21 December 2012

The Feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle

The Peace of the Lord is with you, because the Lord Jesus Christ is with you in this place, in this preaching, at this Altar.

He is with you in peace, because He has reconciled you to Himself and to the Father by His voluntary suffering and death, by His self-sacrifice upon the Cross.

He is the one true God from all eternity, but for you and your salvation He has become true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In His own human body He has borne your sins away, and all your griefs and sorrows, to the Cross. All of this He has put to death and buried with Himself, to do away with it once and for all, and to leave it in the tomb forever. Yet, He has risen from the dead in the very body with which He shares your humanity and in which He has carried the burden of your sin and guilt. Thus, in His Resurrection you also are set free. For with His own flesh and blood He has redeemed you for Himself, for Life with Him and with His Father in His Spirit forever and ever.

All of this is true, whether you believe it or not. And He is here for you with all of this grace and every blessing, whether you believe it or not; whether you are here to receive it or not.

You have the testimony of His servant, St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist; and from St. John you have also now heard the confession of St. Thomas, that Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One, is the Lord your God. The entire apostolic witness and the confession of the whole Christian Church on earth is that He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity; and that on the last day He will raise you from the dead and give eternal life to you and to all who believe in Him, for His Name’s sake.

Be at peace, therefore. God and man are reconciled. Death has been defeated, because sin is forgiven; your sin is forgiven. The devil has no real power over you. The grave shall not be able to contain you. Christ has arisen, and you too shall rise and live.

Do not be afraid. Do not fret or fuss or figit or fight. Do not be faithless, but believing and faithful. Abide in peace with your neighbor, as God is at peace with you in His Son. Be gathered together with the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, to be with Him where He is.

Do not rely upon yourself. Do not be a loner; it is not good for you to be alone. Do not lean upon your own understanding, nor trust your own wisdom and experience. Do not suppose that what you see and feel is truer than the Word of the Gospel that is preached to you. And do not succumb to skeptical doubt or cynical despair.

Be where Christ is with you, here; believe and trust in Him. And so live with your neighbor in love. Live and abide with your fellow disciples, your brothers and sisters in Christ; and live also for your neighbors in the world. Reach out to them, to one and all of them, with the hands of Christ. Speak the Word that is spoken to you; confess the Word of the Gospel, which is Spirit, Truth and Life. You have nothing else worth saying. You have nothing to give but what you are given.

If you look at yourself, you would be right to conclude that you are not sufficient to the task that you are given. Look, you are wounded by your sin and pierced with guilt. You are riddled with doubts and fears, surrounded by dangers and death. Your strength wavers, your body wears out; your mind falters, and your heart faints. Battered about by winds and waves of strife and temptation, you cannot help but fall and sink. You are threatened with oblivion on every hand, at every turn.

What you see and feel and experience is no help, and there appears to be no hope. The good that you would do, you do not. The sin that you should not, you do, again and again and again. Death stalks you like a nightmare; it pursues you day and night, and eventually it will catch you. And as far as you have ever been able to tell, those who die remain dead and buried.

Neither in your family and friends, nor in your own health and strength, nor in your thoughts, words and actions is there anything, anywhere, that would save you (or anyone else) from death.

How, then, are you to reach out in love to your neighbor, when you have no strength to lift a finger, nor even to grasp at straws? How are you to strengthen others when you are so decrepit and fragile yourself? How are you supposed to encourage your brothers in faith, when you are so discouraged and doubtful and down? How can you even think about your neighbor and his need, when you are so consumed by worry and suspicion?

See here, now, the Lord Jesus Christ reaches out His hand to lay hold of you and help you. Yet, even this seems a dismal sort of rescue! If you consider the men He calls and sends to serve His people — with nothing but the Gospel to do it! — you are sorely tempted to despise His gifts. Cowardly Gideon? Playboy Samson? Peter the denier? Paul the persecutor? Doubting Thomas?

What are any of these men but mortal flesh and blood, wounded and weak, sinners no less than yourself? They stumble and fall. They are put to death and buried. They have no power in the eyes of the world, no fame and fortune, no glory but the Cross of Christ and His Word of the Gospel.

Look at these hands. They have no strength. They cannot pull you from the fire, nor back from the precipice. What good are they? They have nothing to give you, but what the Lord puts into them — and what has He given? Water? His Name? His Word of Absolution? Bread and wine? Shall any of this be able to save you from disaster?

The entire life of the Church is like this. It is a minority in the world, make no mistake about it. Huddled together as a tiny band against the masses. Pastors and people alike are frail and always under the weight of more burdens than resources. If they are not being put to death, they are dying nonetheless. There’s always more to be done than time, money, or people to accomplish it.

Little wonder that you become cynical and sarcastic, skeptical and incredulous. You want something to believe in, something tangible and solid, something sure and certain, something you can see and feel and touch and handle and trust.

Dear friend, be at peace. The Lord is with you. He is here for you. These hands are His hands for your benefit. If they are wounded and scarred, as you are wounded and scarred, know that He has been wounded for your transgressions and pierced for your iniquities, and by His scars and stripes you are healed.

Your doubts and fears are faithless unbelief, but He is faithful; you are forgiven. Your demands are selfish and impertinent, but He does not hold them against you; He is merciful and comes to serve you with care. He puts Himself at your disposal. He places Himself into your hands. He entrusts Himself to you, as He who rules the cosmic deep entrusted Himself to the arms of His Momma.

Witness His love for you. His humility is not weakness but strength and salvation — for you. His Cross and Passion, His suffering and death are not His defeat but His victory — for you. His mortal flesh and blood are not impotent but salutary gifts and life-giving benefits — for you.

His hands and side and feet are pierced and wounded; they bear the marks of crucifixion, of execution, of nails and spear. But Christ the Crucified, the One who was dead and buried, has risen from the dead, and He has all compassion for you. And life!

There is no human logic here, but divine Wisdom. His Cross if foolishness and weakness, but it is the power of God unto salvation. His Cross has not defeated Him, but it has conquered death and crushed the devil’s head; and this same Cross saves you, and gives you everlasting life, through the forgiveness of all your sins.

From His Cross, the Lord Jesus breathes His life-giving Holy Spirit upon you with His Word of Absolution. Your sins are forgiven, and so you live, even though you die. For those who live and believe in Him will never die.

From His pierced and wounded side is delivered His Eve, His glorious Bride, the Church. Of her you are a member; not by your own wisdom, reason or strength; not by your own choice or decision; but by His grace He has called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified you with the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins; the removal of all your guilt and shame; rescue from all your doubts and fears. With this Gospel He has healed you of unbelief and granted you faith.

His wounded hands pour out His Blood of the New Testament, which permeates the waters of your Holy Baptism and cleanses you, as it also continues to fill and overflow the Chalice of the Holy Communion, poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

So do His wounded hands extend to serve you and reach out to feed you with His holy Body, given for you, that you may remain a member of His Body. Hide yourself there, in Him, at this very Altar.

Reach here your hand. Take and eat. Drink. Open your mouth and be fed. Do not be unbelieving, but believing. And be at peace. The Lord is with you, and His Peace is with you always. The One who died for you has risen, and you also shall live. For He forgives your trespasses and remembers your sins no more. In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

No comments: