This morning I watched the brain being cut out of a child with a beating heart by a charity with the word “parenthood” in its name. I’m told it’s more important to talk about making sure condoms are readily available. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the two have to go hand in hand. I can’t ever unsee that. My heart is broken.
Last month my heart broke when a group called ISIS crucified teenagers and decapitated men for being a different religion, then posted it on the internet.
Last year ebola killed thousands of the world’s poorest. Before that it was child soldiers, forced to commit atrocities by a warlord. Don’t forgetthe latest natural disaster that destroyed lives. I can’t even keep track of how many tragedies I missed in between. The world is going to hell.
It’s easier not to think about it. My kids are 1 and 3. I’d rather stick my head in the sand. Every time I peek up, it just looks worse. What kind of world will they grow up in?
Enter the church. Every fiber of my being wants to wall ourselves off here. I want to say this is a place where none of those evil sinners can enter. This is a place terrorism can’t touch. This is a place free from sickness. This is a place tornadoes can’t knock down. Except not. The mighty fortress is built in the middle of a sinful broken world. The church is next to the gates of hades. Inside our walls are sinners burdened by guilt and shame and coping with suffering and sickness and death. They’re hurting and they’re scared and every day they become more and more aware that hell is hot.
It would be easier to pretend otherwise. It would be easier to sing camp songs about Jesus and not think too hard about how little they talk about what we’re actually going through. It would be easier to give boring sermons about a vague morality laid out in step by step programs that promise to undo the very concept of entropy. If you just follow these steps, you can fix yourself, and even the rest of the world too. It’s all based on a lie that if we try hard enough, everything will just be ok. Then I don’t have to tell the truth. I’m really, really scared too.
I know you want answers. You want to know how to fix this. You want to know how to stay safe. The world is going to hell, and instead of giving out details, Jesus just tells us, over and over again, “Do not be afraid.” Even of a world going to hell. That’s because we have a God who has already descended into hell. We say it all the time.
[I believe in] Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God th Father Almighty. From thense He will come to judge the living and the dead.
It wasn’t to fight. Jesus didn’t drop down to hell to wrestle with the devil. It was to declare His victory. By the time Jesus descended into hell, satan already lost. Christ was already crucified.
That means He has already redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
Christ already won. So thorough is His victory that even death can’t hold Him anymore. He is risen! If the world is going to hell, fine. Christ has conquered hell too. We cling to His promise. His victory is our victory. He will save us.
That victory is still proclaimed here, and even more, we participate in it. Jesus actually shows up on Sunday in a meaningful way. Not a generic “God is everywhere” way that can’t explain why bad things happen. In a meaningful way with an explicit promise. We call it communion. Eat, drink, this is the very body and blood of Jesus that won you back from hell. It’s here. It’s for you. Eat, drink, and know that forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are yours. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. All the fire in hell can’t change the fact that God is present and active in His Supper for you.
That’s a way that’s meant to help us when bad things do happen, Because God will not throw us out when we fail to stop atrocities. He won’t even throw us out when we commit them. He forgives sinners. He saves you. He will not abandon those He has bled for. He will dwell among us, in word and sacrament, granting comfort to those in pain, forgiveness to the ashamed, and the sure and certain promise that whatever this world can throw at us, He will bring us through it to the very same resurrection we saw on Easter morning. We will rise too.
In the meanwhile, we’ll gather around His gifts. We’ll sing hymns that speak of His promises. We’ll be baptized. We’ll eat and drink to our salvation. We’ll hear sermons that promise the victory is already ours, because Christ has already won it and even already delivered it.
That’s enough. That’s enough that I can even know joy in the middle of this broken world. I can hold my kids and know they’re baptized. I can laugh with them. They’re children of God. God takes care of His kids. I can pray with a broken heart for those suffering and then smile at the sunset. My God saves. Even me. Even you. He has descended into hell. Nothing can change that. Know joy.