It’s been about a year now since we’ve had a newborn baby at Emmaus, though we look forward to welcoming a couple more in the near future, as Rebekah and Sarah are both due in the coming months. Bob and Herta recently shared with me that, lately, there have been significantly fewer babies for them to rock and cradle at the hospital, but let us hope that changes soon. Meanwhile, we all know what St. Peter is talking about when he refers to newborn babies longing for milk.
The Moms among you know it better than the rest of us, but all of you can understand the way a baby craves, cries out for, and clings to the milk he needs in order to keep on living and growing.
That is how you are to long for the pure milk of the Word of Christ — the Word of the Gospel; the Word of Absolution, or forgiveness: like a newborn baby craving his mother’s milk. For just as surely as the baby needs that milk to live and to grow, so do you need the Word of Christ in order to grow and mature in respect to your faith and life and salvation.
So, what does it look like as a child grows up and participates in the life of a family? We’ve got lots of examples here at Emmaus, so we actually get to watch this happening all around us. Even the teenagers still live and learn from their parents, receiving food and clothing, shelter, protection, and many other good gifts from the Lord through their Moms and Dads. But, already at a fairly young age, children also begin to serve their family, contributing to the life of the household in a variety of ways. They all have their own particular chores and duties, according to their abilities, and at some point the older children are likely to be given some responsibility for younger siblings.
Something similar is likewise true for each and all of you, as members belonging to the household and family of God. On the one hand, as St. Peter has made clear with his admonition, you never do outgrow your need for the Word of Christ. No matter how old you are, you should still long for His Word, as though you were a newborn infant with an empty tummy. But, on the other hand, as you are nourished by that pure milk of the Word, so that you grow in respect to salvation, you also have a purpose and a role to serve within the Body of Christ, as a member of God’s family.
As a child of God in Christ — conceived and born again by the Word of Christ and Holy Baptism in His Name — the Church on earth is your house and home. The Church is where you live, where you receive the good gifts of the Lord through His servants, His sent ones, and where you also grow into loving and serving your brothers and sisters in Christ. Because the Church is not simply “home base,” from which you are launched into anything bigger and better. Far less is the Church a mere “oasis” from the so-called “real world.”
No, the Church on earth is the central location, the true means, and the present realization of the New Creation which began in the bodily Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead. That is to say, in fact, that the Church is the “real world.” It is God’s world, as He intended the world to be.
Now, that is not at all to say that the Church on earth is flawless and perfect in herself. She’s not. To be sure, she is flawless and perfect in Christ, her Head, because she is fully adorned with His righteousness and holiness. She lives by His grace, through faith in His Word; and such faith in His gracious providence is at the very heart of the way that God always intended His world to live. But in herself, in this life on earth under the Cross, the members of the Church have their doubts and fears, their hurts and problems, as well as their sins and failings. Which is why her faith, for now, clings first and foremost to the Word of the Gospel, that is, to the forgiveness of sins.
That Word of the Gospel is why the Church on earth is the New Creation; because all of those hurts and fears, and all of those griefs and sorrows, are gathered up and borne in the one Body of Christ Jesus. In Him they are not denied, nor merely covered up, but they are cared for and healed by His Atonement, by His Redemption of the world. It is the medicine of His Cross and Passion that is spoken to you in His Gospel, and this extends to all the members of His Body.
His Church really lives as the household and family of God; which means that each member loves and cares for all the rest by the same Holy Spirit who is poured out generously through the Word of the Gospel. The children of God thus have mutual care and concern for one another; they live together through mutual repentance and forgiveness of sins; they share mutual joys and sorrows, because they fully belong to each other in Christ.
These are not platitudes. Or, at least, they should not be viewed as such, nor lightly disregarded as empty and meaningless claims. This is the life of the family of God, to which you are called; the Christian life into which you are to grow and mature by the Word of Christ, your Savior.
The life of the Body of Christ is tangible and real. It is not imaginary fiction, but genuine and solid truth, living and breathing the Spirit of God in the flesh of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. It is touched and tasted, handled and heard. Often it is hard, like cold wet concrete; like mourning a loved one; like confessing your sins to your pastor, or to a neighbor you have trespassed against; like wearing your own ugly scars in public, or tending the open wounds of your parent or child.
Make no mistake: the Body of Christ is wounded and scarred. That is not simply by accident or incidental, but He and His Body are recognized and known by His wounds. The sign of the Holy Cross is a characteristic mark of His Church; and that is so, not only as a symbol or iconography, but as defining the faith and life of discipleship. The Holy Apostles were brought from doubt and fear to peace and joy by the wounded hands and side of Christ Jesus, and they themselves then shared in the sufferings of Christ, as they were sent in His Name to preach the Word of the Cross. No less so do you and your brothers and sisters in Christ bear the wounds of His Cross in your life.
But how well do you know each other? And how shall you care for one another, if you do not even know your neighbor’s needs? How shall you have all things in common — your treasures and your hurts, your joys and your sorrows — if you do not really talk to one another, and if you do not really listen? Pleasantries and chit-chat are not yet the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters in Christ. But, in truth, by your Baptism into Him, you are the children of one God and Father; you are all Christians, anointed by one and the same Holy Spirit; and you are of one heart and soul in Christ Jesus. So, what are your chores and duties in this family of yours?
Your monetary offerings and almsgiving are certainly important and necessary to the support of the Church and Ministry of Christ. But even your generous and sacrificial gifts of money are still relatively easy as compared to the investment of yourself, your time, attention, and energies, in the needs of your neighbor. Not that you should be nosy or intrusive, but as caring for the members of your own family, for your own brothers or sisters, with true compassion and active sympathy.
Such tangible fellowship with each other is found in your fellowship with the Holy Triune God in the Body of Christ. That is, again, the fellowship of the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church; for the Church truly is the Body of Christ. But the Church is the Body of Christ because of her mystical union with His actual Body, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, risen from the dead, and truly given and received in the Holy Communion.
The Church is one Body in Christ, because her members all receive and eat His one Body in the Sacrament, and they all drink His holy and precious Blood, poured out in the Holy Communion.
The Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is the Church’s fellowship with God, and, as such, it is the heart and center of the Church’s life, both inwardly and outwardly. Everything flows to and from that central fellowship.
Preaching and catechesis have the Sacrament in view, making disciples of the Lord Jesus and bringing them to eat and to drink at His Altar.
So do Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution usher you into this Holy Communion, even as they derive their own healing power and saving efficacy from the same Cross, the same wounds, and the same Spirit of Christ as the Lord’s Supper does.
His Word of forgiveness, in each of these means of grace, breathes the Life-giving Holy Spirit into your body and soul, so that you are made brand new. His wounded hands and pierced side bring you to repentance, so that you no longer absent yourself from the gathering of His disciples, or hide yourself away from the world in fear; and you no longer harden your heart with unbelief, or try to protect yourself from disappointment with a shell of sarcastic cynicism; but you are granted Peace, and brought into Joy, and strengthened in true faith, and given real life in His Body.
As you eat and drink His Body and His Blood, you are recreated in His Image; not only in your spirit, heart and mind, but also in your own flesh and blood. You truly are a new creation in Him, by participation in the very Body that was crucified for all your sins and raised for your salvation.
This Sacrament of the Altar is the Meal of the household and family of God. It is the Table around which the Father gathers His children, His daughters and sons, in Christ Jesus.
Here, then, is where you are called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Spirit of God — through the Gospel — to search for the Lord, to seek His face, and to find Him most surely. And where there are empty chairs and missing family members, therefore, seek them out and call them to this Supper Table. Be as diligent to find them and to bring them home as you would be if any of your siblings, or children or parents, were “absent without leave” from your family’s meals.
Here at the Table of the Lord is where you remember the marvels He has done, His wonders and the judgments of His mouth; because here is where He comes and takes His stand in your midst, and He remembers you with His speaking and His actions. He speaks His Word, faithful and just, to forgive you all your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. He speaks His Word by which He gives to you His Body to eat, and with which He pours out His Blood for you to drink.
Here is where you take up the Cup of Salvation and call on the Name of the Lord. For here is where His servant has been sent in His Name to serve you with His Word and His Gifts: in His stead, and at His divine command. Here, then, as you receive mercy from His hands, you rejoice, give thanks, and sing — to and for each other — to the glory of the holy Name of Jesus.
Here abundant grace is given, to each and all of you, so that none of you has any want or need of anything. Not as though your life in this world were now simple, carefree, and easy. And not that you should now ignore your neighbor, as though he or she had no need of your love and care. But precisely in this respect, that Christ is with you and for you, and He gives Himself to you, as the One who has been crucified and raised for you; so that you lack nothing, because He is yours, in, with, and under the Cross, in the midst of death, in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.
So, too, He gives you to each other as fellow members of His one Body, as belonging to each other in Him. Thus, you lack nothing, even here in your life on earth, because you have one another, and you care for one another. You bear each other’s crosses. The strength of one bears the weakness of another, and vice versa, as circumstances require.
All for one, and one for all, because you are all one Body in Christ. Indeed, it is precisely because you here receive Christ Jesus and all good things in the Holy Communion, that you serve and care for one another, and share all good things with each other. So is your joy made complete in love.
Dear children of God, I am preaching these things to you, that you may not sin, but that you may practice the truth and walk in the Light of Christ; that, having tasted the kindness of the Lord, you would grow and mature in respect to salvation, in fellowship with one another: familial fellowship from this Altar of Christ into the rest of the week, in solicitous care and kindness for each and all of your brothers and sisters in Christ, in compassion and charity and tangible works of mercy.
For the Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses you from sin, as often as you drink this Cup. In His Name and stead, I forgive you. So receive His Holy Spirit, and here receive His Body, given for you, which is the Propitiation for all your sins, and for the sins of the whole world. This is your Peace and rest. For He who feeds you is your Advocate, who has reconciled you to His God and Father. Such is the fellowship that is yours, now and forever, in this Holy Communion.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.