Painting: Detail from Matthais Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece circa 1512-1516
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father whom waits for you with all long suffering and eternal vigilance. Today He desires your troubled and contrite heart. He desires to hear your desperation and hopelessness in times of trouble so that you may find hope in him alone and be built up in faith and love toward God and neighbor. Amen.
Dearest Christians. Do not be troubled but believe in this Easter celebration – that Christ has risen from the dead and descends on your households to speak everlasting peace and mercy. Our Lord does wait for you…We think we understand this waiting – we are acutely aware of it – we know God is watching and waiting. God’s presence – his proximity – his watchful eye is upon us. How often does it feel as though God’s waiting on you is more like that of a prison warden, waiting for your next rebellious act, your next fall from grace, that he may pounce on you like a roaring lion and cast you off forever. This waiting is completely and utterly terrifying to our old man who is certainly with us today – in the midst of the congregation. And this old Adam can do none other than rebel. He can do none other than fall from grace. None other than lie, cheat, deceive, and murder. After all, it is all he has in him.
We are aware that God is breathing down our neck. By his waiting and opportunities he has given us, we despair and imagine that we have quite exhausted his grace. Forsaken his love. We have just sinned too much – too much for a God of mercy - too much for God of justice who hates evil.
Yet who is this God – this waiting God – whom we often imagine we have offended beyond the scope of his mercy and perfect justice? It is every man’s nature to find himself quite outside the realm of God’s love. We are certain that God’s words of peace apply to others, each and everyone of them. Yet for you, and you alone, God’s peace lies beyond your grasp. It is quite fine for others but it does not apply to you.
The great lie is this – “Did God really say?” This lie from the serpent is daily whispered into our ears. “Did God really say this is my body and blood?” “Did he really say that you are forgiven?” “Did he really say that you and blessed, holy, and righteous?” Did he really say all that? Look at you, your wretched sinner! None of that is for you! If it were up to us alone to answer the serpent, the answer would always be the same: A resounding NO, “He must not have really meant that? - certainly not for me.
Yet, you ought not think so highly of yourself. That by your power and might – by your mighty sin and rebellion you have defeated God and overturned his work. You also ought not think that your thoughts about your relationship with God have anything to do with God’s relation to you.
Martin Luther wrote a letter to a dear friend who was experiencing these sorts of troubles and had this to say:
“Whenever the devil pesters you with these thoughts, at once seek out the company of men, drink more, joke or jest, or engage is some other form of merriment. Sometimes it is necessary to drink a little more, play, jest, or even commit some sin in defiance and contempt of the devil in order not to give him an opportunity to make us scrupulous about trifles. We shall be overcome if we worry too much about falling into some sin.”
Luther urges his friend to drink a beer, joke, and laugh with friends because his friend is a Christian and he is certain that his dialoguing with Satan about the state of his salvation will end in despair, “Did God really say?”
Dear Christians, hear the Word of God, “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.” Your cry for mercy does not reverberate out into the black night never to return. Our God and our Lord does not bear down on you waiting for you to fall from his grace. He is not angry at you. He is please that your speak the name of Jesus Christ who has bathed you in his justice. He is deeply grieved by your sins and your pain and desires nothing other than to hear your cry and to respond. He has surely prepared a place for you.
He answers by giving you the bread of adversity – the bread and body of heaven which has destroyed Satan and his power over you. Do not let your hearts be troubled. The Lord Christ has washed you in the waters of affliction – that is the affliction of the atonement – this wrath being scourged into our Lord and tasted with His lips – you are baptized into Christ – baptized into the affliction of the cross – the putting to death of the Old Adam who wants nothing to do with God’s promise of life and salvation. But God has no anger and wrath left for you. He has dealt with it quite on his own, through his own Son, our Lord Jesus.
The Lord is gracious to you, for Jesus our teacher exalts himself on the cross to show us mercy. Our teacher teaches us to die. Your God and teacher has not hid himself from your eyes, for in faith we may say, I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Christ is all around you, urging you on, in the midst of his preaching, and the singing of his hymns. His Word is forgiveness and he speaks it through pastors and all Christians.
It is true - We deserve death and hell. But what of it? God has heard your cry. Christ, our teacher and friend knows you and in great joy has made satisfaction on your behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there you shall be also. Amen. .