+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is a popular method of reading and studying the Scriptures these days that has done great harm to the individual faith of some and to the overall confession of large groups of Christians. A passage of Scripture is read and the one who reads it, or, the one who hears it, is supposed to determine what the passage means to them. In other words, the reader or hearer becomes the ultimate judge of the text, forming and molding their faith and their confession based on their personal perception of a passage’s meaning.
I’m sure you can see the danger in using such a method in interpreting the Scriptures. Ultimately, the Bible loses its authority, being forced to take a back seat to human reason and logic. Frankly, at times, it even takes a back seat to a person’s desire to sin and to get away with it.
It’s little wonder that the modern Christian era has been referred as the age of the “Self.” Pastor and author, Peter Burfeind, comments on the change that’s seemingly engulfed the church, a change that manifests itself, in the “worship wars” among other ways. “Self-directed worship (he says)! Such a concept would have been considered blasphemous only a half century ago, but here we are. A great swath of American Christianity has joined the great American Cult of the Self. They feed at the trough of consumerism, where what-fits-me replaces what-is-true or what-is-good.”
A better way to read to the Scriptures is to ask, “what did a particular passage mean to the people to whom it was originally given?” The fact is, the historic context of any passage of Scripture is critically important to its proper interpretation and understanding. Mind you, it’s not that the Scriptures are stuck in the past, as if they were relics of a bygone age, but they were given to a particular people at a set time in history. That being the case, we aren’t free to assume that the original recipients of the Bible understood it with a 21st century point of view. Of course, once we’ve determined the original meaning of a passage we can then go about the business of applying it to ourselves.
Unfortunately, when we turn to the Gospel reading for this morning, we find one of those unique passages that speaks, at least in its immediate context, only to the disciples. In other words, in its immediate context, the passage doesn’t even pertain to us.
Just prior to His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Jesus’ words seemed like a riddle. And the disciples, not understanding what Jesus was talking about, began to discuss it among themselves. “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”
The “little while” was the time between Jesus’ death and His resurrection, a period of time that only the disciples experienced. They are the ones who suffered the fear and the anxiety, the loneliness and, perhaps, the despair of having seen Jesus crucified and laid in the tomb. They are the ones who had to endure, at least for a “little while” the darkness of a crucifixion without a resurrection.
To apply the words of this morning’s Gospel reading to ourselves, we must consider, we try to envision a world without the resurrection of Christ. Life would be like a perpetual and eternal Good Friday, without, however, the assurance of God’s forgiveness. Remember, in speaking of the connection between Jesus crucifixion and His resurrection, St. Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” He then concludes, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
If Christ had not been raised from the dead, you and I would “weep and lament, but the world would rejoice.” We would weep and lament because the atonement, the single act of God taking away the sins of the world, would have all been for naught. Our lives would be a guilt ridden walk through an endless maze of do’s and don’ts. We would move from one miserable failure to another, hoping all the while to finally make atonement for what we’ve done and for what we’ve become.
All the while “the world rejoices.” Like the closing scene in the Wizard of Oz, where everyone dances because the wicked witch is dead, so the world rejoices because God is dead. Nihilism is the order of the day. Nothing has any purpose. There is absolutely no meaning to anything in life. Which means, there is no right or wrong. There is no accountability. There is no truth.
Kurt Vonnegut, atheist and popular writer of the 20th century, sums up life as he sees it from a Biblical perspective.
He says, “In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.
And God said, "Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done." And God created every living creature that now moves, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.
"Everything must have a purpose?" asked God.
"Certainly," said man.
"Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God.
And He went away.”
“You will be sorrowful (says Jesus), but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
You and I can only imagine the “little while” that the disciples suffered because Jesus has been raised from the dead. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! The darkness and the somber mood of Good Friday have been swallowed up in victory. God is not dead! He is alive and present here today in His Word and even in body and blood laid upon this altar! These are given for you, He says, that you might have life and salvation. I have come, He says, “that you might have life and that you might have it to the fullest.”
Life does have purpose and meaning! You are reconciled to God through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. Whereas, in “the little while,” you could only strive to please God and to grope for His acceptance, now He has freely lavished His grace and mercy upon you. You sing and rejoice, not because God is dead, but because the devil is bound and because death has been swallowed up in victory! In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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