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Wednesday, Easter II - Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his hosts!

3 Praise him, sun and moon,
    praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!

5 Let them praise the name of the Lord!
    For he commanded and they were created.
6 And he established them forever and ever;
    he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and mist,
    stormy wind fulfilling his word!

9 Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all livestock,
    creeping things and flying birds!

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together,
    old men and children!

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his majesty is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his saints,
    for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the Lord!

I recently read an article by an emergency room physician in Chicago. She spoke of one of the earlier patients at her hospital, a man she called Patient C. As they worked to save his life and as his respiration was failing, they made the decision to intubate him with a respirator. Patient C. was a kind man who turned to the doctor and said, “I am in your hands, I trust your decision. If this is what you think is best, let’s do this.” Being intubated this way requires that the patient be sedated. As the drugs took effect, the last thing the man saw was the physician, eyes staring over her mask. For the next 12 days the doctor labored for others and prayed for this man whom she had handed over to the ICU. 

What joy when she heard that this gentle man had been extubated. He had survived. The doctor went to the step-down unit to visit, encapsulated in protective equipment, once more only her eyes showing. The man was alone, his own wife was in quarantine and unable to visit. The doctor said that her heart, which felt like it had been beating 100 bpm for the past several weeks, suddenly slowed down. Here was why she had become a doctor. He smiled in recognition and they spoke. 

It was not all sweet. This physician had seen many die. She had served for over 20 years and seen heart attacks and gunshot wounds. Now her days were overwhelmed with very sick people who might not survive. But here, sitting in a room with a man who had been a stranger to her a few weeks before, she found a place to praise God. The psalmist today runs throughout the creation, from sun, moon, and stars to kings and princes, from mountains and hills to old men and youths, from them all, including you, he calls for praise. It might be counterintuitive, but often in hard days praise comes easier. Those things which we took for granted are seen with new eyes and appreciated. Heed the psalmist today – Praise the Lord! 

Tuesday, Easter II - Acts 5:27-42

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice,40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Sometimes the people in the Bible seem so strange to me. Peter stands up to corrupt and unreasonable authority. I always appreciate that sort of bravery. He must obey God rather than men. He suffers for it. I can honor him for that, just as I might honor others who have been beaten or imprisoned in a quest for justice and fairness. It is the final two verses of this passage from Acts that really get to me. The disciples were rejoicing in the opportunity to suffer for the name of Christ. 

There is a part of me that wonders if we don’t have medication for this sort of thing. Would we think today that Peter and the rest of the disciples are a little psychotic? Probably. Yet, there is also something very true and good about them which I also see. Yesterday we prayed that our lives and words would confess Jesus as Lord and God. 

As we sit in homes this Easter season, kept from our churches and separated from one another by a virus and love for the vulnerable among us, we wonder whether and how we will come back to normal. Our confession of Christ’s Lordship and Divinity through public worship has been upended. Will we ever pass the peace again at Church? Or will fear of a virus keep us at some hygienic distance from one another? Will churches be forced to shrink to worshipping assemblies of less than 100? Will this prompt people to come to church a little early so they are sure to get a spot in the pew before the maximum number of attendees is met?

I am sure that Peter and his fellow Apostles who left the Sanhedrin rejoicing had never imagined that they would bear witness to Christ with bruises and lacerations. How will you bear witness? God has plans for you, too. We once bore witness through attending church on Sunday morning. How will that witness be made in the days of a pandemic. What happens may not always be pleasant in the moment, but He finds the way to weave them into the praise of angels and archangels. 

Monday of Easter II

Almighty God, grant that we who have celebrated the Lord’s resurrection may by Your grace confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God; through the same Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

In the season of Easter, the Christian greeting is “He is risen!” and the response is “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!” 

But if you meet your neighbor on the street today and they are worried about their job, their family, their friends who have contracted this disease, or simply are at their wit’s end with being sequestered in their homes with their family, this might not be well received. They might respond, “That was 2000 years ago, what has He done lately? He doesn’t seem to be getting us out of this mess!” Perhaps you don’t need a neighbor to say it to you. Perhaps you or someone in your home are asking that question and wondering where Jesus is today and what He is doing. 

Ancient Christians differentiated themselves from their pagan neighbors by saying that their God was alive. By that, they seemed to have meant that Jesus was present and doing things, unlike the mute and motionless idols which occupied the pagan temples of that time. They lived in a current relationship with Jesus who was present in their lives for their blessing. We need to remember this truth which inspired our ancient ancestors in the faith. 

One of the reasons Jesus has risen from the dead is so He could take care of you. You are the sheep of His fold, after all. He is the Good Shepherd. He has risen for a purpose and you are the object of his affections. Please don’t imagine that means all goes swimmingly. Some of those early Christians sang Jesus hymns on their way to martyrdom. Jesus did not show up with a legion of angels to snatch them from the lion’s jaws. But He who had been to hell and back and suffered death at the hands of Roman soldiers, walked with them every step of the way to face that martyrdom. Make a list today of all the things that Jesus is doing for you right now. Trust Him and confess Him in word and deed. 

Friday of Easter – Matthew 28:1-10

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

This Easter passage has always attracted me. The angel is just such a typical guy in this scene. He comes amid an earthquake. Rolls the huge stone away and sits on it. I can see him smugly perched up there, glowing in the early morning gloom, with a big smile upon his face. The guards are so terrified they faint like dead men. The angel turns to the women and says, “Don’t be afraid.” He announces the resurrection and gives them marching orders and ends it with, “See, I have told you.” I imagine him waving them off to their task at this point. 

The angel apparently does not have a lot of experience with sinful people. The women depart quickly. I would have too! But they have not kept the whole of the command. It says they leave to tell the disciples with fear and great joy. The angel had told them not to be afraid and here they are still afraid. Thank goodness, Jesus understands us. He is a real human being. He knows that, unlike angels, we are often captive to our emotions. Simply telling me not to be afraid is not enough. He seeks the women out and greets them. They touch and Jesus smiles upon them. His commands are the same as the angel’s had been in content but how different they are. While they are in physical contact with one another he says, “Do not fear. Tell my brothers…” This is what these fearful women need. Jesus speaks of brothers and stands close to them. 

Jesus knows what makes you afraid today and he knows how much fear can control your life. Jesus knows that some angelic command or even an admonition from a devotional “Don’t be afraid” will not take away your fear. He has risen from the dead because he understands that his sheep need a shepherd and you need him to comfort and calm you. Hold the hand of someone you love today and reassure them that Jesus lives and loves us today. You both probably need to hear that. 

Thursday of Easter – Colossians 3:1-13

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 

This is another one of those evidence “ifs” I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. You have been raised with Christ. Paul is making an argument based on that fact. Baptism has done its work (see Romans 6). 

But now that Baptism has done its resurrecting, consider what that means with Paul today. He exhorts you to seek the things that are “above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” What do you suppose those things are? It could mean we are to have our heads in the clouds, but that would be missing Paul’s point. Look to verses 12-13 to see where we encounter the Lord enthroned and where we meet the one in whom our lives are hidden. The things above are not other-worldly in the sense that they are floating on a cloud somewhere. The things above are right in front of us. They are the new life which flows out of those baptismal waters. Jesus rose from the dead and ate with his disciples because he loves this creation. The “things above” are acts of compassionate hearts, kindnesses done with humility, meekness, and patience. 

Being isolated with family can be great but sometimes not so much. Jesus, risen from the dead, gives you eyes to see the world in a heavenly light and bring heaven’s peace, joy, forgiveness, and love to bear upon your home right now. Sin is potent in its ability to distort and deform our relationships with those who are closest to us. Easter means that the one in whom our lives are now found is stronger. Put on that compassionate heart. Be kind, gentle, humble, meek, and patient with the people in your home. You will find that Jesus is there to help you do that. It will be good. Live out Easter’s promise today. 

Wednesday of Easter – Psalm 16

1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
    in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names on my lips.

5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I have set the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.

11 You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore

Luther said that your God is that person or thing which you believe in and trust to solve your biggest problems. We have a great deal to be afraid of in this time of pandemic. The foe seems much more immediate. Many idols are proving themselves to be fickle and faithless for those who have trusted them.  

Listen to David today. He turns us to the one who really does solve our problems. He takes refuge in God. He has no good apart from God. The faithful are his delight and the idolater the object of his contempt. He is the child and heir of God. That is a good inheritance. As a result, his life is centered upon God. God gives him counsel day and night. David will not be shaken. That is quite a statement when you remember just how much the world had thrown at David. 

David’s spirit rejoices and his flesh is secure. God is not only promising a life hereafter. He is concerned with David’s life right now. God will not abandon David or you to the grave. God has made known the path of life and joy. 

This is Easter week. Jesus says that He is the Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:1). God has not let his Holy One see decay. After three days Jesus has risen from the dead to take care of you. Trust him. He has this in his strong and loving hands. 

Tuesday of Easter – Jeremiah 31:1-6

1 “At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people.”

2 Thus says the Lord:
“The people who survived the sword
    found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
3     the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
    O virgin Israel!
Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines
    and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
5 Again you shall plant vineyards
    on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant
    and shall enjoy the fruit.
6 For there shall be a day when watchmen will call
    in the hill country of Ephraim:
‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,
    to the Lord our God.’”

I saw a viral tweet the other day from a woman who declared that it was hour 682 of the second day of quarantine and she was ready to vote her husband off the island. These last weeks have seemed endless in so many ways as we await the day when we can return to our regular lives of going to work, gathering with friends, worshiping in the same room, and shopping without fear. But even as we look forward to that day, we wonder what the economy will look like when we emerge from our isolation. The problems we faced before we were put on lock-down won’t have magically evaporated. 

Jeremiah’s ministry took place in the days leading up to and including the brutal exile of God’s people. That was an isolating event which makes ours look like a vacation. Look again at the first verse of this passage. When Jeremiah wrote the northern ten tribes of Israel had been in exile for at least six generations. They were gone and had been absorbed into the peoples of the Assyrian empire. Even to this day they exist only as tiny remnants. God declares that he will be the God of all the clans of Israel. A little further on it says that they shall plant vineyards and enjoy their fruit on the hills of Samaria, the abandoned capital of those northern cousins. 

Easter calls upon us to look for God’s deliverance. Jeremiah urges us not to set our expectations too low. God has much more in mind than simply letting you go to work or church again, as good as that sounds right now. He says that God will rebuild virgin Israel and that virgin shall adorn herself with tambourines and dance with the merrymakers. Read the first chapters of Hosea and see how remarkable it is that God would call Israel a virgin again and restore to those abandoned homes the joy of being God’s people once more. 

The day comes when Israel’s watchmen shall call, “Arise, let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God.” In this day we are called to hope and expect great things from our God, even the resurrection and restoration of all that has been lost since Eden’s tragic day. If that seems hard to envision, take a few minutes and make a list of what you are eagerly anticipating from God’s hand. Pin it up and look at it occasionally.