As promised, here is my sermon. For some reason, I had a manuscript tonight instead of an outline. Unusual for a Wednesday. But here it is:
(John 6:47-59 – I am the bread of life)
Our Lenten fast has taken on a penitential character that could not have been predicted even a week ago. Conditions change and governmental response changes almost hourly at this point. On a recent visit to a member in Cheyenne at a retirement center, the policy – newly updated – changed while I was visiting. I signed a form going in – new policy. On the way out, I signed out, they discarded the form and brought out the new more restrictive forms. Nursing homes closed to the public. Hospitals. Dine in restaurants. Workers laid off. Lots of uncertainty.
For the congregation, our meals together are suspended indefinitely. This is the last of the Lenten services. We were supposed to be on part 3 of the passion reading. We jumped to the crucifixion.
Make sure you get a chance to hear it before we all go into our homes for an indefinite period.
Perhaps the reading should have been the one about God locking Noah into the ark. Who knows what we will find when we emerge. A country and society changed? Or just paused on our reckless run away from God and his eternal word?
Tonight we have Jesus speaking those blessed words – I am the bread of life. It’s the end of the same chapter we’ll hear on Sunday – the feeding of the 5,000. The topic of our Lenten services this year is the Lord’s Supper. Tonight specifically we look at how it can be that bread and wine offer such amazing benefits – forgiveness, life and salvation. The answer – God said so. He has attached his word and promise to the eating and drinking. And we grab hold of that promise by faith. You’ve heard it before – so many times over the years. You had it drilled into you in catechism classes, you’ve heard it in sermons over the years. God commands the bread and wine, and his body and blood are present in them, and he commands that your sins be forgiven through it and they are.
Fed with the true bread – the food that does not spoil, the flesh of Jesus – from the hand of God himself. It is truly a blessed thing. A wondrous gift that not only feeds our bodies, it feeds our souls unto life everlasting. That’s the miraculous promise of the sacrament. And it doesn’t happen because of some action on our part. It happens because God commands and declares it. We usually use command for things like commandment. We use declare for gospel things. So, God commands that we not murder or commit adultery or steal. He declares our sins forgiven. And yet the words are interchangeable. What God declares has been commanded by God. So, the judge or jury at a trial can declare the defendant not guilty. But you can just as easily say they command that the charge be taken away. Does it matter? Not really. And yet in a sense we want to make sure that we are clear on this – the sin is gone. The declaration of God is a command that it happen. Just like Let there be light. Let there be land. Let there be sun and moon and stars. God declared – and commanded those things into existence. He declares his body and blood, and those things are commanded to be there for our good. He declares forgiveness life and salvation, and you have the command of God that those things are given to you. Why does it matter? Because Satan is clever. He is subtle. And in times when we face death, he likes to twist – Did God really say? Did he really say all sins are forgiven? Did he really say it must be his body? Maybe you don’t have enough faith to receive the blessings. Maybe it doesn’t seem possible to you. He commanded it. It is so.
We are seeing a lot of authorities commanding things these days. Well, our Lord commands that your sins be taken away from you. That your guilt be atoned for in Jesus Christ.
That is our comfort. And as we enter into uncertainty, we have this sure and certain word and command of Jesus. For the forgiveness of your sins. That’s it. No more discussion. Not up for debate. The light didn’t get to argue about existing when God commanded it. The Land didn’t say “but the seas are too rough.” The sun, moon, and stars didn’t say “Give us a few billion years and then we might start shining to light the day and the night.” As soon as God commanded it was. Sure and certain. So also for the command our Lord that your sins are forgiven you. That’s it. End of discussion.
We don’t know what the next few weeks or months will bring. We pray God will deliver us, even at this late moment. But ultimately, the cross of Jesus – his death and resurrection – that is definitive. God declared His Son guilty and you not guilty through Jesus death. And then the Father commanded that Jesus be raised from the dead. And it was so. And you are given life again.
We take precautions. The government is closing things down – voluntarily in our state for now. It may not stay voluntary. This evening after service the elders will be meeting – again – to make decisions about this. The ones from Sunday are out of date. The ones from today may be outdated by Sunday. But rest assured – the church will celebrate Easter. Maybe not on April 12. Maybe not for a few more months. Some of us may never celebrate another Easter in this world. That’s always a risk of course. This is a sinful world. It seems more urgent this year. There’s always a few names on the All Saints Day list. But we will celebrate Easter again. Because there will be the great Easter, when our Lord returns, and he declares – he commands that the graves be opened, and the saints be raised. And it will be so. Until then, we pray, “Come quickly Lord Jesus”. And he has promised that – in his own good time, he will. He will return soon. When is soon to our Lord? All times are soon.
May the Lord bless and keep you in His love. And may he give you faith in the promise – the command – that your sins are forgiven, your guilt is atoned for. And life eternal is yours.