New has broken into our midst
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, lieber Schwestern und Brüder in Christus Jesus, unserem Herrn.
It is a great joy to celebrate the Holy Mass with you here in the Christuskirche, which is very special and well known in Europe. Two years ago I visited here for the first time and I thought: what a beautiful and bright church you have here. I bring you cordial greetings from Finnish Christians and the Finnish ecumenical delegation consisting of members from the Lutheran, Orthodox and Catholic Churches. The Ecumenical Week of Prayer has brought us together in Rome to pray together and to hear God’s Word together.
As you know, Finland is a country of 5,5 million inhabitants, 180 000 lakes and 2 million saunas. Many of us come from the Diocese of Kuopio, which is the easternmost diocese of Finland. We share a common border with the Russian Federation. Some of our hosts here said yesterday that is so cold in Rome right now. Well, in that question we probably have doctrinal disagreements, because at this moment in our home town there is almost one meter of snow and 22 degrees below zero. Despite that, this evening Lutheran, Orthodox, Pentecostal and Catholic Christians walk together through the city and by doing so witness to the love, truth and compassion of Christ to the city and its citizens.
With other Christians all over the world, you have just celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. In many western Churches we remember at the same time the Baptism of Jesus. The Baptism story is like an icon of the Holy Trinity: the Father sends the Holy Spirit to the Son and proclaims “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”
That is the first important thing today. The Baptism of Christ here is the first beginning, the precondition of ministry of Jesus Christ on earth. On the other hand, Baptism has a different meaning for Jesus than for us. Jesus does not need the waters of Baptism for the remission of sins or for liberation from the powers of evil and death. His baptism is more like an example and exhortation to us. Christ wants to lead by his own example: that we ask Baptism for ourselves and for our children, so that we receive new life in him. In Baptism, we receive grace in him, joy in him, fullness of life in him. Furthermore, as Martin Luther says, our Baptism is like a jacket or vestment which we should dress up every morning. Baptism settles us and puts us on the way in which we follow Jesus Christ in a holy life and faithful service. Because of Baptism we are called “Christians”: that is, those who live in Christ and who follow him in truth and love.
This is important today when we celebrate the Ecumenical Week of Prayer. We all are baptized into Christ and his Church. That is why we belong together. That is why we must share all the benefits and troubles, both victory and suffering, both happy moments and the time of trial. As baptized members of the Body of Christ we, as Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Pentecostal, Methodist, Reformed Christians, must pray for the unity of the Church and, in spite of disagreements in our history, walk the way of reconciliation. So, our Baptism is our beginning in the footsteps of Jesus.
But what then? Do you remember what happens, according to the Gospel, after Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist? One might respond that Jesus then begins his public teaching. However, something happens before it.
According to the synoptic Gospels, immediately after the Baptism, “the Spirit” – not the Devil, but the Spirit of God – leads Jesus into the desert, in the midst of temptations, anxiety and tribulation: ,as Luther says. This is a second message for us: Baptism and the way of Jesus do not always lead us immediately to an easy life and superficial happiness, but instead to temptations and tribulations. Sometimes we walk in the light, sometimes in the middle of agony. That is the way of Christ.
Only after struggling with temptations by the Devil does Jesus call the twelve apostles and begin his public ministry.
Then we come to the Gospel text of today. Do you remember in what way, according to the Gospels, Jesus begins his public ministry following his Baptism and after being tested in the wilderness?
Here the answers slightly differ. According the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins with the Sermon of the Mount, and proclaims theso-called Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
According to the Gospel of Mark, after his Baptism Jesus begins his public office by coming into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying: ”The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus begins by performing the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana. He changed the water into wine for the benefit of the host.
According to Luke, Jesus begins by reading the Holy Scripture in the synagogue of his home village on the Sabbath day. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him and he begins to read: ”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Now, what is common to ALL the Gospels when they describe the very starting point of the public ministry of Jesus?
In ALL these beginnings the message is clear: Something totally new has broken into our midst. This person, this Jesus from Nazareth, is something else, something more. He is more than an ordinary prophet, more than an ordinary moral teacher, more than an ordinary rabbi or philosopher. His authority comes not not from earth, but from heaven. His message is not from human beings, but from the Divine Spirit. His power is not based on muscle or political position, but on the power of God. He is not only a human being, but a true human being and true God in the same person.
That is why in his face we can find the face of God. In his actions we can face the healing power of the loving God. In his word we can hear the word of God. Jesus says in the Gospel of the Day: Today this promise of the Scripture has been fulfilled in you hearing and come present among us.
That is why, in your tribulations, you can place yourself and settle yourself in Jesus’ promise: “God has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor – and to you. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives – that is to you. God has sent me for the recovering of sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed – that means: to you.” Today this promise has been fulfilled in your hearing and in your life.
Sisters and Brothers in the Christuskirche. This is the reason, I believe, that this church is called Christuskirche. This good news to us is the reason why there is the face of Christ at the fresco looking upon all of us with love and compassion. This Christ is present among us when we pray to him, hear the gospel and share his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. This Christ has prepared for me and you a special room in our heavenly home.
The Lord be with you all.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ”Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”