11 July 2009

In the Hope of the Resurrection

They buried his body in the hope of the resurrection.
Whatever grief wracked them, and whatever threat of hopeless despair assaulted them, they came for his body and laid it in a tomb in the hope of the resurrection.
That was the hope he had preached, to which he had pointed, in which he had baptized them and many others. That was the hope in which he lived, in which he died and was buried.
And that hope has not been disappointed.
For he was a prophet, and more than a prophet. He came in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way of the Lord. He was the Forerunner of the Christ. He announced the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. To fulfill all righteousness, he baptized that same Lamb, Jesus, in the Jordan River, and saw Him emerge and arise from those waters, and the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descend upon Him and remain upon Him in the flesh.
That is the hope of the resurrection for all who believe and are baptized into Christ Jesus.
That is the hope that St. John the Baptist preached, and the hope in which he preached. Even when his beautiful feet were shut up in prison, still he preached in that hope of the resurrection, until his beautiful lips were also shut up in death
That is your hope also. What? That you should suffer and die? No, beloved and well-pleasing child; you have already died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Thus your body lives and dies and rises with Him, as sure and certain as your Baptism into His death, as sure and certain as His own Cross and Resurrection from the dead. Because He lives, you live also: body and soul, now and forever.
That is your hope, and that is your life.
Do not be afraid. Do not let suffering, sickness, pain or death perplex you. Do not despair, and do not grow weary of doing good.
Your life — your true and lasting, real life — your body, soul and spirit — are safe and secure in Christ Jesus. And He will not disappoint you.
Live in that hope, in Him. For His Name has not only become well known, but has been given to you, as your Name, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. So it is that you are in Christ, and Christ lives in you.
For St. John the Baptist, that life in Christ meant preaching, imprisonment, and decapitation. What are your vocations, and what are your stations in life? What has the Lord your God called you to do, and where and how would He have you live in faith, hope and love?
If you are a husband and father, then you are the head of your wife and children. Serve them faithfully and wisely, with patience and gentleness, with compassion and forgiveness, in the way that Christ is the Head of His Body, the Church. Do not be driven by your selfishness, but give yourself for those whom the Lord has given to your care.
If you are a wife, submit to your own husband in the hope of Christ, your heavenly Bridegroom. And if you are a mother, then care for your children with mercy and kindness, in much the same way the Church shelters and protects the children of God. Feed them and clothe them, teach them the Gospel in word and deed, and love them.
Whether you have a spouse and children of your own, or not, cherish and serve your own parents as long as you are able. Love and care for your Church family, too, your brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as your neighbors in the world. Do your job carefully, honorably, gladly and well. Be content with what you have and where you are, even as you continue to work and grow, to study and learn, and to look for new ways to contribute to the benefit of others.
It is especially within your vocations that you bear the Cross of Christ for your neighbor, and it may well be that you suffer hardship, pain or difficulty on account of your vocations; sometimes precisely because of your faithfulness. That is how it was for St. John the Baptist, and for Christ your Lord Himself. To live in your vocations according to the Word of God, under the Cross, is to live, already now by faith, in the Resurrection of that same Lord, Jesus Christ.
Your God-given stations in life may seem like a prison, in which you languish and die a little more each day. Your commitments, obligations and responsibilities tie you down and hold you back, like a heavy ball and chain around your neck. You may feel yourself forgotten, neglected, overlooked, unfairly treated. So many demands upon you; so little freedom, it seems.
Lift up your head, your heart and your hands, in the hope of the resurrection. You have not been abandoned, nor shall you ever be forsaken. Fulfill your callings in life, and bear your afflictions patiently. The Lord knows where you are, and how it is with you, and what is good and best for you. He has not turned away from you. He has not withdrawn His gracious hand. His strong arms are still stretched out in love to strengthen and uphold you, even in death.
Your dear God and Father in heaven is pleased with you. He delights in you and rejoices over you. For you are righteous and holy in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son. Your suffering for His Name’s sake does not negate that, but confirms it by His own Cross. Which means that His Resurrection and the power of His indestructible life are also yours, and shall not be taken from you. Because you are His, and He is yours forever. Signed, sealed, delivered; as good as gold.
As your body shall be raised from death — like His own glorious Body — to the life everlasting in heaven, it is also in your body, now, under the Cross, that you already live with Christ Jesus, by grace through faith in His Gospel; which is your redemption, the forgiveness of your sins.
Therefore, do not give your body over to unrighteousness and impurity. That which is not lawful is not the way of life, either, but of death and destruction. To disobey the Lord your God, to disregard His holy Word, brings death to both body and soul, both now and forever. So does sin bring fear and sorrow and bitter regret, resentment and anxiety, doubt, confusion and madness.
One sin leads to another, and grief upon grief, further and further away from your faith and life.
To give your body over to sin, is to live as though there were no the resurrection of the body. Yet, apart from the hope of the resurrection, your life in the world is perplexing and precarious.
If what you see in the world is what you get, and if what you feel and experience in your body here on earth is all there is to it — if there is no resurrection of your body to the life everlasting — then you are driven to and fro, and tossed about by covetous lust and selfish greed, or by dark despair; by anger and dread, frustration and jealousy. Then you would never find or ever have any true or lasting peace or joy or rest; not at all.
Such denial of the resurrection is why you manipulate, use and abuse your neighbor, even your own family and friends. You entice and seduce, you trick or treat, you blackmail and bargain. Everything becomes a terrible game, a strategy, a con, designed to satisfy your unquenchable thirst, to feed your growling hunger, your restless appetite and craving.
But it is never sufficient, never enough. It does not satisfy, and it never lasts. It cannot keep you safe, and it will not save you.
Apart from the hope of the resurrection, you will never have what you want, but you will always want more and more. Your sin becomes more and more desperate, and goes from increasingly bad to increasingly worse, until it brings forth death and eternal damnation.
In all of this, tragically, you will not find what you really need, even though it is freely given.
The world holds out promises to you that it cannot keep or fulfill. Sex for power, power for sex, and a thousand other trade-offs, one sin for another. Do not chase after these things. Do not seek to seize what is not yours. Do not trade the resurrection of your body to everlasting life for the momentary gratification of your flesh. It is a lie that robs you of everything and leaves you with nothing; no matter how comfortable, luxurious and easy it may appear to be for a little while.
In the end, the world has nothing to offer but a tomb; and even that will be emptied in the final judgment. On the last day, you and all the dead will be raised from the dust of the earth to be judged according to your life in the body: the righteous unto life, the wicked unto punishment.
Where, then, are your righteousness and life to be found? The Lord has granted sure and certain promises to you — all of which He has kept and fulfilled, for you and for all people, from before the foundation of the world — in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the Incarnate Son. That is what is true for you, even under the weight and suffering of the Cross. That is what is true for you, even in the face of your sins and the fierce judgment of the Law against you.
Herod was not the first king of Israel to commit adultery and murder; nor was he the first to be confronted by a Prophet of the Lord. Even such wicked sins and heinous crimes do not undo the Word and work of God in Christ Jesus. Thus, St. John continues preaching repentance to Herod, for the purpose of faith and life in the forgiveness of sins. That is what and why he preaches.
King Herod listens with interest to St. John, but refuses to hear and heed his preaching. He is perplexed and intrigued by what he says, but finds more pleasure in the dancing body of his niece than the preaching of repentance. So what Herod trades for his lust is far more than half his kingdom. He forfeits his soul, by shutting the mouth of the preacher.
Do not do the same. Do not shut the mouth of the preacher by shutting your ears or closing your heart to his preaching of the Cross. Repent of your sins, and believe the Gospel, because the Kingdom of God is here at hand. The righteousness and holiness of God, which are proclaimed to you by this Word, are not only the condemnation of your sin by the Law, but chiefly His forgiveness of your sins in the Name and stead of Christ.
Do not fear men. Do not fear their power, nor covet their praise. But fear God, and love and trust in Him. Cling to His Word and promises. Rely upon His gracious gifts. Hope in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. And live in that hope and confidence.
If your body suffers and dies, do not despair; you shall yet live. If your body is healthy and well, use it to serve faithfully. Do whatever the Lord has called you and given you to do, wherever He has stationed you, for Jesus’ sake, by faith in His salvation. Receive whatever He gives you with thanksgiving, and use whatever you have in love, because your life is safe with God in Christ.
The surety and guarantee of that good life has already been granted to you, by and with the Holy Spirit: in your Holy Baptism, in the forgiveness of all your sins, and in the Holy Communion.
For Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed, the true King, the Son of David, has willingly suffered arrest and execution, the punishment of his father David’s sins, and Herod’s sins, and your sins, and the sins of the whole world. He has done so in order to make a great Banquet for you and for all, in which He serves you, His guest, with His own holy body and precious blood. He pleases you with His grace, mercy and peace. He gives you the fulness of the Kingdom of His God and Father. He covers your nakedness and shame, and clothes you with His own righteousness and holiness. He raises you from death to life in both body and soul, both now and forever.
The suffering and death of St. John the Baptist — like his preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins — proclaim the Cross and Passion of your dear Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Head of His Body, the Church, and as He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so do you and all His members rise and live. For your sins are all forgiven. Therefore your body also shall rest in peace, and be raised in glory at the last to live with God forever, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ Name, and for His sake. Amen.

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