Today’s service is all about what God does for His people. In the Holy Gospel our Lord fed a ton of people—a crowd about the size of the entire population of Countryside—with nothing more than five loaves and two fish. In the Epistle we heard about the gifts God gives to His Church of doctrine, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. The Old Testament spoke of a return to Paradise, that those exiled from the Garden would be brought back into Eden Restored.
It’s good to stop and think about all of the things God has done and is doing for His people, especially when consider the mess we’ve made of things. On Wednesday at our midweek Lent services we sang, “In the Shattered Bliss of Eden”, a hymn which reminded us that things were once perfect until we went and wrecked it all. That first sin shattered the bliss of Eden, and life has been filled with misery ever since. In that hymn we sing:
Ever, Lord, impress upon us:
Only You can cover sin—
Take our worthless, self-made garments;
Clothe our shame and cleanse within.
It would be no more pleasant to stand before God on Judgment Day clothed in our own works than it would be to stand in front of a crowd of people wearing nothing more than fig leaves. Even our best works are, as the hymn says, worthless, self-made garments.
So far this is all pretty much what you’d expect from your typical Lenten service. But notice, we didn’t sing “Shattered Bliss” today. Today’s hymns are much more upbeat: “Lord Jesus Christ, Life-Giving Bread”; “Rejoice, My Heart, Be Glad and Sing.” The Introit invited us to “rejoice”, not something we do a whole lot of during Lent, and the violet vestments have been retired, at least this week, in favor of the more joyous rose. On a day like this, it would be easy to forget that it’s still Lent. Not only did the crowds rejoice in Christ’s miraculous feeding, we see the creation itself rejoicing in Isaiah:
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing! (Isa 49:13b)
You wouldn’t expect the creation to rejoice, especially in light of the Shattered Bliss in which we live. All creation suffers from the curse. But still the creation rejoices because Christ is making all things new. Again and again we see God exercising His authority over creation in anticipation of the day when all things will be made new, even as we practice righteousness now in anticipation of the perfect righteousness which will mark our lives in the New Creation.
Not only did Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry crowd, He turned ordinary water into wine at the wedding when they ran out. There will be no more hunger in the New Creation, nor will the wine ever run out at the eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb. When Jesus found Himself separated from His disciples while they were on a boat, what did He do? He went to them, walking on the water just as if it were a sidewalk. He spoke life back into a dead corpse when He told Lazarus to come out of the tomb. So also in the New Creation there will be no separation from Jesus, nor will there be any death. All Jesus does, He does for your benefit. Indeed, He uses His authority over creation to make all things new.
This is indeed cause for rejoicing. Things are not as they should be, but neither will they always be this way. God intended us to live, not die; to see Him face to face, not to have to settle for His presence in Word and Sacrament. God never intended us to experience anger and hatred; to misuse our sexuality; to be greedy, selfish, or lazy. Ever since that original bliss had been shattered, these things are par for the course, and they do nothing but add trouble to your life.
There have been times where sin was multiplied so greatly that God turned a deaf ear to reject the people’s prayers, as He did with Moses and Samuel (Jeremiah 15:1). Amos warned the people of a coming famine, not a famine of bread or thirst for water—that would be nice compared to this famine—this famine would be one of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11). God will turn a deaf ear to those who refuse to hear His Word and repent. That includes you, too.
This creation has become so corrupt that the only solution was for the One through Whom all things were made (John 1:3) to become man, enter into this creation Himself, and to suffer and die on the cross.
Now we normally don’t think of death as being good for much, but by Jesus’ death, He makes all things new. No longer is it the time of judgment. Isaiah spoke of a time of favor, saying, “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you.” St. Paul quotes Isaiah, saying, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” (2 Cor 6:2).
God’s favor is upon you now. Instead of turning a deaf ear to our prayers, God answers His children before we even call on Him (Isaiah 65:24). In Christ, you are the New Israel (Gal 6:16); you have better promises (Hebrews 7:22), and an eternal inheritance (1 Peter 1:14) in the New Creation (2 Pet 3:13; 2 Cor 5:17). Christ is re-creating you even now through His Word, putting to death the old and raising up the new. Faith clings to His Word, shattering our misery and restoring our bliss. As God promises though Jeremiah,
“I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow,” (31:13).
But sorrow and frustration still remain. Jesus Himself experienced frustration with the unbelief of the people and their lack of repentance (Matt 11:20–24; 17:17). Even John the Baptist began to doubt his faith and spent his final days languishing in prison (Matt 11:2–3; 14:2–12). Now if John and Jesus can experience frustration, rejection, and suffering, how much more is this true of us?
But in the end, both were vindicated. As Jesus said of John, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist,” (Matt 11:11). And speaking of our Lord, St. Paul says, “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory,” (1 Tim 3:16).
It’s easy to be downcast while living in aftermath of shattered bliss, but God’s promise of vindication is for you, too.
Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you (Isa 49:8a).
Just as God didn’t leave Adam and Eve with their figs, neither does He leave you with your worthless, self-made works. He has covered your shame with His royal robe of righteousness in Holy Baptism. You only get back into Eden by being perfect, and in Christ, that’s exactly what you are. Today Christ comes to you, feeding you with the Bread of Life, His Body and Blood, to strengthen and preserve you until He makes All Things New.
Then you will be before the throne of God, serving Him day and night in His temple. He who sits on the throne will shelter you with His presence. You shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more. The sun shall not strike you, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be your Shepherd, and He will guide you to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Revelation 7:15–17).
The grace, mercy and peace of God are yours in Christ Jesus. Rejoice!
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. John 6:1–15; Isaiah 49:8–13
Laetare, 2015: “Now is the Time of Favor”
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