23 March 2011

Lenten Catechesis on the Creed

The one true God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, is also the Author and Giver of life. He gives you life, and He is your Life, who has created you in love for life with Himself forever. He has not only made you, a creature, but He has graciously adopted you to be His own dear child. He has not only constructed your body, and not only does He cause it to function, but He enlivens your body and soul with His Holy Spirit, and He enlightens your heart and mind with His Word.

His Word, indeed, is more than sounds and letters and data. The Father speaks to you by His Son, the Only-Begotten: God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God. This Word is always with God, from eternity to all eternity. What is more, this Word of God is God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, by whom the Father is known and the Spirit is bestowed. For the Word of the Father and the Voice of the Spirit is the Christ, the Son of God, who in the fulness of time has been conceived and born of the Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and crucified, as true Man, for all of us human beings, for our salvation. Thus, the divine Word has become flesh and abides with us.

This Word of the living God — the Father’s Son, the Bearer and Bestower of the life-giving Holy Spirit — is written in the Scriptures, revealed in the preaching of the Gospel, confessed and prayed and spoken and sung by the children of God in the Church and throughout the whole world, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down. This is not the work of man, but the good work and good gift of God, which He performs and gives by His grace alone. The Father keeps speaking His Son, and the Spirit keeps preaching the Christ. Not because you or any of us are good, but because He is good and merciful and holy.

By this Word of God and the preaching of it — in the Church on earth, and from the Church for the life of the world — the one true God continues to shine His Light in the darkness, to create new life out of nothing and to restore life from death, all for the sake of His own divine and holy love. He speaks, and it is so. So that sinful mortal men, who are dying and already as good as dead, not only receive new life in themselves, but become givers of life to others (in faith and love). Women with barren wombs conceive and give birth. Doubters become believers, sinners become saints, the lost are found, the dead are raised, and even you are given life in Christ Jesus.

The Love by which, and for the sake of which, the Almighty and Eternal God does such good and gracious things — that Love which constitutes His very Being and characterizes His divine nature — is the personal and permanent Love of God the Father for His Son, and of God the Son for His Father, in the Holy Spirit. Hence the grace of God. It is not arbitrary, whimsical or capricious. It does not come and go, but as it is, so has it always been, and so shall it forever be.

That is the Love with which He loves you. Or, better to say, He is the Love with which He loves you. As He is the Light that shines upon you through the Gospel. And He is the Life with which He enlivens you, so that you now share and live the Life of God (in and with Christ Jesus).

That you might have this Life, and know this Life, and live this Life — even now, in your mortal body, and hereafter in the resurrection, in both body and soul forever and ever — the Father speaks His Son to you, and through that Word He breathes His Spirit into you. Day by day He raises you up, and from the dust of the earth you become a living being: a man or woman recreated in the Image of God; a son or daughter of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Life that is already yours in Christ is not yet seen or felt or experienced for what it truly is, but His Word of Life grants faith and hope, conviction and assurance against all the darkness of death, against all the assaults and accusations of the devil, against false belief, despair, and every kind of wickedness. His Word calls you daily to repentance: away from the false gods that have otherwise held sway over your heart and mind and body and soul, unto Him who loves you, who is your Light and Life and Salvation.

His Word raises you from the dead and gives you faith and life, because by it He forgives you all your sins. By it He justifies you and sanctifies you, which is to reconcile you to Himself in peace and love, and so to embrace and keep you in His own holiness.

This is so because the Word of God the Father, which the Spirit confesses to you in the Church, is the preaching of Christ. It is not only the preaching about Christ, nor simply Christ’s own preaching, though it is surely both of those things. But this preaching is Christ Himself, the Word of God, the Word-made-Flesh, graciously at work to give Himself to you. He is actually spoken and sung into your ears, into your heart and mind. And with Him, the Father has given you His heart, His highest treasure, and Himself. He binds Himself to you in love, in this Lord Jesus Christ and by His Holy Spirit, and He so binds you to Him that His Cross and Resurrection become yours, and His faith and love, His righteousness and His good works, His life and His salvation.

He has taken all your sins, and all their curse and consequence, away from you and into Himself. By His Cross He has put them to death, and in His grave He has buried them. With His own holy and precious blood, He has atoned for all your sins and thus redeemed you from the slavery of sin and death and hell. In His Resurrection, He has raised you also, recreated and brand new, no longer dead in your trespasses and unbelief, but alive forevermore.

All of this He has already done and accomplished in Himself, once and for all. It’s a done deal, and nothing remains to be done in this regard. There is nothing lacking in Him, in His work, in His Cross or Resurrection. There is nothing amiss.

So certain is the Lord’s great salvation that it stands fast from before the foundation of the world, not only to the end of the age, but to all eternity, forever and ever. Amen, amen, it is and always shall be so. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself, so that sins are no longer counted or considered, but death has been defeated. For God raised Jesus from the dead, and behold, it is very good. This is the Sabbath Rest that remains for you, and for all the people of God.

And yet, you do not see it. You do not feel or experience this in yourself. You do not find it to be so in the world. Sin continues everywhere. If anything, it only gets worse and worse. Death remains rampant. Idolatry is commonplace, along with all manner of sacrilegious blasphemy. Fornication and false witness are taken for granted. Even your fellow Christians sin against you, and day by day you also trespass against them. Your thoughts are vile and perverse. Your words are hardly any better. Your actions are not those of faith and love, but too often they proceed out of guilt and fear, out of pride and selfishness, out of a covetous heart of bitter envy and jealousy, in violent anger on the one hand, in deep sadness on the other.

What then shall we say? And whatever shall you do? You lift up your eyes, and all you see is sin and death. Where, then, shall your help come from? Beloved, listen: Your help comes from the Lord, the true and only God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth.

He does not slumber nor sleep, but day and night, week by week and year by year, as you lay down to sleep, and as you get up to face another day in this poor life of labor, He guards and keeps you from all the evil that surrounds you and threatens to undo you. He shall not suffer your foot to be moved, but in all your going out and coming in, He stands fast and guards you round about. And even though you die, yet shall you live, as surely as your Savior Christ Jesus has risen and lives.

He calls you to Himself each day, again and again, as He has called you to Himself by the Gospel heretofore; not because He has to, but because He loves you, and He has created you for the sake of His Love to live with Him forever. He has not moved and acts to save you because you are so faithful and sincere, so righteous and holy, but because He is righteous and holy and faithful and just, and it is His great glory to be gracious and merciful: to create anew and give life to the dead, to forgive and rescue sinners, to seek and to save the lost. He does not grow weary of doing so.

The Father speaks His Son to you, from His great heart of love, and this Word of God — who is your Savior, Christ Jesus — fills you with His faith and love, with His assurance and conviction. By the hearing of that Word of Christ you believe, for the Lord your God is still creating good things out of nothing, still calling forth Light out of darkness, and still raising the dead from the dust of the earth to live. And as you believe the Word of Christ, so do you confess: you say the same thing that He has said to you, and it is still His sure and certain Word on your lips and tongue (no matter how they stammer and stutter). It is still His Word, and it is true against all that is false.

You speak and say what God has spoken to you by His Son, what He sings in you by His Spirit, and that Word perseveres and prevails where you could not even begin.

This very Word of God, your dear Lord Jesus Christ (in your ears, in your heart, and on your lips), He is the new and greater Noah, who in reverence has prepared an Ark for the salvation of His household and family, that is, the holy Ark of Christendom.

And He is the new and greater Joshua, who has brought the people of God through the waters into the good land, and has gone before them to defeat all of their enemies. He has brought down the walls of hostility, and He has built a better city for His people, His brothers and sisters: for you!

As for Him, the Son of God, who has become true Man, your Brother in the flesh, your kinsman Redeemer, your Savior from sin and death, He who is the Lord has served the Lord, His God and Father, and His whole House shares in His faithfulness and righteousness.

Put away your false gods, therefore, and live here in peace in the House of the Lord. Hear and heed His Word to you, and pray and confess it. However meager it may seem, this is the same Word by which all things have been made and are sustained. This is the same Word that forgives sins and raises the dead and gives life and salvation to all of creation.

This Word is now your strength and your song, because this is the Word of your Savior, who has become your Salvation. This Word is spoken to you, and it is given to you to believe and to confess — and it remains the Word of God, the Word of Christ Jesus, the Son of the living God.

By this Word you live, and you confess the God who gives you life and is your Life. By this Word, you love Him who first loves you. By this Word, you walk in His Light, even in the midst of deep darkness, in the valley of the shadows of death.

By this Word, you confess the Maker of the heavens and the earth, who is your God and Father in Christ Jesus. And by this Word, no less, you confess the God of the Font, who cleanses you from all unrighteousness and clothes you with Christ and His righteousness. And you confess the God of the Altar, who feeds you with Himself, with His Body and His Blood — in whom all of creation finds its meaning, its purpose and fulfillment, and in whom you also live in both body and soul, here in time, and hereafter in the resurrection forever and ever. This is most certainly true.

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

No comments: