Since last Sunday we have heard, in clear and memorable words, about the treachery of Our Lord’s betrayal. We heard of His unjust condemnation by both the chief priests and Pilate. We have heard of the barbarity of His crucifixion. And we have heard of His death and entombment. Such events should not cause us grief, but great joy. For the Holy Spirit does not cause the holy evangelists to write such words so that we might fear God’s wrath, but so that we might see clearly, and firmly believe, and greatly rejoice in the Lord’s inexpressible mercy.
Let me be clear. You have not heard about a mercy that began when the Father sent His Son into the flesh. Rather, as you have heard today, this mercy begins in the beginning. It begins in the Lord’s love which calls the entire world and then us into existence. And the mercy continues in the Father offering man the world so that we might tend this world with tenderness, and thereby offer it back to Him in unending thanksgiving. Yet our ancestors ruined and marred what our Father lovingly made through His Word. But this does not cause our merciful Father to destroy all and say, “Never again.” Rather, in His mercy, He promises to redeem, to reclaim and to restore us—and, thereby, to make all things new again. As part of His plan, He cleanses the world by a great Flood. And then, as you have heard, in His mercy the Lord prefigures His climactic act by releasing His chosen people from the grasp of satanic Pharaoh, by pulling them dramatically through the Red Sea, and by pointing them to the Promised Land—which they will attain by the strength of the bread He gives, and by keeping His Word and walking in His commandments.
In these things, Our Lord shows that He has always been at work for the salvation of the world. In these things, Our Lord shows that His undying love for His world drives all that He does. And in these things, Our Lord shows that His mercy for us and to us endures forever. And that is good. For if we would believe that the Lord’s mercy begins only when His Son comes into the world, then we might also be tempted to believe that His mercy ends—or, at least, subsides—when His Son ascends into heaven.
Yet the reason we celebrate the mystery of Our Lord’s mercy is not so that we can look back and remember a time when the Lord had mercy, and then pray that someday that time might be repeated. Rather, we celebrate the mystery of Our Lord’s mercy so that we might know and remember, believe and take to heart that Our Lord continues to have mercy on us; that His resurrection has not faded; and that His mercy was personally directed to us when He wondrously resurrected us by submerging us in His Son’s Blood in the waters of Holy Baptism. But most of all, we celebrate the great mystery of Our Lord’s mercy so that we might not fear Our Lord’s wrath, but rejoice in and hold firmly and steadfastly to His mercy.
An excerpt from the sermon preached at the Great Vigil at Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit.