13 March 2007

Homily for the Third Lenten Midweek Vespers - III. The Palace of the High Priest

We have heard the Lenten call of the Church summoning us back to the font, reminding us that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die and that a new man daily should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. That something in us needs to die and something God gives us need to take its place as our life. Tonight we see this in the matter of Confession.

Not the Confession of sin, but the Confession of the holy faith, the Confession of who Jesus is and what our relationship is to Him. Jesus is mostly silent during his mockery of a trial, but when the high priest asks him point blank: "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus confesses and does not deny: "I am. You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God's power and coming with the clouds of heaven." Those were the words that sealed his fate. "Do we still need any witnesses?" cried the High Priest. "You have heard this blasphemy. What is your opinion?" And they all agreed He was deserving of death. Deserving of death because He had told the truth about Himself - a truth they did not want to hear.

And then there's Peter. He has the opportunity to confess Jesus too. Remember, how boldly he had said: "Lord, even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you." There is no reason to doubt his sincerity. He meant it. But when the moment came, in the flicker of the light from the fire, he withdraws into the darkness and insists: "I do not know what you mean." And again: "I do not know the man." And again with a solemn oath, calling down curses upon himself, he lies and says: "I do not know the man."

Why? What was it that enabled our Lord to make the good confession to the High Priest, even though that Confession meant his death? What was it that hindered Peter from confessing and owning up that yes, he knew Jesus and further was His disciple? We understand Peter's response all too well. We live by nature with what was eating at him: fear.

When push came to shove, Peter's courage failed him because he was afraid. Afraid of suffering and most of all, afraid of death. And that made him a captive to the fear that he served. That's exactly what the Apostle tells us in Hebrews: that the devil, who has the power of death, keeps in life-long slavery those whom he locks up in the fear of death.

And here is the key to our Lord's boldness. For though He hates death, despises it, scorns it, He does not fear it. He came into this world to destroy it. He came among us to let it devour Him so that by taking its stinking gullet Him over whom it had NO claim, it might be destroyed forever, and so His people set free from their slavery, free from their fear.

Jesus, standing before the High Priest, knows what is about to happen. He knows that He will yield His life upon the cross - a fragrant offering and sacrifice to His Father, His blood blotting forever the guilt of our sin and the sin of the whole world. And He also knows and rejoices that His Father will never abandon Him to the grave. That though death takes Him, death's bands will be burst. The way several early fathers put it, He was death's poison pill. Having swallowed Him down - the utterly indigestible Divine - death began to wretch and ended up vomiting up all it had swallowed. Jesus does not fear death, because Death will never be the end of Him - or of any who are joined in living faith to Him.

But Peter has only heard that Jesus will be raised from the dead; and now that he sees the Master in the hands of those who will turn Him over to crucifixion, his heart quails and he trembles and fears and rather than in peace confessing His Lord, in terror of death he denies Him. Jesus calls Peter to repentance with a look, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.

He wept bitter tears for his own fear and sin and cowardice, but he did not despair. Unlike Judas. Did the look that Jesus gave him communicate to him: Remember, I told you you would deny me, and I was right, so you have; but remember I also told you I would rise again, and I will be right about that too! I have prayed for you, Peter, that you faith fail not!

Think of the man we meet here on the other side of the resurrection, on the day of Pentecost! The man who cowered before the serving girl boldly tells the crowds that day: "This Jesus whom YOU murdered by hanging on a tree God has raised from the dead and we are all His witnesses!"

What stands in between? The resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Spirit. And so with you and your Baptism. For in the waters you are placed into the tomb with Christ and raised with Him as the guarantee of a life that will never end. In the waters the Holy Spirit Himself descended upon you even as He descended on Peter and the other Apostles on Pentecost - transforming them from quivering cowards to bold confessors. What changed was the conviction of faith that Jesus truly HAS destroyed death's power by enduring it.

Years later Peter was told: Sacrifice to the Emperor and deny this Jesus or die! And in the grace of God he refused. He refused and he went the way of his Lord. Even to being crucified, though upside down because he did not feel himself worthy to die the same as his Lord. But in the end, Peter looked the fear of death in the face and laughed at it. "You can't scare me this time! I know Who lives forevermore and I know you have NO power over Him and I am in Him and His body and His blood are in me. You lose, even as you take me. I am not afraid of you."

Something has to die and something rises as a gift of God to us. Slavery to fear of death gets left behind in the baptismal water, and courage to boldly confess the Master is poured out fresh each day. Lent calls us to return to this gift of the water - to embrace the death of fear and the resurrection of bold confession in the Spirit's power. O Lord, set us free and loose our tongues to confess! Amen.


Past Elder said...

A few posts ago you asked if I really read these sermons. Here's another reason I do -- dietary supplement. While you are preaching this, I will be hearing "How does it overflow". Let's back up. Ash Wednesday was "Amazing Grace". Lent I (sic) was "You Were Formed For God's Family". Mid week was "How Sweet Is It?" Lent II (sic) was *You Were Created To Bevome Like Christ". Mid week was "How Profoundly Simple?". Lent III (sic) was "You Were Shaped For Serving God" with "How does it overflow?" coming up. Lent IV will be *You Were Made For Mission" with "Have You Been Infected?" mid week. Then we will have "Celebration Beyond Imagination" with "How Contagious Are You?" mid week.

I'm pretty sure a picture is emerging. At the same time, I should add this all with vestments, the lectionary (three year of course, but at least it's a lectionary), imposition of ashes, organ and hymns, and sermons that do have Law and Gospel. And Palm Sunday, the Triduum and a festival worship at all Easter services.

Confusing. Apparently I live in a pocket, things not what they are in the parishes of the blogs I read, things not what they are in our local LCMS mega church or in the places we bemoan, sort of in the middle. There's a contemporary service, but it is liturgical, just with "contemporary" music.

I don't know what to think.

Past Elder said...

Thank you, Dr Tighe!

Here I am, at the mid week meal before classes and service, eating my tater tot casserole -- how Lutheran is that! -- and our office secretary comes over to say I have a package in the office.

What an odyssey this is -- from a historical critical teaching liturgical movement pushing Benedictine university to a righteous of the nations non Christian to WELS to the Lutheran blogosphere tp LCMS and a mid week casserole and a book on liturgy by -- a Benedictine!

But from before the Revolution (Vatican II)! I believe all known copies were burned back at the abbey in a torchlight parade and anyone later found with one shipped off to re-education camp. I hid in the synagogue.

(A bit fanciful maybe, but not too far off from what happened.)

Not to mention getting mail with my academic title and it wasn't from the alumni office wanting money!

Seriously, if you're reading this, thank you very much.

Past Elder
Der vergangener Vorsteher
Terry Maher