Easter Celebration – 2017 LSB #644:1-3, 5
Text – Jeremiah 31:1
At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, & they shall be my people.
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
Years ago, there was a family that lost three of its four children within just two weeks, to a virulent disease. One child was left, a four-year-old boy. The family had buried the 3rd child just two weeks before Easter. On Easter morning the parents & remaining child went to church.
The mother told her Sunday school class about the resurrection of Jesus. The father read the Easter story in Sunday school as he led the devotions. People who knew of their great loss wondered how they could do it. On the way home, a 16-year-old youth asked his father: “Dad, that couple must really believe everything about the Easter story, don’t they?”
“Of course they believe it,” said the father. “All Christians do.” To which his son replied, “But not as they do!” That is the kind of faith the prophet Jeremiah writes about in the OT reading for this Easter morning: “Thus says the Lord: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness...’” (31:2 ESV)
Right now, people across the world are facing the sword in many ways. Twelve days ago chemical weapons were used to kill over 50 men, women & children of a town in Syria. One week ago, on Palm Sunday, two Christian churches in Egypt were bombed leaving over 50 more dead. They’re so afraid they’ve cancelled their Easter morning services.
In the nation of South Sudan, members of the Dinka tribe are slaughtering people who belong to other tribes, & the United Nations, along with the major news outlets, are completely ignoring the massacre. How’s your Easter morning going so far? Was the Easter Bunny nice to you? In light of the tragic suffering going on around the world, I hope it’s obvious that our celebration of Easter can easily become an exercise in triviality. We may be going through all the ‘right’ motions, but do we really love God, & long for His presence, with our heart, & our soul & our mind? If not, what will bring us back to Him? You see, no matter how long you have been a follower of Jesus, there is always room for a reality check every now & then.
Maybe you came here this morning because of fond & happy memories of Easter. There are plenty of people in the world today who don’t have that opportunity, & they sure as hell are looking for answers. The prophet Jeremiah gave the answer some 2500 years ago. Along the way you may have lost track of that answer.
If you have, no wonder your faith is lifeless & stale. It’s not surprising you feel no need to be in God’s house every Sunday of the year. The devil may not be attacking you with bombs, like he is the Christians in Egypt, but Lucifer is certainly working to destroy your faith all the same. At least God’s children in Egypt are aware they’re being attacked.
Once you become aware of that, the question comes to mind, “What to do about it?” The prophet Jeremiah had the task of declaring the coming judgment of God. The people he was preaching to felt like they were under attack, not just from the devil, but from God Himself. While this was true, Yahweh’s purpose in discipline is to restore, never to steal, kill & destroy.
The two verses immediately before today’s reading in the book of Jeremiah say this: “Behold the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back until He has executed & accomplished the intentions of His mind. In the latter days you will understand this.”
Today’s OT reading, & our sermon text, begin there, “At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, & they shall be my people.” Jeremiah now writes about those latter days when the Lord’s people will understand His discipline. The culture Jeremiah is preaching to has abandoned morality & long since forgotten the true God. They’ll be conquered by the nation of Babylon & hauled off to that foreign country in a 70 year exile. That defeat is discipline from their heavenly Father because His people had drifted away & no longer gave their hearts to Him. His wrath went forth & burst upon the head of the wicked.
During the stripping of the altar, on Maundy Thursday, it’s customary to read Psalm 22. It’s a prophecy by King David picturing Jesus as He is crucified: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, & by night, but I find no rest.” (22:1-2 ESV)
There too, the wrath of God has gone forth & burst upon the head of the wicked. Jesus had become sin for you & for me. He endured more suffering than you or I could ever know. As we heard on Good Friday: “Although [Jesus] was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.” Jesus learned perfect obedience for us because on earth we never will.
Aware that Satan is attacking us, we wonder what to do about it. Aware that Jesus learned obedience by dying for us, a child of God is amazed by the wonder of that miracle. We struggle in hanging on to that hope & joy when life is difficult. Leaning how to navigate all the challenges of living – the blessings & the discipline – is a constant struggle.
Yet, for those moments when you have just passed through to the other side of the storm, your new found humility allows the love & mercy of our Savior to shine very brightly. For those who’ve rejected Jesus as Savior, their frustration & resentment only grows. Belief in Jesus versus unbelief makes all the difference.
As Psalm 22 begins with perplexity & anguish, it rises to a song of jubilation as it draws to a close. Today’s lesson from Jeremiah has already passed through the storm so it begins on a note of joy that ascends to the mountaintop of Yahweh’s promises: “For there shall be a day when watchmen will call in the hill country of Ephraim: ‘Arise, & let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’” (Jeremiah 31:6 ESV) Because of all the extra attention given to decorating the sanctuary, & because normally, there are quite a few more people in church on Easter, today’s services are a picture of Jeremiah’s prophecy being fulfilled.
The final fulfillment will be seen on the Last Day. Then, those who believed in the Word of God will be raised from death to an everlasting life without sin, or sorrow or suffering. They will never need another reality check for all of eternity. No one’s faith will be rendered lifeless & stale because Satan will never be able to attack anyone in heaven.
The children of God who were persecuted & looking for answers will never question again what their heavenly Father was doing. Like Jesus, through our suffering we also learn obedience. Yet, Jesus leaves us with more than that in answer to questions about our suffering. John 16:33b-c tells us:
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (ESV) Jesus has not only overcome those who are persecuting Christians, He has overcome our stone cold hearts & our sometimes trivial celebration of His resurrection from the dead.
And, Jesus does not leave us all alone here on earth. He gives us brothers & sisters in Christ to walk with through this world of tribulation. We confess that every time we get to the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints...”
Our heavenly Father did not create us to be Christians in solitary confinement. He created us to be together, in our families & in the Church. In the day of Jeremiah, the prophet was particularly writing about the reunification of God’s people. When King Solomon died they had split into two groups, the 10 tribes of the north & the 2 tribes of the south. Looking to God’s power to overcome the effects of sin, Jeremiah wrote: “At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, & they shall be my people.” Restored to favor with God, the chosen people will no longer be torn by strife among themselves. The healing of the breach between North & South was to reestablish joint worship on the height of Mt. Zion.
Yet, their restored unity of faith also foreshadowed the common bond of fellowship by which God would link all believers with one another in the communion of saints. The common factor for us is being redeemed from the bondage of sin. (John 10:16 ESV) Ultimately, the writers of the NT see in Jesus Himself the full realization of Jeremiah’s prophecy.
It is in Christ that we find the communion of saints. It is in Christ that we find healing from persecution & suffering in the name of Jesus. It is in Christ that we find healing from our sins. It is in Christ that we find resurrection from the dead. It is in Christ that we find life when our faith has become lifeless & stale.
It is in Christ that our celebration of Easter is rescued from being only an exercise in triviality. Jesus didn’t just die for our sins. He also perfectly kept, on our behalf, every aspect of the 3rd commandment so that His heavenly Father would see the lives of His children as perfect & complete & in full communion with God & with one another.
Going back to Maundy Thursday & Psalm 22, we hear the ascending song of joy in verse 27: “All the ends of the earth shall remember & turn to the Lord, & all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” There too, as in Jeremiah, we find the communion of saints.
Suffering around the world & persecution of Christians will continue until the last day, yet our almighty God is powerful enough to use even that for our good. That is our hope & our Lord’s promise, for Jesus has already overcome the world & is creating for us a kingdom in heaven. Amen.
Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, “How long?” And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song. Yet she on earth has union with God, the Three in One, & mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. O blessed heavenly chorus! Lord save us by Your grace that we, like saints before us, may see You face to face. Amen. LSB 644:3 & 5.
 Jeremiah 30:23-24 ESV
 Hebrews 5:8 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet