01 November 2010

Fix Your Ears and Heart and Mouth on Jesus

Behold the host arrayed in white, and fix your eyes on Jesus.

Easier said than done! For even though, when He appears, you shall see Him as He is, because you shall be like Him, it has not yet appeared what you shall be. And though it is most certainly true that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, prophets and apostles, martyrs and all saints, all the faithful departed who have gone before us in Christ Jesus, you cannot see them.

What you behold is not the Resurrection, nor the glorious life of heaven, but the Cross, suffering, sin and death, and all the trials and temptations of the great tribulation. You see it in your neighbor (even where it's not!), and you see it and experience it in yourself, in your mortal flesh and blood, in this poor life of labor. Most of all do you behold it in those whom you have loved in this life on earth, who have died, who are now but dust or ashes, hidden away in boxes. Their bodies and their life in Christ Jesus are out of sight, hidden from your senses.

What you perceive and feel is emptiness, loss and sorrow, the pain of separation, doubt and fear and uncertainty — which scare you all the more because your faith is threatened and you are tempted to despair; or else tempted to become cold and harsh and hard. Cynicism creeps in, where the catholic faith ought to hold sway, and you are tossed about within and without.

Beloved, do not despair, and do not lose heart. Though it does not yet appear to be so, you are a beloved and well-pleasing child of God in Christ Jesus, and at the last He shall appear, and He shall stand upon the earth, the Crucified and Risen Lord, and every eye shall see Him — and you also, with your own eyes, from your own risen and glorified body.

And just as you are a child of God in Him, so shall you be like Him: righteous and holy, innocent and beautiful, never to die again, but alive forevermore. Your body, too, shall no longer be tired or sore, frail or falling apart, but immortal and imperishable, glorious indeed, like unto His own glorious Body. This is most certainly true.

But for now, you fix that hope on Jesus — that sure and certain hope — not with your eyes, but with your ears, by the hearing of His Word; by repentant faith (not sight); by the confession of His Name in the face of sin and death and hell; by the daily remembrance of your Holy Baptism, and by the eating and drinking of His Body and His Blood.

Thus your body and your soul are cleansed with the pure waters of life, which flow from the side of Christ, the Lamb who has been slain. Your ears hear and receive His Gospel, His Word of Absolution, and the gracious outpouring of His Holy Spirit. Your heart believes, and with your mouth you confess, you eat and you drink.

But with your eyes, you do not yet see the risen, exalted, all-glorious Christ Jesus. You see Him, rather, crucified — in the hurts and heartaches of mortal life in a fallen, sinful world. You see the Cross all around you in the curse of sin and death, and in the Ministry of the Gospel, since it is the Gospel of the Cross.

What, then, shall you say and do in response to these things?

Fix your hope on Christ the Crucified by hearing and confessing His Word of the Cross. Return to the significance of your Baptism by contrition and repentance, confession and absolution. And proclaim His death in the confidence of His Resurrection, until He shall appear in glory, by eating His Body and drinking His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving.

And having thus shared His death by your Baptism into Him, and having taken His sacrificial body and blood into your own body, rejoice when you are counted worthy to bear and carry His Cross in your vocation and stations in life.

When your eyes behold the hurt and heartache of your neighbor, then behold Christ the Crucified in him or her, and so fix your hope on Jesus by helping, as you can, in the confession and confidence of the resurrection of the body. That puts all things into perspective, for the sufferings and death of the body are neither insignificant nor final. It is therefore in the hope of the Lord's own bodily resurrection that you love and serve and care for your neighbor's body while you can, and in the same hope of the resurrection that you lay to rest the bodies of your loved ones who have died in the faith of Christ Jesus.

Blessed are they who so die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.

Your works of faith and love also follow you. They do not lead the way, but they follow after you, as you live and walk in the way of Christ, your Savior.

For already in bearing the Cross, you are like Him, who bore your sins in His own body on the Cross. He made Himself to be like you, that you should thus become a son of God in Him, by grace through faith in His redemption.

He has borne your poverty, that you should receive the inheritance of His heavenly kingdom. He has come down from heaven to earth in gentleness and meekness, so that all of creation is redeemed, made new and sanctified in His crucified and resurrected body; so that even here on earth, while yet on your pilgrimage, you are already at home with your Father in heaven by faith in Christ, His Son.

The same Lord Jesus Christ has had compassion on you, He has mourned for you and your loved ones, and He has died for you and for all, so that you shall be comforted in Him who is your Resurrection and your Life everlasting. For He has reconciled you to His God and Father by His Cross, and He grants you His peace, such as the world cannot give, with His forgiveness of your sins. He feeds your deepest hunger and quenches your deepest thirst, and by His grace and mercy toward you, He purifies you with His Ministry of the Gospel, day in, day out, all year long.

Therefore, when you are persecuted and accused of all kinds of evil, and you are insulted for the sake of Christ, and even put to death, rejoice and be glad. For He has also been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted and falsely accused and put to death upon the Cross. So also His prophets and apostles, His martyrs and all saints, and all of His disciples, who take up the Cross and follow Him.

So also shall you and all those who bear the Cross and suffer and die with Christ, rise with Him, as well. Though you die, yet shall you live, and you shall never die.

To be gathered here around the Lamb upon His throne, His Altar in the Tabernacle of His Church, is to worship and confess Him by faith. Neither you nor the world can yet see Him here, and yet you love Him because He has first loved you. He has given Himself for you, He has died for you and risen for you, and He is here with you. He shall never leave you nor forsake you, but here He gives Himself to you, and He abides with you, that you may live and abide in Him forever and ever.

That is the sure and certain hope that you confess, and that is the new song that you sing — with the voice of His Word and Spirit — when you remember and give thanks for the saints who have gone before us. You set the Gospel of Christ, His Cross and His Resurrection, against the apparent devastation and finality of sin and death. You boldly declare that, not these things, but Christ is trustworthy and true.

It is truly meet, right and salutary so to do.

In the great tribulation of the Cross, you also have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. Your nakedness is clothed and your shame is covered by the white robes of His perfect righteousness. And here at His Altar, in the company of angels and archangels and all the host of heaven, with the great cloud of witnesses who surely do surround us, though hidden from your eyes, you drink the blood of that same Lamb and eat His flesh. His blood shelters and protects you, and His flesh nourishes and strengthens you, even through the wilderness and in the valley of the shadow of death, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

Even now, by His means of grace, His Gospel-Word and Sacrament, your body, soul and spirit live safely and securely in His Body. So do all the saints in heaven and on earth live and move within the Body of Christ, the Lamb.

And this same Lamb is also your Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for you and all His sheep, and who took it up again, that you may have abundant life in Him. As He has done so, do not doubt that He will also freely give you all good things. As He leads you by the quiet waters of your Baptism and through the green pastures of His Word to His Table in His house, so shall He surely raise you up in glory at the last, forever.

Do not be ashamed of the tears you cry in the here and now, whether of joy or sadness. These, too are sanctified by the tears of Christ and redeemed by His Cross. But do know this, beloved, that in the resurrection He shall dry your tears once and for all. No longer will you mourn or weep. No longer will you hunger or thirst. No longer will you suffer the ravages of heat or bitter cold. No longer will you hurt or have your heart broken.

But you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him, and you shall live with Him in the glorious Kingdom of His God and Father, sanctified forever by His Holy Spirit.

Eat and drink the foretaste of that Glory here and now. Indeed, taste and see that the Lord is good, whose mercy endures forever.

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

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