25 November 2009

This Brief Span of Eternity

An unusually warm and sunny November has been nice, but that doesn’t have us fooled. We know that winter is coming with its ice and snow and bitter cold temperatures. Already the days are shorter and darker than they were, notwithstanding the sun’s valiant efforts while it does shine. The shortest day of the year will occur just a few days before the Christ Mass, and here in the Northern hemisphere we can marvel at the striking contrast between this world’s darkness and the Light of Christ, in whose face we behold the radiant glory of God.
Winter is coming, and we are reminded that the world in which we presently live is temporal and perishing. As the Word of the Lord has declared to us in the final weeks before Advent, everything in this world is passing away. Even the once mighty stones of the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem have been thrown down, and no other building of man will fare any better. Not only that, but the earth itself will finally be rocked to the core, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken right out of their sockets. The sun and the moon will be shut off altogether, and the stars will fall out of the sky like dead fireflies.
Every winter is a kind of death from which we are raised again in the spring. But these natural seasons really point beyond themselves to the ending of all things, and to the resurrection of the body in the final judgment. Summer and winter, springtime and harvest continue for now, but only for so long as the earth remains; and the earth shall not remain forever. There are constant reminders all around us of how fleeting our life is. Not only the sin and death which press upon us, within and without; and not only the change and decay, which all around we see. But every bedtime is a little burial of our body, and every surgery a measure of violence and murder of our mortal flesh. No amount of labor, no amount of money, no accomplishment or great achievement, and no human strength will prevail against death.
As everything in this world is passing away, and we ourselves are subject to death and decay, returning to the dust whence we came, the Lord our God calls us to live as sojourners on earth, as wayfarers in a foreign land. Here we are guests, but for a brief time. Our home is in Christ, as our true and everlasting life is hidden with Him in the bosom of God the Father. So by His Holy Spirit do we live in this world as strangers and aliens, on a pilgrimage to our true home and fatherland, which is with Christ Jesus and our dear Father in heaven.
That is not to say that we treat this world with contempt. We do not disdain the bodies that our Lord has given us, for we are His creatures of flesh and blood, of both body and soul, and our bodies also shall be raised unto the life everlasting. We neither idolize nor despise the good gifts of our Lord’s creation, for these are bounty from His hand, for which we rightly give to Him all thanks and praise.
The way in which live in our bodies on earth, and the way in which we receive and use the Lord’s creation, is an exercise of faith and love, by which we are catechized to live with Christ in His Kingdom in righteousness, innocence and blessedness forever. The life that we live in the flesh, we live already for Him who for our sakes died and was raised. We receive His good gifts with thanksgiving and glorify His holy Name. We live by His gracious mercy, and we rest in the peace of Christ, and so do we extend His grace, mercy and peace to our neighbors in the world. That is to live the heavenly life on earth.
Since everything on earth is perishing, and we ourselves are mortal, we are called to invest ourselves and stake our lives on something that will remain. That is Christ and His Word, which shall not pass away. He is not a pie in the sky, over the rainbow, someday, somewhere, somehow, but He is with us (Immanuel) in His own Body of flesh and blood, with His divine, eternal Gospel. He has come to us in the flesh, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has come to us by the Cross, atoning for the sins of the world with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, and thereby reconciling the world to God. He comes to us now, within His Church on earth, with the Gospel, His Word of forgiveness.
His coming to us now — with His Word and with His Body and His Blood, as also in His Holy Baptism — protects us from every evil of body and soul and prepares us for the world to come. Not only that, but His coming to us now — in flesh and blood like ours, with free and full forgiveness of all our sins — sanctifies our life in the body on earth. Though our days are numbered and few, they are indeed a brief span of eternity. Our pilgrimage and sojourn are not a pointless meandering, but a real journey on the way of the Cross, which is the way of Life in Christ.
Eternal life is lived, already here and now, in the Body of Christ, in the Sabbath rest of His Gospel, in the true peace of His forgiveness. To eat and drink His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion, is already to taste of the Wedding Feast to come. To pray, praise and give thanks in the congregation of His Church on earth, is already to join the great choir of His angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. To strengthen your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to be strengthened by them, in both body and soul, with both words and actions of love, is to live by the Cross of Christ in His Resurrection from the dead, unto the life everlasting.
That life which is yours in Christ, in the blessed communion of His one, holy, Christian and Apostolic Church, is then also lived in the vocations to which He has called you here on earth, and in those stations to which He has assigned you here in time. You bring to those vocations and stations in life the divine, eternal significance of Christ and the power of His indestructible life. When you confess the gracious Word that He has spoken to you, by living in faith and love where He has called you to live, by speaking as He has spoken, and by doing what He has given you to do, then your words and works shall not perish but shall follow you in the resurrection of your body. For it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.

In particular, consider what it means for you to live from the Altar of Christ, where He has fed and still feeds your body and soul with His own holy Body and precious Blood. For how shall your hands now serve, which have handled the Body of the Lord? And how shall your lips and tongue now speak, which have tasted His Blood and know His love? And how shall your life in the body not matter very much, since Christ and His Spirit dwell with you in your body?

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