Sermon for The Fifth Sunday of Easter - Cantate: The Sunday of the New Song - Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, Wisconsin Pastor Michael Larson 5/10/2020
Readings: Isaiah 12:1-6; James 1:16-21; John 16:5-15
O God, You make the minds of Your faithful to be of one will. Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
This Sunday we continue to celebrate Easter, that Jesus truly rose from the dead. Easter is not just one day out of the whole year but is celebrated for an entire season of the church year, extending about seven weeks to the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost. But then again, Easter is not just a season either, consisting of a certain number of weeks, but is celebrated every Sunday when we gather and by extension every day. This joy of Easter spills over into every hour of our lives as we confess that Jesus has risen from the dead bringing life and immorality to light.
This Easter message is proclaimed by the announcement of the forgiveness of sins, which beats back death and hell and bring comfort and consolation to every poor sinner. St. Paul summed it up best when he put it this way: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
But less face the facts. The world doesn’t seem to be teeming with life right now – not by a long shot. We’re consumed by rates of infection and climbing death counts. Just as dangerous is the fear, paranoia, and anger in the hearts of so many. This Sunday is historically known as “Cantate Sunday,” which is just a Latin word which means sing. But not many folks are singing with joy these days. It’s hard to muster up a song when you’re cooped up at home and alone. Solomon wrote that there is a “time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” It’s confusing to know how one should be feeling during this time.
The disciples in our Gospel this morning can relate to the confusion. Our Lord is telling them that He will very soon be departing from them. He can see the questions, the confusion, and sorrow on their faces. And understandingly so! What sweet fellowship the disciples had enjoyed together those last several years! Hearing Word of the Lord together. Praying together. Eating together. Singing together! This is the sweetest fellowship the world has even seen. But now Jesus speaks of His departure – His going to the Father – which means many things – His death and glorification on the cross, His resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of His Father in heaven. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” The disciples were under the impression that the sweet fellowship they enjoyed with the Lord was all coming to an end but how wrong they were! In truth, it was just beginning!
In our Gospel this morning our Lord Jesus is teaching His disciples all about the ministry of the Holy Spirit whom He will give to them after His resurrection, and especially on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and the Son to give life to the world, and who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified. The Holy Spirit’s work is all about proclaiming Christ – to bring Him to us and to draw us into Him. The Holy Spirit is active in this world through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments to bring sinners to faith in Christ and to sustain them in holy living.
Let’s have a closer look at what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit this morning. He says when He (The Holy Spirit) comes He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and You will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. What does this mean?
First, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, because they do not believe in Him. Unbelief is the root of all sin and rebellion against God. John’s Gospel says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him,” and that Jesus was the light that had come into the world, but sadly, “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” It is the Spirit’s work to convict every creature of their sinfulness in God’s sight. Folks, everything apart from faith in Christ is sin! We need this conviction, for without this preaching of repentance, we cannot be turned from unbelief to faith in Christ.
Second, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you will see me no longer. Simply put, the death of Christ for the sins of the world is the righteousness of God! Jesus went to the Father in His death to offer Himself up as the righteous offering for sinful man. Jesus is the only source of salvation for the world. The apostle Paul puts it this way: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law...through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3). This Christian righteousness alone avails before God in heaven. It is found in the loving heart of Christ alone, who gave Himself up for our sins, and was raised for our justification. God declares us righteous in His sight through faith in His Son.
Third, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. What does this mean? It means that the judgment of God that the sinner is righteous for Christ’s sake sets man free from the judgment of the Law that the devil uses to condemn the world. With faith in Christ, the devil can’t accuse you of anything! Neither can this world! Saint Paul writes, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!...What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us...Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
Here our Lord also wants to comfort and strengthen His disciples and all Christians by stating that we should not let the opinions of the world terrify us, nor fear its condemnation. It is only the righteousness of Christ which avails before God. And this Christian righteousness is that Christ has gone to the Father, has poured out his blood for us on the cross, and sits at the right hand of the God in heaven, interceding for you.
Finally, our Lord teaches us that the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ by taking what is His and declaring it to you. Jesus says, “He (the Holy Spirit) will take what is mine and declare it to you.” This is an amazing teaching! For what belong to Christ? How about His eternal righteousness, His innocence, and His blessedness? You see, the Holy Spirit will take all that – all His loveliness, all His purity, all that righteousness of Christ our Lord and declare it all to you, that is, give it all to you, by grace, as a gift to be received through faith. Luther called this the “great” or “blessed exchange,” in which Jesus takes everything that belong to us, our sin, wretchedness, and shame, and in exchange, gives all those gifts which belong to Him, forgiveness and eternal life. What a deal! That’s why we call it the Gospel, meaning, “Good News!”
Today is Cantate Sunday, the Sunday of singing and song. As I said, folks are having trouble singing and finding a cheerful voice these days but Isaiah in our first reading saw a time when there would be singing without end: “Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously...Shout and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” And that right there is the key to singing like a bird right through a pandemic. You see, Jesus has never left us at all. He never did! He is the Holy One of Israel who dwells right in our midst through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The living Christ is present among us and in His church in a more glorious way than He was even with His disciples in that upper room.
The crucified and Risen Lord is present in the word of absolution spoken by pastors in Christ’s stead. He is present in the waters of Holy Baptism and His Supper where there is forgiveness and life. He is with us through the gift of His Holy Spirit who takes up residence in our hearts so that we might ever dwell in Him who lives and reigns forevermore. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice - LSB 556