St. mark’s account of the Resurrection is the shortest and most abrupt of the four evangelists. The women come to the tomb to finish the work of burying Jesus, find the stone rolled away, hear the angel’s message, run away in fear, and tell no one. And, according to some ancient manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel, that’s where it ends. It seems a strange way to end a Gospel, and an even stranger place to leave us on Easter, for us who know the rest of the story. As odd as that may seem, it’s good for us. It causes us to look at the Resurrection and realize that, as earth-changing as it is, it wasn’t at the time, at least not for those shocked and confused and traumatized disciples living in complete fear. We see now, as we study the history from the Resurrection to today, that this is an event that turned the world on its head and has rewritten the entire story of mankind.
Why does God allow this? Why does God ordain these sufferings and bring them to pass? In order that you be comforted by them. Christ does not suffer for His own sake. He suffers for your sake, that you be forgiven and given eternal life.
All the Words of Our Lord are life and truth. Even today, two thousand years removed from His time on this earth, we still hear Him speak to us in the Scriptures, His own living voice (viva vox evangelii). But there are seven Words of Our Lord more precious to us than any others. These Words reveal to us the very heart and will of God. They teach us how longsuffering our God truly is. Confronted by our sin, our infidelity, God remains sinless and faithful. It’s one thing to be faithful when someone sins against you. It’s another thing entirely to be faithful when your body has been torn open, your hands and feet pierced through by nails, and your entire system stressed beyond imagination by mockery, hunger, thirst, lack of sleep, all topped with being forsaken by God. This evening, let us hear again those Words Our Lord spoke from the cross. Let us, in prayer and meditation, think on them and take heart in the God they reveal to us.
Doctor Luther, when commenting on the liturgy, came to the Words of Institution and drew our attention, not to the ceremony or the elements or the communicants, but to the Words of Christ. He bid the reader look at those plain, clear Words and focus on each one of them. “Everything depends,” he wrote, “upon the Words of the Sacrament. These are the Words of Christ. Truly we should set them in pure gold and precious stones, keeping nothing more diligently before the eyes of our heart, so that faith may be exercised.” (AE 53:79-80). And in the Large Catechism he writes, “With these words Jesus institutes the Sacrament, mandates its use and reception, consecrates the elements, informs the Christian of what he receives, strengthens the Christian’s faith and conscience, while providing sustenance for the Christian’s soul and body.” (LC V 23)
Tomorrow it all begins. Tomorrow morning Jesus sends His disciples to find the man with the jug of water who leads them to the Upper Room where Jesus final teachings will happen, where Jesus will institute the Feast of His Body and Blood, and where Jesus will wash their feet, the final prefiguring of all that He is about to do for them and for the world.
This morning’s Psalm spoke of those who have “flattering lips and [with] a double heart they speak.” Of all the characters in Our Lord’s Passion, this sends the mind immediately to Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. He ranks with Pontius Pilate as one of the pitiable men in the Passion. While our minds are inclined to think, “If only they had thought twice, this wouldn’t have happened,” that’s not a salutary thought. The Jews, Pilate, and Judas get a lot of the blame, but to focus on them that way is to miss a key fact of the Passion. Remember what Jesus said: “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it has been written of Him.” Yes, there were people who bore specific guilt in the death of Jesus, but He was not a victim of their treachery and deceit. He was a lamb who went silently and willingly to its execution.
This week is one of competing attitudes. We will see Jesus’ selflessness against the Pharisees’ envy and jealousy. We will see Jesus’ determination against His disciples’ cowardice. We will see Jesus’ love against Satan’s hatred. We will understand better Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus’ Passion: “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me” (Is 63:3).
As we enter into Holy Week, we hear a profound message from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. He tells us that Jesus, who is the visible image of the invisible God “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” What does this mean? The translation is a little difficult. Another way to translate that phrase is that Jesus did not consider His equality with God a thing to be forcibly hung onto, a thing to be touted. Instead, Jesus lived as if He was not God in the flesh. He became a bondservant, humbling Himself and becoming obedient to death on the cross. He, who knew no sin, became sin, bearing the sin of the whole world.
“The Lord spoke to Moses.” This is the refrain of Leviticus, beginning each of the sections of the Law given on Mount Sinai and in the Tabernacle. For the most part, Leviticus is twenty-seven chapters of Law—regulation upon regulation, prohibition and commandment, rules and codes governing every aspect of the life of Israel. Buying and selling, hygiene and diet, dress and conduct, social and religious laws. Everything demands that the whole self be dedicated to God. The Law requires holiness: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
Today’s Gospel is one of many times that we see a heated confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Especially as we read John’s Gospel, we see the tensions escalate the closer things get to Good Friday. After all, today’s Gospel is just the first time the Jews attempt to stone Jesus.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.