Short devotions based on the Order of Daily Prayer in the Lutheran Service Book will be posted daily on the Church YouTube channel for Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week, focusing on the appointed Psalm for each day. You can follow along with the downloadable sheet posted below.
Perhaps we can think of the church living in the time of this pandemic in the context of the Israelites who were sent into the Babylonian captivity. For them it was a time of exile when they were forced to give up land and temple. We are like that now in some ways, a people who have been knocked off the tracks. But the church in exile is still the Body of Christ. God has not left us alone. His Word still comes to us, our Baptismal faith still grasps hold of His promises, in repentance we call upon Him in prayer. So as we enter into Holy Week, remember that “the church in exile is still an Easter church.” Our in-person celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord must for now wait, but we will gather again when our Lord bids us. That day we will gather in the name of the Triune God who saves us, and like every Sunday, that day will bring us the gifts Christ won for us on the cross and the victory over death we have in His Resurrection.
Service of the Word for Palm Sunday/The Sunday of the Passion
Prayer of the Day: Merciful Father You patience and loving kindness toward us have no end. Grant that by Your Holy Spirit we may always think and do those things that are pleasing in Your sight, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Events surrounding the continued outbreak have continued to develop very quickly since we last met for the Divine Service this past Sunday. Yesterday the Premier of Ontario declared a province wide state of emergency that prohibits public gatherings of more than 50 people. Although our worship services and other activities place us below the threshold of this order, the American Centers for Disease Control is recommending against gatherings of more than 10 people at this time. It is highly probable that additional measures will be forthcoming in Ontario as the scope of the epidemic widens.
Even more significantly for us in the short term, as of Monday the Canadian government is now requiring all visitors, with some exceptions for transportation workers, to voluntarily submit to a 14-day period of isolation after arrival in Canada. I am attempting to obtain guidance to further understand how this impacts other workers and commuters, but based on anecdotal evidence it appears that the Canadian border services are indeed requesting incoming travellers to acknowledge a two week quarantine, and are turning people away in some instances.
In light of these developments, we are therefore suspending the Sunday and Wednesday services until further notice. We are also suspending all Bible studies and other normally scheduled weekly activities. As I have mentioned, we have a duty of care to not harm our neighbour, particularly those vulnerable to this disease, and because the virus spreads asymptomatically I believe we must err on the side of caution.
During this time I will be posting sermons for these dates online, at http://christlutheran-sarnia.ca/blog/, and will also be posting devotional and Bible study materials for use at home. As we now enter a period of unprecedented crisis and uncertainty I implore you not to neglect God’s Word, and to make us of what I will be sending your way. Commit this to memory over the coming days: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Ps 56:3).
Please notify those who may not have email or otherwise be able to obtain this notice. In case you need to contact me the best way is on my mobile phone, (226) 778-0249.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who was sent by God the Father and gives us every good gift by the Holy Spirt strengthen and preserve you in faith and give you every needed blessing in this time.
Worship in Spirit and Truth and Never Thirst Again
The account of Jesus and the woman of Samaria at the well comes to us in the Gospel according to St. John hard on the heels of the “Gospel in a nutshell” that we heard last week: “16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”1 Now today we hear of this interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well and I can’t help but see this as an illustration of what we just heard, “that the world might be saved through him.” We know that the Samaritans and the Jews didn’t get along, they did not peaceably coexist, they did not seek to be in each other’s company. The Samaritans were regarded by the Jews as despised half-breeds, outsiders who deliberately disregarded the entirety of the Holy Scriptures and were outside the covenant that God had made with his people. They even had an alternative for their worship, Mt. Gerizim instead of the temple in Jerusalem.
So when an exhausted and thirsty Jesus sat down beside the well and the Samaritan woman approached there developed a multi-level crisis. Not only did Jews avoid contact with Samaritans in general, but Jewish men avoided speaking with women in public. Jewish rabbis wanted women to stay in their place. And just one more thing: this woman came to draw water from the well. That was manual, hard work. So she was a common labourer, or the wife of one. She comes to the well not for a little rest and relaxation, and the work she does is made all the more hard by the burdens she carried. The men she had known, or rather the men who had known her, and used her, and had dismissed her with certificates of divorce. So now she is marked by all these marriages. She carries this stigma. And now the man she is with is not even her husband. Maybe he won’t give her that honour because of her past. So she appears even a little less human in the eyes of others. She comes to the well wanting water, but what she comes away with is a Word of life. She comes away with the restoration she has been looking for. Even as a foreigner, someone supposedly on the outside looking in.
No wonder many of the church fathers see the woman at the well as a picture of Christ’s church, His very bride. The woman at the well comes to Jesus not yet having known of or received the gift of her salvation. She comes in ignorance and He speaks with her, and she receives the Word He brings, that He is the Messiah who has come to bring about something completely new and different. So also doesJesus bring His gifts of Word and Sacrament to His church, in His very person. He brings worship in Spirt and in truth, which is neither the worship of the Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim nor the worship of the Jews in the temple. No, this is something new. And so what does this mean, that the church of Christ worships in Spirit and truth? Simply this: the worship of the New Testament is of the righteousness of faith in the heart, and the fruits that proceed from that faith. Faith, which is counted to us as righteousness: “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” 2 Jesus says, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”3 The Father is seeking, and he draws them to Himself in the sending of His Son, who says, “44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”4
So worship in Spirt and truth is with the deepest activity of the heart and faith. God spoke of this through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, this righteousness of faith, saying, “in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.”5 “Obey my voice,” says the Lord God, for he wants us to believe that he is our God, he wants to show grace and mercy and help for you, and he does not need sacrifices. Rather he justifies and saves, not because of works, but because of his Word and his promise. He justifies and saves in spite our sin and grumbling, as we heard in the Old Testament account of the people who thirst for water in the desert of Sin. Despite their ingratitude and grumbling the Lord provides for them. He did not strike the people for their sins, but instead Moses struck the rock, and from that rock poured living water.
And turning back the illustration of the woman at the well, our Lord is asking the woman for a drink but really is thirsting that she receive the water that He promises to give. ““If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”6 If only you knew the gift of God, Jesus says. The gift is the Holy Spirit, who brings us to Christ Himself. But how does this happen? Now we clearly see the connection to last week’s reading with Nicodemus and the promise of being born again, born from above, by water and the Holy Spirit. St. John never allows us to wander too far away from the means of grace. In the waters of Holy Baptism we receive this living water of our Lord who seeks us on behalf of the Father who sent Him, who loves us to the end. So here is the connection: the same Spirit who is in and of all true worship is the same spirit who brings rebirth and new life in the waters of Holy Baptism.
So here in the season of Lent we are seemingly bombarded with the Scriptural teaching of our Baptism in these Gospel readings. Why is that? We can find the answer by once again remembering where we are headed in our 40 day journey. The focus of our attention in this season must remain the cross of Good Friday. And we must remember that without the cross there is no living water, there is no justification, there is no worship in Spirit and truth. For the living water which Jesus gives us is in fact given to us on the cross, at the very hour of His death. Only in the Gospel of St. John do we hear Jesus cry out on the cross, “I thirst!” The one who gives living water to us becomes the thirsty one who longs to give us life. St. John is the only Gospel writer who includes the account of the water gushing forth from Jesus’ side. He writes, “30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit7…one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”8 The Israelites in the desert were spared God’s justifiable wrath when Moses struck the rock instead of them. On the cross we are spared God’s righteous judgement against sinners when Jesus is struck, and as the rock in the desert gushed forth with water so does the side of Jesus. Now it is finished, once and for all. “[A]t the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”9 Water and Spirit, once again. And again we are reminded that the rebirth we have in water and Spirit is also once and for all, it too is finished, and that it has eternal ramifications. Jesus says, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.”10 That means for eternity, for all time. On the cross he bears all for us, our suffering, our shame, our sin, and he dies in our place so that we might receive His eternal, life-giving stream, bring to new life what was once desert.
You may have heard the expression still waters run deep. Well, the living water of our Lord’s Word and His Sacraments runs deep, deeper than all of our troubles, deeper than our sin, deep enough to to conquer hell itself. Our Lord sits there, by the well, but with “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”11 With a splash of water and God’s Word, you are made a child of God, once and for all, so that you will never thirst again.
Imagine asking Peter, James, and John, those three disciples brought up the mountain with Jesus, about the glory of the Lord on Good Friday. Imagine how they must have felt: Peter who lurked in the shadows and denied Christ rather than associate himself with Jesus; James probably run off with the others; only John standing there beneath the cross, perhaps thinking back to the moment described in our Gospel text this morning, the Transfiguration. This event happens six days after Jesus has taught His disciples about the hard road that lies ahead of them. ““If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”1 And Jesus has also told them, again, of the hard road that awaits Him on that hill outside Jerusalem: “21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”2
Now on that mountain “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”3 What does that even mean? Transfigured into what? The disciples knew that Jesus was a man. And even though Peter has confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,”4 he does not understand the fullness of his confession because he has yet to witness the glory of our Lord. So Jesus takes them up the mountain so that they get it in full, so that could see Him in His glory and hear the Father’s voice calling Him Son, and He could show them that he was really the Son of God. He could show them that He was really divine, and that they would know that He would be glorified again. In our Epistle reading today we hear how the Apostle Peter looks back on this moment as a point of clarity when they saw with their own eyes the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying “17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”5
So here we are on the edge of the season of Lent looking ahead to our forty day journey to the cross and we can see how fitting it is that we end the season of Epiphany with the Transfiguration. You see, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to see His glory because of what’s coming. He wants to show them the glory of His divinity because soon the God Man Jesus Christ will be hanging on a bloody cross, stripped, beaten, humiliated. And so they will be wondering, what happened? Where is the glory? But they have seen His glory revealed. No coincidence that Moses and Elijah are there, for they are witness that Christ the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. He took them up onto the mountain in order to show them His kingship, His majesty and rule over heaven and earth. He did this before they witnessed His Passion, to let them see His might power before they watched His death, to reveal His glory to them even in the midst of His humiliation. So when Jesus is taken captive and condemned the disciples would understand that it was not because of any power lacking in Christ. When it happens it will be because Our Lord freely offers Himself to His enemies, He willingly submits Himself to suffer in that way for the world’s salvation.
But as we head toward Good Friday we have an advantage over the disciples, don’t we? We know how the story ends. We are already looking past the cross to the resurrection, to His ascension and to the glory of Christ now sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. We can look at the Transfiguration with the foresight of having received this Gospel of St. Matthew in its entirety, and we can look on the vision of Christ appearing in His glory on that mountain as a foretaste of Heaven itself. But these upcoming 40 days turn our attention toward the cross. At times we look toward the cross warily, burdened with the stains of conscience that sin leaves behind, perhaps doubting the certainly of God’s promises amidst all the strife and turmoil of our lives in this dysfunctional and disordered world. We are all too susceptible to look around and begin to doubt, to question, to fear. Where is God? Why do these things happen? Why does the church decline in a world desperate for the Gospel? We also need to hear of kingship before Passion, lest we despair and lose heart.
We must therefore look to the promises of God and no where else. Does he promise us the experience of the Transfiguration? Will we be taken up a mountain to behold the glory of our Lord? Not on this side of heaven. But instead of an experience he promises to give us his Word, the Word made flesh, manifest in the person of his only begotten Son. The voice comes out of the cloud, and the voice comes to us today: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”6 The Father is present in the Son, in the brightness of our Lord. And He promises to be with us in His Sacraments, the visible Word which brings us the grace and mercy that the Father would have us receive in very tangible, though humble, means: water, bread, wine. Through Word and Sacrament we too learn of God’s glory which is revealed to us today, right here, but now not on a mountain top but on the cross, where the love of God is revealed in full. He bids us to come and follow Him where He will reveal the Word of God, to follow Him and bend our knee at the communion rail.
When Peter, James, and John behold Christ in His glory they fall down and are terrified. Amazement overtook them, fear and adoration at the same time. Because of the grace and mercy shown to us sinners God has provided for preaching of his Law and Gospel which in the same way causes fear and thanksgiving. In repentance we are first made to know the knowledge of sin and transgression that separates us from holiness and righteousness. But we are also made to know faith in the promise of our redemption in Christ, that our sins are forgiven and taken away. “17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”7 With a touch Jesus brings the Words we long to hear: “Rise, and have no fear.”8 The disciples get up and what do they see? Only Jesus. Christ alone has these Words, Christ alone is the rock of our salvation and the firm foundation upon which our faith is built.
This has been our focus during this entire season of Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ our Lord who has come to save. Think about where we have been since January 6th: we have seen the wise men come and bow down before the Christ child who they recognize as the King of Kings. We have seen the Baptism of our Lord, another glimpse of His glory when He stood in the Jordan for our sakes and received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, when the voice of the Father said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”9 We have heard the Song of Simeon in the temple when He picked up the Christ child in His arms and blessed the Lord for the salvation now made manifest, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”10 And we have heard Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount, where He announces that in His very person He is the fulfillment of God’s Word.
In all these things our focus is directed to Christ and Him alone. In all these things we perceive His glory, even as now we make the turn into Lent and follow Him to the cross. We must make this journey, we must learn to follow Him because although He does not promise us an experience, He does promise to be with us, and to open our eyes. Our walk on this pilgrimage from Baptism to heaven is full of peaks and valleys. We cross over the crest of one hill only to be confronted with another, and another, and another. But when we look back, we see how far we have come. One day we will behold His glory in person, just like on that mountain. But now hold fast and follow Him.
As we leave the season of Epiphany with the Glory of the Lord revealed to us throughout this season, let us set our sights for this upcoming Lenten season on our own transformation of and by the Holy Spirit, remembering the words of St. Paul who says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Ro 12:2). Let us observe the season in repentance and self-examination, in prayer and through Bible study, renewing our minds in faith, resting on His faithful Word, co-heirs with Christ the King in His glory.