THERE is one thing the church does not do on the Sunday after Easter and that is to try to top Easter. We are not in show business or concerned about ratings. Neither could we surpass it if we wanted to, because it does not get any better than the sights, sounds and smells that accompany the joyous Easter proclamation: Christ is risen! Instead the church names this Sunday: Quasimodogeniti. It is a Latin word that means “like new born babes” and it comes from Peter’s first epistle. There he urges God’s people, just like newborn babes, to long for the pure milk of God’s word so that by it we might grow in the joy and understanding of our salvation. We are still basking in Easter glory but we know that such highs cannot be maintained. So the church returns to what she does on a steady basis, preach the Gospel, so that by Spirit-borne faith we might overcome the world and obtain eternal life.
In this verse St. John calls faith “the victory that overcomes the world,” but faith can be a confusing word. It has a secular meaning. We can, for example, put our faith in a car, a person, a certain career path, or an investment vehicle. When we do this we examine the matter under consideration, study it from all angles, give it plenty of thought, and if after a rigorous process we conclude the thing to be reliable we put our faith in it. That works well for matters that reason can comprehend. If people did more of this we might live in a slightly saner world, but that is not the Faith Scripture speaks of. When St. John says that our Faith overcomes the world he is talking about a Faith whose source is God. One whose beginning, middle and end proceed from Him. He is talking about one that is generated and supported by the Holy Spirit, using the mighty channels Jesus instituted for this purpose, namely the Word and Sacraments, the very ones that have gathered us here today.
Some people consider faith to be a noble virtue, but it is not. Put your trust in the wrong object and you will soon learn how ignoble that is. Others consider it a good work which makes God happy and merits his favor, but it is not that either. Still others consider it to be a personal decision, a sort of “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to Jesus, but faith is none of the above. It is, instead, a new faculty given to us by God. A new sense, if you like, beyond the five we are born with; one which is capable of perceiving and believing what no other faculty can, that the death Jesus died was in expiation for our sins, and that His resurrection insures ours as well.
Neither is Faith a static or idle thing, but rather a divine power that strengthens us to win the victory over the world. That is the way we have to think about things, dear Christians, that we are at war with the world and must gain mastery over it; not by shield and sword, or by controlling great swathes of its wealth and resources, but by controlling our passions, and by making sure that it does not conquer us; by fighting it and resisting it with all our might so that it does not entice us into loving it, and thereby losing the eternal life that Christ won for us when He rose victoriously from the grave. This is not a battle that can be fought with human strength, but only by the word of truth, the power of God and the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, and that means Faith. (2 Corinthians 6:7) St. John warns earlier in his epistle, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17) God gives us many gifts in this life, each one is to be received with thanksgiving and used according to His statutes, but always remember that we are strangers and pilgrims here, merely passing through, and that heaven is our true home. (Hebrews 11:13)
How are we doing on all this?
This is where our Faith does its best work. It believes in the absolution Jesus instituted on Easter night, and as many times as we fail it makes us bold to go back; because only Faith knows that the power of the Cross to pardon, and of the empty tomb to give new life, hope and courage, can never be exhausted.
Faith gives us Eternal Life as well. What a word that is: Eternal life. It is not something that we readily understand, especially when we are young and vibrant, but we must learn about it now, and think about it now, so that it can calm us when we face danger and our own inevitable demise. Jesus says that whoever believes in Him will never die. (John 11:27) It is a promise that is defied by every hospital, every nursing home and every cemetery in the world, but Faith stares all of them down and stands boldly on the promise that God gave us eternal life, this life is in his Son and whoever has the Son of God has life. (1 John 5:11-12) It is not possible for a preacher to fully convey what the words Eternal Life mean, but suffice it to say that in baptism we are conformed to the image of the Son. (Romans 8:29) As He was born, we are born. As he lived, we live. As He died, we will die. As he rose again, we will rise again. As He ascended into heaven, we will do the same. Neither does the expression only refer to quantity of life, but also to quality. It will be a life of equilibrium and symmetry, one that will settle and satisfy us as nothing else can do. There must be no doubt about these things, dear Christians, because Christ accomplished them for us, and pledges them to us based on His merit, His Righteousness, and His alone.
There can be no greater promise, prize or goal than to have Eternal Life. No wonder the disciples were Glad on Easter evening when they saw the Lord. Let us be glad, too. Amen
~Rev. Dean Kavouras