Today is not only the Fourth Sunday of Easter, it’s also the commemoration of C.F.W. Walther – the first President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. When we celebrate minor or local saints – and CFW Walther would qualify for that – it’s only our own synod that really celebrates him – then you don’t usually displace the Sunday. Maybe during the Trinity season. But not if it’s one of the Easter Sundays. You add an extra collect, which we did, and perhaps make brief notice of it in the sermon, if it ties into the theme of the day.
The Collect for Easter 4 asks that God would correct all errors, grant faithfulness to those in the fellowship of the church, that we keep our confession pure. That’s pretty much the biography of CFW Walther.
Walther and the Saxon Lutherans were persecuted because they wanted to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments faithfully. In 1817 – the 300th anniversary of the Reformation, the King wanted union between the Lutheran and Reformed. So, he imposed it. Anyone who wanted to teach that Jesus meant what he said when he gave us the Sacrament “This IS my body” could teach and believe that – but they were part of a church that no longer required it. When Walther and company insisted on the Real Presence, some were arrested, others were fined. Eventually, they left – and they set out for Missouri. Of the four ships that set out, three made it to the New World. Early challenges almost destroyed the community. But in 1837, the Saxons, along with some other congregations throughout the Midwest, formed the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other Sates – what we now know as the LCMS. And CFW Walther was the first President of the LCMS. He was also it’s foremost theologian – because he loved the Word of God. At a time when most Lutherans in America were content to use Lutheran as sort of a generic term for people who came from Germany no matter what they believed, the LCMS was a different sort of church – they actually believed what they believed. Today, that’s still an unusual thing. In the Collect we prayed that we would avoid everything contrary to our confession – the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God. That no one comes to the Father except through him. That through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins is given to the whole world, and that, where the Gospel is preached forgiveness is given TO YOU. That Jesus wasn’t lying when he said “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for your for the forgiveness of your sins.” Those are basic things – not anything extraordinary. You can find it all over holy scripture. But many churches today reject all or part of that simple confession. They do not want their faith to get in the way of their success in this world. And so they quiet that confession. They change God’s clear word so that it more closely matches the words the world would have us say. But the confession of Jesus is and must be clear.
In the Gospel reading Jesus is giving the disciples final instructions in the upper room. He is about to go away to his death. He tells them that in a little while he will be taken from them. When that happens, they will weep, and the world will rejoice.
But then, he will be raised from the dead – they will see him again. Then they will rejoice, and no one will take that joy from them. The implication is that the world will try to take their joy. To turn that joy to sorrow. But 2000 years on, the church is still the place where Christians go to receive the forgiveness of sins, to rejoice in the love and mercy of the Lord. And despite the world’s best efforts to persecute the church, no one can take that joy from us. Despite Satan’s best efforts to attack us and bring false teaching into the church, no one has taken that joy from Christ’s church. Despite even the forces of death itself, which corrupts and takes loved ones from us in this world of sin, no one has taken the joy of the resurrection from Christ’s church.
CFW Walther lived in a time where Lutheran didn’t really mean Lutheran. That it does today – that there is a faithful Lutheran church throughout the world – is largely because of the ways that God has blessed his efforts. Through the LCMS, through our sister churches – many of which we planted around the world – faithful Lutherans continue to hear and receive the gifts of God in the church. And today many churches that we didn’t plant are seeing our commitment to God’s Word, seeing how clearly the Gospel is preached, and are approaching us for guidance and help. God has blessed the efforts of Dr. Walther. Even 130 years after he died in this world, CFW Walther’s work continues through the synod he helped found. But it isn’t the synod that matters. It is the word of God faithfully spoken that matters. Walther knew that. His efforts were nothing. It was God working through the word that was preached that mattered and that matters.
Jesus says “A little while”. It’s only used here in our Gospel reading – but it’s used a whole lot. .Over and over again. Because it’s important. Jesus is telling the disciples about his death. That’s an important thing. He will be taken, but only for a little while. Then after a little while he will come back to them by the resurrection.
We need that little while. The promise of resurrection. And while we are in this world for a little while, while we wait a little while until our Lord returns, we need the promise and encouragement Jesus gives. Luther recovered the Gospel when it was almost lost. .CFW Walther restored that Gospel again. Today we continue to hear and receive that Gospel. And the world continues to reject it. The world wants our joy to turn to sorrow. The world wants us to give up on that Word. Because it’s too hard. It’s too mean. It’s too unsuccessful. But that Word and promise of God for Jesus sake, is all that we have. The little while of Jesus death, the little while until his resurrection. The little while since he has ascended, and the little while until he returns. That’s what we have, that’s the gift Jesus has given to his church. The word of promise – your sins are forgiven. The word of hope – he that believeth in me will never die. The word of Jesuse – I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come and bring you back to me that where I am, you may be also.
When does all of this take place? In a little while. It seems like maybe it’s been too long. Almost 2000 years since Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father. Maybe we’re waiting in vain. But when we look at the 100’s of years that the patriarchs waited, that the kings waited, that the exiles waited, and yet the promise was not forgotten, the people were not abandoned by God. And so the Saints continue to wait. Walther waited. Now he rests and waits the resurrection of the dead.
Today, we hear the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead, that he will return soon – not soon according to our watches, but soon according to his divine will.
And we give thanks that God preserves his church – sending those who are needed at just the right time to keep the pure word proclaimed in the church, he sends those who reject the false teaching of Satan, reject the lies that are told to the church. And we continue steadfast in the confession of all that is pleasing to our Lord. The confession of the truth. And the bold confession that Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life.