By Norma Boeckler.
Quasimodogeniti, The First Sunday after Easter
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
Bethany Lutheran Church, 10 AM Central Daylight Savings Time
The Hymn # 199 Jesus Christ is Risen 1:83
The Confession of Sins
The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual
Glory be to Thee, O Lord!
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Nicene Creed p. 22
The Sermon Hymn # 200 I Know that My Redeemer 1:80
Faith and the Holy Sacraments
The Communion Hymn # 187 Christ Is Arisen 1:45
The Preface p. 24
The Sanctus p. 26
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn # 195 (Luther) Christ Jesus 1:46
First Sunday After Easter
Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank Thee, that of Thine ineffable grace, for the sake of Thy Son, Thou hast given us the holy gospel, and hast instituted the holy sacraments, that through the same we may have comfort and forgiveness of sin: We beseech Thee, grant us Thy Holy Spirit, that we may heartily believe Thy word; and through the holy sacraments day by day establish our faith, until we at last obtain salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one true God, world without end. Amen.
KJV 1 John 5:4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. 7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. 10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
KJV John 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. 30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
Faith and the Holy Sacraments
These two lessons, the Epistle and the Gospel, teach us about faith and the Sacraments.
The perfect unity of the Scriptures is always visible in the texts, but sometimes it is so obvious that I wonder how people miss it.
Usually the Epistle and the Gospel go their separate ways and do not relate to each other directly. The historic texts--abandoned by the liberals for the Vatican A-B-C readings--are so old that no one can really explain the reasons behind some selections. Luther complained a little about some.
But tradition is the democracy of the dead and we have to respect that. Modern motives are more transparent.
The reading from the Gospel is obvious because it deal with Easter Sunday and its octave (one week later, but 8 days by Jewish reckoning).
The epistle is also by John, so the two readings naturally go together: the Gospel telling the story itself, the Epistle explaining the meaning of the Gospel.
Faith must be important for the disciple Jesus loved, John. The victory which overcomes the world is faith.
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
Those who try to make faith into something man-centered are wrong. The meaning of the word in its Biblical context is most important.
As taught in John 3, we must be born “from above” (the Greek word has a double-meaning, primarily “from above” but also “born again.”) Born from above means being water-Spirit born, - baptized. God Himself plants this faith in our hearts - by the Word if we are converted by preaching as adults, by Holy Baptism if we are converted by the visible Word as babies. In both cases, the Holy Spirit works through the Word to convert unbelievers into believers.
This epistle lesson glorifies God by saying first – whatever is born of God overcomes the world. The disciple, in his Gospel and letters, emphasized the animosity of the world toward the believer. But this hatred is overcome something God-created: our faith.
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Son of God has that faith which overcomes the world.” (My paraphrase of the next verse.)
These are beautiful statements, revealed for us to comfort and encourage us. We can hardly imagine how much greater the animosity was toward the Christian faith in the apostolic era. The officially recognized religion of Judaism became opposed to Christianity because of the many converts won over from preaching in the synagogues.
At the same time, the Roman Empire persecuted the Christians for being a sect of the troublesome Jews. After the great Zealot revolt of 69 AD and the lesser known Bar Kochba revolt, about 50 years later, Jews were hated and feared in the Empire. Christians claimed to follow a Jewish leaders, so they were in the same category of political rebels.
These verses do not say that we overcome the world, but that God-created faith overcomes the world.
For an example of that faith – or the lack thereof – we have the John 20 passage, often called the Doubting Thomas story, just as this Sunday is often called Doubting Thomas Sunday, also “Dead Sunday” because ministers are on vacation and attendance is low.
This should be the highest attendance Sunday of all for Lutherans. This Gospel lesson defeats rationalism and reveals rationalism for what it is – poison.
By rationalism I mean subjecting the Bible to the limits of human reason. If something cannot be reasonable explained, then it is not true. For example, walking on water was a case of knowing where the sandbars were. That is an example rationalism being used to explain away a miracle.
The rationalism used against this passage is subtler, so it should be examined for what it is – and exposed.
The doors were locked for fear of the Jews, on Easter Sunday and this Sunday – both times. We know what many modern locks are like today, most of them poor excuses. Locked doors were much sturdier in Jesus’ time. Hewn lumber was placed across the door to prevent forced entry. Because the previous occupant was worried about an ex son-in-law, we have those and we also have chains for each of our doors.
Jesus appeared bodily, in spite of the locked doors.
Calvin, who founded the Presbyterians and influenced all the Protestant groups, including the Lutheran Pietists, explained Jesus’ appearance as coming through a secret entrance. That entrance was so secret that its existence was hidden from the apostle John (yet strangely revealed to Calvin 1600 years later).
That is a case of rationalism. Calvin did not believe that Jesus was able to be in that room bodily unless He had a secret entryway. Some other explanations are even more pathetic.
This explanation by Calvin reveals His faith in Christ – or lack of faith. Calvin imagined that Jesus’ divine nature was limited by His human nature. While God can be present everywhere, the Son of God is limited by His body with the scars still showing.
This same attitude is reflected in Calvin’s response to the Sacraments. He argued that Christ could not be bodily present in the element of Holy Communion. Calvin mocked the Real Presence in his Institutes, the most basic doctrinal documents of Calvinism.
Continuing the rationalism, Holy Communion could not forgive sins. Then what? It is an ordinance, a law commanded by God – to be a witness to faith in Christ. Some faith! “Given for the forgiveness of sin” – denied.
“This is My body. This is My blood.” – denied.
The room was locked – denied.
The Word is efficacious in Holy Communion – denied.
The Holy Spirit always works through the Word – denied.
What we believe about Christ is reflected in what we teach about Holy Communion. What we believe about Holy Communion is a reflection of our faith in Christ.
If Christ cannot enter a locked room, then He could not leave a sealed tomb. Therefore, we find Calvinistic paintings where the risen Lord seems to be escaping the tomb because angels have rolled away the stone lid (door) to the tomb. Thus the angels are more powerful than the Lord of Creation.
Rationalistic explanations have a corrosive effect on the Gospel itself. Soon the person who subjects the Gospel to his reason and experience will deny the divinity of Christ altogether. Many a young Calvinist turns into an old Unitarian.
The Pietists of today quickly turn into the social activists of tomorrow. Losing their trust in the Word, they trust in their ability to “redeem the world” by making it a better place. The environmentalists have discovered recycling, as if farmers did not do the same throughout time, especially in the Great Depression. Farmers did not save bailing wire and twine to save the planet. They just wanted to save their cash.
What does Jesus commend in people? Faith – child-like faith. No child has ever failed the doctrinal test about Jesus. All their answers are the same – “Because He is God.”
How did He walk on water?
How did He still the storm?
How did He raise the dead?
How did He turn water into wine?
How did He enter the locked room?
And I asked more than one child – Because He is God? What does that mean?
They all say, “God can do anything.”
That is the faith of a child, and it is a constant witness to adults.
The faith of a child does not emphasize self but glorifies God in the simplest possible words.
When I teach people about writing, I ask them to explain matters as they would to an 8-year-old child. I use that example because children know a lot at that age, but they remember their information with concrete examples.
The Bible is full of concrete examples so we can remember and trust in their message.
How can Jesus be present in Holy Communion?
He entered the locked room.
His two natures represent the finite body united with divine nature.
How can Jesus offer His body and blood to so many?
He fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fish.
How can He forgive my sins with His Word?
He stilled the storm and turned water into wine.
He cured the sick and raised the dead with His Word.
Why is intellectual knowledge inadequate?
Jesus took children in His arms, blessed them and said, “Unless you have the faith of a child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
Doubting Thomas – Rationalist
Thomas did not believe the Word of the apostles. He demanded physical proof of the resurrection.
He believed again when Jesus offered the proof earlier demanded. Thomas responded, not by the actual touching which he required before, but by giving his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God.”
Doubting Thomas was restored to faith by Christ and His Word. The disciples were given another chance to overcome their fear. According to tradition, Thomas traveled to India to preach the Gospel. History is never neat and tidy, but one province of India is Christian and they attribute their faith to Thomas. The church there is named after him.
Child-like Faith and Justification
Lawlessness is popular today, so much that it is often confused with the Gospel. The proper term is Antinomianism, which is hard enough to remember and to say on a good day. Lawlessness is an easy message, because everyone can do anything, because everything is already forgiven. Not surprisingly, a few years of lawlessness will turn people into atheistic do-gooders who imagine they can “redeem the world” and “make the world a better place” by their good intentions.
Justification by faith is that great mystery revealed by God in the Scriptures. It is the healing message for broken, contrite sinners. Those who have no concept of sin cannot understand it.
Feeling guilty is not the basis for being forgiven. There are many modern formulas for the old Catholic method of doing penance, as if doing penance earns forgiveness. The celebrity style today is to “accept responsibility” (as if we are not responsible) and to express a profound sense of sorrow, which seems to erupt only when someone is caught, videotaped, or arrested.
Some get misled into thinking that repentance means “change your ways,” as if man’s efforts earn forgiveness through good intentions, pledges, etc. The Greek word, so often battered by Greek 101 students, really means “regret” in its original state. But we have to translate in context rather than be mired down in the history of a word. (For instance, “neat” can mean tidy or it can be a positive response to some fact. A good pun would be – “I cleaned my room, finally.” The parent would say, “Neat!”)
The ancient Greeks knew all about regret, because they believed in an endless cycle of remorse from earlier deeds. They did not know about salvation through Christ until the Gospel was preached.
In the New Testament, that ancient word for regret came to mean – contrition for sin and faith in the Gospel.
One aspect of our human weakness is a lack of faith in forgiveness. People can believe in the articles of the Creed and yet think they are not forgiven by Christ. That is why so many helps are provided for us in the Scriptures.
Those who scoff at the Means of Grace fail to see how God builds up our faith in His Promises, through different means. Each one is called, by the Book of Concord, an instrument of God’s grace, a fine term to know and understand. Instrument may be a better, more concrete term that “means.”
Holy Communion is an individual participation in this forgiveness. We relive and remember the Last Supper of Christ, and in doing so, recall that He died for us sinners. We remember and re-enact that Last Supper while hearing the healing words of forgiveness. More than that, we participate as individuals so the words do not fly by our heads. Concentration on the Word is difficult, but when the Word is made visible in the Sacraments, that forgiveness is concrete and experienced. Christ is conveyed to us and we are conveyed to Him.
Similarly, when a child or adult is baptized, we remember the meaning of our own baptism.
Forgiveness and salvation do not depend on us but on God. He teaches us contrition with the Law and gives us forgiveness with the Gospel in many forms. Those forms include: the liturgy, the readings, the Creed itself, the hymns, the sermon, and the Sacraments. We have the absolution in the liturgy itself but also in our daily interaction with friends and family.
Christ appeared to the disciples to stir up their sense of sin, which manifested itself in their fear and hiding. In Thomas, it was his need for even more proof. Christ absolved the disciples, so they went from the greatest depths of despair to immovable faith in Him. After that, nothing could keep them from proclaiming His love and grace. They knew this grace. They experienced it. They extended it across the known world through the Instruments of Grace, the Word and Sacraments.
"Thus we have two parts, preaching and believing. His coming to us is preaching; His standing in our hearts is faith. For it is not sufficient that He stand before our eyes and ears; He must stand in the midst of us in our hearts, and offer and impart to us peace."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 355.
"This is going through closed doors, when He comes into the heart through the Word, not breaking nor displacing anything. For when the Word of God comes, it neither injures the conscience, nor deranges the understanding of the heart and the external senses; as the false teachers do who break all the doors and windows, breaking through like thieves, leaving nothing whole and undamaged, and perverting, falsifying and injuring all life, conscience, reason, and the senses. Christ does not do thus."
Sermons of Martin Luther, II, p. 355.
"Hence I send you into the world as my Father hath sent me; namely, that every Christian should instruct and teach his neighbor, that he may also come to Christ. By this, no power is delegated exclusively to popes and bishops, but all Christians are commanded to profess their faith publicly and also to lead others to believe."
Sermons of Martin Luther, II, p. 359.
"The first and highest work of love a Christian ought to do when he has become a believer, is to bring others also to believe in the way he himself came to believe. And here you notice Christ begins and institutes the office of the ministry of the external Word in every Christian; for He Himself came with this office and the external Word."
Sermons of Martin Luther, II, p. 359.
"Now God drives us to this by holding the law before us, in order that through the law we may come to a knowledge of ourselves. For where there is not this knowledge, one can never be saved. He that is well needs no physician; but if a man is sick and desires to become well, he must know that he is weak and sick, otherwise he cannot be helped."
Sermons of Martin Luther, II, p. 370.
"For the devil will not allow a Christian to have peace; therefore Christ must bestow it in a manner different from that in which the world has and gives, in that he quiets the heart and removes from within fear and terror, although without there remain contention and misfortune."
Sermons of Martin Luther, II, p. 380.
"Reformed theologians, in order to support their denial of the illocalis modus subsistendi of Christ's human nature, have sought, in their exposition of John 20, an opening in the closed doors, or a window, or an aperture in the roof or in the walls, in order to explain the possibility of Christ's appearance in the room where the disciples were assembled."
Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950, II, p. 127.