Prayer in the New Day
Our Lent has been devoted to studying prayer based on Martin Luther's Small Catechism written in 1529. In 1535 he wrote another treatise on the Lord's Prayer called A Simple Way to Pray. He wrote it for his good friend Peter the Barber after Peter was exiled for murdering Dietrich, his son-in-law. On the Saturday before Easter, March 27, 1535, Peter was at Dietrich's house for a party. A drunken Dietrich was bragging that he had survived so many battles because swords could not harm him. Peter, drunk as well, decided to put Dietrich's boast to the test and stabbed him. Dietrich lost his life; Peter lost his house and citizenship. An exiled Peter sought comfort from Luther. He needed assurance that he was still God's child though he had killed his own child's husband. If you were guilty of such a horrible crime, what could ever move you to pray again? It would take some kind of radically new day, wouldn't it?
This hardly seems like that day for those in our text. You have 2 Mary's and a Salome coming to Jesus' grave intent on burying a dead Jesus properly. Jesus is in need of them. They aren't in need of Jesus. This is no new day for them or for you either if you came here today to do something for Jesus. Do you think you're doing something for Jesus today? He needs your recognition, your worship, your 5 in the plate? Then this is no new day for you either.
This is no new day for anyone who thinks Jesus is still dead, and that's the ladies in the text. You don't buy spices to bury a living Jesus. So this is dark day for them because if Jesus is still dead then they still have their sins. Jesus said that He came to be a ransom for sinners. Jesus said He came to fulfill the laws of God sinners can't. So, if Jesus is still dead, then He didn't fulfill God's Law completely. There is still something left for them to do. If Jesus is still dead, then He didn't pay all the ransom for their sins. A day to pay up waits for them and for you too. If Jesus is still dead, then God's Laws hang over you as something you must forever do. If Jesus is still dead, then God didn't accept His payment for your sins. This is no new day if Jesus is still dead. Nothing has changed between you and God if Jesus is still dead.
No, it's not much of a new day for those in the text, is it? They came to Jesus' grave to do something for a dead Jesus, so they didn't listen to God's Word even when it was spoken to them. The angel's Word that Jesus has been raised didn't register with the women. The words didn't lead them into a new day but into trembling and bewilderment. Easter is no radically new day to those who don't listen to God's Word. And why would you listen if you've come here, like the women did, to do something for a Jesus you consider dead and gone?
It wasn't much of a new day for the women in the text, and it might not be for you either, but a radically new day it is! Faith doesn't cause Jesus to rise and unbelief doesn't stop Him. This is a radically new day even if you don't believe it. Why? because on this day Jesus doesn't need anything from you. Jesus is the Man to whom all power in heaven and earth has been given regardless if these trembling women or us doubting sinners believe it. Jesus is not the wizard of Oz who has no power if people don't believe in him. Jesus is the God who sustains all things with His powerful Word, what could He possibly need or want from you?
Well, there are some things. Jesus wants your sins, your death, your devils, your burdens. That's why Jesus came into the world. He is the true scapegoat upon whom all the sins of the world were laid. He is the true Passover lamb who had to be sacrificed so His blood could be painted thickly and richly over the hearts and lives of sinners. Upon Him was laid the iniquity of us all, so He was driven without mercy to the cross. There sinners and devils did as they pleased to Him. If God was going to keep His Word, then not only did all His commandments have to be kept, but all sins against them had to be paid for. Each drop of His holy blood, each bead of His Holy sweat, each drop of His holy tears, was shed for sin and for sinners. So sinner bring your sins to Jesus. Hold none of them back. Put them on the back of Jesus.
This is a new day whether you believe it or not because God in heaven needs nothing from You. He has all things in Jesus. The only thing you need to bring to this new day is your sins because that's what Jesus came to get so He could pay for them. And God the Father raised Jesus from the dead to proclaim to sinful, dying people like us that since Jesus has paid for their sins; they won't die but rise like Jesus did.
See this wonderful, radical, powerful Gospel in the text. The risen Jesus calls the men who had deserted Him in Gethsemane and who were too cowardly to come to the cross disciples.' He doesn't call them cowards or deserters which they were, but He calls them disciples' as if they hadn't done a thing wrong. And Jesus specifically sends for Peter. Peter had proudly proclaimed he would never leave Jesus, but he left Jesus in the most despicable way. Yet, the angel says be sure and tell this to Peter too! "Tell them all to meet Me in Galilee," says Jesus. This is what Jesus had told them before Gethsemane, before the horrible trials, and ghastly execution.
Don't you see? Neither the cross, the suffering, the dying, the devil's rage, not even the disciples' unbelief changed or even interrupted Jesus' plan. Don't think your sins, your unbelief, or your skepticism has, can, or will. This is a radically new day because today death has lost its sting, sin has lost its strength, and the devil has lost, period. Now you can deny this, you can say it isn't so, but that's no different than the child who thinks if they don't believe something there's no way it can be true.
This new day, this first day of the Lord's new creation, changes everything. It changed the women. They came to do something for a dead Jesus not listening or believing His Word. They eventually went away believing, proclaiming, and worshiping a living Jesus. This new day changes despairing hearts as guilty as Peter the Barber's to forgiven ones. It changes hearts that have been void of prayer since Sunday School days into believing, praying ones.
How? Well a risen Jesus gives us a heavenly "Father" not a faceless God, not a God who consumes with fire or stays hidden in blinding light. On Easter morning Jesus tells the women to tell the disciples, "I ascend to My Father and your Father." Even if you had a poor father, a mean father, a bad father on earth, know that Easter gives you a heavenly Father who delights in you for Jesus' sake. What can't a child ask a truly loving father? What won't a truly loving father do for his child?
Ah, but there's still the matter of being sinners. That hasn't changed since you walked in here. Easter didn't stop people from sinning. If it did, the Church wouldn't be praying everyday "forgive us our sins." You came in a sinner; you go out a sinner. Now don't misunderstand. If you're defending your sins, excusing your sins, protecting your sins, you're not confessing them. You're not really giving them to Jesus at all. You're in fact keeping your sins as pets, and Jesus doesn't have them. You still do.
But I'm not taking to you pet keepers. I'm talking to you confessed sinners longing to be free. This is a new day for you because Easter gives you a risen Jesus to advocate your cause in heaven. Jesus didn't stay walking around Jerusalem. No, He ascended into heaven. And what do you think He's doing there? I John 2 tells you. He's advocating on behalf of sinners. He's dealing with this matter of you and I still being sinners. John assures us, "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." The Book of Hebrews says Jesus rose from the dead to intercede constantly for us. So how can our Father forget that Jesus paid for our sins if His nail-pierced hands are always before His face? How can our heavenly Father remember sins that Jesus assures Him He carried away from us, buried, and left in the Easter tomb?
Easter is a radically new day that brings forth prayer from fallen, forgiven hearts. It does this because Easter is about Jesus rising having paid for our sins, having swallowed death, and having conquered the devil. A risen Jesus gives us a Father in heaven who loves us more than we love our own children. A risen Jesus gives sinners like us an advocate in heaven at all times. So even though the devil, the world and even our own conscience tell us that God's not listening to our prayer, Easter assures us He is.
Okay this is a new day. Things are different now between God and me for Jesus' sake. I get this, but I still don't feel like praying. What sinner does? Prayer is not just a matter of words but Spirit. Billions of words are uttered heavenward every second of every day. Only the ones that have the Spirit of God reach the ears of God. The risen Jesus gave us the Spirit on Easter evening. Don't you remember? Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." This Spirit went from them to us by way of Baptism. Baptism gives the Holy Spirit and He's not silent in the human heart. St. Paul says He's always calling out, "Abba, Father." He's always bringing forth the prayer of a child calling for his/her daddy.
Those longings, those urges, those desires for God to have your cares, your burdens, your sins, your life. Where do you think they come from? From you? Get real. The Bible says, "No man seeks God." That's the Holy Spirit. That's Deep calling to Deep with groans you can't put into words but God understands very well.
Therefore, though we may be as guilty and weighed down by our sins as Peter the Barber, our day has come. Our Sun, the Son, has risen. We are an Easter people. We are forgiven, risen, and restored to our Father for Jesus' sake. By His Spirit, hallelujah is the melody of our lives and the words of the Lord's Prayer are the lyrics. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Resurrection of our Lord (20060416); Mark 16: 1-8