Our risen and ascended Lord, our great High Priest, Christ Jesus, gathers and governs His Church in love by the Word of His Apostles, and by the Ministry of that apostolic Word. That is why He provides pastors for His Church on earth, and prays for His pastors and His people at all times.
The unity of His Church, therefore, is the unity of His Word, and of the Holy Spirit, who speaks and gives life to the Church of all times and places through the Word of Christ Jesus. Because His Word does not change, nor does it contradict itself, but by His Word He creates and sustains all things in harmony and peace, so is the unity of His Church preserved by His good Word and Spirit.
This unity of which the Lord Jesus speaks on this day, and for which He prays to His Father, is not something else in addition to, or besides, the Church’s faith and life in Him. It is, in fact, that very unity of faith and life in His one Body, which is solely by His Word of the Gospel. It is not something that you, or we, or any of us are able to achieve, but the true unity of the Church is a gift of His grace, which we can only receive from the Father. Not simply because we are sinful and mortal, and it would be too hard for us to pull it together and maintain it. But, much more to the point, it is the unity of Christ Himself, of His two natures in His one Person; and it is the unity of three divine Persons in the one true God, the Holy Trinity — in which we live only by His grace.
The fact that we receive and share this unity of God Himself is astonishing and remarkable, but such is the Father’s Love for His Son; and that is the same Love that He extends to His Creation in Christ, and to His Church, in particular. In love for His Son, the Father sends Him to redeem the world and save us; and by this great Salvation, the beloved Son makes known the Father to us.
This Love of God — the Love of the Father for His Son, and the Love of the Son for His Father, in the personal and perfect Unity of the Holy Spirit — this divine Love is the grace and glory of the Holy Triune God, which He reveals and bestows upon His Church by the Gospel of Christ. Which means that the Gospel is not simply news or information about God, but is reconciliation with God in Christ, and true righteousness before Him, and a real relationship with Him, whereby you live in His Love: you actually abide in the very nature of God and partake of His divine Life.
Such great things are so, and they are freely given to you by grace in the Ministry of the Gospel, because everything that Christ accomplished and established in Himself, in His own human flesh and blood, He has done for you, as your merciful and great High Priest: from His Baptism, through His Cross and Resurrection, into His Ascension to the Father. Everything is now yours in Him.
You are named with the Name of God, and anointed by the Spirit of God, and adopted as a son of God in Christ Jesus, by your own Holy Baptism. Thus are you crucified and raised with Christ, sanctified by His precious Blood, and a member of His Church, with access to His Tree of Life.
The unity of the Church with God, as one Body in Christ, is freely given and firmly grounded in this Sacrament of Holy Baptism: precisely because Christ our Lord is One, who was baptized for us, and sacrificed once for all, and, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again.
And now this unity of the Christian Church is expressed, and exercised, extended and increased, in the apostolic doctrine and fellowship, in the Breaking of the Bread, and in the Prayers of the Church for herself and all her members, for the world and all its nations. That is to speak of the Divine Service, which is the teaching and preaching of the Apostles’ Word, the Holy Communion of Christ’s Body and Blood, and the Church’s confession, intercession, praise and thanksgiving.
In sum, the Church, which is the Body of Christ, lives in the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament, and to and from His Liturgy in a fraternal fellowship of mutual love.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you all eat the Fruits of His one Tree, and you are all healed by its leaves, which are the several gifts of the Spirit in the Gospel of forgiveness. Thus, you all partake of one and the same Spiritual Food and Drink. That is to say, you all eat the one Bread, which is the Body of Christ; and you all drink from His one Cup, which is the New Testament in His Blood. This Holy Communion is the unity of the Church in the flesh, as Christ Himself is God in the flesh.
Beloved of the Lord, do not make a farce or a fiction of that holy fraternity and blessed fellowship. Do not despise this sacred Supper, nor those who feast upon it with you. To do so is to sin against the Body of Christ, against the Lord Himself. It is also to lie, to deceive both yourself and others, and to make a false confession concerning God — to deny that Jesus Christ is sent by the Father.
Repent of all frictions and factions among you, and love one another in deed and truth. Confess the Word of Christ that is preached to you, with both your lips and your life. Love and serve your neighbor in his or her body and life, with your own labors of love in thought, word, and deed.
That means thinking of your neighbor, and listening to your neighbor; caring for your neighbor, as you take care of yourself, and in the same way that you would have your neighbor care for you; and sacrificing yourself and your will for your neighbor’s sake.
It also means and requires repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Which means what? That you humble yourself, confess your faults and failings, seek out your neighbor to apologize and make amends, as you are able; and, that you are always eager to forgive and gladly to do good to those who trespass and sin against you — as God Himself does not count or consider your sins.
Therefore, be patient, as you yourself require patience. And be at peace with all people.
As all of this comes only from God (and it is not able to come from anywhere else than Him), the true unity of the Church both requires and results in prayer, the very voice of faith, which cries out to the Lord your God, and calls upon His Holy Name, and looks to Him for all that you need.
In such faith, pray with and for the Church, and for the world. Pray for your neighbor, and pray for yourself, for the mercies of God, and for His gracious presence. Pray for the forgiveness of all your sins, and that Christ would strengthen and sustain your faith in His Gospel of forgiveness; for you are not worthy of any of those things for which you pray, but He cares for you by grace.
Pray that God would glorify Himself in you. And realize that, in so praying, you ask that He would bring you to repentance through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus; that He would save you from your sin, and give you a new heart, a new mind and spirit, and manifest His own divine Love in your body and your soul, to the glory of His Holy Name, unto the Life everlasting in Him.
You can be sure and certain of such prayer, and therefore pray with boldness and confidence in Christ Jesus; first of all, because He has taught you and commanded you to pray in this way, by His Word and Holy Spirit, and He has promised to hear you. Not only that, but He has named you with His own Name, and He has made you a beloved child of His own God and Father in heaven; so that you now pray to God in much the same way that a little toddler beseeches her dear Daddy.
Your prayer is joined to that of Christ Jesus Himself, your merciful and great High Priest, who ever lives to make intercession for you. Therefore, you have not only His example in this Holy Gospel, but also His ongoing and constant petition for you, and for His whole Church.
What is more, Christ Himself is not only your Priest, but He is your Prayer. He is the Sacrifice that is offered up to God, and the Incense that ascends and is received as a pleasing aroma before Him. His Resurrection is the Father’s resounding “Yes!” and “Amen!” to all your prayers and to all your needs. And His Ascension to the Right Hand of God is the final Answer to each and every request, whereby you also are positively heard and graciously received into the presence of His Father.
Dear Christian, as the Lord Jesus Christ has called you to Himself by the Word of His Apostles, so does He bring you to His God and Father in His own Body and Blood. This blest Communion, Fellowship divine, is not simply a means to some other end, but this Feast is already the divine Life, which is yours, even now, by grace through faith in Christ; and so shall it be yours forever.
Indeed, the eating and drinking of His Body and Blood, by which you are united with Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and with His whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth, is the surety, the down-payment, and the guarantee of the resurrection of your own body.
This Holy Supper is given and poured out for the forgiveness of all your sins; it bestows the life and salvation of Christ Jesus to your body and your soul; it likewise mends and heals whatever is broken or amiss within the fellowship of the Body, by the Word and Spirit of the Gospel. Thus, it nourishes and substantiates the unity of the Church, and so makes known the Father in His Son.
For here the Lord Jesus abides in you, as the Father abides in Him; so that you, also, abide with one another in the Body of the Son, and in the Spirit of His God and Father.
In this the Father answers the prayer and petitions of His Son, your merciful and great High Priest; and He Himself, the Liturgist of the Divine Service, provides the answer to His own intercession for His Church: Right here He does so, in the “Upper Room,” as it were, no less so than on that night when He was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death. Right here He does and gives everything, in the midst of His true Jerusalem, on earth even now, as it is in heaven forever.
Here is the Center, where God and Man, the Church, and all of creation come together and are perfected in the Unity of Christ Jesus:
“Come,” says the Spirit to the Bride. “Come,” says the Bride to her members and her friends.
“Come,” says the one who hears and receives the invitation to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.
“Come,” you who are thirsty, and drink freely without cost from this fountain of Life. “Come,” you poor and hungry children; be filled and satisfied with these good things, by the grace of God.
For the Lord Himself testifies and says, “Surely I am coming quickly!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!