Confessing Christ, His Faith, His Cross
by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and that there be no divisions among you,
in the same mind and in the same judgment.
— Your Servant-in-Christ, Pastor Jeffrey Gross <><
“He will come and serve them”
Sermon for Pentecost XII, Sunday, August 7, A.D. 2016
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Truly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.”
—Luke 12:35-37, NKJV
Christ preached today’s Gospel in an age when slaves and servants abounded. There were paid servants as well, but most were captives of war and or born as slaves. In fact, most ancient societies, kingdoms, and empires were built upon slavery. In most provinces of the Roman Empire, slaves vastly outnumbered free men. Yet the Romans had a curious, end-of-year festival called “the Saturnalia.” Originally celebrated just on December 17, after Julius Caesar reformed the calendar, two, five, or more days were observed before the winter solstice of December 25.
“During my week,”Lucian has the god's priest declare “the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, … .” Statius writes: “December tipsy with much wine, and laughing Mirth and wanton Wit, … .” After Caesar’s reforms the original day was given to honoring the goddess Ops, the consort of Saturn who personified abundance and the fruits of the earth. The two deities were thought to represent heaven and earth, so, says Macrobius, that the two festivals were celebrated at the same time, the worshipers of Ops always sat in prayer so that they touched the earth, mother of all.
Of import for our topic today, restrictions were relaxed and the social order inverted.Slaves did not have to work. Instead of togas, colorful dinner clothes (synthesis) were permitted in public, So was the pileus, a felt cap normally worn by freed and liberated slaves that symbolized the freedom of the season (Martial, Epigrams). … Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters' clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god Kronos, the Creator God. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/calendar/saturnalia.html
So the Romans had a dim, vague memory of the age before sin, when God created the world to feed and care for His children. In Genesis He gave man & woman a lush earth where they could eat without labor. He prepared everything for them, then invited them to eat, relax, and enjoy the world.
Sadly, Adam brought sin, death to all, and earthly slavery to billions ever since. It is hard for Americans to imagine an existence of slavery and crushing poverty. But for the overwhelming majority of humanity slavery and hunger are normal, not only in the world today but throughout all human history. Truly,only God Himself can possibly overcome this miserable state of living.
Yet that is exactly what Christ promises in the Gospel today. If even the Romans could celebrate a day or two of slaves being free, and of their masters waiting for them to eat, and even serving their servants, much more can the children of God picture His Son serving us. The Roman slaves kept in mind that the next day there could be payback time, and if they went too far, their masters would remember their excesses.
Yet Christ speaks of an eternity of Him serving us. First, He pictures our life in this world just like His life in this world. We should think of ourselves as servants of every other human being. Ancient servants had ankle-length robes that also served as bed clothes and knapsacks. But when the work day began, they tucked their robes into their rope or leather belts, so that they looked like they were all wearing shorts. Then as they toiled and labored they would not stumble over their own clothes.
For this reason Christ in our Parable today tells us to “let your waste be girded up,” so that you will be ready to serve others wherever and whenever needed. This service is to be day-and-night, so your lamps must also be lit. Yet you serve with a particular goal in mind: to get ready for the Wedding Feast. You know Christ will return in Glory at the Last Day, the Day of the Resurrection. That Day is called the “Marriage Feast of the Lamb,” as John foresees:
I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. … Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (NKJV)
Our labor on earth pictures and prepares for this happy time to come. Now, we are like the wedding party making last-minute preparations. We can hear the music playing, the Groom is ready to welcome His Bride at the altar. At the reception hall, you are like the caterers, and the groomsmen who go in advance, then await the Bride & Groom’s formal entrance to the Banquet Hall.
“You yourselves are like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching.”
Then comes the shocking part of Christ’s Parable: “Truly, I say to you he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.”
At a wedding banquet, the Bride & Groom are seated and waited upon by their helpers. Not so in Christ’s Wedding Banquet: He prepares, He serves, He provides. Christ becomes the Servant, and waits upon His guests. This is what He told His disciples Palm Sunday before entering Jerusalem:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord their authority over men, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
So we are not surprised today when Christ says that, at His appearing again, He will have you sit down at the Wedding Feast, and He will serve you. Just as He prepared a lush garden for Adam and Eve, then welcomed them to eat and enjoy all He had provided for them, so also in this End of the Age He welcomes you to His Feast. He serves you, already in this age, but also forever in the Age to Come.
The Romans had only an inkling of this, remembered in their Saturnalia. They of course corrupted the memory of life in the Garden with the Creator. They turned it into a debaucherous festival that indulged their flesh unto death. Their festival was only for a day, or week at most in some places. There might be consequences for the briefly-freed slaves when the festival ended.
Christ speaks of a better, true liberation of slaves and servants for eternity. Not just slaves of men, but slaves of sin and death are also offered entry. Here today already Christ prepares the Wedding Banquet for you. He welcomes you to eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood, to forgive your sins, make you pleasing to His Father, and give you physical life forever in the Resurrection to come.
That’s why we call this “The Divine Service.” As Christ says in His parable today, you came here expecting to serve God. You want to fulfill the First Three Commandments:
have no other gods before Me.
Through faith, you are perfectly fulfilling these commandments by being here.
Yet there is something more, something far better at this “Divine Service.” Christ calls and invites you to Service not for you to serve Him or others, but for Christ Himself to serve you, and give His life as a ransom for you. He gives you a new life from the baptismal font, the lectern, the Absolution, the pulpit, the hymns and liturgy, and the Sacrament on the Altar. Particularly here at the Lord’s Supper does Christ fulfill His Word today: “He will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.”
This is why we call Communion Service the Divine Service: Christ your Master comes to serve you, giving you gifts of mercy and eternal life. He descends from Heaven as the Lord of the Feast. He has prepared everything for you, and issues you the Gospel invitation. Just as He made everything ready before creating Adam and Eve in the Garden, now He welcomes you to enjoy a foretaste of eternal life He Himself has made ready.
Far better than any temporary pagan Saturnalia, Christ the Lord plans to serve you forever and ever. That’s why He put you on this earth: not for you to serve Him, but for Him to serve you. I hear often in Christian circles, talk radio, and from theologians, that you were placed on this world to love one another. While God certainly wants you to show love toward all people, today’s parable shows a more wonderful truth of why you are here: God put you here so He could love you, bless you, and provide for you.
So rejoice in Christ’s plans for you and yours: He comes to bless you. He becomes the servant, you remain forever a beloved child of God, a sibling of Christ. Under the Law we do serve and love God and our fellow man. But under the Gospel, Christ reverses those roles, and serves you already in this lifetime, and on the Last Day will bless, love and serve you forever and ever. Amen!
Pastor Jeffrey Gross ,
Bethlehem Lutheran Church
, Bethlehem Lutheran Church