27 November 2011

Oh, that He Would Come Down and Open the Heavens to Us

Be careful what you ask for! For when you call upon God to rend the heavens and come down to deal with your enemies — when you call down His anger as a fire against your adversaries — then you call down His wrath and judgment against yourself, as well.

Because, at the heart of all your worries and difficulties, at the heart of all that threatens to undo you and makes you so afraid, you are the problem. You are your own worst enemy! Which is why your own works and your own righteousness can never save you or deliver you. The harder you try, the more filthy and messed up you and your situation get. The more you attempt to raise yourself up, the further into the ground you dig yourself.

You are the problem: not who you are as a creature of God (as clay in the hands of your Potter), but the way in which your heart and mind are set upon yourself and set against Him; the perversion of your soul and spirit, out of harmony with His good Word and Spirit; and the bent of your will, curved inward upon yourself, intent upon your own wants and needs and feelings and emotions.

Although you should know better, the truth is that your intellect, knowledge and understanding are all clouded and faulty, as surely as your body is wearing out, falling apart and perishing. You have no wisdom, reason or strength with which to pull yourself out of the bottomless pit you are in.

Instead of confidence or certainty, confusion reigns, along with anxiety and fear. You are restless and ill at ease, without any real peace, contentment, satisfaction or security; because you have set yourself up at the center of everything, and yet, you are utterly unable to hold it all together. Although you attempt to control things, including your neighbor, you cannot even control yourself, much less the world around you. Far less can you control the Lord, the one true God. When you call upon Him to secure your life, you don’t have Him on a leash, but you call for His Judgment.

And, when you call for the judgment of His Law against your neighbor — when you demand His right ordering of the unruly world around you — then you call for the justice and righteousness of His Law against yourself and your own unruly life.

Then you find yourself at the foot of Mt. Sinai, trembling in fear at the roar of His thunder and the billowing clouds of His fierce wrath and terrible fury. His holiness threatens to consume you, because the revelation of His will and the perfection of His Law expose how utterly corrupt and wrong you have been, and His Spirit convicts you of sin.

It’s not just that you’ve fallen short, but that you’ve had everything inside-out, upside-down, and back-to-front, so that all of your best efforts and most impressive accomplishments are dirt, and worse than dirt; they are garbage — refuse and sewage. All your works, no matter how they may appear, are filthy and unclean, because you are filthy and unclean. You are sinful and unholy.

You need more than help, more than counseling and guidance, more than medication or therapy, and something altogether different than a new strategy or greater effort. To be rescued from the threatening perils of your sin, from the judgment of God’s Law, from punishment and death, you must be redeemed by God Himself, justified by His righteousness, and resurrected to a new life.

How, then, shall you be saved? What hope do you have?

The answer is at hand, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and even now is entering upon the holy city and into the house of the Lord. Here mercy flows down from the hills, like oil down Aaron’s head and beard, anointing you with the Spirit of God, not only to consume the sinner you have been, but to resurrect and recreate and sanctify you for life. For here the Lord, your royal Priest and Shepherd King, has come in righteousness and peace, endowed with salvation for you.

He is already here at hand. There is no gift or grace of God that is lacking to you. But, again, He is altogether different than you have expected or perceived. Your eyes have not seen, nor have your ears ever heard, such a God as He is: Who acts on behalf of the One who waits for Him, and Who meets the One who rejoices in doing righteousness (that is, who lives according to His Word).

You have not known Him, because you have not waited upon Him. You have not called upon His Name. You have not known Him, because you have not done righteousness, but have continued in your sin a long time. From conception, and from your mother’s womb, you have done wrong.

But now He reveals Himself in Christ Jesus. He comes to you in peace, not with anger but in mercy. Not as though He has been absent or far removed from you, but He comes now, in the flesh, by the way of the Cross, in order to save you by the righteousness of His life and His death.

He has come in the flesh, into the valley of the shadow of your death, in order to bear your sins and carry your sorrows — like a beast of burden — like a lowly, humble Servant, come to serve you. And by this path of voluntary suffering and Self-sacrifice, He comes to the Father — through death into life — in order to bring you with Himself, in His own Body, to His God and Father in heaven.

He never has departed from you (though He does hide Himself to reveal Himself under the Cross), but, since you have departed from Him and fled from His presence, He has come to you, in order to bring you back to Himself. This is what He has done for you by His Cross and Passion, and this is what He now does by the Gospel, in order to save you for life everlasting in body and soul.

He sends His disciples — in His Name, and with His Word — to find you where you are: tied up and tangled in your sins, on the outside, in the street — and, by His divine command, to loose you from all your sins and death, to clothe you with His righteousness, and to bring you back to Him.

He comes to you in this way, in gentleness and meekness, by His unassuming means of grace and forgiveness, in order to bear you in Himself and to bring you into His Kingdom: a free citizen!

So has He lived faithfully and righteously — for you — in perfect faith and perfect love. For He has called upon His Father and waited patiently upon Him, even unto His death upon the Cross. And He has walked in the way of the Lord, also as true Man (bearing mortal flesh like yours).

And now you have been called into fellowship with Him. He has been laid upon your heart and mind, upon your body and soul, by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness in His Name. And you have been united with Him and bound to Him by your Baptism into His death, so that you also share His Resurrection and His Life. What is more, you are most intimately knit together with Him in the Holy Communion, in the eating of His Body and the drinking of His Blood.

All of this, so that, as I have often said before, everything that belongs to Christ Jesus — all that He has done and accomplished, and all that He has received in His Resurrection and Ascension; His faith and love; His righteousness and holiness; His life and salvation — all of this is given to you, and it is yours. For keeps. Forever. For the same Lord God who has come to you and called you by the Gospel, shall likewise strengthen and preserve you in that Gospel, in the one true faith, in the fellowship of Christ Jesus, unto the life everlasting.

Just as you are now blameless in His sight, because you are fully clothed and covered in His own Righteousness, so shall you be found blameless when He comes in glory for the final judgment.

Already it is yours — credited as yours, for Jesus’ sake, and pressed into your hands and placed upon your lips, into your mouth and body — even as it shall be fully and openly revealed at last.

Do not be ashamed or embarrassed, therefore, to bear and carry this Lord Jesus Christ — and His Cross — in your body and life. He is indeed your Savior and your King, even in great lowliness. Do not be swayed by the fickle opinions of the world, whether they be positive or negative. And do not despair of the Lord’s tender mercy and loving kindness toward you. For He is faithful, and He has freed you from bondage and called you to the fellowship of Christ Jesus. The burdens of this body and life, and the Cross of Christ that you carry, are no indication of God’s displeasure, but are in fact a participation in His divine life and glory, by His grace.

Wait upon the Lord, and know that He will rescue and exalt you at the proper time. His help and His salvation are as sure and certain as the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Therefore, call upon His Name in faith and hope. For He has given you His Name in your Holy Baptism, and He has taught you, invited you, and even commanded you to pray — and He has promised to hear and to answer. Indeed, His answer is already given: “Yes” and “Amen.” For God raised His dear Son Jesus from the dead, who has named His Christians with His own Name. So it is that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved. You shall be saved!

As you pray in His Name, so also lay hold of His gracious answer to your prayer in His Ministry of the Gospel. Arouse yourself to hear His Word, and give attention to it. Avail yourself of Holy Absolution, which is the voice of God Himself, who speaks and it is so. Find nourishment, health and strength for your body and your soul in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, your Savior.

Take hold of Him, also, as He takes hold of you, by living unto righteousness in Him. That is, not by constraining your neighbor to do what is right, but by constraining yourself to do what is right for your neighbor (in the faith and freedom of the Gospel). Really, it is a matter of living within your own vocations — as Christ Jesus has lived for you in His vocation — and thus bearing the burden of the Cross for your neighbor in the particular path that God has stretched out before you.

To proceed upon that path in the peace of Christ, in the love of God, in the hope of the Gospel, is to walk in the ways of the Lord Himself.

You walk in His ways, in His footsteps, as following His example. But you know, too, that He is far more than a good example for you. To be sure, His good example shows you His fulfillment of the Law on your behalf and in your stead, and, as such, His example of faith and love is nothing else and nothing less than His own faithfulness and love for you, as your Savior and Redeemer.

You are able to follow after Him, to learn from Him, and to live as He lives, because He has set you free and rescued you from sin and death and every evil. He has defended you and defeated all your enemies — including, yes, even the enemy of yourself!

And even now, as you are called to bear and carry Him in your vocations, He is the One who still continues (and ever shall) to bear and carry you in His own Body, to cleanse you with His Blood.

Indeed, His Body and His Blood — given and poured out for you, His dear Christian, to eat and to drink — are the remembrance of His mercy for you; His act of salvation, here and now, on your behalf and for your benefit; and the free gift of His righteousness, that you may live by His grace.

To walk in His ways, therefore, is not first of all your working and doing, but is principally your receiving of His work and of His good gifts, and your resting in Him, who is with you always, even to the close of the age, and who comes to you now in His Peace.

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

19 November 2011

The Love of the Good Shepherd for His Sheep

Your salvation hinges on two things: the Cross & Resurrection of Christ, and your attachment to Him by faith. For He has atoned for your sin and gotten victory over death by His death upon the Cross, and He has opened the way of life to you in His Resurrection from the dead; so, whether you stand or fall in the final judgment depends entirely on where you stand in relation to Him.

Are you on His right or on His left? Are you a sheep or a goat? Will you live under Him in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness? Or, will you be forever cursed and die eternally with the devil and his wicked angels?

The judgment has already been determined by the Cross of Christ, and the verdict has been openly declared in His Resurrection: for you and for all people, for the world and for all nations. In Him, crucified and risen, there is no more condemnation or punishment. But, so too, apart from Him there is no salvation. The judgment rests entirely upon Him, and it is by His authority that you are judged: either righteous and alive with His righteousness, or else wicked and dead without Him.

This is what it means for Jesus, the Christ, to be “the Son of Man,” to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to judge the living and the dead.

He has come into the glory of His Kingdom and His Righteousness by the way of His Cross: His vicarious self-sacrifice of Atonement as the Propitiation for all of your sins and for the sins of the whole world. His Resurrection, therefore, is His vindication, the declaration of His Righteousness, and the justification of all those who belong to Him — of all who believe and are baptized into Him.

Thus, because He desires all people to be saved, He reigns in love from His Cross and calls all people to Himself by the Gospel. He sends His messengers — His Holy Apostles to begin with, and His undershepherds after them, that is, the pastors of His Church in every time and place, even to the end of the age — He sends these messengers to make disciples from all nations by the way and the means of Holy Baptism and the ongoing catechesis of His Word. It is by these means of grace, by the Ministry of the Gospel, that He gathers the lost and wandering sheep to Himself, unto life.

The preaching of His Word — the preaching of repentance in His Name, unto faith in His free and full forgiveness of your sins — that is the truth: the sure and certain verdict of the Lord your God, now and forever. Though you are crucified and put to death with Him, so are you also raised up, in and with Him, to a brand new life. In Him, the old has passed away, and you are a new creation.

Repent of your sins, therefore. Repent of your unbelief, idolatry, unfaithfulness and lack of love. Turn away from sin and death, and live unto righteousness in Christ. Receive and trust His Gospel, and live by that grace of God in Him. Fear Him as the Lord, your King. But so also trust in Him as your great Good Shepherd, as your merciful and great High Priest, as your dear Savior and Redeemer. Believe His Word to you as the judgment of God. Love Him with all your heart.

Love Him, not selfishly, but gratefully, because He is your Savior and your God, your highest good. Love Him, not to get something from Him, but because you receive every good and perfect gift from Him. Love Him, not to curry or manipulate His favor, but because His favor and His righteousness are yours. Love Him righteously, by faith, because you are justified by His grace.

It is entirely by His grace, because, in truth, He does not need anything from you; neither is there anything at all that you need, which is not already yours in Him, freely given to be freely received, with no strings attached and no conditions or contingencies upon His mercy.

Love Him, therefore, because of who He is, and because He loves you faithfully forever.

Love Him, by loving and serving His Christians; love them in His Name and for His sake. Such love is the evidence of your faith and life in Christ. It is how faith lives, without keeping score, and being not at all self-conscious. It is the good fruit that Christ Jesus bears in you by the tree of His Cross in your life. For by His Cross, He brings you through repentance into the faith and life of His own Resurrection. He brings you to God the Father, in and with Himself, and He gives to you His own relationship (His sonship) with the Father. So does He likewise give to you His own relationship of love with your neighbor. For as you live in Him, He now lives in you.

Therefore, you live in love toward your neighbor — in particular toward your brothers and sisters in Christ — because this is the life of Christ, which He also lives in love toward you: He daily and richly provides you with food and drink for your hunger and thirst; with safe shelter and sanctuary from the cold, from darkness and death; with clothing for your nakedness; with comfort and care in all adversity; with good health in place of all your illness, and with release from your prison.

So, then, as for you: feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned. Do it for Jesus' sake. Do it in His Name (as He does so for you). Do it all, as unto Him. Not only the occasional extraordinary act of kindness, charity and mercy toward someone you barely know or rarely encounter, but the steady and faithful care of those who are set alongside of you, day after day. Learn to see Christ in your neighbor’s frailties, weaknesses and needs, as also in the duties and demands of your vocation toward your parents, your spouse, your children, your siblings. For it is precisely in His poor and needy ones, in the weak and lowly and despised, and in His little ones of every age and every kind, that you find your Lord and serve Him in love.

For this is how He has come to you and served you in love: He has been hungry and thirsted. He has been the stranger and the outcast. He has been abandoned by His friends, and left to bear the burden alone. He has been imprisoned, stripped naked, tortured, mocked and cruelly punished — for your sins. He has been sick with the sickness of the world, even unto death upon the Cross.

Consequently, it is not only in your neighbor’s weakness that you find Him, your Lord and God, your Shepherd King. But He is with you, in love, in your weakness and shame, in your nakedness and pain, in your hunger and fear, in your sickness and at the hour of your death. He is with you as One who has been there before you. And He is with you, as your Redeemer, in the Judgment.

Not only that, but, as He has taken your place in His death upon the Cross, so does He give you His place in His Resurrection. And here is what that means for you: His Righteousness is yours. His works of love are yours. His life and His salvation are yours. All because the Atonement, the forgiveness, the reconciliation and the peace of His Cross are yours, by His Word of the Gospel.

Hear this Word, and take it to heart, for it is already in this preaching of the Gospel that you truly hear and receive God’s verdict concerning you: You are forgiven all your sins. You are righteous. You are not guilty, but innocent. Thus, you are set free from the prison house of sin and death. You are healed of every disease. You are fully clothed with Christ. You are fed with His Body and His Blood. You are blessed and beloved of His God and Father, and you are welcomed into His Father’s Kingdom, who is now also your God and Father in Christ Jesus, your Savior.

That is the significance of the church on earth, and of this congregation: Here eternal judgments are declared and delivered. Here the Son of Man exercises His authority to forgive sins, and with that forgiveness He gives you life and salvation. Here He sits upon His glorious throne — with all His angels round about Him — and here He gathers you to Himself: to feed you, to clothe you, to heal you, to set you free. Come, then, blessed of the Lord; enter into His peace, and rest.

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

11 November 2011

Dualing Axes

Having recently listed my fifty-two favorite active-duty guitarists, focusing especially on solo artists, it seems only fair to acknowledge my favorite Guitarynamic Duos, that is to say, those pairs of guitarists who work in tandem to create a sonic landscape for their bands. These twin blades relate to each other in a variety of ways, sometimes as rhythm and lead guitarist respectively, sometimes trading off on those duties in tag-team fashion, and sometimes providing twin leads throughout. Anyway, these axes go marching two-by-two, hurrah, hurrah, and I've listed them here in the order (more-or-less) of my personal enjoyment of their efforts:

1. Chris Robertson & Ben Wells (Black Stone Cherry)

2. Thomas Bredahl & Michael Poulsen (Volbeat)

3. Dave Mustaine & Chris Broderick (Megadeth)

4. Joe Satriani & Sammy Hagar (Chickenfoot)

5. Ozzy Lister & Mark Thomas (Black Spiders)

6. Synyster Gates & Zacky Vengeance (Avenged Sevenfold)

7. Gabriel Garcia & Austin Diaz (Black Tide)

8. Gus G & Bob Katsionis (Firewind)

9. Oscar Dronjak & Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall)

10. Mark Tremonti & Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge)

11. Joe Selby & Andy Brewer (Taddy Porter)

12. Corey Beaulieu & Matt Heafy (Trivium)

13. Alex Rosamilia & Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem)

14. André Olbrich & Marcus Siepen (Blind Guardian)

15. Herman Li & Sam Totman (Dragonforce)

16. Thom Blunier & Thomas Muster (Shakra)

17. Andy Boulton & John Wiggins (Tokyo Blade)

18. Matt Roberts & Chris Henderson (3 Doors Down)

19. Matt Tuck & Mike Paget (Bullet for My Valentine)

20. Chad Taylor & Sean Hennesy (The Gracious Few)

21. Fabian Schwarz & Christof Leim (The New Black)

22. Steffen Kummerer & Christian Muenzner (Obscura)

23. Paul Quinn & Doug Scarratt (Saxon)

24. Paul Kleff & Nick Layton (Firewölfe)

25. Brent Hinds & Bill Kelliher (Mastodon)

26. Luke Morley & Peter Shoulder (The Union)

27. Nicolas van Dyk & Bernie Versailles (Redemption)

28. Keith Wallen & Robert Zakaryan (Adelita’s Way)

29. Slash & Dave Kushner (Velvet Revolver)

30. Wolf Hoffmann & Herman Frank (Accept)

31. Matthew & Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon)

32. Nick Wheeler & Mike Kennerty (All American Rejects)

33. Johan Söderberg & Olavi Mikkonen (Amon Amarth)

34. Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks (Tedeschi Trucks Band)

35. Mikael Åkerfeldt & Fredrik Åkesson (Opeth)

36. Oli Herbert & Mike Martin (All That Remains)

37. Ville Friman & Markus Vanhala (Insomnium)

38. John Cobbett & Leila Abdul Rauf (Hammers of Misfortune)

39. Joakim Nilsson & Jonatan Ramm (Graveyard)

40. John Baizley & Peter Adams (Baroness)

41. Bryan Giles & David Sullivan (Red Fang)

42. Phil Sgrosso & Nick Hipa (As I Lay Dying)

43. Esa Holopainen & Tomi Koivusaari (Amorphis)

44. Ray Toro & Frank Iero (My Chemical Romance)

45. Jake Pitts & Jinxx (Black Veil Brides)

46. Leo Leoni & Freddy Scherer (Gotthard)

Honorable Mention (from days gone by):

Glenn Tipton & K.K. Downing (Judas Priest)

Dave Murray & Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden)

Rudolf Schenker & Matthias Jabs (Scorpions)

Steve Clark & Phil Collen (Def Leppard)

Malcolm & Angus Young (AC/DC)

Paul Stanley & Ace Frehley (KISS)

Brian Robertson & Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy)

Gary Rossington & Allen Collins (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Keith Richards & Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones)

Don Felder & Joe Walsh (The Eagles)

Kirk Hammett & James Hetfield (Metallica)

John Lennon & George Harrison (The Beatles)

My Fifty-Two Favorite Guitarists as of 11/11/11

So, now, after a couple years of paying closer attention and listening more carefully to guitarists hither and yon, here's a highly subjective and constantly-subject-to-adjustment list of my 52 favorite guitarists. I've focused on those with solo careers, whether with or without vocals, but have also included a few well-known guitarists from key guitar-driven bands. I've also looked at those with relatively recent releases (within the last few years). The list is more or less in order of preference, beginning with my top favorite, although there's certainly a lot of fluctuation from one day to the next when it comes to the ranking of those lower down.

1. Joe Satriani (Chickenfoot)

2. Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big)

3. Marty Friedman

4. Steffen Schackinger

5. John 5

6. Tony Iommi

7. Rob Balducci

8. Joe Bonamassa (Black Country Communion)

9. Gus G (Firewind, Ozzy Osbourne)

10. Gary Hoey

11. Michael Harris

12. Dave Martone

13. Joe Stump

14. John Petrucci (Dream Theater)

15. Andy James

16. DC Slater

17. Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society)

18. Andy McKee

19. Brian Setzer

20. Michael Angelo Batio

21. Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge)

22. Jonas Tamas

23. Fabrizio Leo

24. David T. Chastain

25. Slash

26. Orianthi

27. Michael Schenker

28. Andy Timmons

29. Antoine Dufour

30. Michael Lee Ferkins

31. Chris Broderick (Megadeth)

32. Peter Frampton

33. Yngwie Malmsteen

34. Sebastian Cloutier

35. Paul Wardingham

36. Glen Drover

37. Chris Brooks

38. Stoney Curtis

39. Eric Gales

40. Dave Mustaine (Megadeth)

41. Christian Muenzner (Obscura)

42. Jeff Loomis

43. Eric Johnson

44. George Lynch

45. Broderick Gray

46. Al Di Meola

47. Brad Paisley

48. Eric Clapton

49. Kenny Wayne Shepherd

50. Chris Duarte

51. Steve Lukathar

52. Keith Urban

So, y'all, feel free to let me know if I've missed anyone essential.

01 November 2011

You Live as Christ Lives

By your Holy Baptism into Christ Jesus, you have received the gracious adoption of sons, so that you are God’s own child, and He is your true Father. Though it is yet hidden from even your own eyes and senses, you have been signed with the Cross of Christ and sealed with His Holy Spirit, so that you also have life and salvation in Him. And, as you thus belong to Him, so has your Baptism situated you within the Holy Communion of His Body, the Church; even as you are given to eat His holy Body and to drink His precious Blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for the cleansing of your body and soul, within and without.

Belonging to the Body of Christ, and bearing the sign of His Cross upon your body, upon your forehead and your heart, you have been set upon the pilgrims’ way. Your Baptism has given you a new identity in Christ Jesus, and it is not of this world. The world does not know you, dear Christian, because it does not know Him who has anointed you and named you after Himself. Here, then, in this fallen world, you are a stranger in a strange land. For this is not your true home, and this is not your fatherland. But your true home is in Christ with your Father in heaven.

In this life on earth, as a baptized Christian, you are on a journey — one with many twists and turns, and ups and downs — in the midst of a great tribulation. It is a narrow way, often dark, and painful: Like the pain of labor and delivery for both mother and child, and like the dark and narrow chamber of the grave. It is the tribulation of the Cross that weighs upon you, and works in you both death and life. Because it is the daily journey of repentance, on which your old Adam is put to death in you, crucified and buried.

But the journey does not end in death. Weeping may remain for a night — and that may be a long, dark night, indeed — but there is joy in the morning of the Lord’s Resurrection, and day by day He wipes away every tear from your eyes. He forgives your sins, raises you up from death, and gives you life in Himself. So the Cross that you bear is not only the death of your old Adam, but it also becomes the burden of love and forgiveness that you bear for your neighbor in Christ.

So there is the Cross and burden of both death and life, but both of these belong to the journey; neither is yet your destination. Already there is a Sabbath Rest for you in Christ, even in the midst of all your labors. And even now He leads you and guides you to the springs of the water of life in the Ministry of the Gospel. But there shall down a still more glorious Day — the eternal Eighth Day of the Resurrection — when all your burdens shall be no more, and you shall rest from your labors in the endless joy and felicity of Christ Jesus.

That Peace and Rest in Christ — in the face of sin and death — is the promise and hope to which we cling, and which we celebrate in the witness of the faithful departed. In the death of those who die in the Lord, we recognize not defeat, but victory; not a tragic ending, but a blessed sleep. We dare to say of dust and bones, that these shall be raised and live in glory. For the First-fruits of the Resurrection have already been offered to God in the Body of Christ Jesus. He has gone up the Mountain and taken His seat at the Right Hand of the Father, and so do His works follow Him: His disciples from all the nations, from many tribes and tongues and peoples, all who believe and are baptized into Him; they come to Him in peace, and the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

So do we rightly dare to say and confess concerning you, also, even though your mortal flesh already reeks of death and the grave, and despite the fact that all of your best efforts and most righteous works are dust and bones. But we boldly confess that you shall from death and live forever in glory, because you are surely cleansed and covered and clothed by the Blood of the Lamb. For He has taken your mortal flesh to be His own, and He has taken all your sins upon Himself, and He has been sacrificed for you. See, His Blood now marks the door of this House, where you have been given a home with His God and Father. And His paschal Blood permeates the waters of your Baptism, whereby you are washed and vested in the white robes His perfect righteousness. He has redeemed you with His life, and He has reconciled you to the Father in His Resurrection from the dead. Now He also feeds you with His crucified and risen flesh, and He pours out His Blood for you to drink, that you might have His Life in you, not only in your soul, but in your body. As death could not hold Him, neither shall it have any final claim on you.

That is the endurance with which you run the race that is set before you. His Cross and Resurrection are your courage in the face of sin and death. His Body and His Blood are your food for the journey: your Manna in the wilderness, your water from the Rock. His Righteousness is your strength, His forgiveness your peace, and His Gospel your life and light and salvation.

Therefore, do not die within yourself — do not lose heart or give up hope — but live, as Christ lives. Pursue the path that the Lord your God has set you upon. Be content with your own particular calling, and fulfill it faithfully, whether it be great or small. Bear the Cross in love for your neighbor. Be patient, and persevere in the faith of Christ. For you are a son of God in Him, and He has honored you with His own life-giving Spirit.

As your hope is in Him — and your life, your health and strength are in Him — purify yourself in Him, just as He is pure. That is to say, live by the grace of the Gospel. Forgive those who trespass against you, just as you are forgiven all your sins by your Father in heaven, for Jesus’ sake. Humble yourself before Him, and so deal with your neighbor in humility and gentleness. Have mercy upon your fellow sinners, as upon your fellow Christians, and, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all people. Swallow your pride, and make the first move to apologize, to make amends, and to be reconciled with your neighbor.

As you are comforted by Christ in your sadness, comfort those who mourn. Call them, or write to them, or visit them if you are able. Remember those who are hurting, not only in and with your prayers, but with the balm of your kind words and your presence in their anguish. Feed your neighbor, not only with food and drink, but with whatever means the Lord has generously provided you, for whatever needs your neighbor may have in heart, mind, body or soul.

And do not resent the needs and weaknesses of those you are given to help, as though you had any strength or sufficiency of your own — when, in fact, you having nothing but the charity of God. Therefore, pursue righteousness, not with the force of the Law, but by the Gospel of the Cross.

That is the pilgrims’ way, and that is the race that is set before you. That is the journey of your Baptism — through death into life with Christ Jesus, your Lord.

Beloved, take to heart that you are not alone on this journey. Surely the Lord Himself is with you always, as He has promised. But consider the ways and means by which He accompanies you and abides with you, and realize that, precisely in Him, you are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. There is the testimony and the evidence of the saints who have gone before you in the faith of the Gospel, as well as the witness of those who love and serve you within their own vocations now. As you are given to care for your neighbor, so do your brothers and sisters in Christ care for you.

Not only the saints in heaven, but the whole Church in heaven and on earth is gathered before the Throne of God in His Temple, to worship the Lamb in the center of the Throne. For He who is both perfect God and perfect Man, who was crucified for your transgressions, and raised for your justification — who was sacrificed for you, and yet, behold, He lives — He fills all things and unites all of the children of God in Himself. While He ever lives to intercede for you at the Right Hand of His Father, so does He also serve you in His Church on earth. For He is the One who preaches and teaches, who baptizes and absolves, and who communes you with His Body and His Blood. He is the great Good Shepherd who spreads His Tabernacle over you, even as He is your merciful and great High Priest, who brings you to His own dear God and Father in peace and love.

Fix your eyes and ears, your heart and mind on Him: on Jesus, your Savior. You see and hear Him in His saints, not by their own merits, but according to His mercy, because He is their Life — as He is also yours. So, too, their example and their faithfulness, by His grace, point you to the Gospel. For it is the Gospel of Christ Jesus that their lips and their lives have confessed.

Everything flows from Him, returns to Him, and centers in Him. For He is the Author and Perfecter of faith and life, and the Firstborn of many brethren: by His Incarnation, by His Baptism, by His Life and Ministry, by His Cross and Resurrection, and now also by the preaching and administration of the Gospel in His Name and stead.

Everything that was necessary for you to have life and salvation with God, this dear Lamb the Lord Jesus, has done and accomplished for you: not only on your behalf, but in such a way that everything He has done is credited to you, and given to you, so that it actually becomes yours. In fact, it is already yours, by His grace, through faith in the Gospel. Because He gives you nothing less than Himself in and with and through the Gospel.

Your strength is in Him — and it is an all-sufficient strength, which is not defeated but made perfect in weakness. That can be frustrating and discouraging, because it is so contrary to your instincts, and so foreign to the wisdom of the world. It seems foolish and helpless. That is the way of the Cross. On the one hand, it appears so weak and impotent, while on the other hand it crucifies you and puts you to death. But out of this great divine paradox — and out of this great tribulation — the Cross releases you from sin and death, and sets you free to live with Christ Jesus. In fact, by the Gospel of forgiveness — this weak and foolish charity and compassion of God — from His own Cross and Passion, He gives to you His own Resurrection, and His Life.

That’s right: His Victory over death and the grave is your Victory. His Resurrection and His Righteousness are yours. And His Life is yours. Indeed, everything that belongs to Him, now belongs to you, by His grace. It is given to you freely, by and with and in His Gospel. And not even death shall be able to snatch it from you; no more than death can snatch you from Him.

That is what we celebrate in this Feast of All Saints. For here you also are gathered with that great throng of witnesses, robed in white, encircling the Lamb once slain. Just as He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity, so shall you not die, but live.

For you are in Him, and He abides in you and with you. He surrounds you round about, supports you as a firm foundation, and shelters you with Himself as a strong shield.

Though you struggle and suffer, and you are crucified, dead and buried, you share the Lord’s Resurrection and His Life — even as you eat His Body and drink His Blood. And you are knit together with all His saints in the fellowship of His Church in heaven and on earth. You are bound together, in Him and with Him, in His flesh and blood, with all those who have gone before you in the faith and Baptism of Jesus.

Though it does not yet appear what you shall be, it is already true in Him, and when He appears, then you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him: glorious with His glory, immortal, imperishable, and fully alive forever and ever.

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