Year A – Palm Sunday – Psalm 118

Psalms 118:1–2, 19–29  – O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!   2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.   20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success! 26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD. 27 The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.  28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.  29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Summary – Psalm 118 was used by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles after the exile. It calls worshipers to acknowledge the goodness of their Covenant Lord. The worshiper desires to enter into the gates of God’s house (temple). Then in the verses 22ff there is a turn toward Messianic prophecy. The builders rejected the chief cornerstone and yet it is the Lord’s doing. This must have been puzzling for worshipers anticipating Christ, but now it is crystal clear. This is the day the Lord made – the day of Christ’s rejection. The Psalm foreshadows Palm Sunday – Bind the procession with branches to the altar. Christ Himself entered into Jerusalem like a pilgrim with a festal procession with branches and then was rejected as the chief cornerstone. Through this God will save his people. O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good.

Insight (from Jared McNabb) – This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. This event calls to mind that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey the crowds were praising Jesus with the words from this Psalm, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt 21:9). Later on in Matthew 21, Jesus quotes from verse 22 of this Psalm and applied it to himself. Christ was the stone that was rejected by the people, and he went to the cross. But his work on the cross was not defeat, but actually the work of the very foundation of the House of God, laying the cornerstone. The cornerstone of the building was the most important stone in constructing a building; it was foundational. Christ’s work on the cross has laid the foundation for our salvation.  What looked like rejection and defeat was really the cornerstone for history and our lives.  And THIS, “it is marvelous in our eyes! Let us rejoice and be glad!”

Child’s Catechism – How is Jesus described in this Psalm? Jesus is described as the chief cornerstone.

Discussion – In what ways is Christ the cornerstone of history? In what ways is Christ the cornerstone of your life?

Prayer – O Lord, You are our Rock, our Cornerstone, and we are thanking You for building the foundation of the Church and our salvation with Your own sacrifice of rejection, torture and death. Forgive our forgetfulness of this foundation and make us ever mindful: “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Amen.

Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – Acts 7:55-60

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 7:55-60: But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

Summary – Despite the tragic subject matter, this is really a precious, tender portrait of Stephen’s death, because of the ministry of Christ to him in the midst of his death (Ps 23:5).  Blessed by the light of Christ’s face shining upon him, literally, Stephen was granted sight of Heaven, and we’re told specifically that he saw Christ ‘standing’ to watch as His faithful servant was attacked.  Did you know that this is the only time in the New Testament where you’ll find Christ ‘standing’ at the right hand of the Father?  He is always otherwise found regally seated there, but not at this moment.  Christ knew the terror of a moment like that and He was not unaffected by it – He was not simply a casual Heavenly observer or disinterested witness. He was moved to His feet.  He’s not a High Priest above being touched by our pains (Heb 4:15).

Insight –  We are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor. 5:7). But there is a time when our faith will be transformed into sight; our vision into beholding. Stephen’s faith was sight at this moment. Christ was risen indeed and not only risen, but ascended and received into the most honored position of Heaven: the right Hand of the Father’s throne. Since Christ was there, it is only through Him that anyone can now approach the Father.  And with the sight of this, Stephen’s heart was no longer troubled.  He not only faced his violent death faithfully, but found the grace to repeat the words of His Savior, praying mercy on his foes . . . a prayer that was  answered, at least in part, through the life of the chief of sinners, to whom we’re also introduced in this passage: Saul, who would become St. Paul.

Child’s Catechism -What did Stephen see? He saw Jesus standing at the right Hand of the Father as his advocate.

Discussion – Why were the men so angry with Stephen?  Specifically, they lost control when he claimed that Christ was at the right hand of the Father, why was this statement so infuriating to them?

Prayer – Merciful Father, our times are in Your good hands.  We praise You for caring for us, Your people, so tenderly.  We praise and thank you for the way you shepherd us through the hardships You have for us.  We praise  You for Your steadfast love and sufficient grace.  And we praise You for giving us a Savior like Christ, Who was acquainted with suffering, and apart from Whom, no one can come to You.  Give us His heart of mercy and cause the light of His face to shine on us in our dark hours we pray, in His name, Amen.

(Contributed by Pastor Ben Rossell)

Year A – Second Sunday of Easter – Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22-32: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know- this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, “He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.” This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Summary – Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost. The name “Pentecost” means 50 because the celebration was on the 50th day after the Firstfruits feast (Lev. 23:16). Peter has been instructed by Christ to wait for the Spirit to come and that has happened (2:2). Now Peter proclaims boldly that Jesus of Nazareth was attested by miracles performed by God’s power and yet He was handed over to be crucified. Note the emphasis, “you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law (e.g., Romans).” But God raised Him up and this was according to the Scriptures. Peter teaches that these passages do not refer to David whose body was buried there. Rather David prophesied about Jesus who is at God’s right hand. We are witnesses of these things.

Insight – Have you ever “witnessed” something “first hand”? Perhaps it was a special event, like seeing the President or meeting a celebrity. Perhaps it was a tragedy, like seeing the Twin Towers being destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001; or even a car crash. In some cases you are called upon to “testify” – to tell as a witness what you saw for legal purposes. This is what Peter is doing after setting the stage to explain that Jesus was unjustly crucified, still God raised Him up. Peter and hundreds more were witnesses of these things. Paul recounts this “testimony,” saying, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:3–6).

Child’s Catechism – How did Peter know that Jesus was raised from the dead? Peter was an eyewitness to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

Discussion – Why is it important that our faith rests on eyewitness testimony?

Prayer – Collect for Second Sunday of Easter: Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Year B – Easter 3 – See, the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph

Ever think to yourself, “The Triumphal Entry really wasn’t that triumphant”?  You’d be right, it kind of wasn’t.  Many people saw Jesus at that time as the King that He is, but many didn’t.  But there’s another “entry” that was triumphant:  when Jesus ascended into Heaven.  This Sunday we’ll be singing “See, the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph.”  It was written by an English pastor in the 1800s.  This pastor also wrote books and the lyrics of this song reflect his knowledge of literature.

We sing right away of Jesus’ ascension being triumphant and royal.  The picture is of Him on a chariot, coming on the clouds with the angels singing into heaven to receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom as Daniel 7 says.  Because of His death on the cross and His resurrection, we sing in the second verse, He has defeated Satan and “spoiled His foes.”

But one of the fun things about the Bible is how characters in the Old Testament are like Jesus.  This hymn mentions some in the last 3 verses:

Enoch, Aaron, Joshua, and Elijah

Enoch was like Jesus because he didn’t die but was so righteous that God took Him up.

Aaron was like Jesus because he was the High Priest who went into the tabernacle to perform forgiveness of sins for the people.

Joshua was like Jesus because he led the people into the Promised Land just like Jesus does for His people.

Elijah was like Jesus because he was a prophet who gave a “double portion” of his spirit to his successor, as Jesus gives us His Spirit.

Because of Jesus, the final verse tells us, we are defended by Him since He is King.  And because He ascended into Heaven, we are reminded that we will, too, someday.

Christ’s truly Triumphal Entry was into Heaven after His earthly work was done!

-JHerr

Year B—Transfiguration—At the Name of Jesus

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him King of glory now:
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious, when from death he passed:

Bore it up triumphant with its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures, to the central height,
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

Have you ever read The Horse and His Boy in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia?  Toward the end of it, Shasta learns that, although he’s been raised a poor fisherman’s boy, he is in fact the son of king Lune and heir to Archenland’s throne.  It’s just one of many such stories in which the unexpected fellow of humble home, from the backwaters of nowhere, winds up being the son of the king.  Why do we love that sort of story so much?  One reason may be that it reflects an important part of the True Story—the Great Story—in which Jesus, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, winds up being the long-awaited and finally-exalted King.

It’s just that theme which Caroline Noel captures in her hymn, At the Name of Jesus; which, like Luther’s We All Believe in One True God, takes its cue from an early creed.  Caroline looks to an even earlier creed in her hymn, though, than Luther looks to in his: Caroline looks to that creed which St. Paul quotes in his epistle to the Philippians, 2:6-11 (you could open a Bible and recite that creed together, right now).

Meant to be a processional hymn for Ascension, At the Name of Jesus celebrates the ascended Christ’s exaltation—the reward of His humility.  Let us, like Christ, endure any hardship, not being served but serving, remembering that with God, the least shall be greatest, the last shall be first, the one who gives up most will have the most returned to him, and that the one who serves will be given authority.

Contributed by Scott Cline

Year B – Transfiguration – Psalm 50:1-6

A Psalm of Asaph.  The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.  Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.  Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.  He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”  The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge.  Selah.

Summary – This passage shows an instance of God’s “coming” to judge His people.  “God the Lord,” or the “God of Gods,” shining forth from Jerusalem, calls a court session with the earth and heavens as His witness in which He indicts His covenant people, Israel, with whom He is present (vs 2).  These were people who had cut a covenant with God (vs 5).  Because of His nature as just, God is a righteous judge of His people (vs 6).  Beyond this passage, the charge laid is sacrifices enacted by His people with an insincerity of heart, and accompanied by lawlessness (vss. 16-22).  Though the psalm as a whole is directed to Israel, it looks ahead to the coming of Christ who in His calling of all nations to Himself “shines forth from Zion” as the Light of the World.  His people are those who will enter covenant with Him and bring sacrifices of thanksgiving to Him (vs 23, cf. Romans 12:1).  In this passage, God’s attributes of might, creational authority, light, covenant faithfulness, righteousness, and justice are especially highlighted.

“Before the coming of Christ, the Flesh and Blood of this sacrifice [that of Ps 50:23] is promised by victims offered as likenesses thereto; in the Passion of Christ it is rendered in very truth; after Christ’s Ascension it is celebrated by sacramental memorial.”  –St. Augustine

 Insight – It is almost two months now since Christmas.  Do you remember any of the gifts you got?  Were you thankful for that gift?  By now, the excitement of opening that present has probably worn off, and you may not have looked at it in a little while.  Very often, we forget the good things we are given.  The Israelites had this very same problem: they forgot to be thankful to God for His bringing them from Egypt to Canaan, and instead disobeyed God and offered sacrifices without being thankful to Him.  This was not pleasing to God and so in this Psalm, He is a righteous judge who calls on them to be faithful to Him and offer their sacrifice with thankfulness instead of forgetfulness.  God loves to save His people, but He also wants them to remember it and glorify Him!  Do you do anything just because that is what you always do?  Do you go to church just because?  Do you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table just because?  Next time you come to the Lord’s Table, remember that God has blessed you in Jesus Christ, and be thankful that Jesus the Light has come into the world!

 Child Catechism – Who is the righteous judge?  God the Lord.

Discussion – Why do you think God calls on the earth and heavens to witness His judgment of His people Israel in this passage?  Since He has the authority to do this, what does that tell us about Him?  How could that affect our view of Him as a judge?

Prayer – God, our Lord and our Righteous Judge, thank you that you did not keep silent, but sent your Son Jesus to be our Light.  We know that you can see our hearts and we ask that you give us the strength to remember your faithfulness and be thankful.  Keep us steadfast in your covenant and grant us finally your Salvation.  Amen.

-JHerr