Tuesday, June 5, 2018
A day for me. . . or an eternity of grace. . .
The text of today's Gospel reading remains somewhat quaint to us. We have no more Sabbath Day police closing down businesses or testing our Fitbits to see if we have walked too many steps. We can shop on Sunday and drink on Sunday and work on Sunday and stay home and sleep in on Sunday and it is all good. We own the Sabbath, lock, stock, and barrel. At least we think we do. Jesus said we were not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for us and we have completely remodeled the idea so that it is all about me and all about time for myself or to do as I want.
Jesus would be as shocked by what we do on the Lord’s Day as He as shocked by those who had stolen the Sabbath and turned it into a rule to be kept instead of a gift from God. Our Lord does not countenance blue laws but neither does He release this time to us to do with as we desire. Jesus has something completely different in mind.
At the time of Jesus the laws about Sabbath keeping were strict and this enabled the religious leaders of the day to control what people did or did not do. At some point in time Christians bought into the same idea and blue laws were born to limit the transaction of business and to set boundaries for Sunday just like the Jews did for Saturday. It did not take long for people to chip away until we have the kind of Sunday in which only the post office and banks are closed (along with Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby, of course).
We still do not get it. What Jesus did and what Luther explained in the Catechism are still speaking a foreign language to a people who have captured the day and are not going to give it up for anybody, not even God. Listen to Luther on the Sabbath. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but holy is sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Jesus jumped right into the think of things by claiming He is Lord of the Sabbath. The Pharisees thought it was their job to police the people and make sure nobody walked more than 3,000 feet or bathed or looked into a mirror, or cooked a meal, or cleaned up a table on the Sabbath. But Jesus was not about to police the Sabbath but to restore and fulfill it.
Jesus will repeatedly own the day by restoring its gift and purpose. He insists upon being Lord of the Sabbath and will eat on the Sabbath and heal on the Sabbath. He defies every man made rule about the Sabbath and yet He does not do this so that we can do as we please but so that He might be Lord of the Sabbath. Our Lord insists that the Sabbath was a gift of God, the gift of a day on which the people of God might reflect upon His mercies without distraction from the ordinary things of life. Now lest we miss the point, the enemies of Jesus were paying attention to all of this. They were using this as ammunition against Jesus and preparing for the day when they would confront Him and silence Him, permanently.
So before you get any ideas, our Lord is not risking the wrath of the Pharisees so that you can get a Sunday afternoon nap or leisure time to do as you please or to shop because you could get to the store any other day. The Sabbath rest is healing of the sinner through forgiveness.
Jesus has reclaimed the Sabbath and given it back to those whom He will rescue from sin and its death through forgiveness and bring home again those lost in the wilderness of doubt, despair, and death. The Lord of the Sabbath does this through His Word. His Word speaks to those oppressed by the constraints of the Law and unable to keep it. His Word addresses a world sick with sin and its death. His Word gives healing to the afflicted and makes whole those are broken. It is this gift of grace unmerited that is the heart of the Sabbath. Man was not made for this Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man. And in that Sabbath our Lord reclaimed the day for the people of God to gather to hear of the Lord’s mighty acts of deliverance in their past, to meet Him as God who once atoned for the sins of His people through the blood of the Lamb and still restores them. And to fr ee His people on the bread that satisfied hunger and the cup that quenches thirst not for a day or a week but for an eternity.
Rest here is not the opposite of work but the true rest of a heart joined to the caring heart of Jesus who knows His own and claims their needs as His own. Rest is the mortal body refreshed by the body of Christ, and the mind refreshed by His Word. This is the rest of the Sabbath. Right here and right now. You are those whom He has bidden come. You are the ones for whom He has come in flesh and blood, as one of us under the Law, to keep it for us. You are those who find healing, life, and hope in the voice of His Word and the taste of His flesh and blood. You are those who meet the Lord where He has promised to be and who find the Lord of the Sabbath serving His people with the Sabbath of their perfect rest, prefigured here and now and promised eternally.
We come today at His very bidding. In the synagogue of His Word read and preached we have met Jesus, the Savior, Redeemer, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and the great Physician of body and soul. In the Passover of His flesh and blood we have met Jesus, Bread of heaven come down to earth to feed us till we want for nothing more, to fill us perfectly for the perfect life already begun in us in our baptism. Our hunger is met, our withered bodies are fit for eternity, and a people without a name wear the name of God by baptism.
Jesus has taken back His Sabbath from those who fenced it in as if it were something to be guarded and protected. He has given His Sabbath to each one of us, freely and without cost, the perfect gift for an imperfect people. It is no new law but gift and grace. Grace bids us come, grace invites us to rejoice in what He has done for us, and grace finds the meaning of our lives in His Word. Luther got this. He put it into the familiar words of the Small Catechism. It is about His Word preached and a people who gladly hear and learn it. It is about worship.
The Pharisees constantly sought God out of self-interest and they presumed God acted out of self-interest as well. It was about rules to be followed even when your heart was not in it and things that had to be protected. Jesus fulfills the Law for us and returns to us the gift of a Sabbath, of perfect peace that passes understanding in the God who loves sinners and forgives them. He gives us the day because God is determined to serve us on that day with gifts beyond measure and grace unimaginable. If we will let Him. . .
God does not seek to be admired. God seeks to serve. And the miracle is that He serves us, unworthy people though we are. God comes to visit sinners, to release them from bondage, to free them not for the new bondage of what you want or what makes you happy but for the true and everlasting freedom of sins forgiven and lives restored. He does not give the day back to us to do with as we choose. He sits us in the place of honor at the head table, He gives Himself to us as food, and He feeds us with His own flesh and blood. He forgives us our sins and restores a clear conscience to us.
And now we are free. Free to be godly husbands to our wives and to be holy wives to our husbands . . . free to be faithful parents to our children and obedient children to our parents. . . free to be good neighbors to those down the street or across the world. . . free to be good citizens who do not abuse liberty but use it for noble and godly purpose. . . free to seek what is good and right and holy and virtuous instead of what is vulgar, common, ordinary, and cheap.
The Pharisees did not get this. They were clouded with false ideas about God, thinking that God acted only from self-interest just like people usually do. They did not get Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. They presumed it was all a competition for control. They did not realize that in giving us the Sabbath, our Lord was also giving us new hearts, clean and pure, to seek the things of God above all things.
The Pharisees did not get this. Make sure you do. Christ is your Sabbath rest and He comes to you now in this Word and in this Holy Supper. Amen.