not just by his family but by everyone at the funeral. Then he will really live in our hearts. If we can convince those attending the funeral that he was a good man, maybe we can also convince God that he was a good man.

But if our loved ones are only in our hearts as we remember them and we only remember them for the good that they did then they are all in serious trouble. Then we all are in serious trouble. Perhaps Saint Peter and Saint Paul are okay – we remember them still two thousand years later – but what about me? What have I done that will be remembered for years to come? What significant good and memorable things did our loved ones accomplish before they died? We better be pretty creative and allow some artistic license in the eulogy!

Of course, none of this is what Scripture teaches. Scripture teaches that our loved ones are not only in our hearts. Their bodies are also in the ground waiting for the day of resurrection. Our loved ones who have died in the faith will be raised to eternal life just as Jesus was raised from the dead after His death on the cross. While they wait for the day of resurrection, their souls are already in heaven with Jesus now. Jesus told the thief on the cross who repented and believed, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”! Today, not someday! Everyone who believed in Jesus and has died is with Him even now.

And they didn’t get to heaven by being remembered by us or by doing some good things that are memorable. Our text from Revelation doesn’t say that the people in heaven made their robes white by doing something good or memorable. Our text doesn’t say that they washed their robes in their good works and the sweat of their brow. Our text says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). Jesus’ blood, given and shed for them for the forgiveness of sins has washed all their sins away and brought them into heaven with Him. This is the great consolation in death. Not that our loved ones are remembered by us, but that they are with Jesus now in Paradise because they were cleansed by His blood.

But we certainly do remember our loved ones. And in fact today, you have come to the perfect place to do exactly that. You have come to where God is graciously present in Gospel and Sacrament. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24)

The blood of the murdered Abel cried out for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus cries for our pardon. The cup of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood gives us pardon for our sins, and also joins us in communion with the innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. The assembly of saints gathered here is in communion with the assembly of saints gathered with Jesus in Paradise. That’s why in the communion liturgy we hear, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying” and then we sing “Holy, holy, holy” which is the song that Isaiah tells us is sung in heaven (Is. 6:3).

We sing here what is sung in heaven. In receiving Jesus’ true body and blood, we are in communion with our loved ones who have died in the faith. In Holy Communion we have a foretaste of the feast to come. Our hearts are lifted up to the Lord as we gather around the communion altar.

Communion is not limited by time or space. We join the saints who have gone before us in their ongoing heavenly worship of the Lamb who was slain. We have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb just as they have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.

The difference is that we hunger; they hunger no more. We thirst; they thirst no more. The sun and the scorching heat strike us but not them. We cry, we mourn, but God has wiped away every tear from their eyes.

We do remember our loved ones who have died. We remember that they have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood as we also have been. We remember Jesus’ promises to them that have now been fulfilled as they are with Him in heaven. And we remember that those same promises are for us. Jesus’ death on the cross was also for us. The payment of His blood for all sins was for our sins.

Unlike the world, we don’t have to be afraid of death. We don’t have to try and sterilize and sanitize death. We don’t have to be afraid of seeing a dead body. We know that Jesus has promised the resurrection of the body. We don’t have to be afraid if our loved ones are just ashes, because in the resurrection He who created man from dust will raise them up whether they are dust or ashes.

We also know that the existence of our loved ones is not up to us remembering them in our hearts. They exist with Jesus. Their souls are with Jesus even as their bodies await the day of resurrection. This is the comfort to you who mourn.

Finally, we have communion with our loved ones who have died in the faith. Since they are united with Christ and Communion unites us with Christ, we are thus also united with them as we receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In Communion we receive the same cleansing blood of the Lamb that has cleansed all saints. Saint Peter and Saint Paul were also cleansed from their sin by the blood of the Lamb because even their good works counted for nothing. In Communion we are united in the same forgiving blood of Christ.

Yes, death is real, but so is eternal life. And we have the promise of eternal life when we die from this life. As the saints before us, we will then worship the Lamb in heaven away from this world of tribulation and tears. Upon our death, we will also realize the perfection of heaven away from tribulation and tears. We will be united with all saints – those who went before us and those who are still to come – all who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Seeing is Not Believing

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

Dear people who have not seen and yet have believed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Thomas gets a bad rap. He’s even given the title “doubting.” “Doubting Thomas” has even become a label given to others when they express distrust or disbelief.

Now, in a way, Thomas certainly deserves blame since he did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead when the other disciples told him. And Thomas didn’t just doubt Jesus’ resurrection. He disbelieved it. He didn’t doubt that it happened. He believed that it did not happen. He didn’t say to the other disciples, “I doubt that you really saw the Lord.” He said, “I will never believe.”

But why point the finger at Thomas alone? He wasn’t alone in his unbelief. Last week we heard how the women at the tomb responded to the words of the angel that Jesus had risen. They didn’t believe the words of the angel, but they fled the tomb with trembling, astonishment, and fear (Mk. 16:8). The women didn’t believe the good news that’s why they were still living in fear. They were too scared to even tell anyone what they had seen and heard. Finally, they did tell the disciples the good news the angel had told them, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Lk. 24:11) The disciples didn’t believe the women. The disciples went into hiding. The disciples were scared. The disciples did not believe.

But when Jesus came into their locked room, giving them His peace, then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus showed them His hands and His side and only then did they believe.

But Thomas wasn’t with them. That’s why he didn’t believe. He didn’t see what the other disciples had seen. The other disciples believed now that they had seen their risen Saviour for themselves. But Thomas didn’t believe their report any more than they had earlier believed the women’s report. They were all in the same situation: they did not believe until they had seen Jesus’ resurrected body for themselves.

Where does this leave us? Where does it leave all of us who have not seen our risen Lord? Where does it leave us who have not seen in Jesus’ hands the mark of the nails and who have not placed our fingers into the mark of the nails or placed our hand into His side? Do we really need to see in order to believe?

The scribes and the Pharisees saw Jesus. They heard Him teaching. They saw Him healing, performing miracles, and even raising the dead. Did they believe because of what they had seen? For the most part, no, they did not believe. What they had seen only made them want to kill Jesus! After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they decided that they are going to kill Lazarus as well, in addition to killing Jesus (Jn. 12:10)! Seeing is not believing.

In fact, sometimes what we see contradicts what God’s Word says. God says that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). That’s not what we see in the intensive care unit of the hospital. We see suffering. We don’t see good. God says that whoever believes in Him, even though he die, yet shall he live (Jn. 11:25). When we stand over our loved one’s casket we don’t see life. We see only death. We cannot see what is real, only what is earthly.

St Paul writes, “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) What we see is temporary; it is passing; it is not permanent. The things that we do not see are eternal, enduring, and permanent.

Luke gives us a little more information on Jesus’ appearance to the disciples. After Jesus showed them His wounds, Luke writes that they still disbelieved (Lk. 24:41). It was not until Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures that they believed (Lk. 24:45). The disciples did not believe because they saw Jesus, but because He opened their minds to believe through His Word. They believed because they were given faith. Jesus gave them faith through His Word.

But notice what happened after Jesus had given the disciples faith in His first appearance to them. They went back into hiding! They went back behind locked doors! Jesus had appeared to them and given them faith. He had absolved them of their abandoning Him, of their fear, and of their unbelief. He had stood among them and given them His peace – His peace of forgiveness; His peace of absolution. Yet the disciples still went back into the locked room even after seeing Jesus alive – they needed Jesus’ absolution again! Jesus again appears to them in their fear and cowardice, behind locked doors. Jesus again gives them His peace; His absolution; His forgiveness.

This is the reality of life for us also. We receive absolution, but the forgiven sins don’t just go away. Our memory of those sins doesn’t just disappear. Our sinful inclination to fall again into the same sin remains in us. The sinful, doubting nature will not leave us until we die. Thus, we need absolution again. We need the Lord’s Supper again. We need to hear Jesus’ Word of peace again.

We need to hear Jesus’ Word of peace again and again as we see things that happen to us that appear bad. We need to receive Jesus’ peace when we see suffering and temptation, when we see fear and death. We need to hear God’s Word that tells us what is real; His Word that gives us faith. We need God’s Word that fixes our eyes of faith on what we do not see, not on what we do see.

And Jesus does not leave us in want. He sends His ministers to proclaim His peace as we heard in our text, saying, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

When I speak absolution to you, it is not my absolution, but God’s. That’s why it “is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (SC V). It is Jesus who gives you peace. That’s why I hold His body and blood up for you to see as I speak His word of peace to you just before you receive the Sacrament of the Altar, saying, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” It is through His body and blood that was given for you on Calvary that you receive forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus died for your sins to give you peace. That’s why He appeared to His disciples and the first thing He said was, “Peace be with you.” He showed the disciples His wounds through which He earned us peace.

So, peace be with you. The peace that the world cannot give (Jn 14:27); the peace that we have with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1); the peace of being reconciled with God; the peace we have through the forgiveness of sins. This peace is yours. We are no longer enemies of God or rebels against Him, but we are at peace with Him because our sins are forgiven.

And the peace of Jesus will carry you through what you see that seems to contradict His Word. His Word is firm and certain. His Word gives faith. His Word absolves you of sin and gives you forgiveness. Jesus’ Word gives you peace despite what you see. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Resurrection Dependency

Sermon for Easter Sunday based on I Corinthians 15:1-11 (14, 17-19)

Dear believers with the promise of the resurrection: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

All of Christianity depends on one single day. Really not even one single day, but rather one single event during that one day: the Resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised [from the dead], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And 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. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (15:14, 17-19)

In other words, if Jesus was not raised from the dead then we are dead. Then we’ve got nothing. We’ve got no hope. We’ve got no future. The only thing that awaits us is eternal death.

If Jesus claimed to be God and then died and is gone, then he’s nobody. Despite whatever good things He might have said and done, He would be a fraud. He told His disciples many times that He would die and rise again, so if He did not rise, He would be a liar. If He said He was going to die for our sins but then never rose, we would have to conclude that He lost the battle with sin and the devil. We’d have to conclude that God the Father did not accept His death as payment for our sins. That’s why Christianity is dependent on the single event of the Resurrection.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (I Cor. 15:20). Our Epistle lesson says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures… he was buried… he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” And Jesus proved His resurrection by showing Himself to Peter. Then to the Twelve (eleven). Then He appeared to more than 500 at one time. He appeared to James. He appeared to Paul. He appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18). He appeared to the two on the road to Emmaus and to those gathered in Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). And Jesus proved Himself not to be some ghost or apparition by telling them to look at His pierced hands and feet and touch Him and see that He is real (Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27). He ate in front of them (Lk 24:42; Jn 21:9-14). He performed miracles in front of them (Jn 20:6). Jesus proved that He had been physically raised from the dead.

And Jesus’ Resurrection changed the disciples. Before the Resurrection, the disciples had fled when Jesus was arrested. They were in hiding behind locked doors after His death. They were exactly at the point we would be if there was no Resurrection. They were thinking that their faith in Jesus had been in vain. They thought they had it all wrong. They had hoped Jesus would save them, but now He was dead (cf. Lk 24:21). Jesus was dead. They had no hope. They had no future. Jesus must have been a fraud. Jesus must have been a liar. And now the disciples were afraid that they would be put to death just like Jesus had been put to death.

Between Jesus death and resurrection, no one believed in Him. No one single person believed in Him. The religious leaders had Him killed. The crowd had shouted, “Crucify Him!” The disciples fled and met in hiding to figure out what to do next. The women bought spices to anoint His corpse. No one believed in Jesus. But that didn’t stop Him from dying for them and rising from the dead. In spite of their unbelief, Jesus died and rose again. Then He showed Himself to them and proved that He had done exactly what He said He would do.

So the resurrection changed the disciples. All of a sudden, they came out of hiding. They openly proclaimed Christ in Jerusalem in the power of the Holy Spirit received at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). They were no longer afraid of death. Even upon arrest and being told to stop talking about Jesus by the same council that found Jesus guilty, they said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

So also the resurrection changes us. We also have no need to hide our faith. We also do not need to fear death. Baptized into Jesus, we have the promise that just as He was raised from the dead, so we will also be raised (Rom. 6:5).

So we ask: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55) Death, you have nothing on us. You think your victory is in the morgue? You think your sting is in the cemetery? Death, do you think your victory is in the cancer ward or in palliative care; in terrorist strikes or on the battlefield? There is no victory for death. There’s no sting in death because the grave cannot hold us. The grave cannot hold us any more than it held Jesus.

The tomb couldn’t hold Jesus. The heavy rock rolled in front of the entrance didn’t stop Jesus from rising. The Roman seal on the stone that threatened execution to whoever broke it could stop nothing. The Roman guard keeping watch couldn’t secure Jesus’ body in the grave. Death did its worst, but Jesus rose triumphantly.

So also the grave will not hold us. Dirt will not keep us from rising. Even a heavy stone and a guard of soldiers cannot keep us in the grave. So we need to fear death as little as our bed. The grave is nothing more than a resting place for our bodies until the day of our resurrection.

Jesus’ resurrection has changed everything for us. It compels us to hold fast to the preached Word of God and His Sacraments. It compels us to regularly receive God’s gifts that He gives here in the Divine Service lest we fall away from the faith and have thus believed in vain. The resurrection compels us not to live in doubt or fear, or live in sin following our sinful desires. It compels us to live in hope – sure and certain hope in the promises of God. We will be raised as Jesus was raised. Our sins will not be charged against us because they were charged against Jesus and He died for them on the cross. Through Baptism, His death is our death and His resurrection is our resurrection.

Jesus claimed to be God and then died and rose, so we know that He is God. He told His disciples many times that He would die and rise again, and He did as He promised so we know that everything that He said is true. Jesus said He was going to die for our sins and rise from the dead, so His resurrection proves that He won the battle with sin and the devil. It proves that God the Father accepted His death as payment for our sins. That’s why the single event of the Resurrection proves that Christianity is true.

Since Jesus was raised from the dead we will be raised from the dead. Because of His resurrection, we’ve got everything. We’ve got hope. We’ve got a future. We’ve got the forgiveness of our sins. The only thing that awaits us is eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.