Easter 2007

Mark 16:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is this?

Outside Jerusalem,
three wooden poles pierce the earth.
Two of them bear no fruit, only rotten men.
They are strung with thieves,
condemned for acts unspeakable,
murder and vice,
sedition and treason.

But the third pole
– The third pole! –
it bears a fruit so strong as to dissolve Hell’s claim on men.
It is not a gallows, an instrument of death.
It is a trellis,
a brace, a support, creation’s loving arms,
it lifts a Vine up from the earth.
And the Fruit of that Vine,
so sour on the devil’s tongue,
borne by that Bloody Trellis,
makes glad the hearts of men.

A thief is remembered in the Kingdom.
He plucks, nay steals, life from the Trellis,
and from the brink of Hell,
he enters into paradise,
a saint of God.

So also, the terrorist Barabbas,
guilty as sin, goes free.
He does not pay for his crimes.
He does not die.
He lives
and strangely, this pleases God.

So, too, King David finds relief,
he quenches his thirst upon that hill,
he lies down in the cross-shaped shade,
and grazes upon sweet herbs fertilized with Blood.

Abraham sees the day and rejoices.
Joseph of Arimathea gives up his tomb.
But don’t feel sorry for him.
It is no sacrifice, no widow’s mite,
Since Jesus died he won’t be needing it.

Eve’s Seed is taking root outside Jerusalem,
a new fruit is blossoming,
a new wine is bestowed,
and a new song rings out from the heavenly host.

But what is this?
Beneath the earth, Hell’s fires burn,
and a tremor, a fear ripples through the demons and their slaves.
Its grip is slipping.
It cannot hold.
The prisoners escape.

And at the same time,
the cosmos shakes for injustice.
Why does the innocent Man pay?
Why do the guilty go free?
The sun protests, it sulks, it will not shine.
But look closely, O star of the morning:
Hell gives up the fight.
It is emptied of its booty.
Creation is restored.
And here is the mystery of all mysteries:
God loves men.

The devil knew that all along.
God always keeps His promises.
But he had hoped somehow to work his tricks again.
Having overcome Adam in the garden by a tree,
he thought to use a Tree once more,
a vile pole of tortuous design,
to string up God
as a Man too stupid to know that men did not love Him,
that men would always choose Barabbas
or a thief
or would betray Him with a kiss
or worse,
that His patience would be met with ingratitude,
that His gifts would be abused,
that His love would be ignored.
The devil thought to teach God a lesson about men.

But what the devil refused not know was this:
God loves men.
He bears no grudge.
He lays down His life for Barabbas,
for the thief,
for Judas, for David, for Reuben,
for Isaac and Leah and Laban,
for Adam and for Eve.
So also for Juan
and for Harold,
for George and Ruth
Delphine and Mildred, Emma and Jacob
Donna and Sue, Fred and Erich and Ralph,
Irv and David, Lakisha and Stephen
Diane and Edna and Earl and Andy
and Damion and Matt and Richard and Gerald.
He has laid down His life for every rotten man ever to live,
for every man ever to sin.
And this what the devil does not get:
God loves men.
He loves each of them,
no matter how bad,
how ugly
how dumb
they might be.

And thus is the devil undone.
He is overcome by the Tree.
He can not hold men to their sins.
God in Jesus Christ has forgiven them.
The devil cannot hold men to their sins!
God in Jesus Christ has paid for them, forgiven them,
for God loves men.

What is this?
The devil still will not quit.
He looses all his fury on the Vine.
“Love is strict,” he says,
“Keep your Word, O God.
Justice must be met.
If you will have men,
then give the Son to me,
look away from Him,
and let me have my prize.”

And He does.

What is this?
The Father forsakes the Son!
He hands Him over to the devil and destruction.

How can this be?
How far will God go to pay the price for hateful men?
The Son is cut off.
He is alone.
He is punished for crimes He did not commit.
He heart melts like wax,
His bowels spill upon the ground,
His heart breaks,
His bones are all out of joint,
and His tongue cleaves to His jaw,
dry in the dust of death.
What there ever grief like this?

But what is this?
It gets worse.
For through it all,
He must endure the stupid, wagging tongues of cruel men
who prove the devil’s accusations true.

His patience is met with ingratitude.
His gifts are abused.
His love, to this very day, is ignored.
It seems to make no change in men.
Wars rage on.
Men tell lies and betray friends.
Vices are celebrated and truth is mocked.
And so it is
that our sins hurt Him the most.

Was there ever sin like ours?

But what is this?
He makes no complaint.
Not a noise.
He goes as a Lamb to the slaughter,
and gives His back to the smiters,
His Body and His Blood a Sacrifice and a Meal for men.
He pours out His blood and His Life like water on the earth.
He loves us to the end.

And nothing,
not the devil,
not the government,
not synods,
not bullies,
not terrorists,
not unfaithful spouses,
not mean bosses,
not liars,
not thieves,
not weak moments,
not evil thoughts,
not even our own sins,
nothing! nothing! nothing!
Nothing will stop Him.
He loves us to the end.

The devil never learns.
He is snared in his own trap,
falls in his own pit.
The Tree, that vile pole of tortuous design, is his defeat.
The Tree is the victory of men,
the gift of God.
It is the Tree of Life.
And Hell’s flames are quenched by it,
the devil’s teeth are removed by it,
his strength is spent, wasted in the futile attack of it,
and it scatters his accusations like harmless puppies before a great
roaring lion.

And here is what the devil could not believe:
God loves men.

God loves men.
He welcomes them to paradise again,
to eat of the tree of Life,
to fellowship with Him.

And what is this?
Miracle of miracles: He lives.
And bears no grudge against Caiaphas
or Pilate
or Barabbas.
He loves even them.
He loves men!
So then, nothing could be more true,
nothing could be more true than to say:
God loves you.

And what is this?
O sweet dawn and rising sun,
you shine anew,
for Jesus lives.
He is the Victor over death,
Champion and Captain of the Saints,
the Lover of men.
Death has come to its end.
The grave has lost its sting.
And now is the end of the darkness,
the end of our long night.
Hell’s fury is gone like dew in the morning light.
It is no more.
And the shameful, guilty acts of Caiaphas
and Pilate
and Judas
and Barabbas
and you
are forgotten,
For Jesus lives
and God loves men.

What is this then outside Jerusalem?
A Trellis? A Tree? A Lance that stops the devil’s fierce threats and
death’s design?
But more.
It is a Vine that Bleeds New Wine
to make glad the hearts of men.

And what of that hole cut in stone where they buried and then guarded Him?
It is empty: Jesus lives.
And out of death He gives Himself as Living Bread for the souls of men.

So what is it?
It is Manna, Bread from Heaven, Jesus our Savior.
And thus do we eat and drink His Body and His Blood
and proclaim His death until He comes.

For Jesus lives
and God loves men.


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