Easter came on the last day of last month. The next big days for the Church are Ascension Day and Pentecost, also called Whitsunday in the old days. Both of those days are in May. There is very little happening during April this year, at least as far as the Church is concerned. Oh, there are observances and minor holidays, just not religious holidays (unless you count Holocaust Memorial Day - Yom HaShoah - as a religious holiday). Other than that, there are 31 "special days" on the calendar for April, including, April Fool's Day, World Autism Awareness Day, United Nations' Mine Awareness Day, National Tartan Day, International Day of Human Space Flight, Tax Day (of course), Earth Day (also known as Lenin's Birthday), World Book and Copyright Day, Administrative Professionals Day, World Intellectual Property Day, and International Jazz Day, just to name a few. I am sure each of these is important on somebody's calendar, but we don't have special worship services for any of these days, at least not here, locally.
So, the question is, Now What? What are we to do for this entire month with no holidays?
Of course, you could come to Bloomington, MN, to the Ramada, Mall of America, for the Congress on the Lutheran Confessions on April 17, 18, and 19. It is a wonderful event. It is the oldest - that is, longest-running - Lutheran Free Conference in history. The Theme is "It's the Law - or Is It?" focusing on Legalism versus Antinomianism. I know it sounds very technical and dull, but it won't be. It is deliberately aimed at the Lay level, the speakers are all pretty darned good (I have heard most all of them before on other topics), and the fellowship with like-minded, confessional Lutherans is unequaled anywhere else. And I will be there, too.
I realize that some of you won't be coming to Bloomington, but I could not resist the opportunity for a commercial there. Seriously, we have to note that even though Easter Sunday has come and gone, Easter is not over. Until Pentecost, we are in the Easter season. How can one settle with something of the magnitude of Easter with one or two church services?
The world blows by Easter in favor of candy and colored eggs because the world does not believe in the realities of Easter. Everyone recognizes that it is a big day. Family traditions for many unbelievers include the family gathering and the big meal. They would simply prefer that we make it about bunnies and candy and leave the death and resurrection stuff behind. They like the family events and the food, it is that hard to believe rising from the dead that they want to ignore. And they want us to ignore it too.
It is hard to believe. It is impossible to believe without God's help; Third Article of the Apostles Creed in the Small Catechism. Besides, you cannot believe in Easter without also believing in Christmas. The death and resurrection doesn't make sense, or have any real meaning, without the Incarnation, the Personal Union, the sinless perfection of His life, the doctrines of creation and the fall into sin, and so forth. Make-believe bunnies with colored eggs and jelly beans is a lot easier to deal with. They don't cause you to re-examine your life or make you feel like you should be getting up for church on Sunday.
They don't save you, or give you a resurrection of your own (or even the hope of one) or eternal life either. Only Jesus does that by His death and resurrection. So, we don't try to put it all on one week. In fact, we take the whole year, since every Sunday is an Easter celebration of sorts. But we have this special season of Eastertide to focus on the specific event called the resurrection and its repercussions. To look at how it works itself out, I prepared a little chart, below, listing the major theme of the Scripture lessons in the historic lectionary. The Gospel is on the left and the Epistle is on the right.
Doubting Thomas Faith is the victory that overcomes
The Good Shepherd You were called to suffering
You will have sorrow and then joy Live as those guided by the Lord
I will send the Spirit Every good gift is from God - receive the Word, the chief gift.
The Father loves you - so pray Be a doer - not merely a hearer
Live by the Law of Liberty
I will send the Spirit, and The end of all things is at hand
the Jews will reject you. Use your gift by God's power
We have the effect of the resurrection laid out for us. If you want to read the readings directly, check out the front of the Lutheran Hymnal, but the main ideas are listed here. This is what we do in the time between Easter and Pentecost. This is our April, this year, and a hunk of May.
After the Easter morning experience, the first lesson is the lesson of faith. We have the wonderful illustration of Thomas, who doubted and then believed. He serves as our proof, the skeptic that questioned this incredible story just as we might - and the world does every day - and whose doubt was wiped away, and as the occasion for the Lord to speak those wonderful words, "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed." Then the Epistle speaks of faith as the victory which overcomes the world. Pretty heady stuff!
And what a wonderful name for the Sunday following Easter - Like new-born babies - Quasimodogeniti. That is what we are, even as mature and "seasoned" Christians. We stand before the Lord as newborns, helpless and unknowing, no matter how much we think we know. We always imagine that the things we do are significant before God, somehow. But they are not. We stand as beggars, receiving the charity of our Lord. Only what Christ has done is significant before God. And we are as helpless as newborns, unable to walk unless our Father holds our hands and directs our steps, unable to speak unless He give us the words. It can be intimidating, and exhilarating! God has done everything we need accomplished. We have forgiveness and life as a gift. We need to trust in that - faith.
The second week after Easter, Jesus reminds us that He is our Shepherd, the GOOD Shepherd. We will need that reminder, because the world around us is not supportive of our faith and things can get rough. People can begin to wonder if their Shepherd is paying attention. The Epistle makes that point clear by reminding us that we are called to suffer for the Gospel. It also reminds us that our Lord, our Shepherd, led the way to leave us an example to follow. The Sunday has a beautiful name, "The Tender-hearted Mercies of the Lord", or Misericoridas Domini. Some people just call it "Good Shepherd Sunday. Whatever you call it, the message of the week is that we have a loving and tender Shepherd whose purpose is to give us life - although that specific verse (about abundant life) is the verse before our Gospel lesson begins. Whatever happens, and wherever our Shepherd leads us, He has our eternal well-being in mind and in sight.
The third Sunday after Easter is called Jubilate, Rejoice! Sunday. The message of the day is about the complexity of the life of the Christian. You will have sorrow, and then joy, the kind of joy that no one can erase. This message continues the message of the Epistle of the previous week. There will be trouble and pain for the Christian, and the world around you will delight in it. The trouble and sorrow are not the last word for the child of God, however. We will also know joy. The Epistle for the day instructs us to live as the people of the Gospel, no matter what the world is trying to make of our lives. When the record is tallied, on that last great day, the record of God's people will be that they were good, decent, faithful, honorable, caring people, and the Epistle simply instructs us to live as those who know the truth and look forward to being in the presence of their heavenly Father for joy and glory in eternity.
Now the lessons pivot a bit and begin to look forward to Pentecost. On Sing! Sunday, Cantate, the Gospel contains the promise of Jesus to His disciples to send the Helper, The Holy Spirit, also identified for us as the Spirit of Truth. The Epistle urges us to receive that gift, and calls it the Word implanted. We are reminded this week that the Church is God's doing. We need that reminder, apparently, because church leaders so frequently devise "programs" to make things happen that God tells us are His work, not ours. The Epistle calls us to remember that every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, who is utterly faithful - there is no change or shifting shadow in Him. In the Gospel, Jesus promises the Helper and tells us that He will convict the world. We are simply left the task of trusting God and getting ourselves out of the way. After all, the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
And we thought that there was nothing going on between Easter and Pentecost, except the Ascension! We still have two more weeks.
Prayer Sunday, Rogate, brings us the message of Gospel lesson to pray. God wants you to pray. He loves you because you believe in Jesus, and He will listen to your prayers and answer them. You don't need some go-between in the middle because God is actually interested in hearing from you. Jesus makes that point somewhat emphatically by saying that we don't need Him to intercede for us because the Father Himself loves us! So, you should be praying about everything that is of a concern to you. God the Father wants to hear.
At first glance, the Epistle seems oddly disconnected from the Gospel lesson, but then we need to ask ourselves, "What does it mean to live by the Law of Liberty?" How is one a doer of the Word of God, and not merely a hearer of it? The answer to those two questions is the same. The Law of Liberty is the Gospel. That alone is the principle (law) that sets one free. How do we live by that law? We believe it, and our lives are lived as though we believe the Gospel. That life, of course, would include prayer, if we really believe God loves us and has chosen us to be His own children, and adopted us into His household. The message is about the love of God for us because we are His children by grace through faith. If we live that out, we will be talking to God constantly. How do I know? I look at Jesus and take my example from Him, and He was always praying!
At last we come to the Sunday before Pentecost, Exaudi Sunday, The Sunday in which we call on God to hear us (in the Introit). This is the Sunday in which Jesus tells His disciples that He will send the Spirit (Pentecost), and they will be His witnesses - witnesses which their church and their world will reject and persecute because they reject Christ Himself and God. This hostility is true toward us as well, but these words were particularly aimed at the Disciples, who were Jews announcing the death and resurrection of the Messiah to members of a religion that had abandoned God altogether. The Disciples were as welcome in Judaism then as a faithful pastor is in an unfaithful church today - congregation or denomination. Of course, the world (outside of the visible church) hated them then, and us today.
The Epistle underlines the same reality in a different way. It says that the end of all things is at hand, highlighting the eschatological (end-times) nature of the Church, and urging Christians to live out that reality, both by their love for one another, and by using the gifts which God has given them as gifts from God for the work He has given the Church to do - in love, in service, in teaching and preaching, all to the glory of God. This is urgent because of the animosity of the world and the end-times nature of our existence in the Church.
These are the messages of our Eastertide season. We don't have special services for them, or colored eggs, or candy, but they are an expression of the meaning and purpose of Easter in the life of the Church and her members. So you can see why it does not all fit in just one week. We need this extra time.
Yours in the Lord,
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
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