21 December 2009

The Wounded Body of Christ

Among the good gifts that the Christ gives to His Church on earth, in first place are His Holy Apostles, including St. Thomas, who have seen the Lord. By their eyewiteness testimony, you are called and brought to faith in the same Lord Jesus Christ, in order that, believing, you may have life in His Name. Blessed are they who saw what Prophets longed to see, and who looked upon the Mystery of the Word-made-Flesh, which even the angels had longed to look into. And blessed are you who receive their preaching of Christ, for by that apostolic Word you share their fellowship with Christ and with the Father and the Holy Spirit. By the faithful Word of those who saw and touched the Body of Christ, you are made a member of His Body, and you abide in Him, with one another, in peace and love.

For all of that, the Apostles were not strong, confident and believing by any reason or strength of their own, but by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Thomas was not the only doubter among the Twelve; they all doubted, until Christ had shown to them His hands and feet and wounded side. It wasn't simply doubt or skepticism, but unbelief that plagued them.

Now, put yourself on both sides of that equation:

If you doubt something and don't believe it, you can't simply choose to believe it. You can't will yourself to believe differently than you do. It's possible to be convinced and convicted by one means or another, depending on the circumstances, but apart from such a conversion you can't just decide to trust and take to heart what you doubt.

And when you have such doubts, whether about friendship or love, or perhaps about Christ Jesus and His Word, then you have no real peace and calm, but fear, frustration and anxiety.

On the other side of it, if someone else doubts you and your word and refuses to believe you, that can also be very frustrating and exasperating. Perhaps you become impatient and angry in such situations; which doesn't help your credibility, and doesn't help the doubter, either.

But Jesus does not lose sight of His goal and purpose. He is not moved by pride or ego, but by love and mercy. His desire is to give life and peace and fellowship: to bring you into fellowship with Himself, and to unite you with Himself within His Body.

His love and His faithfulness are forever; so He is patient and kind, long-suffering, slow to anger and abounding in gracious compassion. Even His scolding is gentle, that you not be frightened or shamed but embraced by His love. He is not harsh or mean. He does not berate His disciples or cast them away from His presence; nor does He leave them alone in their doubts and fears. But He is merciful in coming to His disciples and opening Himself to them.

Consider what it means that He reveals Himself to the disciples, including St. Thomas in particular, and He makes Himself known to them, by the means of His wounded hands and side. Note that He is not simply recognized as Jesus of Nazareth, but He is recognized and worshiped as Lord and God — by such wounds.

Is this not striking and seemingly ironic, that the Lord our God should be seen in His wounds?

But this is precisely right. This is the sort of God you have. He has given Himself as a Lamb for His people, a Lamb that has been slain, and yet, behold, He lives. He has passed through the deep waters for His people, on their behalf, ahead of them, in order to bring them through on dry ground. From His pierced and wounded side He has washed His people with pure water, and He has cleansed and covered them with His holy, precious blood, so that death has to leave them alone, and doubt must finally let go of them.

So it is that, with His Body and His Blood, He gathers His disciples to Himself and grafts them into His side, that they may have life in Him.

That is why, even in His Resurrection, His glorified Body bears the wounds of His Passion. There is no shame in those wounds, but His glory as our Lord and God and Savior. This weakness is His strength and our salvation.

And if the Body of Christ bears the wounds of His Cross, do not be dismayed that the members of His Body bear His Cross and are wounded. Do not despise your wounded brothers and sisters in their weakness, doubts and fears. If anyone says that He loves Jesus, whom he cannot see, but hates his brother, whom he does see, he is a liar. You see Christ Jesus in your brother and sister, especially in your wounded brother and sister; for it is by His wounds that He reveals Himself and makes Himself known to you.

Do not despair if you yourself are wounded, whether in body or soul, heart, mind or spirit. For Christ has made such wounds His own, in order to heal you by His death and make you whole in His Resurrection from the dead. Do not be unbelieving, but believing, and at peace.

Take courage from the example of Saint Thomas, who is remembered with thanksgiving on this day, not as "doubting Thomas," but as the Holy Apostle. He is called and sent by Christ, not because of his flawless strength, but even in the frailty and weakness of his flesh; that the glory of Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, might be manifested in such wounded hands and feet as this preacher of the Gospel.

The wounded members also belong to the one Body of Christ. And so do all of you belong to one another in Him. You are fitted and joined together in love, in the unity of faith and the knowledge of God's Son; that you might share each other's strengths and weaknesses, wounds and scars, in peace — under one Head, crowned with thorns, even Christ, your Lord and your God.

If your fellow members of His Body are not with you in the gathering of His disciples, seek them out, speak to them in love, and invite them in. That is what the other disciples did for Thomas; though he doubted their word, they spoke to him nonetheless, and perhaps that is why he was there the next Sunday, instead of being elsewhere on his own. Your words may not convince your brother or sister of anything, but bring them with you to the Upper Room of the Church.

For it is there, in the Divine Service of the Gospel, that Christ is with you, in your midst; and His Peace is with you. Receive His Holy Spirit in His forgiveness of your sins. Do not be afraid; He is here for you in love. Even His preaching of the Law is a gentle scolding, which does not drive you away but would have you hide yourself in His wounds.

Reach here with your hand. Take, eat; drink; taste and see that the Lord is good, and that He is risen indeed. Oh, come let us worship Him, our Lord and our God, and give Him all thanks and praise, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Adriane said...

Beautiful. Wonderful. Exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you for saying so. God bless you, Adriane.

{edie} said...

I've enjoyed hearing you on Issues and am finally enjoying reading the Harry Potter series with my children---after a period of boycotting the books due to the wizardry and witchcraft. My husband reads your blog regularly and encouraged me to read this post, which I've since read three times. You are a gifted writer and theologian and I wanted to say thank you for blessing us in so many ways. Your blog is a wealth of encouragement. Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas from the Wadsworths.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you, Edie, and Christ be praised. A blessed Christmas Tide to you and your husband and family.

Myrtle said...

One of the greatest blessings God has given in bringing me to the Lutheran confession is the Book of Concord. Within those pages, I find not only pure teaching for which my heart had longed, having experienced an utter dearth of such in the Protestant church, but also a compassion for and consolation given to the burdened Christian. Luther, in particular, seems to intimately understand the anguished soul, one who believed, yet struggled still. I find great comfort in knowing that I am not alone, in knowing that the fathers of our faith discarded not those who found themselves battling the onslaught of satan rather weakly, but instead encouraged and uplifted them, embraced them even at the alter, most especially at the alter.

In your sermons, in your posts, I oft find the same compassion, the same consolation, letting the anguished soul know that she is not alone, that Christ loves her still, that His gifts are for her even though....

In short, I oft find the mercy of Christ poured out upon me in great measure.

Thank you, Pastor Stuckwisch, for sharing the beautiful gift of this sermon, this presentation of the Living Word that I, in particular, needed this day.

Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

The Peace of the Lord be with you, Myrtle. Thank you for your words.

I know what you mean about the comfort to be found in our Lutheran Confessions, and especially from Dr. Luther. I have often taken solace in knowing that his service to the Church flowed from and through and with the Cross.