25 September 2010

Believing in Christ Jesus, Dawn Has Life in His Name (in Memory of Dawn Smith)

Are you living in the doubt and fear of sin and death? Thomas was for a time, as were all of the disciples at various points. It is the frailty of fallen flesh to fall into such traps of melancholy, to doubt the promises of God and their fulfillment in the Lord’s Resurrection, and to fear the grave.

Even faithful Christians struggle with such doubt and fear, so long as they remain in mortal flesh and contend with the devil, the world, and their own sinful hearts. Such is life under the Cross, and so it was that Dawn also struggled in her lifetime on this earth with doubts and fears and sin and death. If you knew her well, you already know that, but you know it from your own experience on earth, as well.

When confronted with such doubt and fear, contending with sin and death and the temptations of the devil, do not make the same mistake that Thomas did that first Easter Sunday. Do not absent yourself from the gathering of the Church, from the place where the disciples of Jesus are found, lest you also miss out on the Peace of Christ (which surpasses and eludes all human understanding).

Thomas remained in his doubts and fears, and in his mourning, grief and sadness, for that whole first week of Eastertide, because he was not with the disciples on that Sunday when Jesus came and stood in their midst and revealed Himself to them and granted them His Spirit and His Peace.

Thomas wasn’t there that first Easter Sunday, but he was there the second time. Why? Because the other disciples did what Christians do: They witnessed to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ by confessing what they had seen and heard and received from Him.

Dawn did that for others, too, because other Christian disciples did so for her. The fellowship and family of the Lord’s Church is such a tremendous blessing and benefit. Indeed, it is crucial to the life and health of the entire body and for each individual member. Therefore, do not absent yourself from the gathering of the Church, but do reach out to your brothers and sisters in Christ when they have been absent. And thank God that Dawn was a receiver and a giver of such gifts!

Of course, coming to church and being there, where the disciples of Jesus are gathered, can also be a scary thing, and perhaps you have your doubts about that, too. To be confronted by the presence of God is frightening; by all rights, it ought to be deadly for such poor miserable sinners as all of the children of Adam and Eve are. The holiness of God overwhelms you and threatens to undo you altogether, for you are sinful and unclean in your thoughts, words and deeds.

It would appear that you are trapped between a rock and a hard place, between the Cross and the tomb, with nowhere to turn and nothing to be done. Damned if you, but damned if you don’t.

The doubt and fear that belong to your sin, also turn you back upon your sinful self and multiply your sins. The very sin that puts you to death and damns and destroys you, also hinders you from Christ, and hinders you from believing His Word, and robs you of life, and robs you of peace and rest and joy and gladness.

You can choose to be in the right place, and you should do so, but you cannot choose to believe. You cannot pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. You cannot force your heart and mind to get it right. You cannot make yourself holy. You cannot justify or cleanse yourself. So, what can you do? What is your hope?

One of the things I loved best about Dawn, and among the things I have missed the most since she moved to Washington, is the way she would ask questions, and the way she would then listen and learn. She was bold and brave to ask, but humble in receiving the answers, even when they were difficult and challenging. She was never rude nor disrespectful, but neither was she shy about expressing her doubts and fears, leastwise not with her pastor. She was a wonderful example of allowing her pastors to serve her and care for her with the Word of Christ.

Dawn was strengthened to do so — to seek out her pastor, to ask her questions and ask for help — by the Word and faith she had been taught, even from childhood and throughout her life. And that very faith also opened her ears and heart and mind to hear and learn more.

Thomas also dared to ask. He even dared to make demands and ultimatums when the disciples confessed the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Audacious and bold, to be sure, but consider how the dear Lord Jesus answered Thomas. And consider how the same Lord Jesus answered Dawn. And know that He deals with you in the same way, with His patient compassion, divine grace and tender mercy.

The Lord does not despise the weary, weak and wounded. Indeed, He has willingly suffered Himself to become weary, weak and wounded! Not only that, but it is precisely in His wounds that He reveals Himself as the Christ, as the Lord, your Savior and your God.

He opens His wounds to you, that you might hide yourself in Him: the Rock of ages cleft for you. He opens His wounds to you, that you might find your comfort, shelter, peace and rest, in Him, the Lamb who was slain, who was crucified, dead and buried for your transgressions, and yet, behold, He lives. He was raised for your justification. Thus has He opened the Kingdom of heaven to you.

He has risen from the dead, but He is still the Crucified One, and He opens His wounds to you. The water and the blood that flow from His riven side (and from His wounded hands and feet) are burning coals from the Altar of His Cross, which cleanse your lips, your hands, your body, your heart and mind and soul and spirit. Your iniquity is taken away. Your sin is forgiven. And you are brought from doubt and fear and unbelief, to faith and worship — and to Peace in Christ.

It is in the means of grace — in the preaching of the Gospel and in the Holy Sacraments, in the spoken Word of Holy Absolution — that Christ Jesus reaches out to you, and He enables you to put your finger into the His nailed-scarred hands, and to put your hand into His side, and to cling to His Cross.

It is by His means of grace, by His Ministry of the Gospel, that He cleanses you, and clothes you in His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness, in the beautiful white robes of His own divine Glory.

For He speaks and acts in the words and deeds of those whom He has sent in His Name. Whosoever sins they forgive, they are forgiven. For this is how Christ Jesus, the dear Lord Himself, deals with you in grace, mercy and peace.

And He speaks His Word to you through His messengers, as He also spoke to Dawn through her pastors, in order to grant His gift of Life, by His grace alone through faith in His forgiveness of sins.

Whatever doubts and fears Dawn had were not only forgiven, freely and fully, but they were also overcome by the Gospel of Christ Jesus. They did not destroy her, but they drove her back to the Cross.

She heard the Word of Christ, which absolved her and fed her, led her by the quiet waters of her Holy Baptism, and brought her to the Table of the Lord. And by His Word, she believed in Him, and believing in Him, she received His very Life, His grace and every blessing.

Her faith and hope in Christ have not been disappointed. As He lives, so does she. As He has risen from the dead, so shall she rise from the dead in her own body, made glorious like unto His own glorious body, immortal and imperishable, perfected forever without any flaw or blemish or any such thing. So shall she rise in her body, as even now her soul rests in the Peace of Christ. There is nothing lacking. There is no doubt or fear.

She no longer suffers any want or need or sorrow. The Lord has removed every tear from her eyes. She now sees Him with perfect clarity.

And what He has done for her, He does for you, also. He spreads His Tabernacle over you in love. He comes to you and reveals Himself to you in mercy. He opens His sacred wounds to you with compassion, that all of your wounds of heart and mind, body and soul, may be healed. And He tenderly invites you to hide yourself in Him, by the hearing and receiving of His Gospel.

Do not be afraid. He shall dry all your tears at the last. He shall raise your body, also, from the grave to the life everlasting. With Dawn, and with all the faithful, you shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever, feasting on His never-ending Banquet. The Peace of the Lord be with you always.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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