by The Rev. William Cwirla
Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Rev 22:14)
There is a famous scene in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Perhaps some of you have learned it; I did when I was in high school. Lady Macbeth is racked with guilt over the bloody murders she and her husband have committed. She roams through the halls of the castle in her sleep late at night, desperately wringing her hands, trying to wash away the bloody evidence that tortures her conscience to the point of madness. “Out damned spot, out I say!” but the spot just won’t go away. “Who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him,” she cries, scrubbing her hands. She can smell the blood on her hands. “All the perfumes in Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
Sin has left its mark on you - on your soul, your body, your mind, your psyche, your robes. The damned spot of Adam, the original sin and the origin of all sins - your lies, your immoralities, your blasphemies, your idolatries, your greed, your coveting, your murders, your disobedience, insolence, arrogance, hatred - there’s no covering them up. They have all left a mark on you. You have blood on your hands. You search in this world for something that will wash that damned spot of sin away- drugs, alcohol, religion. You discover the terrible truth of Lady Macbeth. That damned spot doesn’t go away, no matter how hard you try. Your prayers and pieties won’t do it. Your guilt and shame won’t wash it away. The smell of sin is on you and all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten it. And then you hear Jesus say, “I am coming soon, bringing my recompense to reward everyone for what he has done.” So now what?
You need to wash, and I don’t mean clean up your act. You need to be cleansed, and like Lady Macbeth, you can’t do it for yourself. All you can do is wring your hands in madness. But is a detergent for the damned spot of sin - the blood of the Lamb, the blood poured out for you on a cross, the blood poured out on you in your Baptism. Though your sins be as scarlet, this blood of the Lamb will make them white as snow.
“Blessed are those who wash their robes.” Blessed are you baptized, believing one. The gates of the heavenly city lie open to you. The Tree of Life is waiting for you to pluck its life-bearing fruit. Earlier, John saw the worshippers of heaven, a congregation no ushering crew in the world could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language. He asked one of the 24 elders, “Who are these in white robes and where did they come from?” And the elder said this: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Who would have thought that the Lamb would have so much blood in Him? And such a blood it is that can cleanse the spot of sin and wash it away forever! Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Have you ever wondered where your sins go when they are washed away? It all has to go somewhere, right? Ever wonder where where the drain goes, where the sewer pipe ends? It goes out, away, far away, deep into the earth, outside the city. There is no place for sin in the heavenly city of God.
Outside the city gates is the garbage dump, the septic tank, the cesspool, the place where the dogs hang out, not referring to the likes of that poor Canaanite woman with her puppy dog faith you’ve heard of, but those who revel in the stale stench of humanity gone bad - the sorcerers and the perverts and sexually immoral, the murderers and idolaters, and all who practice and delight in falsehood and lies. Do you lie? Outside the city gates would be our destiny too, were it not for Jesus.
But He was crucified outside the city bearing your sins on the garbage heap called Calvary. Jesus was made sin for us. He absorbed the damned, indelible spot of fallen humanity - Adam’s sin and yours - and washed it all away in the blood and water that flowed from His side and ran down the wood of the cross to the cursed, weedy soil, trickling down into the deepest depths of hell, where they belong.
If you wish to keep company with your sin, if you wish to commune in your corruption, if you wish to take delight in the evil you have done, then you must go outside the gates of God’s city, to the dogs. You must go to hell. But that’s not what Jesus has in mind for you. He died and rose so that you would have a rather different outcome.
The Spirit and the Church, say “Come.” You are invited. Come. Come, you sinners, poor, broken, needy. Come, young and old, torn by guilt and shame. There is living water to refresh you here, cleansing blood to wash away that damned spot. Flush it down the drain of your Baptism together with the old Adam and all his sinful desires and deeds. Let Jesus deal with it. He already has. Come, drink of that stream of forgiveness that flows from His cross to you. Come the church, God’s inn of mercy. Come to the ministry of forgiveness and healing, to your fellow priests clothed in Christ. Come, sons and daughters of Adam, no matter how great your sin, no matter how deep the stain, it’s all washed away by the slain Lamb who lives and reigns.
“Yes, I come quickly.” Jesus’ last word to His Church. “I come quickly.” Speedily. To save you. To raise you. To welcome you. To claim you. To forgive you.
And the Church, washed in the blood of the Lamb, responds with that little Hebrew word that encapsulates all of faith: Amen. “Come, Lord Jesus.”
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you, His saints.
Rev. Cwirla is Pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, CA. He serves as President on the Higher Things Board of Directors and preached this sermon at the 2008 Amen Conference.
Created: August 2nd, 2008