The Christian's hope is the unfading pasture of heaven. In heaven, there is no such thing as fade or decay. There are no tears, no sin, no pain, no death. There are no wolves hunting the sheep, no hirelings who abandon the sheep in their time of need. There is only one flock, one Shepherd. Each sheep is called by name, each sheep lovingly, eternally carried in the arms of its Shepherd.
The unfading pasture of heaven is the Christian’s hope because earthly pastures fade. No matter how verdant the earthly pasture, autumn and winter are always near. This is more than the physical change of seasons. The earth’s pasture is always in the valley of the shadow of death. Yes, the Lord abundantly provides in this valley, giving green pastures and still waters, but evil is always nearby. The sheep must always be dependent upon their Shepherd, for He leads them with His rod and staff to those pastures and waters that give life. Were He not to lead them, they would wander into the tall grasses that mask the wolves’ den or drink from polluted waters that kill. So the Shepherd gently guides His sheep to those good places, but as they stop and are fed, He reminds them that this pasture, this stream is not their permanent home. He will lead them to that place where no evil exists—no wolves, no hirelings, no fear, no death.
These pastures are not physical; the grass and water are more than food and clothing, house and home. Yes, these things the Good Shepherd richly provides for His sheep, but He is concerned with greater things, things that harm the soul. The Good Shepherd does His work to keep His sheep free from sin and eternal death.
But Jesus is the Shepherd of sheep who are seduced by the allure and mystery of the wolf den of sin, who love to drink from the torrent of death. We sheep convince ourselves that we can dabble in these things and walk away unharmed. We come to believe that, though they are nothing but death and poison to our soul, the earth’s pastures really are green. Satan, the wolf that tends to these grasses of sin, shows them to be pleasing to the eye and good for food, and we eat. But all the eating, the sinning, makes us thirsty, and the devil leads us to his waters, the rushing torrent that sweeps us off to eternal death. Though it looks dangerous, he convinces us that the adventure will be fun. We intend merely to sip, but before we know it, we are swept away and can do nothing to escape the swirling flood. Had only we listened to our Shepherd! Had only we stayed in the safety of His rod and staff, His green pastures and His still waters, we would not be caught in the unyielding flood of death.
Into this flood dives Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd because He gives His life for the sheep. He is no hireling who flees and lets us die. Instead, the Good Shepherd became a sheep and took our place. He died the death we ought to die, and placed us in safety. By this death, He made a great exchange, placing us back into the unfading pasture of heaven while enduring the death we deserved for leaving it. But the Shepherd could not die and let death continue to entice and threaten His sheep. So Jesus took up His life again and defeated death, showing him that he truly has no power over the Shepherd or His sheep.
Jesus will always be the Good Shepherd, protecting His flock which He purchased with His own Blood. He gathers all His sheep to His fold by His voice, heard in the Gospel. He leads you through the still waters of Holy Baptism and to the Altar, the table spread to strengthen your faith and preserve you against your enemies: death and the devil. His goodness and mercy, given in these Gifts, are with you all your days. Not only do these Gifts sustain you in this life, but they point you to the life of the world to come, the unfading pasture of heaven that is your hope. Each time He gives you His Gifts and forgives your sin, He reminds you that this world is not your permanent home, one day sin and death and the devil will forever be a thing of the past.
Your hope is the unfading pasture of heaven. In heaven, there is no such thing as fade or decay. There are no tears, no sin, no pain, no death. There are no wolves hunting the sheep, no hirelings who abandon the sheep in their time of need. There is only one flock, one Shepherd. There you are called by name, lovingly, eternally carried in the arms of your Shepherd.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
St. John tells us that Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. This makes this scene of Easter extremely relatable because you have done the same thing. You have stood next to the grave of a loved one and wept, lamenting that Adam’s curse has taken its toll yet again. Even though you mourn as one who has hope in the resurrection, you still stand there in anger that death has, once again, used its icy grip.
Sadly, in addition to the feelings of grief, death often brings the platitudes, the kindly sentiments of those who are grasping for hope, but don’t have any. So many in our world are lacking the true hope of the resurrection of the dead. Which, again, makes this scene relatable. Peter and John walked away without hope. And in their grief, they couldn’t even help Mary! They simply walked away and left her to grieve alone. They had no hope, no confidence that death wasn’t the end.
But Jesus calls Mary by name, revealing that He is not the gardener, not someone who can give no hope, but He is the one who has met our enemy and won. Christ is risen and death is destroyed!
Jesus did not simply attack death. No, He entered it Himself. Just as Jonah was swallowed by the great fish, so did Jesus fully enter into death and was consumed by it. But Just as Jonah was released from that fish, so did Jesus force death to vomit Him out as He destroyed death from inside. It is now a powerless form, no matter how it rages and storms. Now every Christian grave is a taunt of death, because death is not the victor over those bodies, and it will not be the victor over you. The steely grip of death cannot hold those who are in Christ, the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Now when death tries to take you, Jesus says to it, “Release My child! You have no right to him, for I have atoned for his sins. He is mine.” And, just like it was with the creative word in the beginning, so will it be when you die. The powerful Word of God does just what it says.
So, today the Church calls out the world over, Christ is risen, because this is our hope, our confidence. This life is full of graves, of sadness and pain, wars and fighting, of things that seem so consuming. But for Mary there was a word that pierced through the darkness, a word that brought joy and confidence. Jesus was risen, just as He promised. The voice she knew so well called her by name and her sorrow was replaced with confidence and joy. At His voice she was released from her prison of sadness and grief and was given a life of joy and hope, of confidence and peace.
It is the same for you as well. There is a voice and a word that pierces the darkness of sin that surrounds you, there is a voice that releases you from all that would try to hold you captive. The voice of Jesus raises you from sorrow and pain and gives you life again, making each day an Easter day. This voice calls you by name in the Absolution, recalling the day you were called by name in Holy Baptism. This voice speaks to you in the Supper, bidding you eat and drink the Body and Blood that release you from the famine and drought of sin and fill you with righteousness and life.
Though you live in a world that still has thorns and thistles of disease and death, where Jesus’ voice is heard those things are put to flight, and hope is given, a hope that looks to the Last Day, the Day of the new heaven and earth when the dead will be raised incorruptible, when you will know what Adam and Eve knew, of intimate communion with God in the garden in the cool of the day.
This is the change that is wrought by the resurrection of Jesus. From death to life, from despair to hope, from sadness to joy, from fear to confidence. That is the fruit of Jesus’ resurrection and His victory over sin, death, and the devil. While our hope certainly looks ahead to that great and glorious Day of the Lord, it also transforms how we live today. Whether today brings joy or sadness, we are safe in Jesus. Death did its worst to Him and lost! Now we can live in confidence that this world can do its worst to us and it will lose again.
Christ is risen, and one day His voice will call you by name just as He did for Mary. Your ears will hear His voice and you will follow from the grave. The nail-pierced hands of the Crucified will pull you forth and reunite your body with your waiting soul in heaven. In Christ, you have a hope that is unshakable, that will be rewarded with sight. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, so are you. Today, victory has been won.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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.
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.