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Pastoral Postscripts

The Sign of Jonah!

Seminary Professor Dr Reed Lessing, who wrote the Sign of Jonah series we used during the Season of Lent, offers this message for the Season of Easter.

Signs, signs, everywhere there are signs.
“No shirt, no shoes, no service.” “Don’t walk on the grass.” “Do not disturb.”
There are signs we dislike: “Speed Limit 55,” “Limit One Per Customer,” “Limited Time Only.”
We dislike them because they limit us. Sure the limits are either there for our protection (like the speed limit) or because we’re getting a really good deal (so we’re limited to only one item for a limited time), but we don’t like to be limited. We want life to be lived unbounded and free, so we dislike the signs that limit us.
And then there are the signs we crave. We search for a sign to believe that a love that once burned bright is not fading away. We pray for a sign that a loved one will soon enjoy a full restoration of health. And we yearn for a sign that peace will come and war will come to an end.
When Jesus was asked for a sign that might prove that he truly was who he claimed to be, he offered only “the sign of Jonah.” Oh, how we tend to interpret that sign as Jesus’ resurrection alone. Jonah’s release from the great big fish was striking after all. THAT must surely be the sign.
But, the sign of Jonah is more than simply that resurrection moment. The sign of Jonah is ALL of Jonah.
Jonah’s sacrificial offering of himself for the deliverance of the others is part of the sign, for Christ, too, gave himself as a sacrifice for our redemption.
Jonah’s abandonment by God is part of the sign, for Christ, too, was forsaken by the Father—left alone with the sin of the world weighing upon his shoulders.
Jonah’s descent to the dead is part of the sign, for Christ, too, descended into the realm of the dead that all might be freed from death, forever.
Jonah’s interment in the briny deep is part of the sign, for Christ, too, was sealed within the cold stone tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
And then, certainly, Jonah’s miraculous deliverance from the belly of the fish is part of the sign, for Christ, too, was delivered from the belly of the earth.
Jonah and Jesus went through judgment, condemnation and descent before they were raised to new life.

The same sequence of events is applied to all baptized believers in Christ: “Therefore we were buried with him through Baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, thus we too may walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We, too, become part of the sign that points to forgiveness and eternal life!
Easter is full of signs, beginning with the signs seen by the first witness of Jesus’ resurrection. Hear the words of St. Luke: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by them-selves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”
Look at the signs: the stone, heavy, sealed and guarded, is now rolled away; messengers in dazzling white clothes (how like the Christmas angels they must have been, radiating the glory of the Lord); the words that hearkened to Jesus’ prediction about this death and his resurrection.
And then, the linen grave clothes, empty in the empty tomb. All of these signs pointed to Jesus’ resurrection. The Savior is ALIVE!
Consider the other signs of Easter.
The lilies, pure and white, have sprung so early in the spring from bulbs that in every way appeared dead.
The paraments on the altar, which were dark purple just days ago, are bright white—sorrow is gone as this sign of new life brightens our eyes.
The solemn songs of Lent are replaced by happier music.
And that joyful word, “Alleluia,” has risen from its Lenten tomb to invite us all to praise the Lord!
Look how full the church is on Easter! That is a sign of Easter as well!
Here are more signs that the Lord has left for us in his Word:
John 6:66—“Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
John 10:10—“I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 11:25—“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
John 14:6—“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”
Each of these signs from God’s Word points to our Savior, Christ. And we understand the meaning of these signs because we have the sign of Jonah! This sign leads to life now and life forever! We have one more sign, the baptismal sign of the cross! It means we do more than survive, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us!” (Rom. 8:37).
Eternal life begins right now ... because eternity has no beginning and no end. We live the life of conquerors every day of our lives. We have been swallowed up in death ... and released to new life, forever and ever. Amen. Amen, indeed!
 

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