31 March 2013

Your Land Shall Be Called Beulah

You shall be called by a new name,which the mouth of the Lord will name. You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, And a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah.
For the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.
I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; They shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, And give Him no rest till He establishes And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
The Lord has sworn by His right hand and by the arm of His strength:
"Surely I will no longer give your grain as food for your enemies;And the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine, for which you have labored.But those who have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the Lord;Those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts." (Isaiah 62:2-9; NKJV)

Death Is Defeated by the Body of Christ

Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

By His death, He has destroyed death.  And in His rising from the dead, he has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.  Sin is forgiven, and the whole world has been reconciled to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, death has been defeated, and the devil is undone.

But, for all that, the last great enemy, death, has not yet been abolished.  Defeated, yes, but death is not yet “dead and gone.”  People are still dying every day, both Christians and non-Christians, alike, even throughout Eastertide.  Cemeteries continue to expand, as graves continue to increase.

Life has triumphed over death in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, and God the Father has put all things beneath His feet.  But you do not see that reality, do you?  It sure doesn’t look like Jesus has got the upper hand.  What you see is that He and His Church still bear the Cross in this world.  Not only death, but sin, too, is rampant everywhere you look.  Both of these are still at work in you.

The new thing that God has created is already established, sure and certain, in the crucified and risen body of the Lord Jesus.  But it does not yet appear as it shall be.  For the time being, in this fallen world, life has the appearance of death, while death has the appearance of life.  What I mean by that is this, that real life is hidden under the Cross, whereas sin is so tempting and appealing, as though it could liven things up and make your life better, when it actually brings only death.

Now, then, before you have ever called out for help or cried out in dismay, the Lord your God has already resolved your dilemma.  He has already answered your prayer.  And yet, His answer is rather elusive.  You do, then, call upon His Name and beg Him for mercy, because you neither see His solution in your life, nor experience His salvation in your mortal flesh and blood.

Even so, while you are still speaking, He is not only hearing your prayer, but He is also already responding with His gracious gifts of the Gospel, and with His promises of life everlasting.

The Truth is that the Crucified One is, now and forevermore, the Living One, and He is never to die again.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!  And that is good news for you, because He has died and risen as your Savior, in order to become your great Salvation.  All of that is rock-solid true.

But what you see is an empty tomb; or, rather, what you see is nothing.  In any event, Him you do not see.  That is the odd thing about this Holy Gospel from the Resurrection Chapter of St. Luke:  The Lord Jesus doesn’t appear in this account.  He is mentioned, and His words are recalled, but He makes no personal appearance, and He doesn’t speak for Himself.  His body is not found, nor is He seen alive.  The women are first of all perplexed; then they are terrified; and when they have gone to report what they discovered, and what they heard from the angels, the Apostles and the rest of the disciples refuse to believe them.  Peter runs to the tomb, to check out their story for himself, but he doesn’t see Jesus, either.  He goes home marveling, which is quite different than believing.

It is an odd Holy Gospel for such a joyous day as this; but, then again, it cuts pretty close to where your own Christian faith and life are at.

The words and promises of the Gospel are perplexing, and they honestly do sound like nonsense.  St. Paul acknowledges that earlier in his letter to the Church at Corinth.  So it’s no surprise that you are hampered by doubts and fears, within and without, no less so than those first Christians were.  At times, no one believes; and that includes you, no matter how much and how badly you want to.

It is still a struggle, a strange and dreadful strife, that contending of life and death inside of you, and all around you in the world.  That combat stupendous, which Christ has already won, still rages in your flesh and blood, and in your heart and soul.

It certainly would seem as though Christians were really delusional nut cases: to believe in the Resurrection against all evidence to the contrary.  It is by faith alone, and not be sight!  Indeed!  But is that just a ruse, a clever hoax, a pious excuse to keep on kidding yourself?  For the fact is, that you labor long and hard, seemingly in vain.  And you bear children, apparently for calamity; or else, perhaps, you bear no children at all.  Either way, it still remains the case, that, in Adam, all the children of men die.  And to be sure, the tombs of your ancestors, and of your loved ones, including some of your own children, are not empty at all, but full of death, of dust and bones.

So, what gives?  And what is the point?  Where is the power and promise of the Resurrection?

Beloved of the Lord, do not despair or give up hope!  For now Christ Jesus, your Savior, has been raised from the dead, and that has actually changed everything and made all the difference.

Children continue to be born to Adam and his kin; not for calamity and death — though they do all experience that — but in order to be reborn and recreated in the New Man, Jesus Christ.  If they are born but once, that is most pitiable, and it were surely better had they never been born at all.  But if they are born again, by the Word and Spirit of Christ, then they are brought forth, out of death, into the resurrection of their bodies and the life everlasting in body and soul.

For the Son of God, Himself, has become a Son of Adam, by His conception and birth of the Woman, in order to die the death of Adam, once for all; and so, by His death, to bring an end to the death of Adam; and in His Resurrection from the dead, to raise the sons and daughters of Adam from the dust of the earth, to live forever as beloved children of His God and Father in heaven.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the First Fruits, as you have heard from St. Paul, His Apostle; and if He is the First Fruits, then you shall follow after Him.  As surely as He led the sons of Israel out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, and through the waters of the Jordan River into Canaan, so surely does He lead you through the waters of your Holy Baptism, through death and burial with Him, into the gracious and glorious Paradise that He has promised to each and all of His people.

When He hands over His Kingdom to His God and Father, then will He surely also bring you to the Father, in and with Himself; for you belong to His Kingdom by grace, through His Gospel.

For now, He has established His Kingdom and His dwelling place within His Holy Church on earth, wherein He calls and gathers you to Himself, in order to bring you into His eternal Sanctuary with the Father in heaven.  As He brings you in and plants you here, so does He bring you in and plant you there, even forever.  Everything that belongs to Him, He gives to you here in His Church.

He hands Himself over to you here, by the Ministry of the Gospel, no less so than He has offered Himself up, once for all, and handed Himself over to the Father, by His Sacrifice upon the Cross.  So that you are bound to God the Father, in both body and soul, in the Person and work of Christ Jesus: By His Word and Spirit; and also, by and with His crucified and risen Body, and His Blood.

Where, then, is the Body of Jesus?  That is the big question at the beginning of Easter, and, really, to this very day.  Where is the Body of Jesus?  That’s what everyone is looking for, or should be.

By the end of St. Luke’s Resurrection Chapter, as we shall hear and celebrate in these coming days of the Easter Feast, the answer is given clearly: The Body of Christ is in the Breaking of the Bread.  He is recognized and received at His Table, in the eating and drinking of His Holy Supper.

It is by and with His Word that He reveals and gives Himself to you in this way, by this means of grace.  Do not suppose that it is foolish nonsense, no matter how marvelous and perplexing it be.  For with His Word, He remembers you in love, and He Himself gives to you His own Body to eat; He pours out His own Blood for you to drink.  And by His Word, which He has spoken to you — and He still speaks to you by His messengers — by that Word of His, you also remember Him.

Not only that, but it is also by and with His Word, and by the preaching of it, that His faith and His faithfulness become yours: In the same way that His Victory over death, and His Resurrection from the dead, and the power of His indestructible life, all become yours by the Gospel.  In point of fact, unbelief and death go hand-in-hand (with each other, and with sin).  But Christ has triumphed, as the First Fruits of faith and life, in the New Creation that God has brought about by His Cross and in His Resurrection.  Therefore, when you and all others are faithless, yet, He remains faithful.

So it is, that, by His Word and Spirit, by the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness, you also now believe: As the women who witnessed the empty tomb, and the other disciples, too, were brought from their doubts and fears and sadness, to faith and life, and peace and joy, in Christ Jesus.

Your rejoicing and gladness, on this glorious day, and throughout this poor life of labor, even in the midst of sin and in the face of death, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting — this joy and gladness are not a joke, a pretense or charade; and they are no lie or subterfuge, regardless of how you may be feeling on the inside.

If you are smiling and singing on the outside, while in your heart and mind you struggle with sorrow and feel like dying, nevertheless, true joy and real gladness are rightly yours, both now and forever, in Christ Jesus.  Not because of how you feel about it, or what you think about it, but here is the Truth: Your rejoicing and your gladness are found and received in the Lord’s rejoicing over you, and in His great gladness in you.  The fact of the matter is, that He delights in you.

The Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, has recreated you for such joy and gladness and life everlasting in Christ Jesus.  He has done it, first of all, in Christ Himself, in His Body of flesh and blood: In which He has been crucified and raised for you and your salvation.  It is a done deal, permanently established for you in Him.

But He has also brought about the New Creation of Christ Jesus in you, through the Gospel, by your Baptism into Him; and by His Body and His Blood, which are given and poured out for you here at His Altar.  By these means of grace, in Christ, you are a new creation: Born of the new and better Adam, not for calamity and death, but for the Life and Light and Love of God, the Lord.

He is your Strength in weakness, and He is your Song in both joy and sadness, all your days, because He has become your Salvation.  That won’t change, not ever.  It stands fast, and it shall be revealed at the last.  As surely as He has risen from the dead, so surely shall you also rise; for He has died your death, and, therefore, His Resurrection is already your resurrection, evermore.

The Prince of Life, who died, reigns immortal.  He reigns over you in love, and with great joy.  This Victor King has mercy upon you, and the eternal sunshine of His grace, mercy, and peace, His Resurrection and His Life, His Body and His Blood, now warm and light you, all your days.

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

29 March 2013

Behold the Image of God in the Man

It is amazing how visual the Gospel of the Passion is.  “Look!” you are told, again and again.  “Behold the Lamb of God.”  “Behold the Man.”  “Behold your King.”  “Like this,” St. John will describe, as though you could actually see some gesture he is making while he preaches.

No one has ever seen God at any time, but now the Incarnate Son, from the bosom of the Father, has revealed God to us.  For the Word of God, who is God, by Whom all things are made — He has become Flesh.  In Him, God tabernacles among us.  Behold, in Him, you see God.

In the beginning was this Word — the Word was with God; and the Word was God — and as God spoke this Word of His, the Father’s Son from all eternity, so did creation come into being out of nothing.  “Let there be Light,” and there was Light.  For this Word is the Light in the darkness, which is the Life and Love of God.

And on the Sixth Day, on that first Friday of creation, God said, “Let Us make Man in Our Image.”  From the dust of the ground He raised the man and crafted him, and breathed into his body the Breath of Life, which is the Spirit of the Lord.  So did man become a living being.  And, that he should be and live in the Image and Likeness of the Holy Trinity — Who is an eternal relationship of mutual Love between the Father and His Son in the Holy Spirit — God caused the man to sleep, and opened up his side, and from his body crafted the woman, his beautiful bride, to be a helpmate comparable to him.  The Lord brought her to the man to be his wife, and behold, it was very good.

But the Image of God is not a static or stationary work of art, which simply stays put and looks pretty on the wall, on a mantle or a shelf.  In order to see God in man, the man is to live in mutual love with God and with his neighbor: Receiving and requiting the Love of God, and loving the household and family of God in His Name.  Such Love, by its very nature, cannot be forced, demanded, or manipulated.  It is given and received in freedom, in the peace of friendship.

In that freedom, though they were the friends of God, the man and the woman doubted and denied His Word, and betrayed Him with their disobedience.  Though they were His own creation, and His beloved children, from whom He had withheld no good thing, yet, they fled in faithless fear from His Image, and sought instead the knowledge of self-righteousness, which is not the Truth but the likeness of death.  They ran from God and returned to the dust.

The first man and his wife were blinded by their sin.  They could no longer perceive the Lord their God in His good creation, in the clarity of faith and love.  Instead, they were afraid.  They were lost.  They were no longer free, but fallen; no longer fully alive, but subject to death and decay.

Even so, God still beheld them in His mercy, and the gracious freedom of His Love for them was not defeated by their disobedience.  Neither did He punish or destroy them for their sin.  He did not look upon their nakedness, but covered their flesh and clothed them with animal skins: Thus did the Lord offer the first sacrifice, in order to remove the shame of fallen man.

And the Promise was given, that God would remedy the problem, and rectify the situation, and make all things new.  The Seed of the Woman would crush the adversary’s head, and reconcile the world to God.  In Him, the Image and Likeness of God would be seen.

Behold, this is the New Creation that God has accomplished in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, conceived and born of the Woman.  He does not scrap the first creation and start over, but He redeems and restores it, raises it up, and perfects it in this Man: He is the completion of Creation.

For now, again, on the Sixth Day, on the Good Friday of His Cross, God the Father said to His dear Son, “Let Us make Man in Our Image, and after Our Likeness.”  And that is what He has done.

Indeed, this is what the one true God looks like in His Creation.  This is the fullness of the Deity embodied and enfleshed.  And, therefore, this is also the true Man.  For Christ the Crucified is the very Model and Pattern — the Image and Likeness of God — in which the first man, Adam, was fashioned and formed.  From the beginning, yes, even from before the foundation of the world, it was this Man, Christ Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Son, whom God the Father beheld in Love, and for whose sake He created the heavens and the earth, and Adam and Eve, and all things.

It is specifically His Sacrifice for the salvation of sinners that shows the grace and glory of God most clearly.  So, if you want to know what God and Man are like, look at Him upon the Cross.

He lives and dies, not for Himself — He does what He does, not for His own sake or benefit — but in love for His Father, and in love for you and all His creatures.  It is such divine Love that you behold in Him; and also perfect faith in His own God and Father, as the faithful and obedient Son.

Thus He becomes your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God; not only for a little while, but forever and always.  Because He has fully taken your place, as the true Man, and He has thereby established His place, as the Son of God, in His human flesh and blood, for you.

He has taken your place, not only by His Incarnation, by His conception and birth of the Woman, but also by coming in the likeness of fallen flesh.  That is, although He has no sins of His own, He takes the sins of the whole world upon Himself, and bears the entire brunt of their burden, the full extent of their curse and consequence.  So that He, who is Life Itself, is made mortal and subject to death.  He suffers all your pain and grief and sorrow, from the cradle to the grave.  He is tempted in all the ways that you are tempted.  He sympathizes with all your frailties and weaknesses.

He takes your place — the place of Adam, and of all the children of men — the place of the skull.

You know that no one takes His life from Him: He lays it down willingly, in love; and He shall take it up again, by the Spirit of His Father.  But He takes that place of yours on purpose, that place of death and the grave, so that He might take you up from there to His own place with the Father.

As your great High Priest, He offers up Himself to God — the Son to the Father — in the faith and love for which you have been created.  He does so, not under ideal conditions, not in the bliss of Paradise, but from within the curse of death and damnation, under the terrible weight of your sin.  Burdened by all the hate and hurt and heartache of the fallen world, still He perseveres in the fear, love, and trust of His Father.  He has no other gods but Him.

Not as though it were easy for Him, but rather, because He is faithful and true; because He is the Son of God, the true Man; and because He loves you, He calls upon the Name of the Lord, even with tears, with loud cries and deep groans of anguish.  He entrusts Himself to the Father.  He takes the Cup and drinks it, confident in the One who is able to save Him out of death.

He was heard because of His piety.  And, Christ be praised, His matchless piety now and forever avails for you before the Father in heaven!  For the Body of Christ, who has been crucified for your iniquities, is your Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies.  Therein is where He ever stands for you, as your own High Priest, and ever lives to make intercession for you.  His priestly garment, His unrent seamless tunic, covers your naked guilt and shame.  Therefore, do not run and hide, dear friend, for you are reconciled to God in Christ.

As your merciful and great High Priest, He is also the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, which is to say, the King of the Lord’s Creation.  He truly is the King of the Jews, for salvation is from the Jews.  He is the King of Israel, indeed, of all who are children of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, by faith in the Promise.  But He is also the King of the world; even though His Kingdom is not from here.  Just as Pilate decrees, by the authority that was given to him from above, that Jesus of Nazareth is “the King of the Jews” in the languages of the whole world.  Thus it is written, and so shall it be, wherever in the world the Gospel is preached concerning this crucified King and His Cross.

As the New Adam, He has become the Head of a new humanity.  But see how His headship is so different from the rulers of the world.  They lord it over their subjects, and use their power to serve themselves, to promote their own advantage and agendas.  The Lord Jesus is not like that.  He reigns in love, He rules in peace.  He lays down His own life, in order to give life to His people.  His Kingdom, and His Power, and His Glory, are the Gospel of His Cross.

And so it is that His own Bride, His Queen, His Holy Church is taken from His opened side as He sleeps the deep sleep of death upon His Cross.  By the water and the blood that pour forth out of His innermost being, the New Woman is fashioned and formed after the Image of this New Man, to be a helpmate comparable to Him.  Even His own blessed Mother is given this new identity, as she who once gave birth to Him, is given new life by Him.  She, too, is redeemed and sanctified by His atoning death, by His holy and precious blood, which she beholds at the foot of His Cross.

She stands there, beneath His Tree, as a member and an icon of His Holy Church, the Mother of all the living.  And so does the beloved disciple stand there with her, as an icon of each and every Christian, who are the children of God by grace, by the adoption of sons.  Behold, in this Mother and this Son, the household and family of God in Christ.

She is entrusted to the care of the apostolic witness and preaching of Christ the Crucified.  And by the Word and Spirit of God, the Church conceives and gives birth to His children, as Mother Mary had conceived and given birth to the Christ Child Himself.  Born from the waters of the font, they are nourished by His blood and flesh at the Altar of His Church.

These are the Fruits of His Tree: the water, blood, and Spirit, which He hands over and gives out from the Cross; His Word of forgiveness, and His Body given, for you and for the many.

As He enters upon His Holy Passion from the garden, and as His sacred Body is temporarily laid to rest in the garden, so is the Cross of Christ the true Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise.  Its good fruits are no evil, no poison or hurt, but the very medicine of immortality, the true ambrosia, by which you have life, and health and strength, in body and soul, forever and ever.

You don’t have to get yourself back to the garden.  Nor could you have done so, but would only have returned to the dust whence you were taken.  But here the Garden of God has come to you, and it is found wherever Christ the Crucified is lifted up in the preaching of His Cross; wherever He is given and poured out in the Fruits of His Cross, His Body and His Blood.

You, now, beloved, who are born from His Body in the water and the blood, and who are fed from His Tree of Life with His flesh — you, now, are like Him, who made Himself to be like you.  You are made brand new in Him.  You are what you eat and drink: the Image of God.

Do not doubt that it is true.  Despite the outward appearance of the Cross, which the world despises in Christ Jesus, and now also in you; and notwithstanding the fact and experience of sin, which remains in your fallen flesh — where you feel it, and the Law reveals it, daily — nevertheless, the Truth of Christ stands fast and remains for you.

He is the Man, and He is the Image of God in Man.  As He has taken your place, even unto death upon the Cross, so has He given you His place, as the Son of God, even unto life everlasting.

That is what His God and Father graciously beholds in you: Not the nakedness and shame, the suffering, sin, and death that Christ Jesus bears on your behalf, but the perfect piety, steadfast faith, and holy love with which He has gone to the Cross for you, and which He lavishly bestows upon you by His Gospel.  Amen, amen, it is and ever shall be so.

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

28 March 2013

One for All, and All for Love

Everything that Jesus does, He does in love for you, in order to give you Life with God the Father in Himself.  So, too, the love that He commands you to have for one another, is this same Love that He has and exercises for each and all of you.

He has come from the Father into the Flesh, and He tabernacles with His Church in the Flesh, in order to reveal the Father to you, and to all, in His own Body of flesh and blood.  And as He has come from the Father, so does He also return to the Father — in His Flesh, through His Blood, by His Cross and Passion — in order to bring you to the bosom of the Father, in and with Himself.

He is your merciful and great High Priest, and so it is that, by His sacrificial death, He enters into the Most Holy Place on your behalf.  That is to say, He enters the presence of His God and Father, in order to establish a permanent place for you there.  And so has He done.  In His crucified and risen flesh, He is your steadfast Anchor behind the veil; and where He is, there you shall be also.

This is the New Covenant that He has established between God and man; which is the bond and union, the Holy Communion, between God and man.  In Christ, forevermore, man is in harmony with God.  For Christ has reconciled the world to God the Father in Himself: in His own flesh and blood, crucified for your transgressions, and raised from the dead for your justification.  In this New Covenant of Christ, you are bound to God in peace, as He has bound Himself to you in love.

Now, the same Lord Jesus Christ calls you to receive and enter into that New Covenant of His, not by any works of yours, but by the promise of His Gospel.  He calls you by the Gospel, and you both receive the promise and enter into His Covenant by the way and the means of the Gospel.

That is what He is doing, and what happens, in the preaching of His Holy Gospel; that is what He has done for you and given to you in Holy Baptism; and that is what He continues to do and to give in Holy Absolution.  By the holy bath of your Baptism, you are already clean; and daily, by the Gospel of forgiveness, the Lord Jesus washes your feet, that you may have your place with Him.

The Holy Gospel, in each and all of these ways, bestows the very thing that it promises; although it is hidden in the Mystery of the Cross, which seems to have taken Christ Jesus away from you.  What the Gospel promises, and what it gives — not in spite of the Cross, but from the Cross — is the forgiveness of all your sins, and rescue from all of your enemies, and redemption from death.

The Blood of the Lamb has atoned for your sins and reconciled you to God.  Therefore, the devil has no rightful claim on you; he has no right to accuse you; nor is he permitted to tyrannize you.  And death is not permitted to have you anymore, either, or to hold you forever.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, as there is for you in the Gospel, there is resurrection, life, and salvation.

Thus, by the Gospel of the Cross of Christ, the Lord has executed judgment against all the gods of Egypt, against all the principalities and powers of this present age, and against the devil, the world, and the fallen flesh of old Adam, which seek to thwart His will and to destroy His people.

He has executed judgment against all of those false gods and mortal enemies of man; and, by the same token, He spares you from their demise, He delivers and redeems you from their grasp, and He brings you out of Egypt by His mighty arms and outstretched hands.

Therefore, do not turn to those false gods and enemies for life and help, for comfort or blessing.  They attempt to deceive you with false and alluring promises, but they cannot help or save you; they cannot give you life.  They cannot do anything but enslave you again with sin, and bring you again to death and the grave.   Therefore, do not forsake the Lord your God, nor forget His Holy Covenant, but daily repent of your sins, return to the sure promise of the Gospel, and cling to it.

It is for this reason, and to this end, that the Lord also disciplines you in love; so that you not be condemned with the idolatrous and unbelieving Egyptians, but rescued and redeemed for life.

He disciplines you with His Word of the Law, and with the sufferings of your mortal flesh in this fallen world.  But He calls you to repentant faith, He raises you up and restores you to Himself, by the preaching of the promise.  It never is by your own reason and strength, but by the preaching of the promise itself, that you receive and believe the promise of the Gospel.  It is His preaching that opens your ears to hear; His giving that opens your hand and your mouth to receive; and His kneeling to wash your feet that cleanses you of all unrighteousness and so enables you to stand.

Do not boast and brag of yourself, as Simon Peter did — and then he fell down hard and fast, as you will, too, on that path of self-reliance.  But hear and heed the Word of Christ, who saves you.  By His Word and promises, by His actions and His gifts, He sanctifies you in body and soul, inside and out, with His forgiveness of sins.  It is by this Gospel of His that you are completely clean.

This is what the Divine Service of His Word and Sacrament is all about.  Indeed, this is what the Divine Service actually is: The Lord Jesus coming and doing, speaking and giving, all by grace.  By the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, He returns you to the cleansing waters of your Baptism; and then He brings you to His Table, to feed you with His Body and His Blood; so that, in Him, in His flesh, you live and abide in the Holy Communion of the Holy Triune God.

It certainly doesn’t look that way for now.  You do not, and cannot, discern the Lord’s Body by your eyesight or your intellect.  Your wisdom and senses will fail you there.  But you discern the Lord’s Body, here and now, hidden under the Cross in humble bread and wine, by the Word that He speaks, and by the proclamation and catechesis of His Word.

It is His Word which not only reveals His Body and His Blood, but actually makes the bread to be His Body, the wine to be His Blood.  He uses that strong and simple word, “is,” at the heart of the Consecration, and He invites you to eat and to drink because of that identification: He speaks, and it is so.  “This Is My Body.”  Therefore, “Eat.”  Likewise, also, “This Is My Blood,” and, with that, “This Chalice is the New Covenant in My Blood.”  Therefore, “Drink of it, all of you.”

There simply is no Lord’s Supper without the Lord’s Word, which makes the Supper what it is, and which gives the Supper to you, His Christian, to eat and to drink.

But this Word of the Lord, by which He consecrates His Sacrament of the Altar, is not spoken or heard in a vacuum.  As often as the Church is gathered to eat this Bread and drink this Cup, this Holy Supper of Christ Jesus is given and received along with the preaching and teaching of His death (until He comes in glory, and all His holy angels with Him, as the risen and exalted One).

It is by the proclamation of Christ, crucified and risen, that you discern the Lord’s Body in the Holy Communion, and so receive and believe the promise of His Gospel: That is to say, not only that the bread and wine are His Body and His Blood, at His Word; but also that this Most Holy Food and Drink are given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins:

He gives you His sacred Body to eat, and He pours out His holy and precious Blood for you to drink, for the forgiveness of all your fears and failings, for your betrayals and denials, for your arrogance and envy, for your faithless despair, and for all of your other shameful sins and vices.

Thus, by His Word and promise of the Gospel, which is to say, by His free and full forgiveness of your sins, you remember Him in this Holy Sacrament: Not only in your heart and mind, with your intellect and emotions, but also with your ears, and with your hand and mouth, and in your body as well as your soul.  For His Body and His Blood are surely given for both your body and soul.

You remember Him, by His Word of the Gospel, as He remembers you in love by giving you His Body to eat, and by pouring out His Blood for you to drink.  For He is not a passive or distant observer of this Supper, but He truly is the Host, the Waiter, and the Meal; no less so than He is the Sacrifice Itself, the Meat and Drink of which are here received and shared in the fellowship of the Church with her Lord Jesus Christ, and with His God and Father, and with the Holy Spirit.

You remember Him, as He remembers you in Love, not only in the Sacrament, but also in loving one another, as He has loved you.  It is the New Covenant of Christ that undergirds and informs the New Commandment.  Not that “Love” is something altogether new; for the entire Law of God is summarized in this one word.  But Christ has fulfilled the Law, and He has made all things new; so that “Love” itself is redefined, or, rather, it is realized for what it truly is, in the Cross of Christ, in the sacrifice of His flesh and blood for the atonement of the world, and in His Holy Sacrament.

As a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus, you are given to love your neighbors without prejudice or partiality, as the Lord Jesus loves and serves all people, and lays down His life for the salvation of the world.  But all the more so are you given to love one another, who are bathed and washed and cleansed by one Lord Jesus Christ, in one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and who are fed by the same Lord Jesus Christ, with His Body and His Blood, as fellow members of one Body in Him.  It is His Love for you, in these means of grace, that fills you with His Love for each other.

His Love for you is not left behind, in the past, but is constant and continuous.  Consider that He loves you and serves you unto the “end,” with His forgiveness and life and salvation.  That is how you remember Him and follow Him, to and from His Holy Altar, even unto the life everlasting.

For what He receives from and has with His Father, He also hands over to you by the Ministry of the Gospel.  This is the Holy Tradition of which St. Paul the Apostle writes: Namely, what he has received, he also hands over to the Church.  That holy “handing over” of Christ Jesus really begins, not with Judas the betrayer, but with God the Father handing over His only-begotten Son in the flesh, even unto death upon the Cross.  The incarnate Son goes, as it has been written of Him.

And the Tradition continues with the Son handing Himself over to “His own” beloved disciples, even as He hands Himself over to the Father by His willing Self-sacrifice as the Lamb of God.

“Do this,” Jesus says, “in remembrance of Me.”  Which is, not only to love one another, as He has loved you; but, what He has done for His disciples, they are to do for His Church: To take bread and wine, to bless and give thanks to the Father, to consecrate with His Word, and, in His Name and stead, to distribute His Body and His Blood to His Christians.

By this Holy Ministry, the “handing over” of the Son by the Father reaches now to you, to your ears, to your hands, and to your mouth and body.  So that everything Christ Jesus has received from His Father, is also now yours in Him.  And as the Father remembers Him, and raises Him from the dead, and receives Him back to Himself in peace, so does the Father remember you: in Christ, His beloved Son.  That is what is done for you, and given to you, in this Holy Sacrament.

Such is the meaning and purpose of this New Covenant, which Christ has established in Himself: That, in His flesh and blood, you also have life with God in body and soul — already here and now, by grace, in the Holy Communion (on earth as it is in heaven) — and in the resurrection of your body, at the last, to the life everlasting in Paradise.  That is the promise and pledge that is bequeathed to you in the Lord’s Supper, even the eternal inheritance of the Father for His Son.

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

27 March 2013

The Lord Jesus Loves You to the End

Beloved, you also are among those whom Jesus has chosen: as your Holy Baptism testifies, and as His Word of Absolution reaffirms and upholds, whereby He washes your feet and cleanses you.

You are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom He loves and serves faithfully, even unto death.

Indeed, He welcomes you to recline at His Table with Him, to lean on Him and rest yourself in Him.  Here He feeds you, from His own hand, that bread which is His own Body; and He gives you to drink from that Cup of Salvation which is the New Testament in His holy and precious Blood.

Consider and take to heart that He did the same for Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter, and that you are no greater, no better nor stronger, than either of those men, who were among the chosen twelve disciples and Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do not suppose that you can guard and keep yourself from harm and danger, from the assaults and accusations of the devil, from the temptations and deceptions of Satan, who hates you and seeks to destroy you.  For that wicked foe would sift you like wheat, and with craft and spite he would lead you astray, away from Christ Jesus, into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.

By yourself, you are prone to both pride and despair; and, because of your fallen, mortal flesh, you are a sitting duck and easy prey for the enemy.  Left to yourself, you could not stand or survive.

Therefore, do not presume to take your life, nor any other matters, into your own hands.  Do not betray your Lord and sell Him out, neither for cash nor any other advantage.  And do not boast or presume that you are man enough (or woman enough) to do that which Jesus alone is able to do.

Do not attempt to save yourself, to go it alone, to be your own savior: by neglecting or declining the means of grace and salvation, by which Christ Jesus serves you and sustains you in His mercy.

Repent of your presumptuous pride and sinful self-righteousness.

Repent.  But do not despair of Christ and His Love; for despair is simply the other side of pride, and it is every bit as sinful and self-righteous.

Repent of your betrayals, and of your denials — and repent of your despair.

Repent.  And be lifted up by Christ Jesus in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

It is true that you cannot follow Him at the first, to go where He goes, nor to do what He does.  That is His prerogative alone, and His divine glory, to go and do this for you: for your salvation.

But you shall follow Him hereafter (by His Cross and Resurrection), by grace through faith in Him, as a disciple whom He dearly loves; by the Word of His Gospel, and by His Holy Spirit.

So does He call you to love your neighbor, as He has loved you, and as He continues to love you and serve you.  But you love, only and ever because He first loves you: faithfully, freely, and fully.

He loves you with divine Love — with which He washes the feet and feeds both the body and soul of those who betray Him and deny Him, and who run away from Him in fear in the time of trial.

It is for the purpose of this washing and cleansing that He has called and sent His slaves and the servants of His Word to speak and act as He does, on His behalf, in His Name and stead.  All of those slaves and servants and sent ones are sinful, mortal men, no better and no stronger than yourself; and of themselves, no better and no stronger than Judas or Peter.  But it is Christ Jesus who sends them to you, and it is Him that you hear and receive in the Ministry of His Gospel.

He knows you, your weakness, and your sin.  Your betrayals and denials have not caught Him by surprise, nor trapped Him in circumstances beyond His control.

No, He goes to the Cross as the Father has sent Him, and He lays His life down willingly for you; because He loves you, even to the end — and so does He love you precisely in this way.

And, not only that, but, in His great love for you, even now He welcomes you to recline upon His bosom, here at His Table, where He feeds you with His Body and His Blood.  Yes, even you!  For the forgiveness of all your sins, for life and salvation, for now and for ever and ever.

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

26 March 2013

God Is Glorified in Christ the Crucified

Brothers and sisters in Christ, consider your own callings, your stations in life, and glorify your God and Father there.  Do not seek to escape from your vocations, but know that God, the Lord, will accomplish His purposes through you (and for you) precisely where He has placed you.

Listen to the Word that He speaks to you; and though it is the Word of the Cross, know that it is eternal life.  For His power is made perfect in weakness, and His wisdom is manifested in the Cross and Passion of Christ, the beloved Son.

He has not left Himself without a witness.  Christ the Crucified is the Light of the world, even to the Gentiles; and the Gospel of His Cross testifies to all the nations that here is the Glory of God.

Not for His benefit, but at His own great expense, that you would be saved unto life everlasting.

If you believe this, you do not remain in darkness, but have the Life and Light of Christ in you.

But, oh, how tempting it is to think that you have been forsaken and forgotten.  And especially so, it is a scary thing to buck the crowd and go against the prevailing wisdom of the world.

Do you find yourself, not only alone against the world, but persecuted and ridiculed?  Does it seem as though your prayers go unheard, unanswered, or flat-out refused by your Father in heaven?

Everything about this Christian faith and life is such a contradiction!

The glorious Light of God in Christ the Crucified appears as though it were the blackest night, while the darkness of the world, which is dying in its ignorance and unbelief, has the appearance of the brightest day.

You will never be able to comprehend the truth or figure it out, except you die.

Until you are crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus, your heart remains hardened; your eyes are blind; your ears are dull; your reason and all your senses are foolish.

It is the Word of the Cross — the foolishness of God — that puts you to death and buries you.

But that is not all.  For it is by that same Word of the Cross that you are lifted up with Christ, and seated with Him in the heavenly places, where your life is safely hidden in God.  Because the foolishness of the Cross is the Lord’s free and full forgiveness of sinners.  That is where and how everything gets turned inside-out and upside-down — for the greatest good: for your salvation.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy One, took His stand with and for sinners, and submitted Himself to the death and damnation of the entire sinful world.  Thus, everything has been judged in Him.

He has borne the entire weight and burden of the Law: the pain, the sorrow, the insult, and the punishment.  He has been tempted in every way that you are.  He has been ridiculed and, for us all, forsaken by the Father who loves Him.

And in that utter foolishness, He glorified the Father’s Name; that your prayer may be heard and answered, and that you may walk in His Light.

That is the Glory of God for you.  That is the Hour to which He has come, not to save Himself, but you and all.  And that is the answer and the outcome of the Cross that you bear: not death, but life forever.  For He has been vindicated of every charge, and, where He is, there shall you be, also.

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

25 March 2013

Here Is Your King: Do Not Be Afraid

Do not be afraid.  Your King is coming to you.

Come up to the Feast and meet Him.  Recline at His Table and share His Supper with Him.  Love Him and serve Him, as you are able; also by loving and serving the poor and the needy among you.

But do not be afraid.

Only understand what it means for Him to be your King; and what that will mean for you — to be His disciple; to be His friend; to go after Him, and to follow Him, and to hang out with Him.

His Kingdom and His Power and His Glory are not of this world, but of the Cross.  His Hour has come, for Him to be glorified, when He has come to Jerusalem to be handed over, to suffer and die.

It is by His death that He is glorified and reigns as your King; because it is by His death that He saves His people from their sins.  It is by His innocent suffering and death, His Cross and Passion, that He saves you from all your sins, from all your guilt and shame, from death and condemnation.  It is by His wounds that you are healed and made alive forever.

This is the purpose for which He has come.  It is for this that He became true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s mortal flesh and blood.  For this that He was baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit.  For this that He enters Jerusalem, seated on a donkey’s colt.

This is grace, divine mercy and compassion, the Love of God for poor, miserable sinners: for you.

Thus, the royal banner forward goes, and great David’s greater Son shall be enthroned upon the wood of the Cross to reign in triumph from that tree of death.

That is how He tramples sin, death, and Satan under His feet — those beautiful feet with which He has come to preach the sweet Gospel — those feet which St. Mary of Bethany tenderly anointed beforehand: But for what?  To be cruelly contorted and nailed to the central beam of the Cross, and buried in the ground.

So does He now feed you with His Body and His Blood from His nail-pierced hands; and the royal scepter of His Word governs the heavens and the earth with the Spirit that He breathes upon His disciples from the depths of His Passion.

Here, then, is your King.  He comes to reign over you in love from His Cross.

His death has atoned for your sins and conquered your death.  His Word of the Cross forgives you and raises you from the dead.

And for this, the world hates you and conspires to kill you!  That’s your perk and privilege for being a close personal friend of this crucified King.  To die with Him is your glory as a Christian.

Do not be afraid.  As often as you die, you shall live.  The Lord your God shall raise you up again.

For now, He raises you to newness of life, each day, under the Cross, in the midst of suffering.  But, at the last, He shall raise you forever to recline at His Table in His Father’s Kingdom.

Come to meet Him here in this foretaste of that Feast to come.  For here at His Table, in His Royal Banquet, His crucified and risen Body, and His Blood — which are indeed the greatest treasures in heaven and on earth — are given to you for grace and life and every blessing, now and forever.

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

22 March 2013

Sweet Injuries, Indeed

You see here that you dare not underestimate the depravity of man and the wicked perversion of his sinful heart.

The chief priests and the pharisees, the religious leaders of God’s people, bearing holy office and zealous for the Law, observe the many signs that Jesus performs, and for these they seek to seize Him and kill Him.

He healed the sick, made the lame to walk and the blind to see; and now, His most recent crime, He has raised the dead to life.  Sweet injuries, indeed, yet for these the Law and the Priesthood must put Him to death for the people.

Do not suppose that your own sinful heart is free and clear of such depravity and perversion.

To take seriously who Jesus is, what He says and what He does, threatens your comfortable status quo, your place and your position in this world.

What are you called to drown and destroy in yourself, in your body and life?  How must you die?

The Law is constantly reminding you of your sin, and yet it is powerless to cleanse you of iniquity or to heal your mortality.

Though the Law of God is holy, good, and righteous, you are not.  Therefore, it cannot purify your conscience; it cannot set right your body and soul, your heart, mind, and spirit, with the Lord your God.  It only exposes your depravity, and even exacerbates it, and condemns you for it.

But now the same Law dares to lay the same judgment and condemnation upon Christ, because He has come to fulfill the will of God by the offering of Himself once for all.

Born of the Woman, and placing Himself under the Law, He redeems those who are under the Law.  He does it by the self-sacrifice of the same holy body in which He has lived in perfect conformity with the entire Law of God.  And this seeming contradiction, this travesty of justice by any normal standard, is the resolution of the same Law of God: the fulfillment of justice and righteousness.

In this sacrifice of Christ the holy priesthood also finds its perfect fulfillment and completion; for here is the true Passover Lamb, who is also your merciful and great High Priest.

Does He not go up to the Feast?  Indeed, He is the Feast!

He has offered Himself up to God to atone for the sins of the world; to reconcile man and all the world to God in Himself; to purify you and all of creation by His innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious blood, and by His bodily Resurrection from the dead.

And now, then, He also feeds you with the same holy body and precious blood, so that you are spared and saved from death and sanctified for life.

Here, then, the Passover of Christ is at hand.  By this Feast, as by Your Holy Baptism, you are purified forever.  And you enter with Christ Jesus, in body and soul, through His sacrificial death and in His Resurrection, into the life everlasting with God, your Father.

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

19 March 2013

The Strong Silent Type

The Scriptures tell us that St. Joseph was a righteous man.  That means, first of all, that he shared the faith of father Abraham, and the faith of his father David.  Not only a general sort of optimism or positive attitude, but confident trust in the Word and promises of God.  He believed that, by the Seed of Abraham, God would bless the sons of Israel and all the nations of the world.  And he believed that God, the Lord, would raise up the Seed of David to reign upon His throne forever; notwithstanding that David’s royal line had ceased and been replaced by the Herodian dynasty.

St. Joseph trusted, hope against hope, that the same Lord God who also raises the dead, who calls all things into being out of nothing, and who gave a promised son to Abraham and Sarah when his body and her womb were as good as dead, was in truth the God and Father of St. Mary’s Son; and that He, who was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit, was the Savior of His people: Immanuel.  St. Joseph had faith that it was so, because he believed what God had spoken to him.

By this righteousness of faith, St. Joseph was also humble and obedient, and faithful and just in his actions.  In each of the several situations that Holy Scripture describes, whatever God told him to do, St. Joseph immediately set about doing exactly that.  No arguments, no balking, no excuses, and no questions.  Not a single word from St. Joseph is recorded.  He simply and swiftly gets up and does what God calls him to do: He rises up in faith to serve his family in love.

The specifics of the case, the particular calling and circumstances in which St. Joseph was found, are certainly unique and extraordinary.  The Church remembers and gives thanks for this particular man because of his special place in the life of our Lord Jesus.  In this respect, by the grace and mercies of God, St. Joseph, his faith and life, and his works of love, were taken up into the Gospel itself; because God the Father chose to accomplish His purposes in this way, in giving us His Son.

But, then again, St. Joseph’s calling and circumstances were not so very different from those of any other husband and father; nor did he have anything else to go by than the Word of God.  True, he did receive some special revelations, by the angel of the Lord in his dreams, concerning the specific situations he was in.  So do you also receive the counsel and guidance of the messengers of the Lord within your own office and station in life.  And yet, the underlying basics are simple and straightforward, for you as for St. Joseph; which is not to say easy or painless.

St. Joseph was called to care for his family, for his wife and her Child, who was legally his own.  He was called to be a husband and a father, albeit under difficult and dangerous conditions, and under great duress.  The challenges confronting him were daunting, and at times overwhelming.  What man’s obligations and obstacles are not like that?  But the Lord had told St. Joseph, the son of David, not to be afraid: Not to be afraid to take St. Mary as his wife, and, therefore, not to be afraid of everything else that would go along with being a husband to her and a father to her Son.

Whether or not he felt the emotion of fear at any given point along the way — and given that he was a sinful man of mortal flesh and blood, it is natural to suppose that he did — yet, St. Joseph was also a man of faith, a righteous man, who lived and worked and carried out his vocation faithfully in the fear, love, and trust of God.  He persevered in the confidence of God’s promises.

And the Lord God was faithful, as ever and always, not only in caring for St. Joseph and providing for all his needs in the discharge of his duties, but also in caring for St. Mary and her Child, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, through the agency and means of this man, the carpenter from Nazareth.

Even more than the glorious King Solomon with his impressive Temple in Jerusalem, it is this son of David, St. Joseph, who is given the privilege and responsibility of making a house and a home for the Lord.  It is a fitting task for a carpenter, if one thinks only of the wood and the nails.  But more to the point, it is a father’s task.  Of all the sons of David, it is only St. Joseph who becomes a daddy to the Son of God: Not by the procreation of his own flesh and blood, but by the Word and will of God the Father in heaven, and by deeds of faith and love as a father on earth: by taking the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary to be his wife, and by taking the legal responsibility for her Son.

So, think about what that means, for St. Joseph to be a father to Jesus on earth.  It means that he takes care of Jesus, and provides for Him, and protects Him, as every dad should do for any of his children, whether begotten or adopted.  It means, too, that St. Joseph teaches Jesus the Word of God, and how to pray, and takes Him to the synagogue and to the Temple, to worship the Lord; for so do the Holy Scriptures require of a father for his sons and daughters.

In its own way, this work of St. Joseph in being a father to Jesus is no less amazing, and no less important, than the fact that St. Mary became the Mother of God.  The Church rightly marvels that the Lord of all, the Creator and Upholder of the universe, was conceived and born of a woman, and that He who feeds the entire world with daily bread depended on His Mother for nourishment.  Such is the great Mystery of the Incarnation!  But so does He also live and grow and learn and develop as true Man, and, throughout His boyhood years, St. Joseph was instrumental in all that.

When the Boy Jesus is twelve years old, it is St. Joseph who takes the Holy Family up to Jerusalem for the Passover.  At that time, when Jesus has reached the age of maturity in Jewish tradition, there is a transition already at work, pulling Him away from His human parents to be about the work of His Father in heaven.  Even then, He submits to them, and to their authority, in accordance with the Fourth Commandment; because they are, in legal fact, His father and His mother on earth.

All the more striking, in the Holy Gospel for this festival day, when the little Lord Jesus is but a Babe in arms, He is entirely passive throughout.  He does not do or say anything, but is carried about and cared for by St. Mary and St. Joseph.  For though He is the almighty and eternal Son of God, by whom all things are made, He is also now a truly human Infant, and His life, as such, is like that of any other Baby in the world.

The Son of God humbled Himself to share the predicament of fallen man, but, even aside from the curse of sin and death, infants and toddlers are fully dependent on their parents, and so now is He.  In this way, too, He lives as true Man — in the way that Man was created to live — by faith in His God and Father in heaven — by relying on the parents God has provided for Him, for everything.

He becomes true Man in every way, save only without any sins of His own, in order to save His people from their sins.  He takes their place, not only to suffer the punishment of all their sins, but also to fulfill and satisfy the Law on their behalf.  He thereby lives vicariously, for them, and for all people, including each and all of you, in the way that everyone is called to live, but everyone else has failed to do.  He alone does it.  So that is why He is taken into Egypt: Not simply to escape the murderous wrath of Herod, but to relive the time of Israel in Egypt, and then also the Exodus.

In all of this, He is actively the Savior of His people, and of all the nations of the world: from Babylon and Persia in the east, to Egypt in the west; from Bethlehem of Judea in the south, to Nazareth of Galilee in the north; from Jerusalem to Rome, and even to the ends of the earth.  But His active obedience begins with the active passivity of quiet faith and trust in His God and Father.

From His Mother’s womb, to His crucifixion, death, and burial, the Lord Jesus is the Son of David after His Father’s heart.  Certainly, He truly is the Man after God’s own heart; for He is the Son of God from all eternity, of one Substance with the Father, and His human heart and mind, soul and spirit, are always in complete and utter harmony and unity with the divine Will.  So, too, in perfect faith, the Lord Jesus Christ walks in the ways of father David, that is, in the righteousness of David’s faith; although, of course, great David’s greater Son surpasses him, overcoming all temptations, and not committing any sins, but atoning for the sins of father David and all others.

But Jesus of Nazareth is also a Man after the faithful heart of His foster father, St. Joseph, and, in view of the Incarnation, that is not to be overlooked or taken lightly.

As St. Joseph is set before you, in the Holy Scriptures, and by the Church on this particular day, to serve as an example to you, to encourage you in faith and love, so was he also an example to the little Lord Jesus, as He was growing from infancy to manhood, increasing in wisdom and stature.  That is no dishonor to Christ Jesus, our Savior, but a testimony to His faith and life as true Man, that He learned from St. Joseph, from that father’s catechesis in the home, and from the example of that righteous man’s holy faith and works of love.

Dare we say that, as true Man, growing up, the heavenly Bridegroom of the Church first observed and began to learn what it means to be a husband, in the faithful care of St. Joseph for St. Mary.

To be sure, the righteousness of faith that Jesus saw exemplified in St. Joseph, He Himself — and He alone — has fulfilled and completed to perfection: By His life of humble obedience; by His death upon the Cross, in faith toward God and in love for all mankind; and in His Resurrection from the dead, as the Firstfruits of the New Creation.

Not St. Joseph, nor St. Mary, nor any other creature in heaven or on earth could do these things, which Christ Jesus our Lord has done, for the salvation of the world, and for all the people of all times and places.

Whereas St. Joseph was given the privilege of giving the Child of St. Mary the blessed Name of “Jesus,” there is yet no other Name under heaven, given among men, by which anyone is saved.  St. Joseph and St. Mary are instruments of God in giving us this precious Gift, but the Child Jesus has become our Strength and our Song, because He has become our Salvation.

Whereas St. Joseph was the carpenter, the husband and the dad, who made a house and home for the Child with His Mother here on earth, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Seed of David, who has become the true House of God in His own flesh and blood; whose crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God among men, in heaven and on earth, both now and forever and ever.

Whereas St. Joseph took care of his home and his family, as a good husband and father should do, the Lord Jesus is the new and greater Carpenter from Nazareth, who, by His innocent suffering and death, and in His Resurrection from the dead, has become the Cornerstone of His Church.  By the washing of water with His Word, He has cleansed and sanctified His Church, and has taken her to be His holy Bride, adorned in His own perfect righteousness.  By His Word and Holy Spirit, He conceives and gives birth in her to the children of God; He cares for them, feeds and shelters them, and provides for all their needs of body and soul, by the free gifts of His Gospel.  Upon the Holy Ministry of that Gospel, as upon a solid Rock, He has built His Church to stand fast and strong; not only against the murderous wrath of mortal princes like Herod, but against the gates of hell.

The Lord called St. Joseph to care for the Child Jesus, with His Mother, and through St. Joseph God the Father Himself took care of that precious Holy Family.  It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should give Him thanks and praise for this grace and mercy of His, and so also for His gift of St. Joseph himself.  That righteous man of faith is a good example for all of us Christians, and for husbands and fathers, in particular.  So, too, we should give thanks and pray for the husbands and fathers by whom the Lord God serves His people here on earth, in this poor life of labor.

In like manner has the same Lord called pastors to care for His Church with the Gospel, to be for her spiritual fathers of grace, mercy, and peace, and to shepherd her with the good gifts of Christ.

Therefore, do not be afraid: The Lord whose Father called Him out of Egypt, who called the Light out of the darkness, and who raises the dead — the Lord who tabernacled with St. Joseph wherever he went, even cradled in the arms of His Mother — He is no less with you in this place, to save you by His grace, by His forgiveness of all your sins, and to feed you with His Body and His Blood.  As He has called you by His own great and holy Name, and as He has established this House for you, by His Gospel, on earth as it in heaven, so as a tender Father will He provide you with all that you need; and as your faithful Husband, He will never leave you nor forsake you.

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

17 March 2013

The Vineyard of the Lord

Behold, the Lord, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, is doing something new, which the nations have not known, nor could they perform it.  The Lord, who opens a way through the sea, and brings His people through the mighty waters on dry ground; and who causes rivers to spring forth in the desert wilderness, to give drink to His people: He forms a people for Himself, and He gives them life, to the glory of His Holy Name.

He plants them as a vine, and cultivates them as a vineyard in a good land, that they might thrive and bear good fruits of faith and love.  Not because He is hungry or in need of produce and profit, but for the sake of His divine and holy love, with which He bestows life and grants salvation.

That grace of God, His own divine Love, is the reason and the purpose for which He plants His Vineyard, His people, His Church; and for which He daily and richly provides for His own and cares for them.  All of this He does, purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, so that they might live — so that you might live, and grow and flourish, and bear fruits after His own kind: In faith toward Him, and in love for others, for your neighbors in the world, and for all the nations.

Therefore, in love, He entrusts the care of His Church on earth to His people, in various ways, to each person according to his or her particular calling and station in life.  As each of you are called to be His own, and are planted in His Vineyard by His grace, so are you given a stewardship of His Vineyard in your own place or portion.  Thus are you given to care for others around you.  And so are you, also, cared for by your neighbors, and by those in authority over you: in body and soul, for this life on earth, and for the life everlasting.

The stewards of the Vineyard certainly include the pastors and professors of the Church, who are charged with the preaching and teaching of the Lord’s Word, for the benefit of His people.  But so, too, are fathers and mothers entrusted with care for their children; and brothers and sisters for each other; and teachers for their students, and students for their studies and their classmates; and doctors and nurses, engineers, accountants, cooks, and computer programers.  Wherever the Lord has placed you, whatever He has given you to do, that is where you care for His Vineyard in love; and that is where and how, by faith in His Word, you also bear fruits to the glory of His Name.

But then, because He works in this way, through various masks and means, through neighbors and governing authorities — because He chooses to care for His Church and for creation through His creatures — it may often seem that He has gone away “on a journey for a long time,” that He is far removed from the cares and concerns of His Vineyard; that He is uninvolved, and unobservant.

That is not so, but that is the temptation; and then, either to despair of His providential care, or to seize control of the Vineyard, to the extent that you are able, in the hopes of fending for yourself.

Nevertheless, the Lord has not forgotten His Vineyard and its needs; nor has He relinquished His care and cultivation of the Vineyard.  His “journey” is not a turning away or departure from His people, but His slowness to anger, and His withholding of the punishment that sin deserves.  He deals with His people, not directly, but through means, in order to be gentle with His Vineyard.

Thus, already from the fall into sin, and even to the close of the age, the Lord governs His people, His Church, by His Word of promise, and by the Word of His Prophets and Apostles: Written, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Scriptures, and continued in the Office of the Holy Ministry, in the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The Lord is patient and long-suffering in sending His servants to preach to His people, and thus, by His Word, to bring forth the fruits of His Vineyard.  Thus have you heard in the Parable; and how He continues to do so, even in the face of rejection and refusal.  The treatment of His slaves, whom He has sent, is an attack upon His honor and authority, and yet He has persisted in peace.

Let this be a caution and encouragement to you: For as the Lord Jesus spoke this Parable against the scribes and the chief priests then, so has it been written in the Holy Gospel for your instruction.

Consider the stewards of the Lord’s Vineyard, and how, instead of producing the fruits of the Vineyard for Him, they seek to keep it for themselves, for their own benefit: not only the fruits it has already brought forth, but the entire Vineyard.

From the very first Garden, until now, it has always been this way: That man would take the fruit that God has not given — the fruit that belongs only to God — and that man would thus attempt to seize life for himself in that forbidden fruit, because it looks so good; and that he would likewise refuse to receive the true divine Life that God is freely giving by His grace.

The gardeners and vine-growers do not comprehend that the real treasure and true glory of the Vineyard is not to be found in itself, but in its Lord — in His gracious providence and good gifts; and that Paradise is not found in the pretense of self-righteousness, but in the presence of the Lord.

Even so, that true divine grace and glory of the Lord has ever been the case, and so does it ever remain, even after man has fallen into sin, into unbelief and disobedience.

Therefore, by His grace, in love for His Vineyard, the Lord God sends His own beloved Son, in whom His Church is gathered into being.  And His people do have life, through faith in Him; for, in Him, the Vineyard is fruitful and productive, to the glory of His Name.

Therefore, He sends His own dear Son, in grace, mercy, and peace.  And then what happens?

Happy ending?  Doesn’t sound like it!

As the Parable is drawing to a close, it would appear that everything has gone from very bad to much, much worse.  The Lord of the Vineyard has lost it all: His Vineyard has been taken over, and His beloved Son has been thrown out like rubbish and killed.  That is where sin, at its heart, is always aiming and leading: To usurp the glory of God by the rejection and murder of His Son.

And then, when it already seems too late to do any good, or to make any difference, the Lord of the Vineyard comes and destroys those vine-growers — and He gives the Vineyard to others.

Here is the new thing which God does!  Here is the Mystery of His Vineyard, which all the nations of the earth could never have imagined or pulled off.  It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous.

The rejection and death of the beloved Son is not only the height and culmination of sin, but is, in fact, the precious Cornerstone that God has set and established for the building of His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  Christ goes voluntarily to this death, knowing what will happen: He is the One who tells this Parable ahead of time, before it happens; and yet, He proceeds in love.

He goes to His death upon the Cross, handed over by His own people to the gentiles, in order to atone for the sins of all the people by the giving of His life and the shedding of His blood.  He lays down His life willingly, and He will take it up again, so that by His innocent suffering and death He might destroy death and remove its terrifying power from all the children of men.  He comes in peace and submits Himself to the abuse, to the beatings, and to His death by crucifixion, in order to reconcile the hostile world to His God and Father, by the Ministry of the Gospel of His Cross.

Thus, the judgment of unrighteousness and the destruction of sin is first of all borne by the beloved Son; so that, in this way, the Vineyard might be spared, and restored to its Lord, and given Life in His Resurrection from the dead.  So has He done, and so it is.  The Vineyard lives, and it is given — not rented or sold, not relinquished, not bartered or abandoned — but it is given to others: to all who believe and are baptized into Christ Jesus, who share by faith His Cross and Resurrection.

Make no mistake: Whoever does not believe will be condemned.  There is the coming judgment of unrighteousness.  There will be that final day of reckoning, when those vine-growers who reject the beloved Son and refuse to repent will be subject to the destruction of eternal damnation.

But now is the day of grace, in which the servants of the Lord continue to be sent in patience and in peace.  And now is the day of salvation, in which the crucified and risen Son of God comes to cultivate His Vineyard, His people, His Church, by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness.

It is by His Cross that the whole Vineyard is forgiven.  And it is in His Resurrection from the dead that His Vineyard is justified, enlivened, and abundantly fruitful.  That is true for you, as well.

What, then, shall your fruitfulness be like, now, in Him?

By the measure of the world, and by the conceits of your own sinful heart, your fruitfulness is going to be found in what you manage to accomplish, to achieve, and to accumulate for yourself.

The truth is, though, that everything is determined by the Cross of Christ: Either unto repentance, faith, and life, or unto the judgment and condemnation of unbelief.  He is a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense, who breaks into pieces those who fall on Him; and who smashes into dust and scatters those on whom He falls.  But He is also the Chief Cornerstone, upon whom you are built.

Fear God, therefore, and repent of your sins.  And put your trust in Christ Jesus.  Remember the grace, mercy, and long-suffering patience of the Lord your God, who loves you; and that He did not spare His beloved Son, but handed Him over to His death on the Cross, in order to save you.

By the grace and Spirit of God, you know that your righteousness, your resurrection, and your life are not found in yourself, nor in your own works, but in this dear Lord Jesus, crucified and risen.

So it is that your good fruits of faith and love are found in the fellowship of His suffering, as you are conformed more and more to the Image of His crucifixion.  That is to say, not only that your old sinful self is put to death, but also that you carry the Cross and lay down your life in love for your neighbor, for Jesus’ sake.  And by the power of His Resurrection, He raises you up in faith each day, through the forgiveness of all your sins; until you also are raised up in glory at the last.

For you, indeed, are among the good fruits that He bears to the Glory of His God and Father!

Here, in the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection, is a pathway through the sea, and living water in the desert.  Here the Heir bequeaths to you the Inheritance of His Father: And the Fruits of this true Vine are given and poured out for you to eat and drink.  Here, then, in His Sacrament, lay hold of Him — Who here lays hold of you for the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

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

15 March 2013

The Authority of the Gospel of Christ

The Lord Jesus connects His authority to the Baptism of John: Not simply as a trump card to the trick question of the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people, but because His authority to preach the Gospel has been received through His Baptism by St. John.

For here we do not have in view His raw power and authority as the Son of God, which is always His by right, by His own divine nature.  But here at hand is the authority of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of sinners, the justification of the sinful and unclean.

This is the authority that has been given to Him, in heaven and on earth, because He has become the Author of Salvation.  It belongs to Him as the incarnate Son, the Lord’s Anointed, the Lamb of God who has taken upon Himself the sins of the world and borne them in His own body.

He has, in fact, gone so far as to become sin, and has suffered the curse of sin and death, in order to do away with all of that, to resolve the problem in Himself, and to reconcile the world to God.  Therefore, the Judgment of the Law has been laid upon Him, in order to be fulfilled and satisfied in His flesh and blood.  And in His Resurrection from the dead, He and the world are justified.

St. John the Baptist was sent by God, to preach and baptize as a testimony to this same Lord Jesus Christ.  In this respect, St. John himself has been authorized to preach the Gospel, whereby he points to Jesus and declares: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”

But there is more to St. John’s office and role than even that beautiful Word.  For he is a prophet, but also more than a prophet, in that he goes before the Lord to prepare His Way.  To that end, he preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; which does prepare the people for the coming of the Christ, by calling them to faith in Him.

And yet, even St. John is caught by surprise when the Lord Jesus comes and submits Himself to that Baptism of John: to that baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins!

It was, St. Luke writes, when all the people were baptized — when all the publicans, prostitutes, and other poor, miserable sinners were baptized by John — that Jesus also was baptized.  In doing so, He not only took the sins of the whole world upon Himself, but He also subjected Himself to repentance for all of those sins, on the world’s behalf.

Which is really to say that He committed Himself to the Cross, to His innocent suffering and death.  Because, in submitting to the Baptism of John, the Lord Jesus placed Himself under the authority and judgment of the Law, in order to accomplish and fulfill all the preaching of the Law and the Prophets, for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of sinners.

Thus, in the waters of the Jordan, by the Baptism of John — as Joshua the son of Nun was once ordained by Moses — so now Jesus, the new and greater Joshua of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, has been anointed by the Spirit of His God and Father, and ordained to preach the Gospel, which He Himself authors by His Cross, and His Father confirms by His Resurrection.

He goes ahead of His people into the waters administered by St. John the Baptist — the waters included in God’s command and combined with His Word — and, by doing so, Jesus goes ahead of you, through death into life, through the Cross into the Resurrection.  He crosses the Jordan ahead of you, in order to lead you and bring you out of the wilderness into Canaan, out of this vale of tears into the great eternal Feast of Paradise: to eat the finest of wheat and sweet honey.

That is the authority by which the Lord Jesus has also sent me to preach His Gospel here to you, to forgive you all your sins in His Name and stead, and to feed you with His Body and His Blood.

This Ministry of the Gospel is from God in heaven, even here on earth among men, that you might hear this Word of forgiveness, and so believe and trust in Him, and open up your mouth to be fed by Christ Jesus, to live with Him in body and soul, both now and forever.

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

13 March 2013

Baptized with the Baptism of Christ

The Season of Lent originated as a period of intensive catechesis in preparation for Holy Baptism, which then took place at the Easter Vigil, in that hinge between the death and resurrection of Jesus.

By the Word and Spirit of God, this sacred Season still remains, also now for you, an embarking on the way of discipleship, which is to follow Christ Jesus up to Jerusalem.

Lent calls you to be baptized with the Baptism of Christ; or, if you are already baptized into Him, it calls you to remember and return to the significance of your Baptism.  In either case, you are called to follow the Son of Man, this Lord Jesus Christ, on the way of His Cross, which is the way of contrition and repentance, confession and absolution.

What, then, is this Baptism to which you are called?  It is the working of the New Creation by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of Christ, whereby the first creation is fulfilled and comes to fruition in you, according to the good and gracious will of God.

You are a new creature, a new man or woman, by your Baptism into Christ, because it first of all puts you to death and buries you with Christ, and then also raises you up and gives you new birth in His Resurrection from the dead.  That is the labor and delivery that occurs, though hidden from your eyes, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, as it has been instituted by Christ Jesus, our Lord.

By the rite and ceremony of His Word and work in Holy Baptism, in the waters administered in His Name and at His divine command, you are crucified with Christ Jesus.  For He has sanctified the waters of your Baptism with His own Baptism in the Jordan River, which He completed and perfected by His Cross and Passion in Jerusalem.  He was baptized into His own death and burial, and that is why your Holy Baptism is a sharing or participation in His Crucifixion.

Not that you atone for anyone’s sins, not even your own; nor that you are given as a ransom for anyone’s life.  But Jesus Himself has opened the way for you — through death and the grave into the resurrection and the life everlasting — so that now you follow after Him by faith in His Word.  You follow Him — through the waters of Baptism — into the grace and glory of His Kingdom.

Thus are you cleansed and refreshed, inside and out, in body and soul, with the spiritual water from the Rock, who not only leads the way, but also follows after as your rear guard, sword and shield.  Because, in truth, the water that fills the font of Holy Baptism is water that flows with the Blood of Christ from His pierced side, from the innermost depths of His heart, from His crucified Body.

Therefore, Holy Baptism brings about a new heavens and a new earth, a new home for you, where righteousness dwells.  It ushers you into that home, in order that you may live and abide with the Father, in Christ, as a member of His household and family, and may rest in the peace of His Spirit.

It gives you this righteousness of Christ, by which you are justified, and it brings you into this new home with Him, to know His God and Father as your own dear Father, to be anointed by His Spirit and to share His Life, through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  Everything is made brand new.  Your slate is cleaned.  For Baptism is not only a new creation, but a new and better flood, which drowns and destroys the old Adam in you, with all his mockery and worldly desires, and washes away all your sins, while preserving you alive and well aboard the Ark of the Church.

It is within His Church, by your Baptism into Christ, as a member of His Body, united with Him in His Cross and Resurrection, that you are also His Holy Bride.  He has clothed you in the white wedding dress of His perfect righteousness, and has adorned you in the beauty of His holiness.

Baptized into Christ Jesus, you share His Glory, by His grace; so it is, that your place is with Him in His Kingdom.  Indeed, His Royal Majesty crowns you with His divine and everlasting Life.

This is all pretty different than what James and John were envisioning; and it is so much better than anything they, or you, could ever have imagined.  And it is yours by the Baptism of Christ, that is, by and through the water included in His command and combined with His Word.

Water by itself is already God’s good creation, and His good gift, by which He grants and brings forth life on earth.  It quenches thirst, and cleanses the body, and it refreshes, not only man and beast, but grass and trees and plants of every kind.  Together with sunshine, the rain which waters the earth is by God’s grace, by His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, also for all the wicked.

But water, by itself, does not forgive sins or rescue from death and the devil.  Water, by itself, is providence for temporal life, but not a source or means of eternal life.  By itself, it is only water, and no Baptism.  But with the Word of God, simple water becomes something altogether more.

This is how the Holy Triune God, in His divine wisdom, has delighted to work from the beginning.  When He first created the heavens and the earth, He started with the deep waters, over which His Spirit hovered, and out of which His Word brought forth the world and everything in it.  So, too, with the waters of the flood, He cleansed His creation and rescued faithful Noah and his family.

And after He brought Israel out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea — as He would also bring them through the waters of the Jordan River into Canaan — He provided them with water in the desert wilderness: from the Rock.  And how did He do that?  In each and every case, He did it by His Holy Word.  “Speak to the Rock,” He said to Moses, and “thus bring forth water.”

It is by the Word of Christ, that is, by the Speaking of the Father to you by His Son, that the waters of your Baptism have been filled with the significance of His own Baptism: Which is what?  The Voice of the Father from an opened heaven, declaring His Name and His Glory over the waters, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, descending upon your body in the bodily form of this means of grace, and resting and remaining upon you, because you rest and remain in the Body of Christ.

Thus does He show Himself to be the Holy, Holy, Holy One, by sanctifying you with His Holiness in the waters of your Baptism.  Which is utterly unlike the greatness and the glory of the Gentiles: It is the gift of Life, by divine grace, accomplished and bestowed upon His own creation by the Lord’s Self-Sacrifice, by the pouring out of His Body and Life, even unto death upon the Cross.

In the same way that the waters become such a Life-giving Baptism by the Word of Christ Jesus, so do His preaching and His catechesis continue, day by day throughout your life on earth, even to the close of the age.  And by this ongoing Word of Christ, He reminds you of the significance of your Holy Baptism; He returns you to its repentance; and He restores you to its righteousness.

So, what does that mean?  And what does that look like?  It means that your life is found in Christ, and that your greatness and your glory as a Christian are that of His grace and of His Sacrifice.  Which is to say that, far from being ashamed of His Gospel and His Cross, these things of Christ are your only pride and joy, in which alone you boast and glory.

And that means, conversely, that your worldly ambitions, your sinful human ego, your envy and jealousy, and your competition and contention with others, with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and with all your neighbors, all of this is crucified and put to death in you.  And, therefore, instead of all that, you begin to love your neighbors, your enemies as well as your friends, in the way that Christ Jesus lives in love for you, and lays down His Body and Life to serve and care for you.

As you are baptized into Him, do not grumble or complain against the Lord your God, who has brought you out of Egypt with His mighty arm and outstretched hand; nor grumble and complain against His servants and His people, but love them and forgive them in patience and in peace.

Your Baptism into Christ Jesus certainly calls you to live in humility, in repentance and in faith, relying not upon yourself, but upon the Lord who calls you to believe and trust His Word and promise.  He is faithful, and He will do it.  That alone is your hope and help, and your salvation.

Even Moses and Aaron, and James and John, and the other Apostles, fell short in their faith and love, and oftentimes fell off the road of discipleship into the ditch of ego and envy, ignorance, indignation, and incredulity.  How easy it is to fear man more than God, and to love the praises of men more than God.  Be on your guard against those dangers and temptations, and repent of those sins in your own heart and life.  But do not despair.  Rather, in repentance, look to Christ, and live.

Your Baptism, your discipleship, your life and salvation, do not rest upon your shoulders, nor do they depend upon you and your faithfulness.  Each and all of these, and you, and your faith, rest upon Christ, and depend upon Him, upon His Baptism and His Cup, and upon His faithful, loving Service, for you and for all.

He has drained the Cup of God’s righteous wrath and anger against your sins, in order to atone for all your sins, and for the sins of the whole world, and to ransom and redeem you from death and the devil forever.  He has accomplished and completed the significance of His Baptism by His death upon the Cross, by His innocent suffering and death, and by the outpouring of His holy and precious Blood.  Therefore, death is destroyed, and the devil is defeated; for the Body and Life of the very Son of God have been given for you.

This is the greatness and the glory of God: That He has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ Jesus, who has not only died for you, but has also risen from the dead, and lives and reigns forever; that He has done all of this by grace, for the forgiveness and salvation of sinners, including you, no more nor less than for James and John, for Simon Peter, for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul.  No distinctions.  No exceptions.  The incarnate Son of God has become the Servant and the Slave of all, and has given Himself as the Sacrifice of propitiation for the sins of the world.

With the same loving service, by the same divine grace, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus also now cleanses and sanctifies you with His own righteousness and holiness: He has done so in the waters of your Holy Baptism, and those same waters remain, daily washing away all of your sins; for you stand, by faith, in the midst of the River of Life, constantly flowing from His pierced side, and constantly cleansing you of all unrighteousness.  So, too, the ongoing catechesis of Christ, the preaching of His Gospel, and His Word of Holy Absolution, are always putting you back into that cleansing flood, into that holy bath, into that living and Life-giving water from the Rock of Ages.

And thus, He gives to you, His beloved and beautiful Bride, to drink from His Cup of Salvation.  In this Chalice there is no poison, nor any wrath anymore, but the Blood of Jesus, who has gone up to Jerusalem ahead of you, in order to prepare a place for you at His Table, in His Kingdom.  That is the place that is prepared and is now given to all who believe and are baptized into Him.

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