Laetare (Lent IV) 2018
Our sinful flesh is never satisfied. The more of anything we get, the more it becomes expected, and the less we appreciate what we have. This is nothing new. Even a quick glance through Holy Scripture shows that this condition has plagued men from the Garden of Eden, Israel in the wilderness, and to this very day.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had everything their heart could desire. Our first parents lived in complete and total bliss and had nothing to bother them—no fears, no sickness, no disease, no pain, and no death. They enjoyed the richness of the fruits of the earth. But soon the gifts of God became expected and unappreciated, their once priceless Treasure now seemed to them a dime a dozen, and the one thing they could not do became the thing they desired. Tempted by Satan, they gave in, sinned, and not only they, but all their descendants, lost everything. Bored with the bounty of God, mankind chose to trade it all in for sin, death, and the devil.
It continued with the children of Israel. God had given his chosen people freedom after 400 years under the Egyptians. Leaving behind the cruelty of slavery, only being able to dream about the land promised to their father Abraham, after what seemed to be a situation devoid of hope, the Israelites were set free. They were led by God’s powerful prophet Moses. The children of Israel witnessed miracle after miracle and sign after sign of God’s providence and grace. They saw the plagues visited upon the Egyptians. Their own children were spared while the Egyptian boys were cut down. They saw firsthand God working through Aaron and Moses to part the Red Sea, keeping them safe while destroying their enemies. But while they were on the road to take possession of the Land of Milk and Honey promised to Abraham, all of this got old. Even the manna and quail given to them in today’s Old Testament Reading will become despised. You and I are no different at all from the people of Israel in the Old Testament. The wonders and mercy of God become familiar, taken for granted, and God becomes boring.
In our Gospel reading, the New and Greater Moses, is leading the New Israel to the Promised Land, to the recreated Eden, by doing what God has always done: sustaining and feeding His people, giving them their daily bread. It was nearly the Passover, the commemoration of God’s miraculous deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. Great crowds are there to listen, but they have no food. Jesus points out that money will not resolve this situation; the bread He plans on giving them is not for sale at any price, for He gives them Himself, the very Bread of Life.
But in spite of all the Lord has done for them, in the face of all He has taught them, in the aftermath of this miraculous sign, the Lord’s followers are still sinners. They misconstrue this sign, and seek selfishly to crown Him king. Instead of seeing a kingdom not of this world, and a King who is Creator, Prophet, Priest, and Redeemer, these sinful disciples of Jesus see only someone who hands out free food, who fills their bellies so they can just sit around and eat. Jesus, knowing this, and knowing that His Kingdom is not of this world, slips away alone.
We really haven’t changed much from the Garden of Eden, from Israel in the wilderness, and from the ones who followed Our Lord looking only for free bread, have we?
Despite our boredom with the consistency of God and lust for the things of this world, we have a God who gives refreshment and gives bounteously in Christ. This is what we celebrate today, our feast in the midst of our fast. We mark the half-way point of Lent with a day of rejoicing, rejoicing with Jerusalem that God has been merciful to her, and rejoicing that by the comfort of God’s grace we have also been mercifully relieved from the burdens of our sin. The violet of repentance has had the black of death removed and the white of Christ and joy added to produce a joyful rose. Our joy, however, is anticipatory. Though we must still mark Our Lord’s Passion and Crucifixion, we know that Easter lies ahead.
And in that Easter message is your refreshment today in the midst of your Lenten fast. You have been summoned with David to “go into the house of the Lord.” With great rejoicing you hear that you receive the comfort of God’s grace, for He will abundantly pardon. Though your sins have merited anything but refreshment, you are relieved of their burden. That you are relieved means that someone else carries that burden. Rejoice with Jerusalem, O Child of Christ! Rejoice with exceeding joy for Christ is the one bearing that burden of sin, bearing it to death on His cross so you will not meet that same cross and separation from the Father!
By His death you have been taken from your former slavery to sin and are, by Holy Baptism, born into the freedom of the promise of eternal life. Freed from sin, your soul now delights itself in the abundance of Christ. It is glad when it is called back to its true home, this House of the Lord. Here you hear and your soul lives. Here you partake in the everlasting covenant of full forgiveness, the one made with the Body and Blood of Christ on the cross, the same Body and Blood given to you alongside bread and wine. By this, your soul is refreshed by the “Fount and Source of all goodness.” He who supplied the bodily need of the five thousand in the wilderness offers you an abundance of Food to sustain the new life He has given you.
When the empty glory of this world, told with its tempting voice comes your way, trying to pull you from the satisfaction given only by Christ, come into this House of the Lord. Recall the Liturgy, the Word of God, which lifts your heart far above this evil world. Only here is your heart lifted to the Lord. Only here does your Lord come to you in the Word that He gave and in His Body and Blood shed for your redemption. From the beginning God declared that “it is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and here, in this place and in in the Liturgy you are not alone! Together with your family in Christ you are given the priceless Treasure. Together you receive Him, thank and praise Him, and build up one another.
Here find sweet peace and rest in the arms of Christ, under His wounds. Here find free and full satisfaction from the fount of purest Pleasure. Rejoice, for always in this place, and always in His Gifts, “the Lord surrounds His people, from this time forth and forever” (Ps. 125:2).
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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.