Easter VII – Exaudi
“Helper of the Maryrs”
Seminarian Andrew Keller, Vicar
St. John 15.26-16.4
24 May 2020
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
On Easter Sunday, in the year 2019, three churches were targeted and bombed in Sri Lanka. About 200 Christians, including almost 50 children, were killed while worshipping their Lord, with almost double being wounded from the blast. The culprits were ISIL, an Islamic extremist group known for waging so-called holy war against Christians and other religions. The news shocked the entire world, and set Christian worshippers in a state of fear. After all, Easter, along with Christmas, is the most attended service in the liturgical year. On that Holy Day, when Christ our Lord rose again from the dead, Satan had seemingly won as many Christians were martyred for their faith.
As shocking as it was, this is exactly what Jesus said would happen to all who follow Him and witness to His name. “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.” Those who witness (in Greek martyr) to Christ and His Word would not walk the easy path of comfort and luxury. They would not be celebrated as heroes of the faith and preachers of the Word. They would be cast out of the synagogues and churches, being called blasphemers. They would be killed for their faith. The Jews on the grounds of blasphemy stoned the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, when in reality, his crime was calling them out of darkness and into the light of Jesus as the Christ. The early church faced persecution from Jews and Gentiles alike, as all the apostles except St. John were put to death for their faith, and even he had attempts made on his life and was exiled. In these days, even though Christianity is the major religion of the world, we still face persecution. Islamic extremists have been the major culprit since the time of Mohammed himself, spreading like wildfire through fear and conquest in an attempt to put the world into submission. Muslims claim to do this all in the name of God, yet their Allah is a dead idol with no authority or power.
Yet, there is another foe whose numbers have rapidly increased in recent years. They are the secularists, who want nothing more than to censor the Word and suppress the message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for all. They attack bakers and florists for holding a biblical view on marriage, harassing them with lawsuits and ruining their livelihoods. They accuse Christians of not loving their neighbors, while they themselves fight frantically to protect the so-called right to murder children in the womb. These secularists, who claim no higher authority, are doing the bidding of Satan, whose goal is to put us out of our churches and drive us away from the true faith. Many churches are required by the government to remain closed or pared down for the foreseeable future, while grocery stores, liquor stores, and restaurants are allowed to return to normalcy. Our own synodical president has written a letter with concerns about restrictions of religious liberty in Illinois, which might not be lifted until a hypothetical vaccine is available. We should not be surprised that the secularist and Satan team up to keep Christian churches and its preaching suppressed under the pretense that it is ‘non-essential.’ They want nothing more than for us to fall away from our faith in Christ and to despair.
It can be hard to continue in the true faith when the devil, the world, and our sinful nature are all actively working against us. If we trusted only ourselves, we would be easily overwhelmed and would be easy prey for the tempter. We need help. For this reason, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Though Jesus would be with them in a different way, He sent His Spirit as their Helper and Comforter in every possible need. Though they would still face trials and temptations, the Spirit enabled the disciples to bear witness to the truth throughout their cross bearing. Though the world would hate them as they hate Jesus and the Father, the Spirit would comfort them through the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. In the same way, we too receive this gift. Though the world hates us because of Christ, the Holy Spirit strengthens and keeps us in the faith that we might not fall away.
No matter what the enemies of God do to us, whether it is taking away our possessions or harming us in our bodies, we know these aren’t our greatest need, though God still cares for us in that way. Rather, the Holy Spirit, whom God has poured out on us in our baptism, sustains our spiritual needs, consoling our consciences by the peace that passes all understanding found in Christ, that we might not fall away. Our help is found in the promise that we are saved through Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, death and resurrection. Through this salvific work, He has freed us from eternal suffering and death, taking our sins upon Himself, and bestowing His righteousness to all who look to Him in faith.
Two days after the bombings in Sri Lanka, there was a mass funeral held for those who had been martyred for their faith. Amid the fear and threat of death, the saints of Sri Lanka had the certainty that even if they were to die, God would not forsake them. He would not let them fall away, but would gather each one of them to Himself. Dear Christians, take heart. Though the threat of virus and sickness, hatred and persecution, Satan and death loom around us, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit, the Helper, strengthens us with the Gospel that we might not fall away. Whether you are here with us or at home, know that when you are gathered among the fellow baptized saints, that same Holy Spirit, who has been with you throughout, will gather you in with the sacraments. Just yesterday, He claimed Jane Carol Eckardt as His child and an heir to eternal life through the life-saving waters of baptism. Today, He invites us to His table, where He gives us His body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. We do not fear, but indeed have the certainty that even as Christ has been raised from the dead, we too will rise again from the dead and live before Him for all eternity.
Martin Luther wrote the great hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’ during a time of great plague, during which many people died. In the face of great fear, illness and death, he wrote this stanza, “The Word they still shall let remain/nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain/ with His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, / goods, fame, child, and wife, / though these all be gone, / our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.