Vol. 10 — No. 16 April 20, 1969
1 Corinthians 5:6-8
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
In Christ Jesus, our risen Paschal Lamb, Fellow Redeemed:
These three verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are the pericope that the ancient Church chose as the epistle reading for Easter Sunday. There are other epistle pericopes, for example, the entire fifteenth chapter of this same epistle, that would seem to be more fitting. There must have been a reason for selecting the verses of our text. The text speaks of “keeping the feast.” What feast? The references are to the old feast of the Passover. But that Old Testament feast corresponds in time with the Easter Season of the New Testament. The pascal lambs were slaughtered on Friday and then the feast continued for seven days. Christ, our Pascal Lamb, was crucified on Good Friday, arose Easter morning, the third day, in the midst of the Passover celebration. One of the earliest names for Easter was the “pascal Day of the Resurrection.” So there is a time connection between the Old Testament Passover festival and the New Testament Easter fesitval.
But there is a more meaningful substantive connection between the Easter Gospel and the Epistle selection. The Gospel brings us that glorious good news: “Ye Seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.” That message was unexpected and unanticipated! It caused that first Easter congregation of women to tremble, to be amazed, to be afraid. It took awhile before that message filled their hearts with joy and rejoicing, confidence and hope. But it was and it is fact: “He is risen!” The Epistle outlines the impact that this message is to have upon the Christian in his daily living. We Christians are urged to keep the feast—not the Passover feast, but the Easter feast. We are to make the keeping of that feast a way of life. Day by day, week after week, month by month, year after year we are to continue keeping the feast. How? Here Paul reached back to the familiar preparations for the Old Testament Passover Feast—by cleaning out the old leaven. Before the Passover began, a Jewish household would remove all leaven and anything leavened from the house. This had to be done! This same thing New Testament Christians should be doing daily as they seek to make their lives a perpetual Easter celebration. Why, why do this? Paul answers simply: “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us!” Let us meditate upon this thought this morning:
“Your glorying—better, your reason for glory—is not good,” Paul wrote the Christians. The congregation at Corinth was richly endowed with spiritual gifts. The Spirit of God had lavished His gifts upon them. They had much for which they had cause to be thankful, but they were inclined to glory in that which had been given to them. In so doing they conveniently overlooked a nasty bit of leaven that was working in their midst. A young man in the congregation had made himself guilty of incest, of taking his father’s wife, his step-mother, to sin. The congregation had failed to react vigorously against this sin. They had failed to admonish, to reprove. Their failure to react to this sin in their midst made them partners of it. By their silence they were giving their approval. The ailment was malignant and contagious. Paul urged drastic spiritual surgery: “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” “You have little reason to glory,” Paul told them. Then he asked them point blank: “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” Anyone should know that! A housewife cannot put yeast in a lump of dough and expect to confine the working of that yeast to a restricted portion of the dough. So also open sin, that is condoned and tolerated within a Christian congregation, cannot but infect the entire congregation. Therefore: “Purge out—clean out—the old leaven!”
Why? “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us!” No Jewish family would tolerate leaven in the house while preparing to and while Celebrating the Passover. How can Christians, for whom Christ died and rose again, tolerate and so condone open sin in their midst. Christ and the condoning of sin are mutually exclusive. This is and should be elementary. Why did Christ become the Passover Lamb? Why did He humble Himself to death upon the cross? Why was He put in the grave? Why did He rise again the third day? Did Christ die and rise again to give sin an aura of respectability? Do Good Friday and Easter mean that the floodgates of the flesh can be opened because there is now sufficient grace to cover man’s greatest effort towards sinning? God forbid! We are celebrating our Lord’s victory over sin! We rejoice that He who was delivered for our offences was raised again for our justification. Therefore: “Purge out the old leaven!”
So let us keep the feast, so let us live our lives as Easter Christians, as disciples of the risen Pascal Lamb—“not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness.” Each one of us carries about with him the old leaven of the flesh, the leaven of baseness and wickedness. Today that old leaven is covered by our Easter finery, but it’s there! It’s as a caged wild beast, hoping for and waiting for an opportunity to break loose and tear Christ from our hearts and lives. To overlook this situation is to become inexcusably spiritually naive.
Clean out that base and wicked leaven! Are you here this day to be seen in your Easter finery or to worship at the empty tomb? Do you look about you with a jaundiced eye—filled with resentment towards someone, filled with petty jealousy towards another, overflowing with a feeling of superiority towards yet another? Have you confessed your sins in humility and penitence or have you just mouthed the words of the confession because that’s the thing to do in church? Do you believe what you have confessed in the Creed or is this part of the Service just a mechanical recitation of words said so often they become meaningless? Do you find yourself guilty of using people and loving things, rather than loving people and using things? Do you feel the pull of the crowd stronger than the drawing power of the narrow way to life? Clean your house! Purge out the old leaven from your heart! Christ your Passover was sacrificed for you. He is risen! That means for you pardon from sin, not license to sin. That means combat against sin, not appeasement of sin. That means a step away from all baseness and wickedness, not an embracing and a fondling of the filth of this world. So let us keep the feast by cleaning out the old leaven of the flesh, for the risen Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us!
That is one side of keeping the feast—of living as Easter Christians in continuous celebration. But that stance against the old leaven of the flesh is not enough. It is never enough to be against. That is why Paul exhorts us to—
“Be a new lump, as ye are unleavened!” What that means Paul unfolds when he urges us to keep the feast “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” The word “sincerity” implies something that has no foreign substance in it. It’s pure. We think of our Lord speaking of the “pure in heart.” Unadultered is also a word that comes to mind. Pure in motives and pure in deed, without guile, deception, pretense. This characteristic is combined with truth. This is the new lump! This is how we are to keep the feast! This is how the resurrected Lord would have us live.
What kind of a way of life is this living as a “new lump” in purity and truth? One thinks of the recent funeral services of General and President Eisenhower. It was refreshing to hear the sacred Scriptures read and to hear the strains of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” played by the band. But there was too much of one item and not enough of another. Too much eulogy and not enough doxology! It was fitting that President Nixon should eulogize former President and General Eisenhower, for no other man has played a similar role in the recent history of our nation. It was fitting that especially the younger generation of our nation, for whom most of the Eisenhower era is a matter of past history, to be given a historical perspective of the man. This is a job that President Nixon did. It was a job befitting statemen, politicians, military men, historians. But one would have liked to see and hear something else from clergymen. One would have liked to hear doxologies rather than attempts at ever better eulogies. One would have liked to hear the praises of God heralded rather than the praises of man. One would have liked to have seen God put in the center of things rather than man. One would have liked to have heard more than what sounded like but a liturgical mouthing of the “blood of the covenant.” One would have liked to have heard that “blood” made the center of things. For man is what he is because of that which his God has given him. And a Christian man is what he is wholly and solely because of what Christ has made him. Here is where purity and truth come in. Man, whatever his greatness and whatever his accomplishments in life may be, is still a sinner lost and condemned without the Pascal Lamb. There is true democracy before the cross. There is a uniform leveling of all men. But before the empty tomb there is a raising and an uplifting of all men. There is forgiveness, there is life, there is hope, there is joy in the midst of the sorrow of death itself. At the empty tomb there can only be doxologies, not eulogies—hallelujahs, not a recital of the deeds and accomplishments of man. One would have liked to have heard more of this from the mouths of the clergymen who had such an opportunity to testify nationwide of the forgiveness, the strength, the life, the comfort, the hope that can be found alone in the Pascal Lamb, sacrificed for us, but raised again as the first fruit.
Let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Let us live our lives with certain truths fixed as lodestars and gyroscopes for our thinking, value setting and living. These truths revolve around the risen Christ, who is our Pascal Lamb. What is the connection between Him and the problem of my own sin and guilt? “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins!” What is the connection between the risen Christ and my hope of life in the face of death? “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable!” Without the resurrection—no forgiveness and no hope in the face of inevitable death. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” This is the lodestar for our thinking. I sin, and that daily, but I’m forgiven for Christ was raised for my justification. I’m mortal and daily approach closer to the day of my death, but I’m immortal in Christ for He arose as the firstfruits of them that slept. I feel the drawing power of my flesh, that leaven of baseness and wickedness, tempting me and enticing me towards all manner of evil. But then I’m reminded, “If any man be in Christ—the risen and victorious Christ—he is a new creature.” Christ is the power for good, for righteousness. Because this is fact St. Paul could and did conclude His resurrection chapter with the exhortation: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, he ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” This is the way we are to keep the Easter feast. This is to be our way of life. This is what is meant by purging out the old leaven and becoming a new lump.
May our risen Lord grant us grace and strength so to keep the feast. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.