08 March 2018

Homily upon the Passion, Part 3

Chapel 03.08.18

Mark 14:53-72

"And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ ” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. "
O Lord, have mercy on us. R.

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You for the wood of the holy cross You have redeemed the world.

As they part for the last time on the shores of Middle Earth, Gandalf turns to the hobbits who remain and says: “I will not say, Do not weep, for not all tears are evil.” You have perhaps cried those tears when you have had to say farewell to someone you deeply loved. Tears can testify to the depth of love.

Today’s Passion reading ends in tears. Peter’s tears. And what exactly prompted them? It was not his denial of Jesus. It was not his failure, to which he seems almost bewilderingly blind. What prompted them was the sound of the rooster, welcoming a dawn that had not yet begun to break, and with that sound a memory. Words that stirred in his heart and that he could hear in his mind and recall with clarity. Words we read together last week. His master saying: Amen, I tell you, Peter, this very night before the rooster crows twice you will deny me.

It was the words of Jesus operative still in his heart and mind that brought him to tears. Tears over how he had fallen and done exactly what he said he would never do, even if all the others did. Tears of shame. Tears of godly grief. Tears of repentance. These tears are not evil either.

In the Church’s prayers and hymns, they are mentioned so very often. O mensch bewein dein Sünde groß, O man cry over your great sin, as at the end of the St. Matthew Passion of Bach. Or from our Synod’s first hymnal: “Oh, that I might sufficient tears be shedding! O ye mine eyes, your bitter floods be spreading, And thou mine heart, no longer stone resemble. Oh, weep and tremble” Walther’s Hymnal 82. Or in the lovely hymn for Good Friday: O darkest woe, Ye tears forth flow! Hath earth so sad a wonder? God the Father’s only Son Now is buried yonder. LSB 448 And these tears are never something that we have to work up on our own like an actor on a stage. They come always as a gift. And quite often they come unexpectedly. I don’t think Peter thought he was going to burst into tears. It was a gracious gift that flowed to him from the word of Jesus that the rooster called to his mind. And because he heard those words with his own ears, maybe he remembered also something in the way Jesus said them.

I know it’s rather naughty to switch Gospels, but something I think we often overlook. Those beautiful words from John 14? “Let not your hearts be troubled…” Do you realize what immediately preceded them? Jesus said to him, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times… (And then immediately) Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Trust in God and trust also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am there you may be also.” John 14

And Peter remembered the word that Jesus spoke to him. And it brought him to tears. I wonder if he remembered also the words that only John has recorded for us. Then Peter’s tears of regret, are also tears of shame that he had denied the one who would not deny him, who was suffering precisely to prepare a place for him and them all and us too. Who loved him. Whose love was stronger than Peter’s denial and Peter’s sin and stronger than any denial or sin of yours too. He is at work in His Passion to provide a place for us: a place in His heart where we can live in Him forevermore.

Not all tears are evil. O Jesus, kind master, grant us all the gift of tears that we may weep over our great sin and weep even more over Your unfathomable and unchanging love.

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You for the wood of the holy cross You have redeemed the world! Amen.

06 March 2018

A Meditation upon the Commemoration of Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas

Jesus said: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

This is one of the hard sayings of Jesus. C. S. Lewis observed that He who is love incarnate by commanding us to hate is not actually telling us to harbor resentment and loathing toward those we refer to as our loved ones; rather, he is telling us that our loyalty and obedience to Him comes before any loyalty and obedience to them. And that when we make this choice, they do experience it as hate.

So with the two martyrs from the early 200s that are commemorated on March 7th. Perpetua’s wealthy father was no dummy. He knew the massive danger that attended his daughter joining herself to Christ in Baptism, or as he’d likely have thought, joining this mad sect. He loved his daughter very much and even when she was arrested and placed into jail, he visited her and begged her not to do this. Not to allow Christ to come between them and to deprive his granddaughter of a mother. Why did she hate him so? How could she treat him like this? Why did she love this Jesus more than she loved him?

But of course, Perpetua did not despise her father and no doubt took no pleasure whatsoever in causing him pain. But she could not choose please him above pleasing the One who had laid down His life for her and for us all on Calvary’s tree.

I’m sure the same scenario played out with Felicitas, her servant, who also was a mother and left her children in the care of relatives, to face with her beloved mistress the martyr’s death. They were according to ancient records scourged first by gladiators, then savaged by wild beasts. Finally they were finished off with the sword. Bleeding, dying, they shared the kiss of peace. The peace that they had come to know in Jesus and his victory over the grave, His blood that in love blotted out their every sin, and made them so much more than mistress and servant, made them sisters in Christ and of Christ.

Their unswerving devotion to Christ above the claims of family and blood, the joy of their companionship together in Christ, and their scorn of death and pain has lived on in the memory of the Church for century upon century. Their example and witness has served to bless and strengthen so very many others who followed them in persecution, suffering and death. Think of these two the next time you’re at a Confirmation and hear the question raised: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and faith and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” Wouldn’t that question have read better as “rather than fall away from Him?”

We actually have a hymn in our hymnal that sings about them. It’s LSB 661: The Son of God Goes Forth to War. “A noble army, men and boys, *The Matron and the Maid*, around the Savior’s throne rejoice In robes of light arrayed. They climbed the steep ascent of heav’n through peril, toil, and pain. O God to us may grace be given to follow in their train.”

And for such grace we pray in the collect for this commemoration: O God and Ruler over all our foes of body and soul, You strengthened Your servants Perpetua and Felicitas, giving them a confident and clear confession in the face of roaring beasts. Grant that we who remember their faithful martyrdom may share in their blessed assurance of victory over all earthly and spiritual enemies and hold fast to the promise of everlasting life, secured for us through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

04 March 2018

A Pity It Was Altered

A decent translation of the traditional collect for Oculi (the Third Sunday in Lent) is found in The Lutheran Hymnal:

We beseech Thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ, our Lord...

There is something of a delightful contrast with the Introit, which is “Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord” and the petition that His eyes might look upon our heart’s desires. Our eyes on Him and His eyes upon us. As our eyes “see” the Unseen, so His eyes behold the unseen recesses of our hearts and what they desire. This can be a terrifying thought, of course, when we think of some of the things we desire! Lord, have mercy. But the tone of the prayer is rather along the lines of Psalm 37, “delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of Your heart.” He sees and knows the longing of our new hearts which the Spirit has created within us.

This being so, we pray: “stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defense.” This calls toward the Gospel reading with its reference to the finger of God by which Jesus drives forth the enemy. “If I by the finger of God drive them out, then the kingdom of God has come among you.”

Thus the traditional collect reaches back to Introit and forward to Gospel and ties them together rather beautifully. The one that has been substituted for it in our current book, sadly, does neither.

01 March 2018

Homily on St. Mark’s Passion, Part II

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You for by the wood of the holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Jesus, as John reminds us, knows what is in man. He knows how far our intentions carry us. How quickly our resolve dissolves in the acid of our fears. He knows how hard we find it to turn from our creature comforts to spiritual work; the nap always entices more than prayers because though the spirit is willing (at least sometimes), the flesh is weak (always). He knows how misguided we can be and how easily we misunderstand His ways, and how tempted we are to resort to violence and force when we feel backed into a corner.

So if you look at the Passion story we heard today with attention to the followers of Jesus what you find failure. Big time failure. Peter boasting that he’d die with Him, but then running away with the rest. Peter and James and John, his dearest earthly friends, unable to prop their eyelids open as the full weight of what He was preparing to do began to press on Him with all its terror and He just didn’t want to be alone, but alone they left Him; and He knew how much they needed prayer to get through what was about to happen, yet they kept falling asleep. Judas leading those who would arrest him and then betraying with that kiss, Peter striking out with the sword (oh, Mark is kind and skims over who it was but John spills the beans). And the mysterious neaniskos, the young man, who follows only wrapped in linen and yet also runs away at the end.

Yes the Passion mirrors our lives. We state our intentions. We make our vows. We intend to do better this time. We get the importance of the spiritual warfare now. We are ready. And yet fall we do. Once and again. With Peter and all the others, with Judas, with the nameless young man running away naked, possibly St. Mark. The Passion shows us our nakedness; it strips us of our fig leaves. We recognize the story that happened once in Judea under Pontius Pilate as a story that has not come to an end. The failures that it shows us in the 12 and the naked man are our failures. At least they are mine, and I assume they are yours. If it hangs on our hold on Jesus, we are toast. Just toast.

And we could wallow in that for the whole of chapel, but how pointless that would be. Let us instead turn our attention to what it does hang on. Not OUR faithlessness, but HIS faithfulness. He goes into His passion singing. Images of Jehoshaphat sending the army out with the choir in front. He goes to His passion with a song on His lips. There is a sacrifice to be offered in thanksgiving, after all, but He has no illusions.

He knows what awaits Him, and He receives it as from the hand of His Father. He misquotes the verse from Zechariah to make it plain how He understands it: not some disembodied sword, but a sword in His Father’s hand striking the shepherd. And as He ponders it in prayer, he is sorrowful even to death. This cup. He knows what is in it. He is afraid of it as you and I ought be and yet never are. He knows. And He trembles to sip from it. He asks, He begs, for another way. But His trust in His Father does not fail. “Yet, not what I will but what you will.” And His Father’s will is for Him to drink it. This cup of wrath. Down to the dregs. Every last bitter drop finished as He swallows it down in His Passion. He suffers Himself to be betrayed; He will not allow His friends to defend Him and so they run away themselves. He will do this that the Scripture might be fulfilled. He will go all the way as a willing sacrifice. A Lamb who goes uncomplaining forth, trusting that His Father’s will is right and just and good and holy. And so the Lamb becomes our very salvation.

And He does all of this for those who will fail Him, not just those who have done so, but who will do so. And fail again and again. He does it for those who will go on getting it backwards and wrong and slipping into worldly thinking. He does it for Peter with his sword and Judas with his money bag, and for the nameless one who ran away naked. He does it for love for them all, for love of you and love of me as we find ourselves mirrored in their fear and their sin.

Your sin cannot destroy His love. Let me say that again. Your sin cannot destroy His love. He knows your sin better than you ever will, because He took it into Himself. And just as He knew Peter’s future sin so He knows yours. And your sin – past, present or future – cannot destroy His love. It is exactly reverse. His love destroys your sin. That’s what the cross IS. And that is why you can have the courage of a Peter to come back to the Crucified and Risen One again. And again. And again. And to be restored. You can come back because His Cross really was for sinners, for love of sinners. Like Peter and like you and like me. A love that no sin can ever destroy. And so we fall down before Him and cry: We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You for by the wood of the holy cross You have redeemed the world! Amen.