In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Today marks a shift in the Easter Season. We’re still celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection, but our focus on what that means for us as Christians shifts today. While the first two Sundays after Easter focus on that particular comfort that Christ’s Resurrection gives us, that He has risen to give us forgiveness of sins and that He is our Good Shepherd who loves us so much that He was willing to lay down His life to save us, we now focus on what that comfort means for us in our daily life. For the rest of this Easter season our Gospels will come from St. John’s Gospel, specifically the chapters that comprise Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” His instruction to the disciples in the Upper Room in the time between the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the departure for Gethsemane where Jesus would be arrested. In its immediate context, Jesus was preparing the disciples for His Crucifixion and the fact that after His Resurrection He would no longer be continually present among them in the flesh. When heard in these weeks after Easter, they are a preparation for Jesus’ Ascension, for His return to the Father to reign. And for us specifically, as Christians waiting in this little while between Pentecost and the return of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead, it tells us what our life will be like. We still have Easter triumph and Easter joy, but we don’t get to stay in that mountaintop exuberance of Easter Sunday. We have to go back to daily life, we have to go into a world that is hostile to the Faith and to the Faithful. What does Easter mean for us now in light of that?
It’s easy to believe—or to say you believe—when your emotions are running high, when the scent of lilies fills the church, all of your favorite Easter hymns are being sung, and the pews are full. It’s another thing entirely to believe when the lilies have faded, Easter hymns only pepper the lists of hymns in the service, and attendance is back to normal. When daily life hits—the rigors of work, the bombardment of the evil all around you recounted in one of the many multi-hour news broadcasts that dominate network television, and your own sin affects you in ways known and unknown—that’s when we need to make sure our faith is grounded on the solid foundation of the Words and promises of God and not something as fragile and unstable as emotion. This is why Jesus warned His disciples before His Crucifixion, and why the Church in her wisdom bids us hear these parting Words of Our Lord now after Easter and not simply continue to hear Resurrection accounts and warm readings like that of Jesus the Good Shepherd. The Christian life is not an easy one. It’s like labor pain, the anguish of childbirth. You know what comes at the end, but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s easy to lose focus. There is pain and suffering all around, and on top of that we will weep and lament while the world not only rejoices, but rejoices in our weeping and lamenting! If our faith is built solely on emotions, on highs and feel-good moments, we’ll crash. Despite the commercials, Snickers never satisfies, and only leads to a painful crash after the sugar wears off. And so it is for our faith. We need to be sustained by the pure milk of the Word, the meat and potatoes of sound doctrine. When we are immersed in the Word, satisfied and sustained with Jesus coming to us in Word and Sacrament, we can endure these times of trial and tribulation and the routine of daily life.
All of this shows that context is key. Where were Jesus and the disciples when today’s Gospel was first heard, a promise that the persecution and hatred and sorrow in this life was just beginning? In the Upper Room. What had they just received? The very Body and Blood of Jesus with the bread and wine. Without saying it explicitly, context connects the dots. Has life got you down? Is sin pressing hard on every side, the thoughts, words, and deeds of which you are ashamed weighing on your conscience? Is the seeming victory of the evil one making you anxious? Go to the Lord’s Supper! When the world is laughing and you are crying, go to the Lord’s Supper! When you miss Easter and its joy, go to the Lord’s Supper! Only here, at the Altar, in this Sacrament, will you find the one thing needful, the only thing that forgives sins, silences fear and doubt, and prepares you for the eternal Eastertide.
In the Easter Sacrament Christ gives power to the weak. Youths faint, young men fall, emotions fluctuate. But those who receive the Lord have their strength renewed, they are borne on the wings of eagles to the loftiest heaven to commune with the risen Jesus. Fed and sustained by Him, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Here Jesus gives the forgiveness won by His Crucifixion, the peace that comes from His Resurrection, and the anticipation of eternal victory that comes from His Ascension, because where He is in His Word and Spirit, His Flesh and Blood, there is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
The Gospels for the next few weeks may sound like downers, reminders that we live in a dying world that is not our home, or like the Church has forgotten that we are still counting the weeks after Easter. Yes, there is sadness in these Words of Our Lord, painful confrontations with the difficulty of being a Christian. But there is a joy greater than sadness. It is good for us to be reminded, because we know that if the Lord spoke to us of these things, then He is with us through them all. When we are reviled, hated, made to weep and lament, Jesus is there beside us to comfort us, to give us His Holy Spirit who strengthens our faith, intercedes for us, and guards us to life everlasting. And the greatest joy in it all is Easter. We know what we celebrated just three weeks ago. We know that Easter is at once our present reality and our future joy. We are Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and so guaranteed a resurrection like His. Our sorrow will be turned into joy, and not the fleeting joy of one glorious morning out of 364 others, but an eternal joy, a joy that no one can take away.
So come, receive the means by which Jesus will keep you in the faith, by which He will sustain your joy even on the darkest of days. Receive the risen Body and Blood of Jesus, for your forgiveness, as a reminder of Easter, and a foretaste of the eternal Easter to come.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).