Easter Chief Service 2023
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.
The last words Martin Luther were, “We are all beggars.” We are not givers; we are not the benefactors. We are receivers; we are beneficiaries. We need. When we remember this, we naturally pray. We realize that we are surrounded by so many and so great dangers, that we cannot free ourselves from evil, that we need what only God can give. Our prayers falter and cease when we are hearers of the Word and not doers, looking at our natural faces in a mirror and forgetting what we are like, that we are beggars, thinking instead that we are givers. So today Jesus reminds us to pray, to ask the Father in Jesus’ name. That’s why this Sunday is named Rogate, from the Latin word that means to ask, request, or petition. Jesus tells us to ask our Father in heaven for His good and gracious gifts, just as earthly children ask their earthly fathers.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says something very interesting to the disciples, something I doubt they believed. He said, “It is to your advantage that I go away.” Of course, in its original context, Jesus spoke those words on Maundy Thursday, not long before He would be betrayed and given into the hands of sinful men. In that context it makes perfect sense to us. It’s imperative that Jesus go away, that He be crucified so He can die and rise again to take away the sin of the world. However, if we think of those words again, in a post-Easter mindset, they don’t make as much sense. “It is to your advantage that I go away.” How in the world is it good that Jesus leaves us? Wouldn’t it be better for Him to stay, always to be here, always to do what He did during His earthly ministry? As Jesus says, when He departs, He will send the “Helper,” that is, the Holy Spirit. Jesus is beginning to prepare the disciples—and us—for the important outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Each Person of the Trinity has a function, and the Holy Spirit is coming to do His.
We’ve come to the point in the Easter season where the names of the Sundays and the Readings don’t seem to line up. Today is named “Jubilate,” from the first phrase of the Introit in Latin: Jubilate Deo omnis terra, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth.” But then in the Gospel, Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” How do those things go together? Shout for joy—but the world is going to take delight in your misfortune. While there is sadness in this, it’s a reminder that our true rejoicing, our greatest shouting for joy is not in worldly things, but in the crucified and risen Jesus. And the joy He gives, no one can take from you.
Easter, Chief Service 2019
This Easter, I have a challenge for you. Before you eat your Easter dinner, go home and read all four Evangelists’ resurrection accounts. When you read you’ll find something interesting. Only St. Matthew gives us the slightest hint of joy, but even that is combined with fear. The Easter attitude we know, that we look forward to, was nowhere to be found on that first Easter. St. Mark is the most blunt. The angel tells the women that Christ is risen and to go share the good news with the disciples. And what do they do? “They went out quickly and fled from the tomb…and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” So, the Christians are terrified, and, as St. Mark goes on to record, Jesus appears to them, not to comfort them, but to rebuke their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for Forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed death by enduring it. He destroyed hell when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.” (Chrysostom)
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.