17 June 2012
Nesting in the Branches of the Cross
His Kingdom is not of this world. But He has planted it here, and it has come to you, also. It is a mystery, and you cannot recognize or receive it by appearances. But the Lord Jesus explains everything to you. His parables conceal the mystery of His Kingdom, except to those who are baptized into Him, who are catechized by His Word of the Cross.
For the Kingdom of God is like this Man, who lies down and gets back up again; who makes His bed in the soil, in the dirt of the ground, and then rises from death and the grave. And He and His Kingdom are like a tiny little seed, so small, so weak, so alone, but, having been sown into the earth through death, He sprouts and grows and bears much fruit.
This is not the way of the world, but the way of Christ, the way of His Cross. It does not appear wise, or strong, or capable of any good thing. And yet, it accomplishes everything. It produces abundant good fruit, and it provides shelter and shade: a nest of safety and peace. Not by any power or works of the flesh, but by the Spirit of God, who anoints the Body of Christ Jesus for sacrifice and raises Him bodily from the dead.
Jesus lays down His life in love; He offers Himself up to God, His Father, in faith. And in the harvest of His Resurrection is the coming of His Kingdom. For the risen Body of Christ Jesus is the fruit of the Cross, and the branches of that Tree, which bear that fruit, are the cedars of Lebanon with which His Temple is adorned.
This theology of the Cross is an irony and a paradox, that a tree of death should bear such living and life-giving fruit. But so it does. His death, His Body given, His Blood poured out — these atone for all of your sins, so that by and from His Cross you are forgiven, and in His Resurrection you are justified and saved, unto life everlasting.
Wherever the tree of His Cross is now planted by the preaching of His Word, there is the Kingdom of God on earth. There is the Garden of God, and this tree of the Cross in the midst of the Garden is the greatest of all the trees. Even though it appears to be fruitless and dead and beyond hope — it is not appealing to the eyes, nor promising for food, nor desirable to make you wise — yet, it is the living heart and center of the Church.
Because the Church lives by and from the Cross, so is she characterized by the Cross. Like her Lord, and like His Tree, she too is small and weak in this world, beleaguered and seemingly good for nothing. She is not impressive in the eyes of men, but laughable and ridiculous. Often as not, she looks and seems that way to you, too: pathetic and sad.
She bears the Cross and is put to death. And yet, precisely so, she bears the fruits of the Cross in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead. That is what the Cross produces in her, irrespective of appearances, by the Word and Spirit of God.
It is not the architecture or the building that constitutes the Church; nor the people, either: not the number of members, nor their median age, nor their wealth and social status. It is the Gospel that builds the Church, that is, the preaching of the Cross of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. So, too, that preaching of the Gospel makes even the earthly building, of whatever sort, into a church, a sacred house where the disciples of Christ Jesus are gathered around Him in the Kingdom of God.
Whether it be a tabernacle or a tent; whether elaborate and ornate, or basic and simple; whether a temple on a hill, or a little wooden chapel in a vale, the Gospel of the Cross sanctifies that place on earth with the Spirit of Christ. There His Body is given and received from His Cross, which comprises the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.
Even down in the valley of the shadow of death, such a church is planted, established, and preserved on the high and lofty mountain of God. That is true for our little Emmaus here in South Bend, as it has been true for the churches in Corinth, in Jerusalem, and in Rome.
Wherever the tree of the Cross is planted, there is the Lord’s House, where His faithfulness and loving-kindness flourish.
This House of the Lord is also your home in the Kingdom of God, where you are planted and flourish in Christ. Here you are nested in the branches of His Cross, which shelters you from harm and shades you from the heat. Here you are fed with the living and life-giving fruits of that Tree. Here you are clothed with the righteousness of Him who was stripped naked and hung upon that Tree for your sake. By His death, your death has already died, and in His Resurrection you are raised up to live forever, reconciled to God and righteous in His sight. Do not be afraid, and do not be ashamed. He has made this House your home because He loves you.
Here you are planted into Him, and planted with Him; as by your Baptism into His death, so also by daily repentance. As you die to yourself, to the world, and to your sin, you are raised up with Him, and in Him, to live a new life as a new creation. For His seed sprouts and His crops grow in His own rising from death. He is the first fruits, and you belong to the fullness of His harvest. Not by any work or effort, power or merit of yours, but by the sowing of His seed, which is the preaching of His Cross. It takes root in you, and sprouts and grows — by the grace of God, you know not how — and it bears good fruits in you after its own kind.
That means, first of all, as a disciple of Christ Jesus, that you bear His Cross and are crucified with Him. Therefore, like Him, and like His Church, you appear to be small and weak and helpless, always dying, and incapable of doing anything or producing anything worthwhile. But He emerges and arises in you, and lives in you, so that you are truly alive and fruitful in Him.
As He has planted Himself in you by the preaching of His Word, so do you bear the fruits of His Tree by confessing His Word in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving; in Psalms and hymns and creeds; in words of love for your neighbor, and in the forgiveness of those who trespass against you. You speak what the Lord Jesus has spoken to you, and so you plant the seeds of His Cross in others.
Do not underestimate the power of that Word, and do not hesitate to speak it, no matter how small and futile it may seem.
Along with your speaking, so also care for your neighbor as Christ Jesus cares for you. With whatever means the Lord provides, feed the hungry and clothe the naked and shelter the homeless, as the Lord feeds you with His Body and Blood, and clothes you with His righteousness, and shelters you within His Church. For even the sparrow has found her nest here in the Lord’s Altar, and so are you gently but safely and securely nestled in the branches of His Cross in this place. How shall you not welcome your neighbor and make room for him or her?
Your inadequacy, your weaknesses and failures, your sin and death, and the overall frailty of your fallen flesh is apparent, both to you and to others. Such a tiny seed you are, with so little promise or potential. And like the mustard, the Law would keep you out of the garden — for the Law forbid the mixing of seeds with vegetables, and the mustard seed, in particular, was not permitted among the plants of the garden. But now the Cross of Christ has changed everything, and the Mystery of the Kingdom of God has been revealed to you in His Resurrection.
The high trees are humbled, but the low trees are exalted. And the lowest tree of all, the Cross of death, has been established as the greatest of all the trees: as the Tree of Life. As it bears the fruits of the Cross, the Body and Blood of Christ, for you to eat and drink, so does He plant you in the midst of His Paradise. And as He forgives you all your sins, and gives you life and salvation in Himself, so does He bear His good fruits in you. Indeed, you flourish in the courts of your God.
For Christ Jesus is the Lord. He has spoken, and He does it.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.