A myHT Fortress

Monday, May 30, 2011

Loved, Kept, and Adopted: A Homily on John 14:15-21

John 14:15-21

6th Sunday of Easter

29 May 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." Yeah. How's that goin' for you?

When you place another person in your life as the top priority, even if it is your spouse or child, and they are higher in your thoughts and deeds than the Lord, you are an idolater. You have "other god's before [Him.]" You are not loving the Lord and keeping His commandments. In fact, it is an awful irony, that you are making a blessing from God into a curse.

When you don't follow through on your homework or practice your musical instrument, you are not "honor[ing] your father and mother." Then you are just as guilty of despising authority are the criminal who stands in contempt of court.

You fail at keeping His commandments when you get angry and really want to yell at the drunk neighbor or the teenager with the loud hip hop music booming from his car. Your anger is just as wrong as murdering him.

Oh oh! Jesus is saying that this is not loving Him. These are just a few examples of how every day you are failing God. You do not show your love for Your neighbor, which actually means you are not loving God.

Loving the Lord is not merely having feelings for Him. It is not about emotion. It is action. Speaking words, thinking thoughts, and doing deeds of service to Him and to others. It is putting others ahead of yourself all the time, with the Lord God above all. It is such adoration of Him, that you forget about self. That is love!

But you can't love Him. You won't. Your sinful nature actually despises Him. And that is why He makes this promise in today's text. "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth."

You know precisely why we need this Helper. We cannot keep these commandments. We cannot love the Lord. "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."

The work of the Holy Spirit brings about the result of placing you in Christ, and Him in you. And since Christ Jesus is in His Father, now, so are you! The Helper fills you with Jesus, placing Him in your ears through His preaching and teaching of His Word, and in your mouths in the Holy Supper. And He placed you in Jesus when He baptized you.

In these things, these holy gifts, the Helper has filled you with the love of our Savior. He places Love incarnate, Jesus Himself, into you. Not just in some emotional way, but as He enters and touches you with His Word and His Sacraments, He truly goes in and transforms you with His love. And changed by Him, you are given, and you reflect the Father's love.

It began in your life when Jesus kept His promise: "I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you." Refusing to leave you as orphans, the Father in heaven sends the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to rescue you in Holy Baptism. Sin, death, and the devil would leave you and abandon you, to die from exposure in this world. But our dear Lord Jesus sends the Helper to gather you into His family, and be adopted by His Father. He suffered abandonment by His Father as He hung on the cross, so that you would never know that horror. Now you are given the joy of being washed into His family, and being made children of God!

"I will not leave you as orphans." The recent film, Thor, changes the ancient stories of the Norse. Among movie buffs, here is where you see the words: "spoiler alert."

The new film portrays Loki as the brother of Thor, but that Loki was adopted. He had been abandoned as a weak and defenseless infant. Odin picked up this frail child of his enemy, and brought him home, to raise him as his own. Yes, Loki was the son of people who were battling, trying to kill Odin and his warriors. But Odin had compassion on the infant, and made this enemy his son. So a former enemy, then, is in line for the royal throne.

You were conceived and born as an enemy of God. You were then weak and defenseless infants. At some point, our Lord God picked you up, who were His enemies, and brought you to His house. He had compassion on you, and made you His children, by the washing of rebirth and renewal. So now, His former enemies, you are members and heirs of His heavenly, royal family.

Loki was given his name, a new home, and the love of His adoptive father. You have been given the name of God, placed on you in Baptism, given the new home of the Church on earth as you await your heavenly home, and have received the boundless love of your heavenly Father.

"And I will love him, and manifest Myself to him." Jesus loves you. That is the heart of all Christian preaching. Jesus loves and and forgives you! For all that you are unable or unwilling to love God, He forgives you, and makes Himself known to you through His love.

Dear friends in Christ, you have not been abandoned as orphans. Jesus loves you and has sent His Helper to make you His. Rejoice and be glad, as He reveals Himself through His love! Amen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Way, the Truth, and the Life: A Homily on the 60th Anniversary of Henry Knueppel's Service to St. John's

John 14:1-14

5th Sunday of Easter

22 May 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In 1952, President Harry S Truman was finishing his term, and General Dwight Eisenhower was elected to office. Martin Kennelly would be Mayor of Chicago for a few years more until Richard J. Daley would begin his long tenure. King George VI had recently died, and his daughter Elizabeth had become Queen of the United Kingdom.

The United States was involved in the war in Korea, yet a feeling of prosperity prevailed, with an average worked earning $3,400 a year. Three out of five families owned a car; two out of three homes had a telephone; and one in three homes had a television. And Jonas Salk and his associates produced a vaccine for polio.

The African Queen and Singin' in the Rain were two of the most popular films of the year. Nat King Cole's Unforgettable was the big music hit. And it had been a long 44(!) years since the Cubs had won the world series.

This was the era and culture of the day when Henry Knueppel began teaching at St. John's. In that era of comfort and contentment, it was every bit as hard, if not harder, to recognize that there are no other ways to the Father. Surrounded by advances in technology and enjoying the good life after the Second World War, it was easy to be lulled into idolatry, worshiping self, and the culture and inventions that seemed to make life better.

But this is not some sin from 60 years ago, only found in our records. This remains a problem today, and will until we depart this earth. Many people and things are competing for your attention. And you all too easily go along with them.

You may trust in yourself more than a mayor or president. More than the basic telephone and television that are in practically every home today, you can be more concerned with your cell phone or computers. Texting with your best friends maybe more important to you than spending time gathering in God's house, receiving His gifts.

Is any of this your problem? Is this what is obstructing you from the kingdom of God? Perhaps. Jesus is speaking today about any thought, any philosophy, any religion, any trust that distracts you from Jesus Christ. It may be in something or someone else. It may be in your own abilities.

For those newly confirmed, there can especially be a danger of saying you have accomplished something, and have somehow earned your coming to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Or you may find yourself trusting in your own belief. Yes, as innocent as that sounds at first, you can actually trust your believing rather than trusting Jesus! This is an idolatry of self. You then twist faith into a work rather than a gift, and are the rejecting Jesus Christ!

You may follow the broken understanding of some crack-pot preacher, and be surprised that we are still here today. The world did not end, nor was anyone caught up in some misinterpreted "rapture." If Jesus is the Way and the Truth, and He says, "no one knows the day or the hour" of the Son of Man's return, then no one knows! To say that you know is against His Word, and calls Christ a Liar!

Or you may find yourself buying into the lies of the agendas of "Coexist" bumper stickers and those who encourage such things in society. My friends, they do not simply seek that we be good neighbors or be kind to one another. The agenda is to give up on such exclusive claims, like Jesus alone is "the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him." But to give up on that is to say Jesus is a liar!

Jesus Christ is not a liar. "[He is] the Truth!" Christ alone is theTruth that is God's Word made flesh for you. He alone is the Life. The Risen Lord not only speaks truth, He is Truth. He is the absolute pure, good, and only way to life everlasting. He is sure and certain.

When Thomas admits the uncertainty of theTwelve, Jesus Christ calmly and lovingly explains it to them. "Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?" "I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life." Do not fear. Don't worry about seeking out the right philosophy or doing the right work. Jesus has washed you into His Truth and teaches the Way of His Word, that you may feed on His life.

The apostles did not know where Jesus was going, no matter how often or how plainly He told them. Yet He went. He went to the cross, for them and for you.

This same Jesus promises the Twelve, and you, that He is preparing a place for you, and is coming back for you. Of course, many people skip right over the initial step. It is at the cross that Jesus began preparing a place for you.

As He gave Himself up in your place, and redeemed you, He was preparing you for His place. Rising on that third day, He proved to all that He is the Life. And prepared your place to be with Him in the resurrection at the Last Day, which is a day and time known only to the Father. And He has prepared a place for you in His Church on earth, having baptized you, and thus prepares you for the place of His heavenly realms.

The Master Teacher has come, and not only taught about God, He is God. And the Lord God Himself proclaims everlasting life to you, with which He freely fills you!

Dear friends in Christ, be at peace! Our Risen Redeemer speaks His Truth, as He is your Way to Life with Him! Amen.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I AM the Door: A Homily on Easter 4

John 10:1-10

4th Sunday of Easter

15 May 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I AM the Bread of Life. I AM the resurrection and the life. I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I AM the Good Shepherd. But how often do you really stop and think of Jesus as our Door? A gate. And entrance.

The motion picture industry tends to have some recurring themes, no matter what the subject or genre of a particular film. One such theme is called: "the load-bearing hero."

In the film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, a large, strong Minotaur becomes a "load-bearing hero." He braces himself under the descending iron gate, bearing the enormous weight, so that many of his fellow soldiers may pass through the gate to fight evil and protect the innocent. Eventually, the weight is too much, and he is crushed, which leaves many others to perish. Still, he died so that others might live. The fallen hero sacrificed himself for the lives of the faithful.

The Minotaur worked to keep the gate open, but it was only partially successful. On the other hand, Jesus does all things perfectly. "I AM the Door of the sheep." Jesus not only keeps the door open, He IS the door. And He is not merely partially successful. He has purchased and won salvation for all. He died so that all might live.

At the end of this service, you will go out these doors. You will mingle a bit, and then go about your business for the week. But then what? Our loving and merciful Lord is desiring that you come back through these doors, regularly and often, being fed and nurtured by Him, as you are His little lamb.

Dear Confirmands, and friends in Christ, do not treat these doors as if they are locked, and you can't get back in. When you walk away and are frequently absent from the Lord's Table and His teaching, it is as if the doors are locked and you can't get to Jesus. It is not His fault. He is the Door! He has opened the Kingdom of heaven to you. He has borne the load of sin, death, and hell to rescue you, and He keeps Himself as that open Door as He gives His Baptism, Absolution, Gospel, and His Supper.

Too many youth around the world fool themselves into thinking that this is a sort of graduation. The devil wants you to think that you have worked and completed something -- that you have somehow earned this and are now done. Satan wants nothing more than for you to think that none of this is necessary or important. He wants you to believe that your faith will be just fine and heaven is easily attained, even if you do not come to church and receive Christ's gifts often. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you fail to keep coming through these doors week after week, your faith is in danger of shriveling up and dying. Even if you memorized the Catechism perfectly, and completed every religion assignment without flaw for all your years, if you do not come often to be nourished by the Gospel and Christ's Holy Supper, you can spiritually starve to death.

Even if you would end up serving on boards and committees, or teaching the faith to others, or joining all the congregational social groups, if you are not coming week after week to hear the Lord's Word and receive His Sacrament, you endanger your spiritual well-being. It is that plain and simple.

And for these twelve young people who confess their faith this morning, and receive Jesus' Body and Blood for the first time, what a tremendously joyful day this is. And sobering. They are vowing to God that they believe the faith as it has been taught them, drawn from the Scriptures and explained in the Catechism, and that they would rather die than fall away from it! They make a promise to the Lord today that they will be faithful in receiving Christ's preaching and Sacrament.

But they will fail. And so will you. No one here perfectly comes at every opportunity to hear the Word of the Lord and receive His Holy Supper. Even when in this building, hearts can be far from it.

But Jesus is the open Door, drawing you to the very gifts that deliver His forgiveness for these sins of neglect. He renews you in that baptismal faith, and restores you. He opens the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

So while some get caught up in all the vows of confirmation, and the work and words of these youths, that is not our focus at all! Jesus comes in His Word and Work. As Lutherans, THAT is what we celebrate today. Jesus is the Door through which you enter communion with the Lord God. He is the entrance into forgiveness, life, and salvation. In fact, He is forgiveness, life, and salvation!

It's not about us at all. Today, as always, it is all about Jesus. Today we celebrate that our Risen Good Shepherd is our Door to salvation, and that He is passing gifts through that door until the day when we walk through that door a final time on this earth, joining Him in His never-ending paradise. Amen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Good Friday - Rebecca Black Easter Song

Yikes! Yes, liturgically, we're rather late on this.

Don't quite know what to say. Take a ridiculous, mundane song and cheapen the contents of God's Word, setting it to a "bubble gum" tune. On the other hand, it's a train wreck I had to keep watching.

Recognizing Jesus: A Homily on Luke 24:13-35

Saint Luke 24:13-35

3rd Sunday of Easter

8 May 2011

St. John’s, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I have known Cameron since he was a baby. Our families are friends. He had been a classmate of my son since pre-school. I had seen and heard him almost daily since 1999. Yet in the course of this past year, since we last saw him vacationing in Chicago, he has grown. His voice has changed. He has lost the little-boyish features. The same boy I had known for eleven years was now a youth I did not recognize!

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus went through a similar experience, although they had seen Jesus just a few days earlier. And Jesus was not changing as a growing teenager. He was simply keeping people from recognizing Him until the right moment. These men would soon come to recognize their Lord who was with them!

Tradition says that these men were two of the Seventy that Jesus sent out, and that Cleopas may have been Jesus’ uncle, and the other disciple here may well have been Saint Luke himself. But no matter who they are, even these men – these close associates of Jesus – do not realize who is traveling with them. They do not recognize Jesus, or where they can find Him.

Why do they not recognize Jesus? Saint Augustine tells us: “Here we are with two others, walking along the road and talking to each other about the things that had been happening in Jerusalem – about … the death of Christ. They were walking along, talking the matter over, grieving for Him as if He were dead, not knowing He had risen again. He appeared and joined them as a third traveler, and entered into friendly conversation with them. Their eyes were held from recognizing Him; their hearts, you see, needed more thorough instruction.”

They needed catechesis! They needed the instruction and formation in the faith that Christ alone can bring. Only when the Word of God has its way with us, can we recognize Jesus in faith. Without faith, one will never truly recognize Christ. And without the Word of God, one will never have faith!

These two – Cleopas and his companion, along with the apostles, had been scandalized by the cross – just like everyone else! It was too much to take in. It was so horrifying that they forgot what Jesus Himself said.

“He had foretold everything: that He was going to suffer, to die and to rise again on the third day. He had foretold it all, but His death had erased it from their memories. They were so shattered when they saw Him hanging on the tree that they forgot about His teaching. They did not expect Him to rise, nor did they hold on to what He had promised.” (St. Augustine)

We too fail to hold on to what He has promised. When we panic from the reports of Chicken Little’s in the media, and respond with fear to their cries of “recession,” we doubt God’s providence. We become like the Israelites who purposefully gathered too much manna, not trusting the Lord to send what they needed. And He sent worms to devour their faithless hoarding.

We fail to hold on to what He has promised when we shy away from defending innocent life. Jesus declares that [He has] come that [we] may have life and have it abundantly! When we fall for Satan’s lies that such a basic issue to the Gospel is merely political, and keep our mouths shut for fear of some radicals, we have a first commandment issue, fearing them more than God!

We fail to hold on to what He has promised when we pretend that our loved ones are not hurting themselves when they skip the Divine Service. We turn the other way as some enter a sort of spiritual anorexia, denying themselves the true Food that gives true Life. Jesus has promised to forgive, renew, and prepare us, body and soul, to live with Him forever. Those who cut themselves off from that Gift, are straying further and further from our Lord, and thus, from a blessed eternity. And those of us who stand by silent, are helping them along that dangerous path.

We fail to hold on to what He has promised when we act like there are things more important than the Divine Service – even if we are there in the Service! Whether we slip out needlessly to the bathroom, or we quietly slip out our cell phone to play a game, check email, or text someone, or simply stand there with our mouths shut, defiantly refusing to respond in prayer or praise. At those moments, we endanger ourselves, and the little ones around us whom we are teaching in word and deed to find Christ’s Holy Liturgy boring and pointless.

Yet our dear, Risen Lord rids us of these failures. He cleansed us in the waters of Holy Baptism, through which He washed us into forgiveness, rescue, and salvation. He purifies us from all stains and blemishes that erode our trust in His promises, and gives us His great promise of resurrection through this baptismal connection. He has baptized you into His death and burial – the very thing that scandalizes the world, saves you! And now, He leads you to hold on to His promises.

And how does He do that? He leads you to hold on to His promises as He catechizes you! He teaches you and forms you in the faith as the very Word of God encounters you. The Word made flesh convicts you of your sin, and then forgives you! And having been changed by that Word, we desire Him more.

Dear friends in Christ, your desire is fulfilled! You have many opportunities to be encountered by Jesus, to recognize Him as He comes to you in His teaching of His Word and in the Breaking of the Bread – the mystical communion of His Holy Body and Precious Blood. In the Divine Service, our Risen Lord comes through words and bread and wine, simple and common like the stranger on the road. The two disciples did not see through the hidden-ness at first. Sometimes, we fail to see through it too. If we treat His Word like anyone else’s, we are still blind to Him. When we think that His Flesh and Blood are still common bread and wine, we are looking away from Jesus.

But the amazing thing is: it is through these means that He forgives and renews us from that looking away! As sure as I am standing here, talking to you, our Risen Savior is “making you right” before God, and opening your eyes. And as sure and certain as you come to His altar, and Jesus places Himself in your mouth, your eyes will be opened, and you will recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.

Today you have the joy of having your eyes opened, and receiving Jesus in Word and Sacrament. Today you are welcomed by our Lord in Table Fellowship in which God welcomes you to be united with Him, and to be the absolute closest with Him that you can be, this side of heaven.

Today, as Jesus enters your ears and mouths, you behold Him with your eyes, and respond with glad “Alleluias.” And as you leave this Holy House, you carry a joyous “We have seen the Lord!” on your lips, inviting others to have their eyes opened as well.

Come, dear friends in Christ. The Lord bids you to come to His altar that the Risen Christ may open your eyes! Amen!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I Don't Believe It: A Homily for Quasimodo Geniti

John 20:19-31

2nd Sunday of Easter

1 May 2011

St. John’s, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It was a thrilling moment! Even after all the amazing pomp and ceremony of the wedding, with the million-or-so well-wishers all over London, there was something incredible about the royal family appearing on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with Prince William and his new bride.

If you looked carefully, you could read her lips as they stepped out onto the balcony. “Oh, WOW!” Amazed at the estimated 100,000 people approaching and cheering for her and her Bridegroom, Catherine had a moment of unbelief. She and William were both there, in the flesh, but it was almost too good to be true.

Catherine had a moment like Thomas, who found Jesus’ resurrection too good to be true. Although Thomas would have felt this out of despair, as He saw His Lord wounded and killed.

Jesus still bears permanent wounds in His Body. But again, they do not admit defeat; they bear witness to His victory. The Lord reaches out to St. Thomas, and shows him His amazing triumph over sin and death.

For the first eighteen years of my life, every Sunday I would be reminded of this moment. On the altar of Christ Lutheran in Peoria, above the crucifix, is a statue of the Risen Christ, showing His sacred wounds to Thomas. What a blessing and joy!

This image is one of extreme comfort. It is Jesus—“Divine Mercy” in the flesh—showing His ultimate glory and mercy as He reveals His precious wounds that poured out His Blood. Christ, in His compassion, does not let Thomas remain condemned in His unbelief. He has mercy on Thomas and forgives Him, giving Him the very reassurance that he needs. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Jesus shows you His wounds! His Body is risen and glorified, yet the spear gash and nail prints are still there! Why? Because they show His glory! That IS God’s glory – that He in His flesh was wounded and died for you! Our Resurrected Lord shows His love, His mercy, His glory, His victory in these wondrous wounds.

Jesus does the same with you! He provides the reassurance that you need. He sends His pastors to forgive your sins and He covers you in His mercy. No matter how much doubt or unbelief you have, our Risen Savior does not leave you to remain in judgment; He forgives and gives. He forgives your sins, and gives you His pastors and His forgiveness.

The Victorious Christ stands before you today. At this moment, through these words, He is showing you His wounds, and giving you comfort. He is showing His wounds and speaking forgiveness into your ears. In a matter of moments, He will show His wounds as He places His Risen and glorified Body and Blood in your mouths.

But then there is another gift in which He displays His wounds and pours forth forgiveness and life – a gift that we often overlook. You see, this very passage records the moment when Jesus instituted Holy Absolution—the means of grace where you individually can confess to your pastor and receive absolution directly from him.

What is Confession? Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.

There is a modern myth that private confession is only a Roman Catholic thing. This is an attitude from which our Lord Jesus calls us to repent! You may not even realize that when the Catechism speaks of confession, it is really speaking of private confession, not the preface of the Divine Service that we all speak together.

Along with fellow Lutherans and various Protestants, it is easy for you to gain a certain arrogance and say, “I can confess straight to God, why would I have to confess to a pastor or priest?” Well, you don’t “have to,” but the Lord gives the joy and comfort of this gift to you! When you receive individual absolution, you have the treasure of forgiveness, and know from the touch of the pastor’s hands on your head, and the assurance of his voice, when you are the only one there, and know that the Lord is using the pastor to free you from your sin.

Repent of your arrogance. Shed your smugness. Christ calls you to confess your sin.

Yet our Lord Christ does not leave you stuck in your sin. He does not abandon you for your unbelief.

Our blessed Savior sends you His pastor who stands ready to hear your confession. And he then speaks Christ’s powerful Word that releases you from your sin, freeing you from your debt to God and forgiving your unbelief. As you admit your guilt and speak your sins into the pastor’s ear, those words go into a tomb, never to go out. And from his mouth comes resurrection! Yes, as you hear those blessed words: “I forgive you all your sin, in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit,” that new creature that was given birth at Baptism is raised again! And that is a true gift of His peace.

And who died and left him to forgive you? Jesus! Today’s Gospel reading is the very passage that records Jesus instituting this precious and holy gift! The Catechism reminds us:

What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.

Where is this written?
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Praise God! Our Risen Savior comes to you today, and always, giving you exactly what you need: He shows you His wounds, from which His forgiveness and love and mercy have poured forth. And He gathers His people around His pastors, that this precious gift of Absolution may continue until He returns in glory.

Dear friends in Christ, see His wounds! Your sins are forgiven! Peace be with you! Amen.

A Tale of Two Tombs: A Homily for Easter

Matthew 28:1-10

Resurrection of Our Lord

24 April 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

If you head east to Clark Street, between Montrose and Irving Park Road, you will come to a fascinating piece of Chicago history and architecture: Graceland Cemetery. Many of the most famous and wealthy Chicagoans of the past now lie on those grounds.

It is a beautiful place, but a rather sad cemetery, as many of those 19th century socialites were not Christians. Many believed in little more than themselves, and these monuments are all that they felt would be left of them for the future.

One such individual is the notorious George Pullman. Pullman is credited with inventing the railroad sleeping car, and built up a great business. He built his company town on the south side, having employees rent and even buy their needs from company stores in his little empire. And when times were financially tough, he cut the wages of employees, while keeping their rent high.

Needless to say, he was not well loved. In fact, it is safe to say that many hated George Pullman.

When Pullman died, a large monument was erected for his grave. Underneath, his coffin was covered in tar paper and asphalt, and placed in the center of a room-sized block of concrete. This was reinforced by a layer of railroad ties with even more concrete. The heirs feared that his body would be stolen and held for ransom. One journalist remarked, "It is clear the family in their bereavement was making sure the [scoundrel] wasn't going to get up and come back."

Sounds like what the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees wanted to do for Jesus' tomb. Make it as secure as they could, so that no one could steal the body and lie that He had been raised. So they had the large stone over the entrance, the seal from the governor, and a group of Roman guards, to be sure that nothing happened.

But something did happen. The Lord sent a great earthquake, and His angel rolled back the stone. The guards "became like dead men." Nothing was going to stop the Lord of Life from bursting forth from the tomb!

"Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands for our offenses given; But now at God's right hand He stands and brings us life from heaven. Therefore let us joyful be and sing to God right thankfully loud songs of alleluia! Alleluia!"

Far more than suffering from the high prices and control of life in a company town, Jesus had endured it all. He suffered more than you can imagine, so that the threat of your eternal suffering is removed. You are now full of joy and love and life, thanks to our loving and living Savior.

Had our Lord's enemies had the materials at their disposal, Jesus' tomb would have been even more secure than Pullman's. Yet, no matter what would try to keep Him confined to that tomb, creation had to yield to her living Creator.

No amount of asphalt or concrete, no weights, or stones, or locks could keep Jesus contained. The Risen Lord is mighty and strong and victorious. And sin and death are completely weak and broken before Him. Jesus' death on Good Friday defeated the enemy of death, and left no other possibility than that which we celebrate this morning. As He gave Himself up to death, He took its reign and brought it to a swift end.

"Christ Jesus, God's own Son came down, His people to deliver; Destroying sin, He took the crown from death's pale brow forever: Stripped of power, no more it reigns; An empty form alone remains; Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!

"It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended; The victory remained with life, The reign of death was ended. Holy Scripture plainly saith that death is swallowed up by death, Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!"

Yes, the graves of many famous, powerful people of the past, such as Pullman, are quite sad. Great carved stones calling to mind the names of people who did not "fear, love, and trust in God above all things." The Last Day, the Day of Resurrection, is not a joyful time for them.

But not so with you! The Holy Spirit has called you to faith in the crucified and risen Christ. He has washed you into His family. And you have the absolute joy and peace and confidence that He will raise you, perfecting and glorifying your body for life everlasting!

Even while you spend that brief time in your own tomb, you can rest assure that no matter how secure the grave, the Risen Lord will cry out with His living voice, and you will rise and live with Him forever! Amen.