Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where we find some of the most likely verses to find on a sympathy card. Your sorrow will turn into joy. And, you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. We love the idea that Jesus turns today’s sorrows into tomorrow’s joys. That no matter what we face in this life, we can always count on God turning the bad parts around into good. I mean, it’s even the title of the lectionary notes in your bulletin which we get from synod. The next hymn after the sermon today is called, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?” In fact, God is so good at turning it around, that we should be filled with joy, no matter our circumstances. Isn’t that what Paul did? Isn’t that what Peter did? Isn’t that what we should expect too?
Maybe you don’t realize this, but when Christians talk about their sorrows turning into joys, we often sound fake. Especially to people who know what sorrow really is. We don’t mean to. All we’re trying to do is show them how great God really is. Show them the joy we have because of Christ. But we can come across as people without scars telling those who have them how to pretend they’re not really there. We can make the joy of God sound like we shouldn’t even have any sorrows because of how great it is.
Is that how we hear Jesus’ words in our text? If Jesus turns all our sorrows into joys, then if people have sorrows, then they probably don’t really have Jesus, now do they? Because if they did, they wouldn’t feel this way, right? Whether we actually believe that or not, we do leave that impression. That sorrow is a problem to be solved. That it’s something that Jesus can help you avoid. That it’ll go away if you’ve got a good enough faith life. No wonder people think Christians are a sham.
But it doesn’t really matter what they out there think. The problem comes when that’s what we do believe. Because when we live our life expecting Jesus to just turn on the joy when things get hard, then our faith is going to take a serious hit. Because that’s not what Jesus promises at all. Not even in today’s text. Because do you know what Jesus says? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful…. You will be. Not something that happened in the past to be forgotten. Sorrow will come. To the disciples in the text. And to you as well.
In fact, it’s expected in every one of today’s texts. Maybe you don’t see it at first. After all, Peter gets sent to the Gentiles in Caesarea. They hear the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit gives them faith through that Word. And that is a great joy for the whole Church, right? Yet because of that, Peter faced opposition from the circumcision party. Today’s joy turned into tomorrow’s sorrow. Jesus’ hand picked number one disciple was criticized openly. And the entire Church had to endure the fight. These Judaizers also harassed the Galatians, leading some of them astray. And this thing that started out with joy, ended up splitting Christ’s bride. Some rejoiced that the Gentiles believed. But that joy alone didn’t overcome the sorrow of losing some very good friends.
Our Gospel lesson has the same thing happen. The disciples had just been through the joys of entering Jerusalem triumphantly. They had the joy of seeing Jesus dominate his competition in the war of words. They had the joy of seeing the Passover come to it’s true fulfillment that Maundy Thursday evening. And they had the joy of Jesus’ final instructions to them here in John fourteen through seventeen. But today’s joy would be tomorrow’s sorrow. A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me. Jesus is going to die. And die on a cross.
In our Revelation text, there is certainly joy. But it only comes after this life is done. To have our tears wiped away is to have tears. For death to be no more means there is death. That there is no more mourning or crying or pain anymore means that there is today mourning, and crying, and pain. In order for the former things to pass away means that those former things are exactly what we must endure today. And that’s more than just the sorrows all people face from living in a sinful world. Christ promises that because we follow Him, we will also have the sorrow of being hated by this world. That’s not Jesus turning sorrow into joy in this life. That’s Christ sacrificing today’s joy for tomorrow’s sorrow. True joy only comes after the sorrows have been endured.
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. Jesus is not saying that you’re just going to have so much joy that you’ll forget all about your sorrows. Or that joy is so going to cover up that sorrow, that you wont have time to feel bad. No. The joy in Christ is not a distraction. It’s not a gimmick. It’s Jesus actually addressing the very things that cause us so much pain, and grief, and sadness. Jesus tackles our sorrow head on. And turns that sorrow on its ear.
Whatever it is that hurts. Whatever that is that makes you cry. Whatever it is that is too overwhelming to deal with. These are the very things Jesus went to the cross for. These are the very things Jesus died for. Jesus didn’t give these words to make us forget our sorrows. Jesus gave us these words so that we would know that it is okay to feel our sorrows. It’s okay to shed our tears. It’s okay to mourn our dead. It’s okay to cry out in our pain. Because those are the places where Jesus goes. Those are the things Jesus bears. Those are the times Jesus promises not to leave us alone.
And that is where Jesus brings His resurrection. That is where Jesus brings His forgiveness. That is where Jesus brings His salvation. There is where our lectionary notes point us. There is where our hymn would have us go. We will sing in a moment, “God gives me my days of gladness, and I will trust Him still, when He sends me sadness. God is good. His love attends me. Day by day, come what may, guides me and defends me.”
Therefore, do not be afraid to weep and lament while the world rejoices. And do not expect that all our sorrows will go away so long as we follow Christ. Just the opposite. Our troubles are where Jesus comes close to us in order for Him to be there in our every need. Because just as we share in His sufferings, He likewise shares in ours. And even though we are weak from these things, He is not. Today’s joy may indeed be tomorrow’s sorrow. Yet in those sorrows, there is Christ on our behalf.
So don’t get it backwards. Joy doesn’t replace sorrow. Joy is there even in the midst of sorrow. Don’t get it backwards. Sorrow doesn’t only last a day. And our joy isn’t that our sorrows are so small. No. Our joy is that Christ is there for us in the midst of all our sorrows. Even the ones that don’t go away with the morning dawn. Because sorrow is real. Sorrow is promised. And yet, sorrow is exactly the place Christ Jesus goes for us. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One of the last things Nancy and I discussed before she died was whether or not everything was okay. Nancy was on hospice. She was unable to get out of bed. And she knew her last day was coming soon. Of course that question came up. It will come up for every one of us who will see death coming slowly for us. Is everything okay? Is it okay between me and God? She wasn’t sure if it was. And in that kind of moment, when we’re in it, we aren’t sure either.
Because even after a life of faith. Even after hearing the Gospel. Even after receiving God’s gifts. We know there is a moment coming where we can no longer go back. And if there’s anything we missed. Anything we forgot to say or do for God. Anything that stands between us and eternal life, then we had absolutely better know what it is before we pass the point of no return. And it’s in that moment where we’re reminded of all the times we failed. All the times we sinned. All the times we couldn’t do what God asked.
Maybe it’s a variation on the question, “Have I done enough?” The answer to that question, not only for Nancy, but also for all of us, is no. No we haven’t. None of us have accepted well enough. Believed strong enough. Lived good enough. Done nearly enough in order to go to heaven to be with Jesus. When we look inside and are honest with ourselves–which there’s nothing like dying to get yourself honest about who you really are. But there’s nothing in there that can actually stand before God and make our case. As Paul quotes from the Psalms, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Not you. Not me. Not Nancy.
However, there is a difference. When we ask with worry if things are okay, we already know in our hearts that they are not. That’s not the time to hear more Law. That’s not the time to have more that we have to do. Rather, it’s the time to hear the good news that what needed done has already been taken care of. Because Jesus did for us all the things we were supposed to do. And Jesus bore on that cross all the things we weren’t supposed to do, but did anyways. And every one of today’s texts are there to give us that assurance. That confidence. That Gospel.
Our question is brought up by God’s people in our Isaiah text. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” It is as if to ask, “Are things okay? Because they sure don’t seem to be any more.” The nation of Israel was dying . The Babylonian exile was coming. And they were wondering if there was anything that they had to do. Their answer isn’t that they should have done more, but rather that God would not abandon them, despite their sin. The Lord says to them, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”
Israel is not forgotten. Nancy is not forgotten. You are not forgotten. Jesus has engraved us onto His own hands. Those nail marks are for you and for me, and for us all. He doesn’t let us go because we don’t measure up. He doesn’t abandon us because we sin. He doesn’t give up on us even when we die. In fact, those are the words our Psalm proclaims to us. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. And whether or not we live up to our end of these words, Christ nonetheless lives up to His.
After all, [w]ho shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is no fear too big. There is no failure too large. There is no sin too great that it cannot be forgiven. There is nothing too much that Jesus cannot overcome. Not even our inability to do enough. Because we do not belong to Christ because of what we did. We belong to Christ because of what He did. It’s His death and resurrection on our behalf that has rescued us. It’s His cross and passion that has won for us forgiveness. It’s His bleeding and dying, and being buried that has saved us. And it is His resurrection from the dead that has given us eternal life with Him. That is Nancy’s hope. That is her confession. That is her assurance.
And that cannot be taken away from her. Nor can it be taken away from us, just because we’re not sure we’ve done enough. As Jesus Himself says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” It’s not up to the sheep to make themselves okay. It’s all up to our Good Shepherd. And He has indeed made it okay. He has done enough for us all.
Nancy is in Jesus’ hands right now. She is there before the throne and before the Lamb, singing God’s praises. She has the love of God in Christ Jesus. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, she is comforted by Christ’s rod and staff. She is engraved into Christ’s hands. And she, like all of us, now await the day of the resurrection of all flesh. In the meantime, we mourn. Because death hurts us all. But our mourning is not forever. We will see Nancy in the flesh once again. Wrap our arms around her once again. And in that day, Christ Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This morning is Good Shepherd Sunday. Even though we’re on a three year series of readings, each fourth Sunday of Easter always has a reading from John chapter ten. And while they are different verses from that chapter in each of the three years, all of them focus on Christ taking care of us, His sheep. And so you might notice that everything in our service today has highlighted that point. The Introit, the Collect, Psalm 23, the Gospel lesson, all our hymns, they all speak to Christ being the Good Shepherd. Even in our first reading from Acts, Paul talks about us being the flocks which Christ cares for.
And, there’s our epistle lesson too, where we hear, “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd.” However, we’re more used to hearing this Revelation text on a different day in the Church year, All Saint’s Day. Because this is the text we go to when we want to hear comfort for the loss of our loved ones. Because there they are, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. There they are, wearing robes made white by that Lamb’s blood. There the are, holding palm branches of victory in their hands. And there is God, wiping away every tear from our eyes. All of us waiting for that resurrection day. With the whole Church, too great to be numbered.
And that’s great that Christ is their Shepherd up there in heaven. I’m looking forward to it myself. Being cared for night and day. Sheltered by His very presence. No more hunger. No more thirst. No more worrying about the dangers of the weather outside. Living water springing up. And best of all, all our tears wiped away. What a great promise. If only we could have that now. Wouldn’t that be great?
But that’s not what happens here in this life, is it? We don’t get someone who cares for us all the time. We don’t just have shelter handed to us for nothing. We do get hungry. We do get thirsty. We do have to dress for the weather, lest we get too cold, or get sunburnt. The living water of God isn’t just right in front of us. And our tears are our daily companion. We have to find a way to meet our own needs.
All of us have basic needs that must be met. We must have food. We must have water. We must have clothes. We must have shelter. Without these things, we die. Probably the way we’re most familiar with these kinds of needs is from a guy named Maslow. In 1943 he published a psychology paper outlining the hierarchy of our needs. And all the promises listed in our text this morning meet Maslow’s first two levels. Our physical needs must be met first. Then our need for safety. And when we’re safe, when our loved ones are safe, there is less cause to cry.
Taking care of those needs is exactly a Shepherd’s job when caring for a flock. The shepherd must lead the sheep to food and water. Must shelter them from the weather. And must protect them from any danger. So if Jesus is to be our shepherd, we need Him to take care of these things for us as well. Isn’t this why we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread?” But in this life, we don’t always get those things. Is Jesus then only our Shepherd in heaven? Isn’t He supposed to be our Shepherd here as well? And if He is our Shepherd here, why does it seem like He’s falling down on the job? We aren’t always kept safe. We aren’t always fed, and clothed, and sheltered. In fact we die. And unless Jesus comes back first, every one of us will die. The very thing that a shepherd needs to prevent from happening to His sheep is precisely what happens to all of us. So what gives, Jesus?
But what we don’t always realize is that there is an even more basic need than any other. It’s a need so basic, that every other need points to it. And it is our need for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our need for the gifts Christ won on that cross. Our need for the Gospel. Because without that, there is nothing else. There is no food, or water, or clothing, or shelter, or protection, or love. Because without Jesus’s work on our behalf, there is no life. We have all the gifts of creation today, only because Christ died for us first. All those gifts of creation, what we call First article gifts, because of the first article of the creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth”? They are ours only because of second article gifts. The gifts given by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ on our behalf. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
Christ Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Because not only does He care for us in eternity, but He cares for us today as well. He is our shelter. More important than any other shelter, for He protects us from the burning consequences of our sin. And from the frigid cold of death. All by overcoming both sin and death by His cross. He is our food. He is our drink. More important than any other food and drink. For He feeds us His own body and blood. And by that gift, delivers forgiveness directly to us. Jesus likewise leads us to the living spring that wells up unto eternal life, clothing us in our baptism. A being dressed that is greater than any other kind of getting dressed. Because in His baptism, we wear Christ’s righteousness. And all the filth of our sin is washed away by His blood. It’s by His Gospel proclaimed, by His sacraments given, that every tear is finally wiped away. Because it’s by these gifts, so generously given, that we have our every need met. By these gifts, Christ is truly our Shepherd, even today.
The need for our Lord’s Supper is greater than our need to eat. The need for our Lord’s baptism is greater than our need to be clothed. The need to hear the forgiveness of our sins is greater than our need to be sheltered. Because by these things, our greatest needs are met. This is exactly what Jesus Himself says in our Gospel lesson, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” And if Christ can take care of that need, then He can take care of every other need we could ever have as well.
But that doesn’t quite give us that full answer yet, does it? Because if He can meet those needs too, then why doesn’t it always happen? But that’s what our Revelation text is so important. All of us down here are asking, “Lord, how long?” All of those in heaven are asking, “Lord, how long?” And we read why right here. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
Christ is still adding to the great multitude that no one can number. Because after the day Christ returns, there will be no more added. Jesus is still having mercy on the world. And He has asked us to patiently endure it for their sake. Because even though the world fights against Him, and therefore against us with all it’s might, The Gospel is still the power of God unto salvation. Christ Jesus is still meeting the most basic needs of humanity. He is still shepherding. And what day that ends, only the Father knows. And there will be no sign that tells us when that day is near.
But in the meantime we cry out with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Because, as John says at the beginning of this book, He is a partner with us in this tribulation we call life. A tribulation Jesus has overcome by His dying on the cross, and His rising on the third day. And since He is our Shepherd, [s]urely goodness and mercy shall follow [us] all the days of my life, and [we] shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While our text for this morning is the Gospel lesson, I think we’ll actually start at the Psalm for today. Where we see some pretty positive thinking. “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness….” And what was it we prayed for in our collect this morning? “Grant to Your faithful people, [who are] rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys.” Now, being the Easter season, I don’t think it’s too big a leap to assume that we have those kinds of joys because of the resurrection of Jesus. But what kinds of joys are perpetual? What kinds of joys are never interrupted?
When I was little, my Dad and my Grandpa took me and my brother out fishing, usually once or twice a summer. It was one of their joys. They could fish all day, and would have if they weren’t constantly untangling my line. I never really understood their joy in fishing, and said as much. But they always told me that once I got my first fish on the line, then I would finally get it. On the days when they came home empty handed, they told me, somewhat paradoxically, that fishing was a joy, even if you didn’t come home with any fish. But the joy was far easier to see on their faces when there were some fish in the cooler when we got in the car. I have never once in my life even hooked a fish. Sticks, algae, the tree on the opposite bank, my dad’s shirt, hooked all of those. But even when I’ve gone out fishing as a teenager and a young adult, I never caught an actual fish. So I can’t tell you if that joy is a real one or not. Though, I bet many of you already know from your own experience on that front.
However, that was not a joy that lasted. As my Grandpa got older, he could no longer get out to the river. I could tell he wanted to. But he knew that he wasn’t going to be able to fish like he used to. At least not in this life. And not long afterwards, he died. Now I don’t remember if anyone actually said this at his funeral service. But I’ve heard the sentiment similarly enough at others, that I can hear it in my memory. “At least Grandpa can now go fishing all he wants in heaven.”
But implicit in that statement is the fact that the joy of fishing can’t possibly be an perpetual joy. Because if it were, My grandpa would have never not been able to fish. But age, infirmity, and death did. “Oh, but that’s where our Psalm speaks,” we could argue. Weeping tarries for the night. Mourning doesn’t last forever. We will only be separated from our joy for a little while. We tell that to ourselves so that we can feel better. But it doesn’t actually do that. Because if that is their joy in heaven, then for them to have their joy returned is exactly for us to cry and weep and mourn. And for us to have our joy returned is exactly to leave behind people who will then cry and weep and mourn. This is not perpetual joy. This is perpetual sadness. And the platitudes we so often turn to do nothing to end it.
Those platitudes are especially useless because sometimes we never get our joys back. In our first reading, Paul, then Saul, had his greatest joy taken away. It was immensely satisfying to breathe threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Because He knew better than they did. He studied the Scriptures better than anyone. He was the bright, rising star among the Pharisees. And He was on the right side of history. There was a great joy in knowing that God would show those Christians just how wrong they were. And that joy came to a permanent end on the road to Damascus.
If Jesus’ resurrection is there to return our joys in the way we remember them, then the weeping may tarry for more than the night. Our mourning will not always give way to dancing. Our Psalm and our prayers are merely fleeting hopes and empty promises. Because who knows when our joy will fade? Who can tell when we’ll just have to go looking for a different joy to keep us occupied for a while?
Isn’t that what Peter did? He had already had Easter Sunday. He had seen Jesus rise from the dead. His weeping turned to joy that morning. His mourning gave way to dancing. His cries for help were answered. But now what? Jesus was alive. But nothing was the same. Jesus didn’t hang out with them every day anymore. Jesus wasn’t there teaching them all the time. They had had Easter. Then eight days later with Thomas. And then, who knows how long since. Being with Jesus was Peter’s joy. And without that, maybe it was time to try an old joy out for a little while.
Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Not even the disciples have perpetual joy from the things they love.
Even in heaven itself, the joy is not perpetual. In the hand of the one seated on the throne is the scroll, the book of life. Who is worthy to open it, and receive what is inside? Humanity was created to receive that gift. But because of the fall, there was no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And on that account, John wept loudly. There was no perpetual joy to be had.
Perhaps it might be more true to life if we were to reverse the Psalm. O Lord my God, you have healed me, but now I cry to you for help..” “Joy may tarry for the night, but weeping comes with the morning.” “My dancing has turned into mourning; My gladness has been loosed, and now I am clothed with sackcloth and ashes.” That is what life looks like when we wait for our own joys to be fulfilled. Because things fade. People get old. Loved ones die. And sin still has its way with us.
But what if we’re not supposed to take comfort in our own joys. What if our hope doesn’t lie in the things or people we love? What if the resurrection of Jesus isn’t there so that we can have our joys. What if the resurrection of Jesus is itself our joy?
It certainly was Paul’s. How else do you explain a man who has lost everything he held dear immediately going out and proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God and proving that Jesus is the Christ. That resurrection changed everything. Being baptized into that resurrection is a gladness that can never be interrupted. It cannot be undone. It cannot be taken away. It cannot end. Jesus raised from the dead is indeed a perpetual joy.
The resurrection is certainly John’s joy as well, when he saw heaven. And Christ raised is the never-ending joy of all heaven as well. Only the Lamb standing, even though it had been slain, could bring the new song forth. The same song we sing in our Hymn of Praise. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” This resurrection is the feast of victory for our God, Alleluia!
Jesus’ resurrection is the answer to the Psalm’s promise. The resurrection is what helps us in our cries. It’s what brings the dawning joy. It’s what gives us reason to dance. It’s what clothes us with gladness.
And even in our Gospel lesson, it’s not the catch of fish that brings the joy. It is the announcement, “It is the Lord!” Jesus, there with His resurrection. Appearing that third time. And sure, His physical presence would not always be there in the way that they were used to. But, the fact that He is alive, never again to die, giving that same gift to them, that joy would sustain them through everything. Even when one was crucified upside down. Another was run through with a spear. Another was flayed alive. The joy of Jesus’ resurrection remains a joy, no matter what else happens.
My comfort is not that my Grandpa is fishing up in heaven. My comfort is that Jesus rose from the dead on his behalf. And mine. And yours. And that joy is with me no matter how happy I am. No matter the depth of my sadness. Because through Jesus’ resurrection, we also have been raised from this fallen world. Rescued from everlasting death. Because like Paul, we too are baptized into that resurrection. Because, like John, the Lamb stands, though slain, to read our names in the book of life. Because, like Peter, Jesus appears to us, in order to feed us in the breaking of the bread.
Therefore it is right to pray as we did in the Collect. “O God, thought the humiliation of Your Son, You raised up the fallen world. Grant to Your faithful people, [who are] rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus gives His disciples something remarkably amazing. Although perhaps we pay so much attention to Thomas’ doubt, that we miss it.
Now, granted, Thomas is a big deal. Christ gives him a gift that we don’t always have. And the Sunday after Easter is always Doubting Thomas Sunday. We only get to talk about this event once a year. Whereas the gift that Jesus gives to the disciples before Thomas arrives is a gift we see each and every Sunday. Seriously, it’s the first thing we do after we sing our opening hymn. We did it today. Open your hymnals up to page 151, and look in the bottom corner.
“As a called and ordained minister of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The referent is today’s Gospel text, John 20:19-23. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” “If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from anyone it is withheld.” This is absolution. This is the forgiveness of sins. This is what the Father sent the Son to do. This is what Jesus sends His Church to do.
We call this authority given by Christ to His Church to bind or loose sins the Office of the Keys. Because that forgiveness is indeed the key that opens the gates of heaven. And without that key, without that forgiveness of Christ, there is no getting into heaven. We’re expected to use those keys. Both of them. On behalf of others. We are supposed to know when to forgive sins, and when to withhold forgiveness.
Now, you do have some help. God has created the Office of the Pastoral Ministry in order to carry those keys publicly on behalf of the Church. That’s where the called and ordained part of the absolution is important. Our Lord calls pastors to use those keys to open heaven. To proclaim Christ’s forgiveness to those who will hear. And to hold that forgiveness back from the people who don’t think they need it. And that’s done in the preaching of His Word and the administration of His sacraments. As well as both the private and public absolution.
But this work to forgive and retain sins also belongs to you as members of Christ’s Church. And that can be pretty intimidating. Especially since we’re out of the practice of doing that. Seriously, when’s the last time you spoke the words, “I forgive you,” to someone. And I don’t mean saying, “Oh, that’s okay.” Or, “Don’t worry about it.” Or, “It’s not a problem.” Now, maybe for you it was recently. But I’d guess for most of us, we can’t remember. Think about that. Here we are with the keys to heaven. And we don’t even consider opening the gates. Not for our friends. Not for our family. Not for each other. Much less for anyone out there. And not at all for anyone who has ever hurt us in any way.
But was worries us more is withholding someone’s sin. Even though that’s pretty much all we do with our silence. But I think we know Jesus means more. But it’s awkward, because Jesus also says things like, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” And of course that’s the verse everyone knows. But in this text, Jesus wants us to actually do some judging. Because it’s a judgment call you need to be able to make when forgiving and retaining sins. It’s a judgment call in more ways than one.
But it’s not a judgment call Jesus left up to your whims or feelings. It’s instead based solely on the criteria Christ gives to us. We don’t judge based on whether we think someone deserves forgiveness or not. Nor do we judge whether we think a person is sorry enough or not. We don’t judge based on the magnitude of the sin. Nor on whether we’re still hurting from that sin or not. If someone repents, forgive them. If someone is trying to repent, but doesn’t exactly know the right way to do it, forgive them. If they don’t think they are repentant, but wish they were, forgive them. If they think they need to somehow earn forgiveness before forgiveness is possible, forgive them! Give them that forgiveness before they can do anything to earn it. That forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness. And by His authority, He has given those words to you to say to one another and to the world.
The only time you will ever withhold the forgiveness of sins is at the same place Jesus did not speak forgiveness. And that’s when someone insists that there is no need for their forgiveness. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” When someone insists that something God which condemns isn’t a sin, it’s then we withhold forgiveness. When they insist that they are able to stand before God on the legs of their own righteousness, we withhold forgiveness. We lock the door. Not out of spite. Nor out of hate. But to let them know how serious it is for one to hold on to their sin by calling it a virtue. This is not our own judgement, but Christ’s. And He has given those words for us to proclaim as well. Because we are to proclaim both Law and Gospel.
But what in the world is Jesus thinking, leaving such a critical job to us? Those’re the keys to heaven itself He’s entrusted us with. And we’re sinners needing forgiveness, just as much as anyone. How can we not screw this up? We’re going to get something wrong somewhere. And it doesn’t seem fair to anyone else to put forgiveness into our failing, miserable hands. You can’t be that stupid, Jesus! You can’t put that kind of faith in us. You can’t believe in us that much. Because we’ll disappoint you. We’ll let in those who should’ve been kept out. And we’ll bar those who rightly should be in. It’s a really bad idea. But what Christ has done, He has done. The keys to heaven are yours to use.
Christ Jesus can entrust that set of keys to you, because there’s a different set of keys that He has kept for Himself. From today’s Epistle reading, Jesus tells John, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” While we’re up here fumbling around with the keys to heaven, Jesus has in His hands the keys to Hell. Satan had hoped to hell that those gates would have stayed locked. But on that cross, Jesus snatched up those keys. He descended into Hell. And with one turn, it’s locks and chains fell to the ground.
And inside that locked room stands so many who are afraid. So many whose sins make it dangerous for them to be around someone so Holy. And just as Jesus did in another locked room, He does here, even in Hell itself. He speaks the words Hell never expected to hear. “Peace be with you.” And again He shows his hands. Again He shows his feet. Again He shows His side. The very places where He won peace for them. Won peace for us. These are the marks that show that Jesus indeed died for the sin of the world. Died for every single person. All of us, who had earned our place in Hell already. Who live there in our sin. Who had no other hope. Jesus died for you.
And having unlocked those sinister gates, Jesus tells us again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” As the Father sent Me to the Church, so also am I sending you to the Church. Because it is there where I have entrusted the keys to heaven. There is where I entrusted my forgiveness. The Church is where you find My absolution. The Church is where you find My baptism. The Church is where you find My body and My blood, given and shed for you. And by those gifts, The Church opens the doors of heaven to you through the forgiveness of sins. That’s why our Confessions say, “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” Because that’s exactly what Christ’s Church does. Gives us the means by which Jesus forgives our sins.
And that is good news. Because when you forget your keys, the door is still open. When you fail to forgive and withhold in the right way, We’re driven back to our need to be forgiven. When we fumble at the locks, the Church, the saints who have come before, and the saints who are yet to come, will be there to swing wide that gate for us. We’re not alone in any of this. Christ is with us through it all. Holding all of us together. And we remind each other of this fact in the words, “I forgive you.” Or if you would like to get more specific, “As a called and ordained minister of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where the women who went to the tomb were asked by the angels, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
Shouldn’t they have known? Remember how [Jesus] told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise”? Well, guess what. It’s the third day. He is not here. He is risen.
So why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you come to the tomb looking for Jesus? Why did you bring spices? Why are you startled that the stone is rolled away? Why are you surprised the grave is empty? Why do you wonder what happened? You should know. You should have expected it. Because it is exactly as Jesus said.
Isn’t that how we take those words? As a rhetorical question? All to show them that they should have had more faith? That they had treated what Jesus said as idle talk and with disbelief? You women came with the wrong attitude. You disciples responded very poorly. You all should have believed Jesus, and expected the tomb to be empty this morning.
I suppose you can preach today’s text that way. You can tie the failure of the women and the disciples to hear Jesus’ Word to our failure to do the same. You could ask why we look for the living Christ among the death and decay of this world’s idols. Why to we look for the risen Jesus among the feelings of our rotting corpse of a heart.
And it works really well. We proclaim the Law. We see our sin. We see our need for repentance. And then we turn and see Jesus. Who took all that sin upon Himself. Who did indeed die for it. And who is now definitely not dead. He has risen as He said. The Christ we look to is very much alive. And that is an excellent sermon.
There is only one thing that hangs me up on it though. And it’s the answer to the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Because it seems to me that of all the places to go looking for Christ Jesus, among the dead is probably the best place of all. Not because He is dead. But rather because it’s among the dead where Jesus’ work is needed the most. And He knows that.
Every time in Jesus’ ministry that He came across a dead person, that person is raised from the dead. Jairus’ daughter. The widow’s son at Nain. Lazarus. Even at Jesus’ death, the graves of many were opened. And they were seen in the city after Jesus’ resurrection. The dead simply can’t stay dead in the presence of Jesus. Which is why Jesus goes.
Jesus is still found among the dead today. Jesus still does His work nearest to the grave. Because Jesus’ resurrection is for the homeless man looking for money to feed his addiction. Jesus’ resurrection is for the woman who aborted her child, not knowing where else to turn for help. Jesus’ resurrection is for the homosexual who just found out he’s got AIDS. Jesus’ resurrection is for the woman on death row, who has nothing left to live for. Jesus’ resurrection is for the sex offender who now must live with the consequences. Why do you seek the living among the dead? Because the dead need Jesus. And there He is.
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Christ Jesus has stormed the gates of Hell. He has kicked down the door. Overpowered its gatekeepers. Broken open every prison. Taken everything. And He isn’t the least bit sorry about it. All of hell’s greatest treasures, gone. All those souls whose guilt made their cases hopeless. All those people, who deserved to be in that pit forever. All those trophies, forgiven. Given life again. All the worst people you can imagine. Even you. Christ’s resurrection has changed the final score for each and every one of us.
Why do you seek the living among the dead? It’s because we remember His words. We know that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and then rise on the third day. Delivered in to the hands of sinful and dead people, just like you and me. His crucified body is delivered into our hands with the words, “Take and eat, this is my body.” “Take drink, this is my blood, shed for your forgiveness.” And in that supper the living one is indeed found among us dead. In that supper, us dead are made alive through Him. In that supper, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is given to us.
You see, with Him here, we simply cannot stay dead for long. And so the resurrection of our loved ones, the resurrection of our own bodies is right around the corner. Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! “[N]o more shall be heard… the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be… an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days” “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Because, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” We seek the One Who Lives among the dead, for Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [Pilate] went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
Barabbas was more than a robber. Barabbas was a murderer. Barabbas was an insurrectionist. Barabbas kept kicking the hornets nest we call the Roman Empire. And everyone felt the consequences. Barabbas is two Aramaic words. Bar-Abba. Literally, ‘son of the father.’ He believed that he was living up to his name. Doing the work of his father. It was pretty obvious to everyone else that he wasn’t.
There was no love for Barabbas from the people. No love from the high priests and scribes and Pharisees. Everyone was glad when Barabbas went to prison. Because then they would finally get some peace. No more robbing people to raise funds for his personal fight. No more insurrections that got innocent people killed. No more Barabbas. And that in and of itself was good enough.
Pilate was no dummy. He knew how the people felt about Barabbas. And he had no desire to be manipulated by these priests and their religion. Instead, Pilate wanted to show that he was the one in charge. He was the one in control. Matthew’s Gospel records Pilate giving the choice first. Manipulating the tradition of prisoner release to his advantage. Or so he thought. “Who do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ?” “Not this man, but Barabbas!”
Do you live up to your name, sons and daughters of the Father? Are you true bar-abbas? Or do you merely happen to have the name. Do you instead carry out insurrection against the Father. Robbing Him. Revolting against Him. Murdering Him. We kick the hornet’s nest of God’s Wrath, and wonder why we keep getting stung. And then we have the audacity to believe that we really are living up to His name. We are the same as Barabbas.
And as such, as bar-abbas, we deserve to be locked away. We deserve to be condemned. We deserve the flogging and the soldiers mocking. We deserve the thorns across our head, and the reed across our face. We deserve the nails in our hands and feet. We deserve the humiliation of being hung naked in front of the world. We deserve the cross. And death on that cross. Not Him. Us. What good are we? There is no good in us. The best of us, the worst of us, we’re all the same. All bar-abbas.
But perhaps you are still useful. Perhaps there may still come some good from you. You can still be a pawn to be sacrificed. And the accuser planned on using you in just that way. Satan stands you before God and says, who shall I release? Barabbas? These bar-abbas? Or Jesus, who is called Christ? After all, only one of them is innocent. Only one of them lives up to His name. Only one is good. Only one is holy. Make the right choice, God. Abandon these bar-abbas. Save this man Jesus. Save your Son. Release Him. Just say the word and it will be done.
And God Himself says, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”Not this man, but all these bar-abbas. Because this man has claimed all of their crimes. This man has taken upon Himself all their evils. This man bears all their sin. And He will suffer and die for them as justice demands. Jesus will be flogged and mocked. Jesus will bear the thorns and reeds. Jesus will receive the nails in His hands and feet. Jesus will be humiliated, crucified naked before the world. Jesus will go to the cross. And it will kill Him.
So set Barabbas free. Set all the bar-abbas free. Release them. For the death of Jesus pardons them from every robbery, every murder, every insurrection. They are pardoned from every sin, whether big or small. Give them back their name. And you do have your name once again. You are still, and once again sons and daughters of our Father. You are bar-abba.
But do not forget about Jesus. He too is bar-abba. The perfect bar-abba. Obedient unto death, even death upon a cross. And so He’s not just another son of the Father. For Jesus and the Father are One, with the Holy Spirit. One God, now and forever. Jesus is not just a man. But both God and man. And so His death is enough to pay your price. Jesus’ death paid the price for the sins of the world.
Jesus truly did die for you. God died for you. Tonight we recognize that. But not even death can hold God. The resurrection is coming. And Sunday Morning, dear bar-abbas, we will shout Alleluia again. Thanks be to God.