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“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of  the sheep” (St. John 10:7)

My sheep here My voice He says, and I know them and they follow Me, and I give them eternal Life. Just as Christ’s  teachings are a complete rule of faith, so also is His life a clear, complete mirror for every good work. Learn from Me, He says in Matt, 11-29, as if to say: You have enough to learn about My love, about My patience, My humility, meekness, friendliness to do you for the rest of your lives. As a result, you will well forget about the commandments of men with which you serve God fruitlessly and in vain, Matt. 15:9. O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, highly praised in all eternity: Give us all such an obedient, willing heart for following the voice of Christ in doctrine and life. 

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“The entire Bible tells us that Christians are called to be involved in the world.  But again, we have to understand what is meant by that.  We are there to give testimony about a justification which washes away sin but which never makes it legitimate…”

“If God loved the world, it is because the world was not lovable and good. If God reconciled the world to himself, it is because the world was in a state of rebellion and rejection. It is not yet the Kingdom.  The works of the world remain works of darkness, but darkness into which a light has come, which does not validate or justify the darkness.”

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), The False Presence of the Kingdom (first published in 1963).  Mr. Ellul  was a French sociologist and member of the Reformed Church in France

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“What does man expect?—quite simply that the Church, speaking for God, should tell man that he is right—quite simply that one should proclaim “Jesus’ faith in man.”  In that case man can calmly go back to his business and act as he sees fit!  In his eyes the Church is there to provide him with justification, but not, of course, the justification which Jesus Christ provides!”

When kings turned to the Church, it was to have theologians explain to them what superb kings they were and how their works enjoyed the approval of God.  When (the middle class) went to church, it was to hear it said that their work was blessed by God and that riches were a sign of grace.”

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), The False Presence of the Kingdom (first published in 1963).  Mr. Ellul  was a French sociologist and member of the Reformed Church in France. 

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Image result for Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Text, John 20: 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

In the 1960s one of the clichés used in protests against the Vietnam War was the protesters encouragement to “wage peace” as opposed to waging war.  So many of those anti-war protests involved bombing and burning of buildings as the protesters waged peace, even murder. Our good works, from the supposed “goodness of our hearts”, our right intentions and good motives, apart from the Lord can quickly degenerate into degenerate acts.  The Apostles are sent, though, in a sense, to “wage peace” and this works only in Christ Jesus who by faith through the grace of His atonement can purify the heart and will of man.  He was purifying and sending the Apostles as recorded in today’s Gospel reading. As the Paul wrote,

“…we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5). 

Three times in the Gospel Reading for the Second Sunday of Easter our Lord says, “Peace be with you”.  In Hebrew “peace be with you” is Shalom Aleichem.  Shalom/peace be with you is not just a fine how-do-you-do!   Coming out of the mouth of Lord, He conveys what His Word does: peace, shalom.  Peace has to be backed up, and his peace is:  His blood shed for sinners, enemies of God and in rebellion.

What is peace? 

When we think of peace we probably think of peaceful feelings.  Usually, by ‘peace’ what is meant are “peaceful feelings” as being “at peace”. The usual definition of peace is  the absence of conflict, war, struggle.  This definition is only a negative, a lack of something, an absence. There are a few tried and not so true ways of obtaining peaceful feelings: 

  • At a sad extreme: A person can have a frontal lobotomy and be peaceful but it is vacuous and empty.

  • Then there are the peaceful feelings which are drugged-induced.

  • Books, gurus, ministers et. al. make money over their programs and nostrums to produce peacefulness. 

Our sinful lust for more, even for peacefulness, to fill a swept and empty house results in doing anything to fill the void and  feel peaceful and good again:   more drugs, more pleasures, more satisfactions.  The last state can become worse than the first: peace, peace and there is no peace.

Now, in their place, good feelings in general are desirable:  they can tell us we are okay and so are bad feelings, as in pain, as they can tell us something is wrong.  A feeling is the result of something else, good or bad. Peaceful feelings are a symptom but not the cause.  One can take away physical pain but if the cause of that pain is left untreated, it will only cause trouble for another day.  Clearly, feelings of peace are not the cause of peace.  Jesus came to the root of the problem:  the heart of man.  God’s Word clearly teaches us that peace may not produce  peacefulness, instead, readiness with the Gospel of peace, prepares us for battle!    

In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul encourages the church and her Christians to put on the whole armor of God including  for the feet of the Christian warrior: and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  The Roman soldiers boot was thick soled sandal, studded with nails, in order to stand firm in the day of battle.  A soldier’s boot needs to well made and solid to go the long marches.  It is clear that the Roman soldier’s sandal is like no footwear sold at Walmart!  

Likewise, peace in the Bible is not like what is literally sold out in the world. It is no spiked heel for show, or a dress shoe. Nor is it for mere comfort.  For instance:   The Apostle Paul makes this so clear in Ephesians 6 about the whole armor of God. Some 4 times, he uses the word  “stand”, to take a stand, to withstand, to fight against the powers and principalities.  It is not a struggle against someone else’s flesh and blood, only our flesh and blood.  It is struggle against the false doctrine and teachings of the world to want and covet more and more; in the lusts resulting in an ideology that says if it feels good, do it and look what has happened to marriage and the family.  But like those Roman Soldier’s sandals, His peace is for us to take stand upright and firm in His grace and mercy for us and for others, to battle for souls and lives.  

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace-Ephesians 2: 13-14

The Lord’s peace is the vessel which holds  all His gifts in the grace of His forgiveness.  The Lord shows us that peace is not absence but presence:  the real Presence. Peace has a name: Christ Jesus. He sent out His apostles in His peace filled with content:  the Holy Spirit.  He breathed on them the Holy Spirit and in that same holy breath he charged them to forgive sins.  Retain them when the message is refused, always in the hope the Lord will be heard.

He alone cures the fever in our blood by His blood shed for warring humanity. It is recorded in John’s Gospel alone the Lord’s teaching on peace, taught in the night in which He was betrayed:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

This was not a peace after the manner of the world, a mere external, temporal blessing. Mao Tse-Tung (old spelling), once dictator of communist China wrote that peace comes from the end of a gun barrel.  In one sense, he was correct, tragically correct.  It will look like peace, but only being terror and tragic emptiness. True and eternal Peace does not come from the end of a gun barrel but it has come from the foot of His Cross and fullness of His life, eternal life.   Peace is reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ in His forgiveness of the entire world, received in faith as pure gift which fills His chalice with the blood of the new testament for you and I.

The Lord’s peace which will insure quietness and security in the midst of turmoil and trouble. It will take the terror out of the hearts of the believers, even when the enemies are threatening murder and every form of abuse. The person that has the peace of a good conscience in the full assurance of God’s grace and mercy will be unmoved in the midst of upheavals that threaten the very foundations of the universe, Ps. 46. And Jesus testifies to the disciples that His announcement of His going away, far from filling their hearts with sorrow, should rather redound to their joy.

Peaceful feelings are usually only about the self, the person alone.  Christ, our peace, is for us and our salvation, that the “dividing wall of hostility” is  broken down in His flesh (Ephesians 2:13-15). For our families so we can love as we first been loved.  All Christians who cling as lambs to the Shepherd and as children to their Father, know each other.  They know each other as sinners.   Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,  “In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.”  But sinners forgiven in Jesus Christ.  They know each other forgiven. His peace is reconciliation.

His peace then prepares us for battle.  His peace is for the “good fight of faith” 2 Timothy 4:6-8.  Again, Pr. Bonhoeffer:  ““When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the Spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”  This is called “sanctification”, being made holy by the Holy Spirit in the work of Jesus through the Word and Sacraments.  It is the struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil.

“The Gospel is not only a report of the salvation earned by Jesus, but it is the application of this message, the imparting of the forgiveness of sins” (Rev. Paul Kretzmann). Jesus sends them out, not only with “a report of the salvation earned by Jesus” but with the very means of grace, in repentance and forgiveness giving the fruit of His Cross in the preaching and teaching of the Word. His forgiveness is our peace.  Further, the Lord sends the Church out not to wield the sword of government to kill people, but the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, for our salvation in His forgiveness (cf. Ephesians 4: 17;  Hebrews 4: 12). His peace is His Word to us. Christ is our peace. His peace is His reconciliation

From that locked room, the apostles would leave it with the message.  In last week’s Easter weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, George Weigel, in his article The Easter Effecy asked:  How did this happen? How did a ragtag band of nobodies from the far edges of the Mediterranean world become such a dominant force in just two and a half centuries?

In a nutshell, Mr. Weigel said it was plain:  Jesus had risen from the dead!  Upon the disciples, “…the end of the ages” (1 Corinthians 10:10-12) had come, us as well.  Just think: after over two centuries of persecution, from mild to severe, including martyrdom, up a half of the Roman Empire was Christian.  Why?  He is risen, He risen indeed, Alleluia!

As Benedict XVI put it in his 2010 Easter message:

 “Easter does not work magic. Just as the Israelites found the desert awaiting them on the far side of the Red Sea, so the Church, after the Resurrection, always finds history filled with joy and hope, grief and anguish. And yet this history is changed…it is truly open to the future.

History is open to the future in hope on account of Christ Jesus and we are in the wilderness of this world   The Apostles and the Church went forth to conquer an Empire without drawing the sword, waging jihad or the support of government.  The sword they wielded was the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6: 17).  His Word encourages  that the risen  Lord calls us to wage peace, not worldly peace, but the Godly peace of His forgiveness which He breathes upon His Church. We are blessed of the Lord when we are peacemakers.  With the Apostle Paul, Lord calls us to wage the good fight of faith for the salvation of many. Jesus has broken every barrier down.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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“Jesus calls men, not to a new religion, but to life.”

Biographical Introduction:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on Feb. 4, 1906, in Breslau, the sixth of eight children, along with his twin sister, Sabine.  His father Karl  was a leading professor of neurology and psychiatry; his mother was the granddaughter of a distinguished church historian. When Dietrich was 6, his family moved to Berlin. He was educated at the universities of Tübingen (1923-1924) and Berlin, where he was awarded a doctorate in 1927 at the age of only 21.  He surprised his family by his choice of theology and becoming a pastor as his vocation.

Early Career

Bonhoeffer’s doctoral dissertation, The Communion of Saints(1930), introduces some of his most characteristic emphases: a passionate concern that Christianity be a concrete reality within the real world of men; a wholly Christ-centered approach to theology, grounded entirely in the New Testament; and an intense preoccupation with the Church as “Christ existing as community.” (see 1 Corinthians 12:27)

After a year as curate of a German-speaking congregation in Barcelona, Spain (1928-1929), Bonhoeffer spent the academic year 1930-1931 in the United States as Sloane fellow at Union Theological Seminary. In fall 1931 he became a lecturer in theology at Berlin University, and his inaugural dissertation was published that year as Act and Being. Two collections of his lectures were later published: Creation and Fall (1937), an interpretation of chapters 1-3 of Genesis; and Christ the Center, published posthumously from student notes. The latter work foreshadows the central idea of his last writings–Christ’s whole being is His being-for-man, and His powerlessness and humiliation for man’s sake are the fullest disclosure of the power and majesty of God.

Resistance to Nazism

Bonhoeffer was one of the first German Protestants to see the demonic implications of Nazism. After Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer helped organize the Pastors’ Emergency League, which became the nucleus of the Confessing Church of anti-Nazi German Protestants. While serving as minister to a German-speaking congregation in London (1933-1935), he sought support from international Christian leaders for the German Christians who were protesting Nazism.

In 1935 Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and founded a clandestine seminary to train pastors for the illegal anti-Nazi church. The seminary, located chiefly at Finkenwalde, continued despite Gestapo harassment until 1937. Bonhoeffer organized the seminary as a living workshop in Christian community and developed close relationships with his students. Out of Finkenwalde came The Cost of Discipleship (1937), a clarion call to active obedience to Christ based on the Sermon on the Mount, and Life Together (1939), a brief study of the nature of Christian community.

As war became increasingly inevitable, friends arranged an American lecture tour for Bonhoeffer with the hope that he would remain in the United States indefinitely. But only 6 weeks after his arrival in New York, he decided to return to Germany to suffer with his people.

Bonhoeffer became a member of the German resistance movement, convinced after much soul searching that only by working for Germany’s defeat could he help save his country. From 1940 to 1943 Bonhoeffer worked on a study of Christian ethics, which was grounded in the biblical Christ as the concrete unity between God and the world. The sections he completed were later published as Ethics (1949).

In January 1943 Bonhoeffer became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer, a longtime acquaintance. In April, however, he was arrested; while incarcerated he wrote the correspondence that later appeared as Letters and Papers from Prison (1951). In these fragmentary but highly original writings he developed his earlier ideas into a highly positive evaluation of modern secular thought and life, and a strongly negative judgment on traditional religiosity.  These last writings had an inordinate influence on post-war liberal Protestantism.  Generally speaking, his two books, Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, are the tomes he is most remembered.  After the abortive attempt on Hitler’s life by the resistance (July 20, 1944), evidence came to light that incriminated Bonhoeffer, and he was hanged at Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945.

A Reflection:

During the Nazi years, the Nazis developed the “German Christian Church” which fused Nazism and Christianity, or more precisely:  the neo-paganism of the “blood and soil” mythology loved by the Nazis under the name of Christianity. (See:  2 Timothy 3:4-6

Two of the phrases used by the German Christians were  “practical Christianity” and “positive Christianity”.  In our time  so-called practical and positive Christianity is espoused  in many quarters today.  It is the grist of much Christian publishing.  These folks say that  such preaching should be about, for instance, “real life” and practical living, not  the real life we have in Christ Jesus, and most decidedly not the Cross and true repentance.  They say that this fills pews and sadly it does. I am not saying these folks are Nazis.  But the Old Adam does not want to die to sin, to live in Christ, but live and fluorish on his own terms.  Any Christianity which is a fusion with whatever nation and culture it is in, ‘German-Christian’, ‘American Christianity’ is a sell out. The true Church does not sell out because it has been bought for a price.  If Christianity and the Church is about moral uplift, a positive message and the like, then  it is like putting a band-aid on a corpse.  Our Lord faced our sin and death and died that we might live.  We also must so serve  His Word from Pulpit, Podium, Prayers and Sacrament in face of  the death and horrors of our times. As did Pr. Bonhoeffer.   No band-aids, only the Cross. (see  1 Corinthians 2:2Bonhoeffer knew that and by God’s hard-as-nails -grace, Pr. Bonhoeffer lived it with many others in the minority in the Truth which alone sets us free (see John 8:30-32). Christ is risen. –Pr. Schroeder

QUOTES FROM THE WRITINGS OF PASTOR BONHOEFFER

On Preaching in American Churches during Bonhoeffer’s Year at Union Seminary, NYC, 1930-1931:

As at Union Seminary…”Things are not much different in the church. The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. As long as I’ve been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation, and that was delivered by a negro (indeed, in general I’m increasingly discovering greater reli­gious power and originality in Negroes). One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak about Christianity … There’s no sense to expect the fruits where the Word really is no longer being preached. But then what becomes of Christianity per se?” Quoted by Eric Metaxas in his biography: Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

On the Two Types of Love

“Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake.”

“…spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as brother. It originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy but in Christ and His Word.  Human love can never understand spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above; it is something completely strange, new and incomprehensible to all earthly love.”

“…this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ.

We are bound together by faith, not by experience.From Life Together

 On Being Pious 

In matters of piety, the “I will” can cause the greatest harm…”

“God alone knows our good works; all we know is His good work.”

On Being a Pastor 

The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren.  Not in the former but in the latter is the lack.  The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows that then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.

The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents he possesses.  Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, whom himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the WordFrom Life Together

 On Life Experience

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to thy word. It is very presumptuous and wrongheaded to think that a man has to become entangled deeply in the guilt of life in order to know life itself, and finally God.  We do not learn to know life and guilt from our own experience, but only from God’s judgment of mankind and his grace in the cross of Jesus Christ.

On “Das Fuhrer Prinzip”

“This Leader, deriving from the concentrated will of the people, now appears as longingly awaited by the people, the one who is to fulfill their capabilities and their potentialities. Thus the originally matter-of-fact idea of political authority has become the political, messianic concept of the Leader as we know it today. Into it there also streams all the religious thought of its adherents. Where the spirit of the people is a divine, metaphysical factor, the Leader who embodies this spirit has religious functions, and is I the proper sense the messiah. With his appearance the fulfillment of the last hope has dawned. With the kingdom which he must bring with him the eternal kingdom has already drawn near. Could one ally the religious attitude of the group towards its Leader in the youth movement with the pietistic ideal of community, the political, messianic idea of the leader would lie in the line of the ideal of a universal kingdom of God on earthas it was striven for in the religious movements summed up under the title ‘Enthusiasm’, and in the French Revolution, and later take up again and again.” (from a paper“Das Führer-Prinzip” (The Leader Principle) by Pr. Bonhoeffer, which he was going to deliver on the radio in 1933 in Berlin but twenty minutes into the talk, he was cut off)

 On Marriage 

In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than some­thing personal – it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

From “A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell”, May 1943, Letters and Papers from Prison

 On Confession and Absolution

In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person the more destructive will be the power of sin over him,  and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.  The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass bars of iron (Ps. 107: 16).From Life Together

 On Building up the Church 

“It is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess—he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him—that he may build.  We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.  It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess…, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgments. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds” (No Rusty Swords, [New York: Harper and Row, 1965] 216-217 On the Cross and the Bible

“Either I determine the place in which I will find God, or I allow God to determine the place where He will be found. If it is I who say where God will be, I will always find there a God who in some way corresponds to me, is agreeable to me, fits in with my nature. But if it is God who says where he will be, then that will truly be a place which at first is not agreeable to me at all, which does not fit so well with me. That place is the cross of Christ. And whoever will find God there must draw near to the cross in the manner which the Sermon on the Mount requires. That does not correspond to our nature at all; it is, in fact, completely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only the New Testament but also the Old. (Is. 53!) In any case, Jesus and Paul understand it in this way — that the cross of Jesus fulfills the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The entire Bible, then, is the Word in which God allows himself to be found by us. Not a place which is agreeable to us or makes sense to us a priori, but instead a place which is strange to us and contrary to our nature. Yet, the very place in which God has decided to meet us.” From Meditating on the Word 

On the Cross and the Bible 

“God is completely other than the so-called eternal verities.  Theirs is an eternity made up of our own thoughts and wishes. But God’s Word begins by showing us the cross. And it is to the cross, to death and judgment before God, that our ways and thoughts (even the ‘eternal’ ones) all lead.  Does this perspective somehow make it understandable to you that I do not want to give up the Bible as this strange Word of God at any point, that I intend with all my powers to ask what God wants to say to us here?  Any other place outside the Bible has become too uncertain for me.  I fear that I will only encounter a divine double of myself there.” Ibid

 

From Pr. Bonhoeffer’s Poem, “Who am I?”, the last stanzas (Letters and Papers from Prison):  

“Whom am I?  This of the other?

Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once?  A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I?  They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.”

 

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Concordia and Koinonia

New Testament Reading for Today:  Hebrews 13: 1-21

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Earlier on in the Gospels, Jesus sent forth the 12 disciples to preach and cast out demons.  Jesus also sent out the 72.  Jesus sent the disciples to teach all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Holy Trinity.  He promised He would be with always even unto the end of the age.  Jesus sent the 11 disciples on the first day of the week, breathing on them the Holy Spirit in His forgiveness:

If you forgive the sins…

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Bright Week! Friday

 

From St. John 20:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

From Rev. Paul Kretzman’s Commentary on(Jesus) sent (the apostles) forth to preach the Gospel. For that is the summary and content of the Gospel, peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And having named them thus as His messengers, as His ambassadors, the Lord formally inducts them into this office. He breathed on them, thus symbolizing the transmission of, and actually conveying to them, the Spirit who lived in Him, and whom He had the authority to bestow. The power of the Spirit was to be with them in the Word: If you remit the sins of any, they are remitted to them; if you retain those of any, they are retained. Thus they received the power to pronounce forgiveness of sins; thus was the Office of the Keys instituted. The forgiveness of sins which Jesus earned by His suffering and death should be imparted and given to men through the announcement of the Gospel, publicly and privately, to single persons and to large congregations. This is the absolution of sins. That is Christ’s will and commission: His disciples should pronounce forgiveness, should take away sins, and then everyone should know and believe that by such absolution his sins are actually forgiven and taken away. The Gospel is not only a report of the salvation earned by Jesus, but it is the application of this message, the imparting of the forgiveness of sins. Only he that will not accept this forgiveness, this mercy, this salvation, thereby excludes himself from the grace of God. If such a one is told this fact, his sins are thereby retained. This power and authority was not the sole prerogative of the apostles, nor is it now in the hands of any hierarchy, but it accompanies the Gospel, it is contained in the commission of Christ to all His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations. To the believers in general, to the Christian congregation that proclaims the message of the Gospel, the keys are given. The pastors that exercise this authority do so in the name of the congregation. (emphasis my own)

We are now in 6th day of the 50 Paschal days of Easter.  In 40 days, St. Luke reported that our Lord ascended into heaven. In 50 days, as the Lord promised, the Holy Spirit would descend on the 12 with Mary the Mother of our Lord.  Significantly the giving of the Holy Spirit occurred on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost:

“The term Pentecost comes from the Greek Πεντηκοστή (Pentēkostē) meaning “fiftieth” (50th). It refers to the festival celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, also known as the “Feast of Weeks” in the Septuagint[i] and the “Feast of 50 days” in rabbinic tradition” (From Wikipedia). 

On Pentecost, the Apostle Peter preached the first Christian Sermon in Jerusalem in the glare of the public eye.  Quite a change from the man who last week Friday, Good Friday, denied the Lord three times and after the Crucifixion was hiding out with his brother disciples in a locked room for fear of their lives!  What changed?  Jesus had: He was risen from the dead!  His Body was now glorified as ours will be (Philippians 3:21  1 Corinthians 15:53).  The fact of the last days had dawned: Jesus is risen. The eternal peace/shalom of the Lord would spread in the Holy  Spirit as Jesus promised,

“…   you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1). 

How did it so spread? This is what is miraculous about the Lord’s Resurrection,as Mr. George Weigel wrote about his article, The Easter Effect (Wall Street Journal):

In the year 312, just before his victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge won him the undisputed leadership of the Roman Empire, Constantine the Great had a heavenly vision of Christian symbols. That augury led him, a year later, to end all legal sanctions on the public profession of Christianity.

Or so a pious tradition has it.

But there’s a more mundane explanation for Constantine’s decision: He was a politician who had shrewdly decided to join the winning side. By the early 4th century, Christians likely counted for between a quarter and a half of the population of the Roman Empire, and their exponential growth seemed likely to continue.

How did this happen? How did a ragtag band of nobodies from the far edges of the Mediterranean world become such a dominant force in just two and a half centuries?

In a nutshell, Mr. Weigel said it was plain:  Jesus had risen from the dead!  Upon the disciples, “…the end of the ages” (1 Corinthians 10:10-12) had come, us as well.  Just think: after over two centuries of persecution, from mild to severe, including martyrdom, up a half of the Roman Empire was Christian.  Why?  He is risen, He risen indeed, Alleluia!

The Lord’s Resurrection was  the genesis.  As Pope Benedict XIV pointed out:

“Easter does not work magic. Just as the Israelites found the desert awaiting them on the far side of the Red Sea, so the Church, after the Resurrection, always finds history filled with joy and hope, grief and anguish. And yet this history is changed…it is truly open to the future.

History is open to the future in hope on account of Christ Jesus and we are in the wilderness of this world   The Apostles and the Church went forth to conquer an Empire without drawing the sword, waging jihad orthe support of government.  The sword they wielded was the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6: 17).  His Word encourages  that the risen  Lord calls us to wage peace, not worldly peace, but the Godly peace of His forgiveness which He breathes upon His Church. With the Apostle Paul, Lord calls us to wage the good fight of faith for the salvation of many.

 

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