Thanksgiving is fundamental to and distinctive of the Christian faith and life. It is of the first priority, in so far as your words and actions are concerned, as a child of God in Christ. For it is with thanksgiving to God that you confess the faith, and pray, and live in love for your neighbor.
Such thanksgiving on your part corresponds to the gracious providence and good gifts of God: For what He has already done and given to you; and for what He has promised; and also for His loving discipline, as a father for his son, His call to repentance, and His forgiveness of all your sins.
In mercy and in love for you, He catechizes you to live by faith in His Word: to live by everything that proceeds from His mouth, as the Father speaks to you by His Son, and as the Son breathes His life-giving Holy Spirit upon you by His Gospel. He teaches you and trains you to recognize and receive His gifts with thanksgiving, and so also to call upon His Name, and to wait upon Him in hope, looking to Him in expectation of good things. He calls you and guides you to walk in His ways, to keep His commandments, and to give yourself in love to and for your neighbor. This is how you live and multiply and possess the good land which the Lord has pledged and provided.
At the same time, there is a leprosy (of body and soul) that cuts you off and keeps you out, which reduces you and renders you impotent, and which puts you to death. It separates you from God and man, from Church and state, from house and home, from family, friends, and neighbors.
It is the leprosy of sin, which not only lacks but actively opposes faith and love and thanksgiving. It brings about doubt and despair, on the one hand, and yet promotes prideful arrogance on the other hand. It drives (and is driven by) selfishness, self-reliance, and self-righteousness, which is utterly futile, because all this self-serving ambition achieves nothing but anxiety, anger, and further alienation: not only from those whom you are called to love and serve, but likewise from everyone who would love and care for you. That is what the leprosy of sin accomplishes. It does not rise up in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, but it erupts in outbursts of rage, either verbally or bodily violent, and it vents itself in terrible temper tantrums, in cursing, swearing, lying and deceiving.
There is no happiness, peace or rest in this leprous condition, but only desperate want, and deep sorrow, bitter loneliness, and relentless death. Existing, but as good as dead, and always dying.
Until the Lord Jesus enters in to save you, to rescue and redeem you, to cleanse and sanctify you.
He comes to you, and makes His way to you, and He addresses Himself to your deep and desperate need. He confronts you with His presence, with His Word, and you are met with His holiness vs. your uncleanness. And, to be sure, He disciplines you, humbles you, and calls you to repentance; only not to shame you, discourage you, or punish you, but to catechize you, and to bring you from death to life, from the desert wasteland into Paradise, and from the outside into His house.
He draws near, this Lord Jesus, not only to expose and reveal your need, but also to provide all that you need. He draws near to you, that you might draw near to Him. He has gone outside the wall and gate, in order to find you, the outcast, and to gather you back into the holy city, to the place where His Name and Glory dwell, and really to enfold you to Himself. He does not recoil in fear and loathing from your unclean flesh. He does not retreat and run away from your blemished body of sin and death. But He lays hold of you and embraces you with His own.
He breaks your heart of stone, yes, but so that you might recognize and receive Him as your God in the flesh. So does He speak to you in love, and by His Word He opens your lips to call upon His Name and to show forth His praise: to confess what He has spoken, to worship and glorify Him by faith in His Word, and to give Him thanks for all His tender mercies and great salvation.
With all of this, He is even yet far more, and He does far more. He is your merciful and great High Priest. Therefore, it is not that He ignores your leprosy; nor does He merely remedy its outward symptoms; but He actually takes your leprosy of heart and mind, of body and soul, upon Himself, into His own skin, into His flesh and blood; and so does He cleanse you of all unrighteousness.
He sacrifices Himself to atone for all your sins, and He reconciles you to His God and Father in Himself. He establishes the way of real life and true righteousness in Himself, in His own body and life as true Man. He lives and dies for you in the way of faith and love, which He in turn gives to you, and makes your own, with His Word of the Gospel: His Word of forgiveness and peace.
He gives Himself to you, as He has given Himself for you, and He also brings you out of death into life, and to the Father, in and with His own Body of flesh and blood. Which is to say that, He is not only the Priest and the Sacrifice, but His Body is the true and eternal Temple of God, whereby God dwells with you, and you abide with God in Him.
So, then, here is what that looks like, and what it means for you: Your worship and prayer, your praise and thanksgiving, are focused and centered in Christ Jesus. Not abstractly or randomly, but in the hearing of His Word to you, in the receiving of His Body given and His Blood poured out.
He Himself, who is the primary Liturgist, the true Preacher and Celebrant of the Divine Service, He is your prayer, your thanksgiving, your living sacrifice, and your sweet-smelling incense, who offers and gives Himself to God for you, and who is received by the Father on your behalf.
He is your faith and love, your righteousness and holiness, your peace and hope, your joy and happiness, your confidence and courage, your compassion and charity. Which is both why and how you now live in love for your neighbor; especially for your fellow Christians, your brothers and sisters in Christ, but also for those who are estranged, who are still wandering on the outside.
You are set free from the shackles of your leprosy. You are no longer shut out and barred from the house, from the city, from the good land of the Lord your God, but you are at home with Him in His Church, within the Body of Christ, your Savior. You belong to the household and family of God; you are a citizen of His Kingdom; and you are safe and secure in the Mighty Fortress of His beloved Son. Here you are well-fed and well-provided. You lack no good thing, nor shall you. No matter what you suffer in the wilderness, you shall not die, but you will live (forever and ever).
Therefore, as God, your dear Father in Christ Jesus, has given you this body and life on earth, you are free and able to give this body and life to and for others, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and the life everlasting in body and soul. For you already know the good land which the Lord has sworn to you, by His own Name, and you know that He will surely bring you into it.
In truth, in the Body of Christ, you have already entered into that good land, and you live and abide in it, by grace through faith in His Gospel. For, already, Christ is yours, and He is here with you, with the same crucified and risen Body that makes heaven the Paradise it is. His Church on earth flows with milk and honey from that Cross (the tree of life in the midst of the garden), and she is wealthy with the jewels and precious gems of His Passion: with the treasures of His Gospel, the water from His side, His Body and His Blood, the outpouring of His Spirit, His Holy Absolution.
The beauty and the glory of it all, for now, is hidden and mysterious, in, with, and under the Cross; and it so often seems so elusive, as though you will never be able to find it or reach it.
How long must you live in the wilderness?
But now, wait upon the Lord. He shall open His hand to satisfy all of your needs and desires, and He shall give you true Meat and Drink indeed, in due season. Even now, He gives to you this sacred Manna and spiritual Drink, which are His own true Body, and His holy and precious Blood.
By this Food, by this Meal, this Feast, you lack nothing at all, but Christ feeds you with Himself — yes, even here and now — that you might also abide with Him, both here in time, and hereafter in eternity. For as surely as you eat this Body and Blood of the One who sacrificed Himself for you, who died and rose again, who ascended to the Right Hand of the Father and ever lives to pray and intercede for you, so do you dwell in the Lord’s House, in His good land, forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.