Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sabbath is rest: Sunday celebrates a new creation


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But on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they went to the tomb bringing spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  Luke 24:1-3

THERE are many speculations about the origin of the word Easter.  If you Google it you will find how people have gone to great lengths to connect it to pagan words and rituals.  They do so in hopes of discounting our holy Christian faith, of showing that it is nothing special, that it is but one contender among many and can thus be safely ignored.  That way they can be rid of the cross and the judgment on our sins that was there displayed; and of the Lord's words that on the last day all graves will be opened and a great judgment will occur.  Such things are too frightening to contemplate, thus the effort to minimize earth's holiest and happiest day.

Rather than sort through all the explanations it is best if we simply forget them and connect Easter to its most likely origin, the word East, the direction of the rising sun, the direction that has symbolized the Lord's resurrection and anticipated return from the earliest Christian times.  The prophet Malachi refers to Jesus as the Sun of Righteousness who rises with healing in his wings.  The Magi saw his star in the East and came to worship him, and the Lord Himself says " the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."  It is for this reason that Christians have, whenever humanly possible, built their churches facing the east, the direction of the rising sun, from which the new creation will come for that is what Easter is, the first day of the new creation!

The faithful women were the first to hear the Easter gospel.  It was preached to them when they went to the tomb very early in the  morning in order to prepare the Lord's body for burial.  The job had been hastily begun by Joseph of Arimathia shortly after the Lord died, but because he was still living under the old covenant, even under these extreme circumstances, he had to complete the work as best he could before the Sabbath began at sundown.  That gave him about three hours to request the Lord's body, remove it from the cross, transport it to his own grave, wrap it in a linen cloth, and lay it in its final resting place.

So, he thought.

So, they all thought!

But when the women arrived that morning the evangelist reports that they found two things: they found the stone rolled away, and they found an empty tomb.  We can never know the range of emotions that raced through their minds that morning.  Surely the events of the last three days had left them emotional wrecks, but now all that was about to be reversed.  Now everything was about to change.  Now the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard as our Old Testament lesson would come true: "For behold...the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create..."  They came expecting one thing, but found another.  That is how it is with God, and that is why our holy Christian faith is sweeter than honey and more precious than gold; because it gives us heavenly consolation no matter what horrors earth can bring to our door.  As St. Paul says, "I can bear all things through Christ who strengthens me."  These women came expecting to find a dead body brutalized beyond recognition.  Whatever the evil mind of man could conceive, whatever indignity it could conjure, it was all done and perpetrated and carried out on the holy flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, who bore these things for our sins, but that is not what they found!  Instead they found the grave empty, and two men dressed in apparel as dazzling as the message they preached, "Why do you seek the living among the dead, He is not here, He is risen!  Remember how He 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."

These are the facts of Easter and the church must believe, teach and confess them until the end of the age, for they are the foundation of our faith, and the cause of our own resurrection, but our faith is not frozen in time; quite the opposite!  In the church's earliest centuries, before the liturgical year was developed, every Sunday was Easter, and it is still true today.   Every Sunday is the first day of the week, the first day of the day of the new creation when God's people recall the Lord's resurrection and look forward to His grand return when all things will be renewed.  It is the day we are raised from the depths of earth, the depths of despair and the death of our heedless sins to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Here, on the first day of the week, the church revels in the Easter gospel and receives the body and blood of the risen and glorified Savior.

The sacrament we receive here each Sunday, and which three young Christians will receive for the first time today, the first time of many, is the body and blood of the same Christ who was crucified and raised again.  He is the Bread of heaven given on earth.  The eternal Lord given in time.  Tomorrow's Food given today to all who long for life everlasting.  He is the living Lord who left the grave victoriously behind.  The glorious Lord who will return on earth's final day to suffuse us with His splendor, and to renew us in His image so that: what is now perishable will be raised imperishable; what is sown in weakness and dishonor, will be raised in power and glory, what is sown a natural body will be raised a spiritual body.  Exalt Oh Dust and Ashes! For as in Adam we all die, even so in Christ we shall all be made alive!  And so He is the object of our faith, hope, love, worship, adoration, praise, honor and thanksgiving, our Lord and our God, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, to whom be glory, in the church, both now and unto the ages of ages.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Hallelujah!

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

If He is not dead in the grave, then where is He?


So they entered the tomb and there they saw a Young Man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were amazed.  And he said to them: do not be amazed!  You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has risen, He is not here, see the place where they laid Him. Mark 16:5-6

WHEN the women arrived at the tomb that morning they did not find what they expected. Instead of a dead man dressed in grave clothes, they found a young man dressed in dazzling clothes, hardly what one would imagine.  St. Mark tells us that they were amazed but what they were about to hear would leave them even more astonished because they were about to hear the first Easter sermon ever preached.

First the Easter angel refers to the Lord as “Jesus of Nazareth.”  He uses the Lord’s legal earthly name, the one that was inscribed on His writ of execution, and attached to His cross.  This should remind us that in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman, to be born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law.  We are those people!

It is also significant that Mark speaks in the active, not the passive voice like the other gospels do.  He writes, “He has risen” rather than “He is risen.”  This reminds us of the Lord’s own words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Jesus can do this because He is not only man but God as well.  He laid down His life for our sins and took it back again in order to give us victory over the grave.

Perhaps the happiest phrase of this first Easter sermon are the words, “He is not here!”  Three days earlier Jesus had been brutally put to death.  His blood was spilled, He breathed His last and He was certified to be dead by the Roman authorities.  Shortly thereafter Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped His lifeless body with burial spices and grave clothes.  Then Joseph covered the tomb with a large stone and the Roman military sealed it shut.  It did not get any more final than that.  The Lord’s enemies had done their best to do their worst, but even in the tomb, Jesus was at work to save us.  He fulfilled the Sabbath day rest for us.  He descended into hell as we confess in our Creed, not to suffer any further for our sins, but to proclaim the victory He won for us to the denizens of hell.  And then at an unspecified hour, early on the morning of the first day, our Lord reclaimed His life and left the tomb, never to die again! so the angel can say with all candor and joy, He is not here!

We too need to hear these words, because Jesus is not a dead Savior but a living one.  After His resurrection Scripture records that He appeared to the Eleven so that they might be eyewitnesses to His victory over death.  He then ascended to the right hand of the Father from where He directs all earthly circumstances for the good of His people and the good His church.  Please know dear Christians that our lives are not controlled by fate, or luck, or the will of men, or the stars, but by Him who is the Bright Morning Star, even Jesus our resurrected and ascended Lord.

He is not here, says the Easter angel, but then where is He?  Scripture gives us the answer.  It teaches us that Jesus lives in our hearts by faith.  A heart without Christ is an empty one, dead to God and devoid of the courage needed to face the problems of life with patience, the future with hope, death with poise, and “the life of the world to come” with fervent longing.

He is also found in Holy Scripture which is the “verbal icon of Christ.”  When we hear Scripture we are hearing the voice of Jesus who imparts the wisdom of the ages to us, and gives us the eternal perspective of life, so that nothing in this world can overwhelm us.

We also encounter Him in the sacraments, which are known as “the visible word.”   Baptism is the church’s primary Sacrament.  It is the Word of God “in and with the water,” and Jesus is there.  A Christian must never say, “I was baptized” but rather “I am baptized,” because the benefits of this sacrament never cease. It continually provides us with the ongoing cleansing that we need, and a new lease on life every morning.

The same can be said about the blessed sacrament of holy communion.  There is no closer fellowship that a person can have with the risen Christ than to take the Lord’s risen flesh and blood into his own and by it obtain the remission of sins, life and salvation.

Our risen Lord is also found in the sacrament of absolution which He formally instituted on the evening of the first Easter. Jesus first granted it to His simpering disciples who had sworn allegiance to Him, but when the chips were down all ran away except for faithful St. John.  Jesus did not come to them that night to make war but to deliver blood bought peace, to pardon their sins, and to entrust them with the Great Commission: to remit the sins of the penitent and to withhold pardon from all who refuse to forsake their own personal religion.

You have heard before that individual confession and absolution was the practice of the church for centuries and how the devil turned this salutary sacrament into a practice which is despised today by nearly every Christian on earth, including us.  Despised though it may be, for most of the church’s existence it was the norm for pastoral care.  In it the pastor, who is the visible sign, is the ear of God to hear the sins, and the mouth of God to speak the absolution not to a crowd but to a single repentant person longing to hear God’s love spoken into his ear.  May the grace of Easter create a new desire within us;  a desire to learn about the unique blessings of this sacrament and to ask for it and practice it so that we may find the consolation of the resurrection in it.

There’s one other important place where Jesus is found: in the face of the helpless and the humble poor, not as our confused culture defines those terms! please! but as reason, informed by Scripture, defines them.  Mercy must begin at home but then as opportunity arises it must ripple out to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, He has risen, He is not here,” says the Easter angel.  Jesus is no longer in the tomb.  Don’t look for Him there, but don’t look for him on the internet either because He is not there; or in Hollywood’s representations of religion, He is not there; or in religious bookstores, He is not there; or on religious radio and TV broadcasts (especially Joel Osteen), He is surely not there; but rather, seek Him where He promises to be found, in the church, as we have briefly mentioned above, and like the believers of the ages you will find a Living, Loving Lord, who will never leave you nor forsake you.   Amen

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, March 28, 2016

Let there be LIGHT


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THIS is the day that the Lord hath made! As the heart-warming sun of Easter rises above the benighted earth, we come here to stand in awe before the decisive day of the ages. On Friday the Lord’s most faithful friends took His cold and lifeless body from the cross. On Saturday He kept the Sabbath perfectly in the sleep of death. Then came the first day, the day on which millennia before God had said Let there be light. As it dawned, the True Light came out of the darkness of the tomb. The darkness had not over come the True Light. St. John, reflecting on this event in his first epistle says God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

Two questions arise which modern people need to ask when confronted by the gospel of the resurrection. The first question asks what this really proves. The second asks how it is of any benefit to us. So let’s take them one at a time. To see what the resurrection proves we must examine it in context. There are two contexts which overlap; the context of Moses and the Prophets, and that of Jesus’ own predictions. On three occasions Jesus predicted in plain speech that He would be killed and rise again. On other occasions He used the figure of the temple which He would rebuild. This proves that Jesus knew all along what was happening. His death and His revival were part of a great plan.

An angel asked the women Why do you seek the living among the dead? They asked that because He is not dead. He has been completely vindicated in heaven and earth; the anguish of His passion bore the fruit called for in the divine plan. He did not deserve death because He was righteous. You and I are destined to return to the dust. But the Lord saw no corruption. He was the Master of death.

Now let’s check out the other context, Moses and the Prophets. Jesus was not "a god." He was Jehovah. He was not just "a man." He was a Jew. So we must see what was written of Him in the Hebrew Scriptures. David in Psalm 8 speaks of "the son of man" as "crowned with glory and honor … having all things under his feet." In Isaiah 25 we read that the Lord will destroy the shroud that enfolds all people, He will swallow up death forever and wipe away all tears from all eyes. The prophet Hosea in chapter 13 quotes the Lord as saying I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death. Next we see Zechariah who says Here is the man whose name is The Branch, he will branch out from this place and build the temple of the Lord; He will be clothed with majesty and rule on His throne. Yes, the Hebrew prophets also used the figure of building the temple to speak of the resurrection. As for that name, "the Branch," that means a descendant of David. Jeremiah calls Him a "Righteous Branch." What does this tell us? The whole Old Testament knew what was going to happen. The good plan was an old plan, a plan that had already been revealed in some detail.

Now let’s try to answer modern man’s second question, that is, how does this benefit us? St. John tells us when he says God has given us eternal life. We are not just cogs in a great machine. We are not expendable, to be discarded like garbage. Death does not destroy our consciousness, nor assign us to some cosmic scrap heap. We expect a happy eternity. Our fallen intellect can do no more than see through a glass darkly, but some day we will see face to face. The tribulations of life which we suffer now will serve to turn us into gold.

Does everyone benefit the same? If not, how do we know our eternity will be the happy one? We want to be certain about that. We don’t want to guess or speculate when it comes to our final estate. Here Jesus points us to Himself. By the grave of Lazarus we hear Him tell the grieving Martha I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. Later in His High-priestly Prayer Jesus claims This is life eternal, that they may know You, the only True God, and Jesus the Messiah whom You sent. How can this be? It is something like planting a seed. Does it not die in the earth only to shoot forth with new stems, new foliage, new flowers? Is it any less reasonable to believe that our bodies, which God created in His own image, might be sown in corruption but raised in incorruption? Today we rejoice as we behold the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstfruits of them that sleep. St. John puts it more directly when he says This life is in His Son.

Sin brought mortality to mankind. Sin has enslaved us to death, and makes our lives hang by a slender, unraveling thread, one that could snap at any moment. Life is in the Son of God because He overcomes sin. By His death He redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil. Today we can call triumphantly I know that my Redeemer lives. He will never die again. When it gets dark this evening, stand outside and look at the stars. Consider the millions of them. But you may be assured that when the last of them has novaed and exploded you will still be shining in the Savior’s radiant presence. He still has His wounds because they are His trophies. They remind us of how He pulled the sting of death, how He superseded the victory of the grave. That is how his resurrection benefits us. In spite of the uncertainties that await us on this pilgrimage, at the end of it there is an eternal Easter. The life is in God’s Son. We receive it from Him. AMEN.

Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The New World Order is Not Something That Any Man Can Create


Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and she told them that He had said these things to her. John 20:18

THE church has been celebrating the Lord’s resurrection for nearly 2,000 years. The world, which doesn’t know what to make of it all, thinks of Easter as nothing more than a celebration of Spring, or an uptick in business for retailers. But what escapes all but the eyes of faith is that Christ’s resurrection from the dead altered the world forever.

Every few years politicians dust off the phrase “New World Order.” They make grandiloquent claims about a new age of world peace, of no strife, no hunger, no poverty, and a new golden age of co-operation among men. In 1959 the United Nations was given a statue with the slogan “Let us beat swords into plowshares.” There are two remarkable things about this sculpture in New York City: first, it is a quote from the Word of God. Second, it was presented to the UN by the Soviet Union, a brutal, atheistic regime that persecuted people for reading Scripture, a nation that is now in the “recycle bin” of history.

In spite of the promises of world leaders wars continue to rage, poverty and death still abound and politicians are unable to implement the new Garden of Eden they promise, but what man cannot do God did, the only way it ever could be done; by ending the curse of sin by the death and resurrection of our Lord. The New World Order that every ideology promises to deliver is found nowhere other than in the Garden of Eden, and it cannot be brought back by diplomacy, money, power or even by executive order. The answer to the joy that men seek can only be found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the solution sought by the United Nations lies in an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

How can that be? In spite of the salvation won by Christ the world is still plagued with problems. In spite of our best intentions we are still putty in the hands of the devil, the destructive forces of sin still win battle after battle (though we have won the war in Christ), and the decay of death is everywhere we look. Nations continue to rage and the love of many has waxed cold. And yet, the empty tomb shows us that death has not won. A single word from the resurrected Lord, Mary! and as many things as vexed Mary’s tortured soul were made instantly right. Nothing has changed, today Jesus still calls us by name in baptism, and the good work He began there will graciously continue. Rely on it, and do not be afraid.

In the beginning God created a world that was very good. Our first parents traded it away for a lie, that they could be like God. That’s when the present world order began, an order of suffering, temptation, violence, death, and decay. Things did not get better under this New World Order, they got worse. The corruption became so bad that God decided to cleanse the world with a flood. Every living thing except for Noah, his family and a cadre of representative animals was wiped out. As much of a cleansing as this flood was, it did not restore the Old World Order, but it was a start, as well as an object lesson pointing to baptism which now saves us.
(1 Peter 3:18) When the children of Israel were led out of Egyptian slavery, the Lord again used water to drown the evil and deliver the blessed. The Lord swept the armies of Egypt into oblivion, and allowed the children of Israel to cross as on dry ground. Again, this cleansing flood did not restore the Garden of Eden, but it did move us closer to the New Testament which God was making for us in Christ. The promise of the New Testament is present in the Old, but is fulfilled by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. By faith in Him, the swords of war between God and man are turned into plowshares of remission and peace.

Jesus is the road-map to peace which surpasses human comprehension. It’s a peace that cannot be accomplished by the Marine Corps or the Peace Corps but only by the Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, the holy Lord who died and rose again to purge us of our sins, and deliver us from this present evil age. As we await the arrival of the Perfect World Order, we have Christ’s risen body with us in the mystical communion of the Holy Supper He gave us. The tomb is empty but our altar is not! The body of Christ is no longer entombed in Jerusalem, but is manifest all over the world when the Lord’s words of institution are spoken. The Body of Christ exists not only in Holy Communion, but by virtue of that communion it also exists in the corpus of the Church. We are the body of Christ! We too will experience resurrection from the dead. That is our hope and we have no other, for if the dead are not raised, then neither was Christ. In that case our faith is in vain, we are still in our sins, and we are to be more pitied than all men. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that sleep. In Adam we all die, but in Christ we shall all be made alive!

God made the promise to restore Eden, to defeat the devil, to roll back the ravages of death, and to once more make the world very good. That promise was fulfilled when Christ broke free from death’s strong bands. At that moment the world’s downward spiral ended and the final restoration began. It is now well advanced. Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and the risen body of Christ with her own eyes. She spoke to Him, touched Him and brought His message to the disciples. The disciples themselves would later see Him, touch Him, hear Him, speak to Him and be ordained by Him to absolve the sins of all who repent and believe. Indeed, the world has been changed forever. Each passing Easter we find ourselves that much closer to the restoration of our future Eden. We wait with patience. We know how the story ends, just as it was proven to Mary at the tomb, so we will continue to gather at Christ’s altar for as many more Easters as it takes. There we will feast on our Risen Lord. There we will continue to wait in joyful hope. There we will offer our prayers. There we will sing Alleluia’s without end. Until “in the blink of an eye” our song is translated into an eternal one.  Amen

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, March 25, 2016

Why have I been left all alone?


*christopher* from San Francisco, USA
So, likewise, you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. John 16:22

THE Lord’s disciples were about to have the worst night of their lives!  They knew that this night was different from all others.  They did not know exactly what lay ahead, but they knew it would be very bad, because Jesus was going away.

But why would He leave them?  It’s a question we can all understand because we have all asked it.  Why did my husband have to die?  Why did my wife leave me?  Why did daddy go away?  Much sorrow and many tears have been shed over separation, but without minimizing any person’s own grief, we could safely say that the sorrow these men felt on this particular night was worse than any other, because the Lord of Life was about to be put to death.

Like the disciples we too have sorrow now.  Jesus, who knows better than anyone what men are made of, predicted it.  He knows how we love to devour one another, how deep our envy, jealousy and greed can run.  He knows, too, the bedlam that the devil orchestrates: the class conflict, the endless wars, the grinding poverty; and the crimes he instigates: such as the 29 year old man who, not too many blocks from where we sit this morning, murdered both of his grandparents, beating them both to death.  And He knows about the fear of death, and the fear of judgment that dwells in every human breast.

But sorrow for Christians does not end there.  The Lord warned that His followers would suffer special disdain because of Him.  Perhaps our four Confirmands should remember this before they formally confess their faith today, and make pledges which are bigger than they are.  If you profess your faith, dear Christians, and live by its dictates; if you recognize that there is only one Way to God, faith in the crucified and risen Christ, and that all others however reasonable or appealing lead only to perdition; if you turn your back on the world’s dismal version of morality as St. Peter cautions in today’s epistle; if you swim up stream as the world swims downstream to the never-ending sorrows of hell then, very simply, the world will make you sorry.

Since Adam first sinned humanity has had but one, singular ambition: to turn its sorrow into joy apart from Jesus.  We have tried everything from stern religion to reckless living; from tyranny to libertarianism to get the monkey off our backs, but nothing ever works.  Nor should we expect some as yet unknown technology to do what only Jesus can: instead we should believe His promise, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  What did the Lord mean when He said, “I will see you again?”

He was referring first to His resurrection.  He was now only hours away from dying the most unjust death in history, unjust because He was holy. We, on the other hand, because of our transgressions, deserve to die a thousand deaths, to perish spiritually, physically and eternally.  While our own death is well-warranted, the Lord’s was not, but it had to happen because it had a unique purpose, one planned in eternity for our blessing.  In the words of St. Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.”  Not only did Jesus die to eradicate our sins, He also rose again; not spiritually or symbolically, but in the flesh.  He was made alive by the power of the Spirit and fulfilled this promise to see His disciples again, thereby transforming their deepest sorrow into the greatest possible joy.

He was also referring to Pentecost. Though He was returning to the Father He did not leave us as orphans.  Instead He sent the Holy Spirit to be our counselor and comforter, and there is none better!  He sent the Spirit to teach us all things through the church and to bring to our remembrance all that Jesus said and did.  Most especially, by the Spirit’s power our eyes are opened to see that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus justifies us before God; that it cleanses us from all sin, and promises to us unspeakable Joy that will never perish, spoil or fade away.

Our Lord was also referring to the church, the word and the Sacraments, and here is where we see Jesus most clearly, here we are filled with the joy of salvation each Lord’s Day.  These four Confirmands, among other things, are pledging today to faithfully attend church, to hear God’s Word and receive the Sacraments every Lord’s Day, because apart from the Gospel, faithfully administered in and by the church, there can be no Christian faith, and no Christian Joy.  People often say: I don’t need to go to church.  I believe in God, and I say my prayers every day, but don’t be deceived by your own sweet thoughts.  Such sentiments have no power to turn the sorrows of sin into joy.

And the Lord has one more thing in mind when He says: I will see you again, namely His final return when He will “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”  At that time He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and turn our bleakest sorrow into inexpressible joy that
 will never be taken away.  It will be a joy independent of the chances and the changes of the world.  One that is untouchable by the activities and assaults of men.  The joy the world gives is at the mercy of the world.  The joy which Christ gives is independent of anything the world can do.  It does not depend on what the world gives and takes away, because it is dependent only on the presence of Christ, and it is grounded only in God.

Not only will it be permanent but also complete.  It is characteristic that in life’s greatest joy there is always some element of incompleteness.  There is always something to mar it, and in the back of our minds we know that it cannot last.  Not so the joy that Jesus promises because He is at the center of it, and with it there is no alloy, no tinge of imperfection.  It is pure, it is complete.

So if you have any sorrow today, if you have looked in vain to be rid of it, and searched high and low to obtain fresh joy, then hear the Word of the Lord, and believe His extraordinary promise,  “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  Amen. 

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What is the Lord's Supper?


This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.  1 Corinthians 11:25

DEAR CHRISTIANS, by God's mercy we have heard these words hundreds of times, but tonight we will learn what they mean.

The Lord's word, "this do" empowers the church to carry out the thing He commanded on the night He was "betrayed" by Judas, the night He was "handed over" to sinful men, by "the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" in order to rid the world of the most destructive force it has ever known:  our sins, our idolatry and adultery, our pride and our greed, and the devotion we have to our bellies above all things.

What is the church doing when she gathers to celebrate the Lord's Supper?  She is observing the New Testament which Jesus established with His own blood, a covenant by which God forgives our sins, cancels their consequences, and remembers them no more.  This forgiveness is your very life and breath.  You could not live a single day without it.  This divine mercy sealed with the blood of Christ God's Son is the certainty that your many heedless wrongs will not condemn you either now or at the day of judgment because they are atoned for, forgiven and forgotten.

To celebrate the Eucharist is to observe the New Testament.  It is to practice the Christian faith.  It is the thing that constitutes us and that defines us as the redeemed people of God in Christ.  It is the remission not of cancer, but of sin.  It is the nourishment by which we live and move and have our being.

Holy communion is not like a Firefox "add-on."  It is not one of several worship components that the church might or might not decide to "plug in" on a given Sunday.  Instead, these three things go together:  the Lord's People, the Lord's Day, and the Lord's Supper, and what God has joined together let not man put asunder.

What do the words, "in remembrance of me, " mean?  Consider first the word "me" because it is so startling.  A good Jew would never put a morsel of food to his lips without first remembering God as the font of all goodness and the source of the nourishment that maintains the precious gift of his life.  This was not a mere recollection or sentimental remembrance, however, but an act of faith; a recognition and an acknowledgement, and a giving of humble thanks to God for the food He graciously provided so that a man might live and be glad for another day.  This duty to remember was discharged through fixed prayers and then by consuming the food provided.

But Jesus does something revolutionary here, something radical, something over the top!  He does not tell the disciples to remember God, but He says instead, "remember me!"  By doing this Jesus puts Himself on par with God and declares His own divinity!  He is saying that as God is the font and source of our sustenance, even so, "I am the Bread of Life," the font and source of salvation from sin and death.  "If anyone eats this bread he will live forever."  "Do this in remembrance of Me!"

We should also understand that in order for the church to celebrate the Sacrament there must be the explicit intention to do so.  There must be a consecration.  This is shown by the second half of the Divine Service from the Offertory forward, the part we call the Liturgy of the Sacrament.  We should think of the entire Liturgy of the Sacrament as having the Eucharist in mind and leading to it.  One place where our intentions are made most plain is the Preface on Page 24.

Consider the words in the Eucharistic dialogue, "Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God.  It is meet and right so to do."  The Greek word for "thanks" is Eucharist, thus, in this dialogue these words are not merely reminding us to be grateful at this moment in time, though we are, but they are, more importantly, the proclamation of our intention:  Let us now make Eucharist to the Lord our God!  Let us now celebrate the Sacrament Jesus gave for our life and salvation!  Let us now eat His body and drink His blood given for the remission of our sins!  Thus, the thanksgiving is made, the meal is consecrated and consumed, and the gift of eternal life is renewed, confirmed, strengthened and preserved within us.

Yet, what exactly takes place each Sunday?  Is the church observing a distinctive Eucharist each time?  Is it a repetition of the first, or a replica?  Scripture does not say but it seems impossible to limit it.  It is a repetition and a replica of the First Holy Communion to be sure, but it is more.  It is also a foretaste of the Messianic Banquet and the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in which the church finds that she is the Lord's spotless, unblemished beloved and holy bride, and the object of His true, perfect and enduring love.  You are that church.  You are that Bride.  Therefore this Blessed Sacrament does not only look back to the cross and resurrection of our Lord, but it especially looks forward to the "world without end" that we long for in this weary world.  It not only looks forward, but propels us forward, ever closer to our Lord who, with each passing day, is coming closer to us, coming to meet us on the clouds with great power and glory so we will be forever with the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4).

Lastly, because the Lord says "this" do and not "that" do, no one has the right to change the elements or the administration of the sacrament.  We must use natural bread, and natural wine.   This is the Lord's Supper, not man's, so take and eat!  Take and drink!  This cup is the New Testament in Jesus' blood given for you for the remission of your sins.  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What Kind of a God Would Have Us Be Afraid of Him?


Maundy Thursday

AREN'T you glad you don’t have to choose between being feared and being loved? Having it both ways is great. As we get older, we hope to have both respect and affection. Back in the 15th century, Machiavelli wrote an essay about the ruling of countries. He told his readers that a prince should seek to be both loved and feared, but if he has to choose one or the other it is better to be feared. If we follow his advice, we can let the affection go as long as we keep peoples’ respect. It’s easy to see how sensible that is, but it is not likely to be popular today, because most of today’s standards are set by show business, and who on earth fears an entertainer? If you want to be "the good guy," you shift fear over to the heavy.

Now, what do you suppose God wants? I don’t mean what does He want for us, but what does He want for Himself? Does He want us to fear Him or love Him? Remember from the Catechism, what do all the Commandments mean? We should fear and love God. Notice, it isn’t one or the other. God doesn’t have dilemmas. He can reconcile all opposites. He can solve all paradoxes. The skeptics ask whether God can make a stone so big that He can’t lift it. That is like asking whether you can make a one-sided triangle. I guess the best answer is, yes, God could make it but it wouldn’t exist. Outside of God’s power nothing can exist. So for Him there is no tough choice. He can be both feared and loved. And if we want to keep His  Commandments, we have to do both; fear Him and love Him.

For us however, that’s a problem. How do you love Somebody that you fear? Life teaches us a different lesson. We love those who are dependent on us. Those whom we fear, we avoid. The Commandments won’t let us get away with that. We cannot avoid God; we cannot love Him; we know that we have not loved Him or even feared Him as we should; we can’t imagine what to do about it.

God’s Word is certainly a marvelous thing. This Psalm is a delicious morsel of it, a serving of sweetness, a revelation of God’s love for His fallen creatures. Historically this Psalm was a psalm of ascents, that is one used by pilgrims who were "going up," that is climbing from the Jordan Valley, one of the lowest places on earth, to Jerusalem, and the Mountain of Zion. But there is a deeper sense in which this Psalm ascends. It begins in the depths of depression and guilt, then rises to the exalted hope of redemption from every evil. During the centuries of Christendom, chaplains recited these words as they accompanied criminals to their executions. A penitent criminal might begin the journey in the depths of condemnation, but this morsel of God’s grace shows him a forgiving God, the city of Zion, and the everlasting morning. Make no mistake – it does not show us a lenient God. It shows us a merciful God. Those are not the same thing at all.

There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared. In the Book of Exodus Moses tells of how God hid him between rocks, then let all of His glory pass by. As He did so, Moses heard a voice saying, I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy … Moses tells us that this was part of God’s very name, part of His innermost nature. Moses knew that the Lord had forgiven him, and afterward Moses both feared and loved the Lord. He had seen God and lived. His fear was a holy fear, drawn to the beauty of God’s holiness, yet filled with the utmost respect for it. He had seen what the wrath of God could do – on the Egyptians, on the sons of Korah, on his own sister. But on Mt. Sinai nothing bad happened to him. God’s mercy was even more awe-inspiring than His wrath, more incomprehensible than His justice.

You and I have never been summoned to Mt. Sinai. But we have seen something even more dramatic, more direct and clear. We have seen the Word made flesh; we have seen God stoop down to be in the pit with us, taking flesh and blood in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. As He climbs down to be with us in the depths, we see the full meaning of the Psalmist’s words, There is forgiveness with Thee. We see how much sin hurts God, yet He keeps its dreadful consequences away from us, dying on the cross and rising again in glory. He lifts all of our sins up to the height of shame, the hill not of Zion but of Calvary. There God let the evil of human sin fall upon Himself, absorbing all the pain, the sorrow, the humility. You and I crawled into the depths to avoid God, only to find that He crawled in after us and died our death. The Supper He sets before us is the sacrifice that removes all guilt.

Lutherans are accustomed to saying that God’s mercy sets us free to love Him. That doesn’t tell it all, nor does it tell it very well. Actually, God’s mercy sets us free to fear Him. Luther says in one of his prayers: If all did not depend on Thy mercy, if we could remove sin by our own power, no one would fear Thee, and the whole world in its pride would despise Thee. Don’t say you would be different. If God weren’t watching, would you avoid sin? Don’t say the whole world despises God anyway. People are not aware of the Law, the absolute demand God makes on all to fear Him and love Him, and of the dreadful consequences of disobedience. You can’t make up for your disobedience, but you can repent. You can look to Jesus as God’s answer – He is the right answer. You can take up your cross and follow Him. God’s grace is free, but it is not cheap. He places it squarely between you and His wrath. But if you stand in its way, you cast your own shadow over His grace. The wrath is still there, but because of grace it is not directed at you.

Let Israel hope in the Lord… He doesn’t want us to stay in the depths. He wants to bring us up with Him, by the way of the cross, to the glory of the resurrection. The holy fear that grasps the hand God offers is the way out of the pit. You can’t dig your way out. The more you dig, the deeper you make the pit. Throw your shovel away, grasp the hand God stretches downward, the merciful Redeemer will pull you out, completely. This is a very serious thing. The world is no friend to us or to God. We are His Israel, called away from this world to have fellowship with Him. This Holy Supper is our Passover Feast, our remembrance of the great deliverance from the hand of the devil, the bondage to sin. As we look at the holy elements we can rejoice with the apostle and say "Now is the dwelling of God with men." Let the Word lead us to the proper fear, the loving fear, the confident fear of the Almighty who has come to be our Friend. Indeed, the same Holy One is coming again to be our Judge. Think about it – the Judge is our Friend. What a blessing to know that in the most important court that ever will be the Judge is our Friend. AMEN.

Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Showing the Lord's death until he comes


This artwork is in the public domain. Why?
WE have been exploring the rather inclusive group that we call "the extended Holy Family." This family began with some fishermen, added a carpenter, a fig grower, a tax collector, and a small assortment of working class men. But this family grew by leaps and bounds. After Jesus had made a name for Himself by doing miracles, by teaching thousands with authority, by always having a good answer for those who questioned Him, by continuing the baptizing that John had started, and by showing power over evil spirits, He drew more than just the curious to Himself. But His own flesh and blood, the elders of the synagogues, His original neighbors of Nazareth, had little part in His fellowship. In the end, they were included as well, but as we look at the meal Luke describes we see a family of only thirteen. That's not very extended. What was going on that night?

The meal that the thirteen were celebrating was a seder, a traditional feast in which the Passover liturgy was carefully recited as it had been for centuries. There were four cups of wine served during this meal, thus Jesus referred to "the fruit of the vine." He was sharing this with the Twelve who were closest to Him. The bread was matzoth, the unleavened dough stretched out like a pizza crust and baked for a short time. The custom was to break a large piece in two, eating the one half and putting the other aside "until Messiah should come." The custom of hiding half of the matzah which Dispersion Jews observe had not started in Jesus' time. Still, what He did was a complete surprise. He took the half that was usually set aside and gave it to His disciples, saying "Eat this; this is my body." After the meal, when a cup called the "cup of blessing" was served, Jesus told all of the Twelve to drink from the same cup because, "This is the New Testament in my blood."

Some people have wondered why the Last Supper was a stag party. After all, the seder was a family meal, celebrated in the home, with all family members sharing alike. That could not be on the first Good Friday evening. Yes, I do mean Good Friday, because the day began at sunset. The evening after the crucifixion was the Sabbath, as all the evangelists agree. This was no ordinary seder. This was the most important seder since the one when Israel went out of Egypt. For centuries a yearling lamb, without spot or blemish, was sacrificed and eaten by those who shared the blessings that God dispensed through that sacrifice. A lamb would remind the family of the Passover, in which the blood on the door caused the Angel of Death to bypass the houses that were marked with it, while killing the firstborn everywhere else. All of the lambs were symbolic, pointing to the Lamb of God. Now, before their very eyes, the Lamb Himself was present. When Jesus took the little group that knew Him best into His confidence, He told them, "This is my body … this is my blood." He was putting two ideas together which Jews did not normally associate. The "body" meant that He was the Messiah. The blood meant that He was the Passover Lamb. He was a mortal Messiah. He was a royal Lamb. The Twelve had heard mysterious things like that from Jesus for three years or so, but this night He meant every word seriously. Nobody ever changed a word of the seder, but Jesus did. See why it was absolutely necessary that all present be familiar with His words and actions.

How do we take part in the family meal? At first it looks as though Jesus were saying that we have to wait until the resurrection. He says, "I will not partake of the fruit of the vine again, until I drink it anew in my Father's kingdom. Does that mean that our extended family meal is the Messianic Banquet, the table we share with the Patriarchs in the coming kingdom? That meal remains in the realm of hope. We hope for it because Jesus promised it, but we cannot enjoy it now. It is true that the extended Holy Family has by now grown so large that no place on earth could accommodate it. Still, there is no reason to think we all have to get around a single table. Besides that, the Holy Family extends through time as well as space. We have been around since Adam and Eve. Many generations have fallen asleep.

As we look at the New Testament we see how the extended Holy family shared its meal shortly after the Lord's Ascension. They met together regularly, partook of the bread and wine, gave thanks, breaking the bread the way Jesus did, and saying the traditional words. We can do the same. By receiving the Lord's Supper in the worship of the Church, we partake of the family meal even as the apostles did. The Old Testament saints will eat with us only in heaven. They had a different tradition on earth. But all who knew and called on the name of Jesus since His crucifixion have shared this supper with us, as all saints alive today in all the nations of the earth partake of it as we do. The liturgy that we use is also very old. The Our Father and the Words of Institution are from the Lord Himself, the Sanctus is from Psalm 118 and Isaiah 6, and what we call the "Preface," the versicles in which we say, "We lift them up unto the Lord," was used that way already in the third century as we see from the writings of St. Hypolytus.

Why has everyone been so careful to preserve this tradition? Because of what Jesus did on Good Friday. It was the same way in Moses' time. Before the Lord actually did the Passover, He gave very detailed instructions about how to remember it. So Jesus, before His Passion, gave detailed instructions to us about how to remember what he was going to do. He was going to sacrifice His body and blood for us. He was going to die for our sins, to make atonement so that we could be forgiven. He was going to rise again on the third day, to proclaim and take part in His own success, and to guarantee to us that He could keep all of his promises. That was the key event in all history. The least we can do is to remember the details. Nothing we do in our life is so important as taking part in this meal of the extended Holy Family, taking the place that was predestined for us before creation, bought for us by the blood of Christ, and to which we are ushered by the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Monday, March 21, 2016

Who believes that God is anything other than Love?


EVERY Lent the joy of salvation moves us to better understand the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.   Every year we read the passion story, preach on it’s various aspects and sing the Lenten hymns, but no matter how deeply we probe, the Savior’s dying love remains a foggy mystery.

Words are inadequate.   Hymns, though powerful, are only a little more helpful.   The dramatic attempts of passion plays may get us emotionally charged, but they are of no lasting value. Over the ages some ascetic Christians have even allowed themselves to be nailed to real crosses on Good Friday in order to plumb the depths of our Lord’s passion, but none of these things help. It’s enough that the Bible proclaims with divine authority that: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that, the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all, and that by God’s grace, Jesus tasted of death for every man. It’s sufficient that what God’s Word teaches, the Holy Spirit gives us the faith to believe and that this faith justifies before God.

Yet there is one verse in Holy Scripture that stands above all others to help us properly praise God for our salvation, the words of 1 John 4:8 where the aged apostle writes to his flock three little words, God is love.

Many would argue that it is not so.   Radical Muslims would have us believe that God is a bloody murderer who demands that a man commit unspeakable atrocities against his fellow man in order to merit reward for himself. Fire and brimstone preachers would have us believe that God is a vengeful judge anxiously waiting to get His hands on us. Calvinist preachers tell us that God predestined some people to heaven but others to hell, an atrocious error which flies in the face of Scripture. And probably the greatest number of churches teach what we might call a ‘co-dependant’ gospel, one in which we must try very hard to be good, and if we are good enough, and quiet enough and jump through all the proper pious hoops, then our abusive and un-predictable father just might love us and just might give us His approval, but the authentic Christian religion revels in this glorious truth, that God is love.

Now it is true that in the Bible we find much that would indicate otherwise, that God is a jealous God who punishes sin rather than forgives it, but still St. John confidently asserts that, God is love. Why does He say that? Because in Scripture we have two different revelations of God; two faces if you like; two seemingly contradictory attributes of the one and self-same God, they are Justice and Love. Yet St. John, knowing all this does not conclude in his epistle that God is Justice, but rather that, God is love!

The Bible presents a picture of God’s justice that is seamless and un-wavering, and woe to any man who would violate His holy law. Not just in the larger points, things like idolatry, fornication, intoxication, pornography, theft and physical assaults against our neighbor, but also the finer points, things like verbal assault, contempt for other people, and the hypocrisy of passive-aggressive behavior. But aged St. John, who had lived many years and who had received the most amazing revelations, continues to insist that God is love, and he tells us why in the very next verse. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”

This is the meaning of Good Friday. It is about the Father who loves us, and about Jesus the Son of God, who joyfully gave Himself up for us all; who suffered that we might be at peace; who died that we might live; who became poor that we might become rich; who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, so that sin might be put into remission and monstrous sinners be exalted by God. We are those sinners. The Bible preaches this gospel in many different ways, but St. John says it most eloquently in three memorable words which bring peace to troubled consciences and troubled lives, God is love.

On Calvary the two faces of God met, His wrath against sin and His love for sinners. Calvary was not a charade or a sham. It was known as “the place of the skull.” It was a frightening venue where unspeakable suffering took place, where the wages of sin were extracted in bloody wounds, hideous sights and unforgettable sounds that would haunt a spectator for the rest of his born days. St. John was one of those spectators! A friend constant and true who would not leave his Lord no matter where the road might lead, and it was this same John, who understood what was happening there that day, who was moved to write these three wonderful words, because when Justice and Love met that Good day; when the sky was darkened; and the earth quaked; and the graves of many Old Testament believers were opened, we were not the ones on the cross! We were not crucified for our own sins. We did not bleed or die or suffer abandonment by God. Instead Jesus bore it all for us; Jesus writhed in our place; Jesus died in our place; the Son of God paid our debt and cancelled our curse. That day the unstoppable force of Love met the immovable object of Justice, and Love won the day! so St. John happily proclaims these three enormous words, God is love!

Don’t ever forget these words. Don’t ever stop believing them, or depending on them, for they are the final and prevailing Word of God to all who confess their sins, to all who carry heavy burdens of guilt, to all who chafe under the tyranny of death’s many tentacles and the devil’s despotism. They will free your soul, lift your burden, strengthen your faith and inspire you to new heights of love for others, even as God has loved and forgiven us. God is love. Amen.

Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Sunday, March 20, 2016

In your darkest hour He comes to save you


This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.
Rejoice greatly O daughter Zion! Shout out O daughter Jerusalem! Behold your king shall come to you. Righteous is he and having salvation, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. Zechariah 9:9

WHEN help arrives we always rejoice. When we are in trouble, confused, at the end of our ropes and all out of options, then a savior suddenly appears who knows the way forward, we instantly go from the depths of depression to the heights of exhilaration. Our confidence is renewed, the smile returns to our faces and all our fears melt away like the remaining snow on a sunny day in March.

We all need a reason to rejoice. God’s Old Testament people were having a bad time of it. In Zechariah’s day they were suffering enormous frustration. They had just come out of 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They were there because of their sins. God was exercising fatherly discipline. He was administering a divine thrashing because, like foolish children who never seem to learn until it hurts, His people were rushing headlong into destruction. They were on the broad and easy way that leads to hell, but He did not want that for them, neither does He for you. They knew the right thing to do but would not do it. They were having too much fun indulging their desires, and those pesky threats from the prophets about divine reprisal seemed distant at best. That’s how it is with sin, one hallucination leads to another, one delusion on the way up, another on the way down.

We are the same. Our hearts do not naturally look to God for help, neither do we want to fear, love and trust in Him above all things. And even if we do, even if we are baptized and raised well, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) prove too strong, and like Old Testament Israel the consequences seem distant.

Israel’s captivity was now over and now God was graciously allowing Israel to return to its ancestral home. There God’s people would rebuild their beloved temple, and start a new life of blessing for as far into the future as the eye could see. With God’s chastening still fresh in their minds they set out with new vigor to do things His way, to worship Him alone and to live as He would have them live, but just when they had made up their minds to do the right thing they met stiff resistance! For the 70 years they were in captivity other people inhabited their land. And though the Jews (as they were now called) came back to Jerusalem with Persian funds and a letter of authorization from King Cyrus to rebuild the temple, the people who occupied the land fought them. They resisted the true church. They could not bring themselves to confess: I believe in One God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth. They were happy to be syncretists, that is, people who paid homage to many gods, people who hedged all their religious bets, and covered all their theological bases just in case the god they preferred was the wrong one in the end. Not much has changed in 2,600 years.

It was into this milieu that Zechariah promised them that God would send a mighty but kindly king to rescue them from their enemies and give them the blessings of on-going peace. In His vision Zechariah saw a future king who would inhabit the temple they were building, who would live among His people and dispense every blessing to them from it, but that king never came. There was a series of kings to follow, some better than others, but none fitting the Prophet’s description. None who could save the Holy Nation from Greek, Syrian, or Roman Imperialism. Each of these world powers successively possessed the holy nation and had their way with it, until the number of people who could still believe in a coming King or a loving God was too small to notice, but that is when God decided to act!

In the fullness of time He sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem them that are under the law. (Gal 4:4). …Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.(Phil 2:6ff).

The name Zechariah means: the Lord remembers, and remember He did. When God gave the promise to Zechariah that Behold your king comes to you, He did not have any normal mortal in mind, but His own Son, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who rode humbly into Jerusalem on a young donkey, who entered the holy city in order to be judged for our sins, crowned with thorns and enthroned on the cross as the King of the Jews. From that bloody and lofty perch He put an end to all sin, all judgment and made an irrevocable treaty of peace between God and man.

This same Lord still comes to us today and is present among us with His good gifts and Spirit in the church’s worship, the very thing we are engaged in at this time. We are His temple and His temples. He dwells in us and with us to fulfill every good promise God made in Scripture, and not one will be broken. He does not dwell with us in a hazy, imaginary or ambiguous way, but in very specific ones which Christ Himself established, namely the Word and the Sacrament. That is why the church’s liturgy is historically divided between two parts, both indispensible. The earlier part is called the Service of the Word in which the spoken Word of God absolves our sins, teaches us right from wrong, makes us wise unto salvation, gives us reason to rejoice even in our sorrows, and fills us with good hope. It fortifies us like a suit of armor against the assaults of the devil and like a shield against all his fiery darts. The second half is called the Service of the Sacrament and is the climax of our gathering. Here we meet Jesus not just in the words, but substantially and truly as we take His life-giving Flesh and Blood into our own, and become holy and immortal like He is.

So Rejoice O Daughters of Zion because Zechariah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, your king has come. Not only has He come but He still comes bringing salvation to all who want it, to all who need it, and He will come yet again, one final time, in order to put a definitive end to the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem and to extend His kingdom of Peace to the ends of the earth. We will be a part of it. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Who is Jesus, and how and why do we worship Him?


And the crowds that went before Him and that followed after Him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!"  Matthew 21:9

TODAY the church learns who Jesus is, what He came to do, and how we ought to worship Him.  Some do not know, today they will learn.  Others are unsure, today they will be fortified.  Still others are mature, but they too will benefit, because young or old we are all under attack by the demons of ignorance, unbelief and carelessness as regards the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and there is no better way to send those devils packing than to gladly hear and learn the Word of God.

The first thing we find in our lessons today is that our Lord is the realization of Zechariah's prophecy:  that Jesus brought to fruition the things that Zechariah saw in a vision and preached to God's Old Testament people in order to give them hope and to let them know that the forces of sin and death that were now crushing them would soon be crushed themselves.  We too can rejoice at such a message.  

Not only is our Lord the fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecies, but of every promise God ever made, from the moment death entered the world through sin.  If you are looking elsewhere you will be disappointed!   People will promise you the world, but they will always let you down.  Only Jesus recognized in the breaking of the bread cleanses your conscience, answers your prayers, and promises you victory over death and the grave.

Jesus is the Son of David, the legitimate King of Israel, the One who restores the fortunes of His people as David conquered Israel's foes and gave her an era of peace and prosperity so that she could rest and breathe free.  Jesus does the same for us.  As King, our Lord rode into Jerusalem for his enthronement and coronation, not to be installed on an elegant and proud platform, but lifted up on the tree of the cross; not with a head dress of gold and jewels, but one of thorns, mingled with His divine blood because this King did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.  You are those many whom He still serves today in this house with the remission of sins and victory over all who oppose  you.

Jesus is Hosanna which means the Savior.  He is the Blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord, the chosen Christ anointed by God Who humbled Himself in order to do what no man could.  He entered this mangled creation ruined through and through by our sins, marked by death and bereft of any hope not to fix it, repair it, adjust it or teach it how to "progress"; not even to restore it to "the good old days," but to RECREATE it in His own image and to give us birth into it through holy baptism.  

That is who Jesus is and what He came to do, but let us also learn how to worship Him, because it is in worship that we obtain the priceless gifts He gained for us that keep us safe from all harm and danger.  Under the prevailing winds of American Evangelicalism everyone has learned to take up the Bible as his own personal devotional and to conduct his own little church on the Facebook page of his own little heart.  That is wrong and there's nothing quite as insidious.  As we are not free to invent our own doctrine, but must confess the faith of the church of the ages, even so we are not free to invent our own worship, but you would never know it from the air waves, the internet, or the mega-campuses whose business it is to trash the sacraments and 2,000 years of Christian history as if it never happened.  It is no mistake that the words of St. Matthew and St. Paul heard here today were incorporated into the church's liturgy from the beginning; no mistake because Scripture is not given to be a personal devotional book, but it is given, instead, to be used IN the church BY the church and FOR the church gathered in holy worship, to be liturgized, antiphonized, chanted, read, sung, preached, prayed, taught and confessed even as we are doing at this very time.  (O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good!)  Yet it isn't only the content of worship we learn from Scripture, but our ceremonies as well.  We learn to bow our heads at the name of Jesus from the words of today's epistle that at the name of Jesus every knee in heaven and on earth and below the earth should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  We learn the entrance procession from today's gospel lesson.  We learn the gospel procession because St. Matthew reports that some went ahead of the Lord on Palm Sunday, while others followed behind, leaving the Lord in their midst, and we chant the holy gospel because chanting is elevated speech and the gospel is elevated (to say the least) and music to our ears as well!

Why take such pains?  Why the reverence, rites, rituals, ceremonies, vestments, paraments, architecture and liturgical hardware?  Because Jesus who once came into the world in the flesh, and rode into Jerusalem to be tried for our sins, still comes to us today in this Divine Service.  It is His gospel that we hear, His praises we sing, and His flesh and blood we take on our tongues in holy communion and there is nothing casual about it.  Every Sunday is a celebration, a unique event in all the world, as Jesus comes to us by His appointed means to commune with His Bride and to give her respite from the dreary world, so let us learn from our Lord to humble ourselves and to become obedient unto death:  the death of pride, the death of sin and the death of our casual disregard of the holy gifts that have been so generously placed in our laps.  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras