There is a common thread in today’s Readings. Each reading highlights a various change wrought in us by the Lord. Ezekiel alluded to Baptism, that by it God separates us from the world, gives us a new heart, and gives us His Holy Spirit. Isaiah called us to a Christian life, to doing good works that are pleasing in God’s eyes. However, he reminded us that when we fail, God forgives us. Finally, in the Gospel Jesus healed the man born blind and was hated for it. But for the man who was healed, the Word of Jesus created faith in him and brought him from spiritual darkness into the light.
This thread is not accidental. The season of Lent is historically about the reception of converts into the Church. In ancient times, today was the last day to announce your intention to be Baptized and received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. Before the catechumens made their final declaration of intent, they heard these Readings, these promises of what God would do in them by His Word and Sacraments. Those who were ready to be Baptized were given a great gift today: they heard the Creed for the first time. They heard the summary of the Christian faith and were able to make this confession their own.
But this came at a price. In the early Church, being Baptized often meant a complete change in one’s life. No longer could you do what everyone else was doing. Christians intentionally kept to themselves, separating themselves from the culture of indulgence, sexual immorality, and general immorality that was the hallmark of the day. God expects nothing less. St. Paul, speaking to the Corinthians, repeated the admonition of Moses and Isaiah when he said, “Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean.” (2 Cor. 6:17) The early Church took this seriously. Anyone who was found returning to their old life, even talking to former friends who did not convert was guilty of recanting the faith and faced the discipline of the Church.
How much we could learn from them today! How often do we keep ourselves separate? So many denominations have gotten into bed with culture, advocating everything from abortion to gay marriage to female clergy. The fallen world demands that the Church bend to its whims, and so many branches gladly give in. And we do the same in our personal lives. We stand silent in the face of things we know to be contrary to the faith delivered to us. We are present at things we know are contrary to Our Lord’s clear teaching and go along as willing participants. Repent. Our silence profanes the great Name of the Lord by making His Word seem optional, something we only have to pretend to obey when it suits us or is comfortable to do.
However, in the early Church, those who lapsed were not without hope. Neither are you. There is forgiveness for you. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Jesus Christ has died for all your sins and forgives you for all of them. He knows that as long as you are surrounded by the devil, the world, and your sinful nature, you will not always keep His Law. But His love for you is so great that He extends His forgiveness to you each time you confess your sin. When you confess that you have not been separate, have not confessed Him as you ought, have profaned His holy Name, He forgives you.
Because you are Baptized into Christ, all He has done has been given to you. You live in that Baptism, that life where the Old Adam is drowned and dies by daily contrition and repentance, and the new man rises to serve God. And to help you He gives you His Holy Spirit who strengthens you, who works in you to lead you on the paths of righteousness. Apart from Him you can do no good thing, so Jesus sends the Spirit to be active in the Word and the Supper, who makes His dwelling in you. By partaking of these Means you are strengthened and are able to do what good things God has named in His Word.
Like those centuries ago preparing to enter the Christian life, rejoice on this great day. Christ has died to redeem you and because you are Baptized into Him, every good thing is yours. You are forgiven, strengthened, and kept to life everlasting.
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.