30 April 2014

The Place of the Son in the House of the Father

Though it looks like you’re all alone, left to wander on your own in the darkness, sometimes afraid, and often confused as to which way you should turn, where you ought to be, and how to get there; though your provisions are sparse, your clothing thin, your bread too little, and your water bitter — Do not let your heart be troubled.  Believe in God; which is to say, believe and trust in Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, who is risen from the dead, and who lives and reigns for you forever.

There is one true God, the Father of our dear Lord Jesus Christ; and, though it is a great Mystery, He is manifest and known in the Person of the incarnate Son, who is one and the same true God.  It is this true God and Father, in the flesh and blood of Christ, the Son, who pours out the Holy Spirit upon you, the Lord and Giver of Life, who is Himself the one true God, in order to save you.

See what Love He has for you!  Not a passing fancy, nor a fair weather friendship, but the Love that comprises the very Being of God, the Bond of Love between the Father and His Son.  Not with mere emotion or affection, but with the Gift of Himself, given and poured out for you and for all, and given into your ears, into your hands, into your mouth and body, unto the life everlasting.

Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid; but now, be comforted and brave.  For in your Father’s House are many dwelling places.  Do you hear?  He is your Father.  You are not a stranger, nor simply a guest, but a child in His home: His Castle is your castle.  For His own dear Son, Christ Jesus, by the way and means of His Cross, has prepared a place for you with Himself.  So, too, all the saints and the holy Apostles are your family, because you are of God’s household.

It is by His Cross and Passion that Christ Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you.  But you have also heard and received the testimony of Easter, this Queen of Seasons bright, that He has returned from death and the grave.  He has come to you, in order to receive you to Himself — to gather you into the embrace of His wounded hands, to graft you into His side — so that you are, and ever shall be, with Him where He is.  He Himself, in His own crucified and risen Body, is now and forever your permanent Place in the House of the Father.

You know the Way to that Place, and even now, by faith, you live and abide in Him by the divine grace of the Holy Trinity.  For Christ Jesus, who is sent by the Father and laid upon your heart by the Holy Spirit, is the Way: The Path of Life, the Highway to Zion, the Road to God.  He is your Way to the God and Father in heaven.

Not just directions for you to follow and navigate.  He’s far more than a spiritual GPS.  He not only gets you where you’re going, but He is the Route, and He is your Destination.  In and with Him, you are in and with the Father; and so do you live and abide, you rest and reside, in the Holy Spirit.

It’s not a matter of getting from Point A to Point Z, but of being adopted as a son of God in Christ.  For the Place that Christ Jesus has prepared for you is not so much a new location as it is a new relationship with God, who is your true Father in Him.  It is in His own divine Sonship that you now live and move and have your being, your identity, your future and your hope.  Your Place.

He is and remains your Place, no matter where you may roam.  You not only have it waiting for you, but you are living in that Place of Christ, even now, wherever you are in this body and life.  So shall it be all the more so in the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting of Paradise.

As the Lord your God is your true Father, and you are His true child, you are always before Him, always in His sight and in His presence.  For discipline, yes, but not for condemnation.  He leads and guides you by His Word, by which He also teaches you to pray at all times and in all places.  He longs to be gracious to you, because He loves you.  At the sound of your cry, He will surely have compassion.  Do not doubt that He will, but, as you long for Him, so call upon His Name.

From within your own flesh-and-blood life in this world, even from out of the depths of your sin and death, you are free and able to pray to your Father in Christ Jesus, to ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.  And His answer to your every prayer, His resounding “Yes” and “Amen,” is already sure and certain in the crucified and risen flesh and blood of Christ Himself.

You pray in the Name of Christ Jesus, as you are baptized in His Name, because it is in and with His Name that God the Father answers your prayer and bestows the Holy Spirit upon you.

Listen.  Your Teacher does not hide Himself from you.  It is true that, for now, He does hide Himself under the Cross, but He does so in order to reveal Himself to you in the grace, mercy, and peace of His Atonement.  By the Word of His Cross, He opens your ears to hear His Voice, and He opens your eyes to see Him, even in the midst of sin and death, in the hope of the resurrection.

This is the Truth of God Himself: The Truth of His Incarnation, the Truth of His own Cross and Resurrection, and the Truth of His Word and Spirit in the preaching of His Holy Gospel to you.

In the Person of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, in His true Body of flesh and blood, you see and know His God and Father as your very own God and Father; and you are known and loved by Him.

You know the Father in Christ Jesus, and you know and love Christ Jesus by the gracious gift and blessed work of the Holy Spirit.  It is more than enough; it is your full sufficiency and salvation.  Not a “consolation prize,” but simply genuine consolation.

You might be tempted to think or say, that, if only you could actually see Jesus with your own two eyes, in the way the Holy Apostles were granted to see Him in their day, then you would be more content and at ease.  As the Holy Apostles were tempted to say, that, if only they could actually see the Father, that would be enough for them.  But the Father is in the Son, the Son in the Father.  And as the Father has sent Him, so has He sent the ministers of His Word to preach in His Name.  Whoever hears that apostolic preaching of Christ, hears Christ; and whoever receives the means of grace in the apostolic Ministry of the Gospel, receives the same Lord Jesus Christ.

There is nothing lacking here in the Liturgy of His Gospel, in His Divine Service.  Here He shows Himself to you, and gives Himself to you, and the Father and the Holy Spirit in and with Himself.

Indeed, the Holy Apostles, St. Philip and St. James among them, despite the fact that we know so little about them, performed even greater works than Christ Himself had previously done among them; and yet, not they, but Christ worked in them.  The works are “greater” because, by His Cross and in His Resurrection, everything is accomplished and perfected in His own Body “for us men and our salvation.”  All things are made new.  Creation is completed, and Paradise established.

The same is therefore true, also now for you, in the preaching and ministry of your pastors, who follow in the footsteps and stand upon the foundation of St. Philip and St. James and the other Apostles.  As Christ Himself is the Cornerstone, who gives shape and stability to the foundation, and upon whom the entire Church is firmly built and rests secure, so all the members of His Body, all who believe and are baptized into Him, are joined together into one Holy Temple of God.

Therefore, not only is it most certainly true, that, in the word and works of your pastors, you hear and receive the greater works of Christ Himself; it is also the case that, in your own vocation, as a beloved child of God in Christ Jesus, by faith in Him, you also do the “greater works” of God, and the Father is glorified in you.

Though you may be less than others, and little known on earth — though you may be forgotten in the world within a mere generation or less of your passing from this vale of tears — the Truth remains, that Christ the Son of God abides in you, as the Father always abides in Him; and He is surely accomplishing His purposes in you.  You are not forgotten by God, your Father in Christ, but you live and abide in His House and Home forever, as a beloved members of His dear family.

Do not measure your life and your works by what you see in this old world, but consider your calling in the newness of the New Creation in the Resurrection of the Body of Christ Jesus.  For you belong to His Body, and you are on the Way that He has gone, through death and the grave into Life with God.  He has gone before you, and has already accomplished the outcome, even the salvation of your body and your soul in Himself; but He also goes with you every step of the Way.

You have heard His Word and promise: He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  And He is yours.  He is your Way to the Father.  He is your Journey and your Destination.  Even now, He is your Place, in which you abide in Hope and rest in Peace.  He is here with you, and so are you with Him.

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

27 April 2014

Where the Word and Wounds of Jesus Are

Maybe it was just too painful to be there with the rest of them.  He was just too sad, and it hurt too much to be reminded of the time they had spent together with Jesus.  Perhaps he was ashamed of how they had fled at the onset of the Passion, or too ashamed of himself to be seen by anyone else.  He may have been in shock at what had happened, and wanted to be left alone with his thoughts, to sort them out and get his head on straight.  We aren’t told the reasons why he wasn’t there.

Was he braver than the other disciples?  Or was he hiding somewhere else, just as frightened as the rest of them?  Or, was he out in the open, perhaps even hoping to get himself arrested, to follow after Jesus into death, as he had said when they returned to Judea after Lazarus had died?

Whatever his purpose, intentions, or excuses may have been, he wasn’t where he should have been.  He wasn’t where the disciples of Jesus were.

It is just as foolish to look for Jesus where He is not to be found, as it is to doubt and deny Him where He does reveal and give Himself to His disciples.  It is all the more foolish not to look for Him at all.  No matter whether you proceed in self-confidence and bravado or in faithless despair.

But, that you not be left to your own devices, lost and alone, it is the ministry of the Holy Gospel to testify to the Truth, and to call you, by way of repentance, to the place where Jesus is found — or, to say it better, to the place where He finds you.  So that you may believe and have life in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, through His forgiveness of your sins and His gift of the Holy Spirit.

It is the Word of Christ, the preaching of His Gospel, in particular, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name, that raises you from death to life; that removes your fear and replaces it with peace; that brings you from deep sadness to great joy; that changes your doubts and terrible uncertainty into confidence and courage; that converts you from false belief to faith.

Genuine faith in the genuine Christ makes all the difference in this world, and also for the next.  But what is the content of such faith?  It is not simply that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a real person; nor simply that He was crucified, dead, and buried; nor even simply that He rose from the dead.  It includes and requires all of those basic historical facts, to be sure.  But genuine faith in Christ believes and trusts that He is the very Son of God, sent by the Father in the flesh; that He is your Lord and your God, who was crucified for the forgiveness of your sins, and raised up by the Father as your Righteousness forevermore; and that He is here for you, in and with His Word of the Gospel, and with His true Body and true Blood, given and poured out for your salvation.

What such faith receives and clings to is the Lord your God Himself in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life, in Christ’s Word of forgiveness.

This is the true faith, which you need the most, upon which everything else depends, as it depends upon Christ Jesus.  By such faith you live in Him, as He Himself is risen from the dead; you have Peace with God, instead of anxiety and dread; real joy instead of constant sorrow and depression.

And by such faith, you confess the Name of Christ, with which you have been named in Baptism; you worship and adore Him as the Lord your God; and you gladly obey His commandments, because you have a new and living hope in Him, in His Resurrection from the dead.

If faith is first of all an active passivity, which hears, receives, and trusts in God, it is also then a busy and active thing, which lives and works to the Glory of His Name.  In fact, it is the nature of faith to live, and it is only by faith that you do live; because Life itself is found only with God, by the gift of His Word and Holy Spirit, in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

If you would have Life, it is yours by faith in Christ.  And as you have such faith, so do you live.

The most urgent and most necessary thing — honestly, the only thing that finally matters at all — is that you be found in the Body of Christ Jesus, anointed and filled by His Holy Spirit.  Nothing else matters; leastwise, nothing else has any real meaning or lasting purpose outside of the Body of Christ.  Apart from Him, devoid of His Spirit, you have no life and no salvation, but only doubt and despair, death and damnation; even if, or all the more, if you manage to fool yourself awhile.

So the big and most compelling questions are: Where and how do you find Him and find yourself in Him?  How shall you come to faith in Him, and so live the Life which is with God in Christ?

It is by the Spirit of Christ Jesus that you have such faith and life in Him; by the Holy Spirit who is actively present and at work in the preaching and ministry of those whom Christ has sent in His Name to serve and care for His Church with His Gospel.

By the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit is given and bestowed upon you with His forgiveness of all your sins.  You are recreated by this Spirit of God, who breathes in you by the Word of the Gospel; and you are granted newness of life in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, because your wounds of body and soul are healed by His wounds, by the fruits of His Cross and Passion.

Hear and heed the Holy Scriptures, and long for the pure Spiritual Milk of the Lord’s Word.  Like a newborn baby, drink deeply from the fountain of Life, here at the Lord’s Altar, where He opens up His wounded hands and side to you.  Call upon His Holy Name, as He has called you by His Name in your one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and again and again in Holy Absolution.

Search for the Lord and His strength, and seek His face always, in His Holy Covenant, which He has established forever.  Remember what He has done and said, as He remembers you in mercy; as He speaks His Word of Peace, which does and gives what He says; and as He gives to you His Body and pours out for you the Cup, which is the New Covenant in His Blood.

Here is where the disciples of Jesus are; for here is where He comes and takes His stand and gives Himself to you with tender mercy and compassion, with patience for your doubts and fears and failings, and with forgiveness for all your sins.  Here is where He gives you His Body to eat, that you may belong to His Body, and abide in Him by faith, in body and soul, unto life everlasting.

Apart from Christ, outside of His Body, sins are retained, and you are left in the deadly sorrow and devastating loneliness of unbelief.  But here, in the Divine Service, you receive the eyewitness testimony of the Holy Apostles, who saw the crucified and risen Lord and ate and drank with Him.  And by their Word, by their proclamation of His death, and by their confession of His Resurrection from the dead — though you cannot see Him, you believe Him, and you love Him; you live in Him by faith, and you rejoice in His salvation, to the praise and glory and honor of His sacred Name.

So it is, by the Word of His Apostles, that the Lord grants you repentance and new birth in His own Cross and Resurrection.  Day by day, you die with Him, and you are born again through the rebirth of His Resurrection, unto newness of life and new hope.  You shall not be put to shame.  Certainly not by Christ, who comes to you here to speak His Peace and Joy and Holy Spirit into your ears, and into your body and soul.  So faithful is He, that the trying and testing of your faith shall not be permitted to rob you of your hope, but shall only be allowed to purify and strengthen your faith, hope, and love in this Lord Jesus Christ, unto the resurrection of your body and eternal life.

Reach here your hand and see.  Lay hold of the Body of Christ and believe.  Take up the Cup of Salvation, and call on the Name of the Lord; for everyone who calls on Him shall be saved.

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

26 April 2014

Remember the Word that He Speaks to You

The Resurrection of our Lord should not come as such a shocking surprise to His disciples, but it does.  Even His enemies remembered what He had said, that He would rise again on the third day.  But His own disciples either don’t remember, or they simply don’t believe it.  When confronted with the empty tomb and the news of the Resurrection, they are dumbfounded, perplexed, amazed, frightened, confused, and incredulous.

As sad and disappointed as the disciples were, it appears they would have been more comfortable and content with a dead body in the ground than with the Living One who has risen from the dead.

So what is your excuse?  Why do you look for the Living One as though He were still dead and buried?  Why do you not believe the Gospel?  For the fact is, that all your efforts to find happiness and satisfaction, to find or make a life for yourself in your own ambitious plans and enterprising schemes, are simply your own version of scouring the graveyard and dredging the tombs.

You’ll actually get nothing and nowhere apart from the forgiveness of your sins; for your sins will kill you dead forever.  But forgiveness comes only from the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

You’ll not get forgiveness and life from your family and friends; not from your job, nor from your hobbies; neither from your achievements and success and popularity in the world.  No matter where you go or what you do, you’ll not find Jesus apart from His Word of the Gospel; and you’ll not find life apart from Jesus.

So, then: Remember His Word to you.

Remember, not so much with your mind and nostalgic emotions, but with your ears.  Remember the Word of Jesus by listening, by hearing it preached to you.  For He remembers you by preaching His Gospel, His forgiveness of all your sins; and you remember Him by hearing.

And faith comes by such hearing of His Word.

Do not despise such preaching of the Gospel.  Do not regard it as nonsense.  Do not suppose that the Word of Jesus is empty and unable to meet your every need.  So long as you maintain that obstinate unbelief, you’ll remain confused and frightened, entombed in a kind of living death.

But the Living One does not leave you in dismay.  He has not forgotten you, nor does He fail to help you.  He has come to you in the midst of death, and He raises you up to life with Himself.

It is for this that He suffered and was crucified, that is, to atone for your sins.  And, having done so, He has risen victorious; so that you, also, are raised up alive through His forgiveness.

That is how He remembers you: with His forgiveness of your sins, with His Gospel of Life in place of death.  He remembers you with Holy Absolution.  He remembers the significance of your Holy Baptism, that you have thus been crucified, dead, and buried with Him, in order to rise and live.

He remembers you with His holy Body and His precious Blood, with which He feeds and nurtures you in body and soul.  Such nonsense, it seems; and yet, it is the Truth.  Here is the Body of the Lord Jesus, the Living One among the dead, that you may have life.

Again, and again, remember His Word to you:  Take, eat; this is My Body.  Drink this Cup, it is the New Testament in My Blood.  For you.  For the forgiveness of all your sins.

Eat and drink. Arise, and Live!

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

25 April 2014

How Sweet Is the Word upon Your Lips

You also have received the testimony of the Gospel, including that of St. Mark, that the Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.  And yet, how often do you harden your heart and refuse to believe this Gospel?  Not so much that you would deny the historical facts concerning Jesus, His Cross and Resurrection, but that you do not take these things to heart for yourself, as your life and salvation.

But, now then, repent of your unbelief and hardness of heart!  For whoever does not believe shall be condemned — just as surely as you witness all the signs of condemnation, all the curse and consequences of sin, all around you in the world, and in your own mortal body and life.

Repent of your sin and sinful unbelief, which lead only to death and condemnation.

Repent, trust Christ, and live!  For His Gospel, His forgiveness, His salvation, and His Life are not only most certainly true, but they are most certainly for you.

Indeed, as the Lord has commanded, this Gospel is preached to all creation; for all of creation has been redeemed, and is sanctified and saved, by the Incarnation, Cross, and bodily Resurrection of the Son of God, our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

And have you not heard, how those very men whom Jesus first of all reproached for their unbelief, are then immediately sent to preach this saving Gospel to the world?  Already with those first disciples, with the Apostles themselves, the grace and mercy of God in Christ is demonstrated.

So also in the case of St. Mark, the Evangelist.  He, too, was called from sinful unbelief to faithful discipleship and holy service.  That would be the case, in any event, as a matter of course, as it is for every Christian; but all the more pointedly, if Mark were that rich young man, as many think, who was previously unable to give up his wealth to follow Christ; who later ran away naked and afraid in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night when Jesus was handed over to His Cross.

It is by such men, who were so much in need of the Gospel, and who received it by the mercies of the Lord, that the Holy Gospel has been preached everywhere, ever since; and written down, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the preaching and administration of the Gospel in all times and places.  So that you, also, are here and now forgiven all your sins, unto faith and life and salvation.

It is by that Word of the Gospel that Christ is here with you, even as you recline here at His Table with Him.  He reproaches your unbelief by His preaching of repentance, it is true.  Not because He is here to condemn you; He is not.  But because He is here truly to save you, in body, soul, and spirit, for the resurrection and the life everlasting with Him.

He would have you believe these glad tidings of salvation.  And, to that end, He both grants to you and strengthens your faith in His Gospel.  Not only because it is true — Amen! It is! — but that you would be comforted in your weakness, doubt, and fear; and, that you would not despair and die in your sin, but live in peace and rest in Christ, your Savior.

Sin, death, the devil, and hell do not get to have you; nor are they permitted to have the last word concerning you.  The Lord Jesus, by His Cross and Resurrection, has shut that lion’s mouth, who would otherwise devour you with lies and bitter condemnation.

He has opened up, instead, the mouth of another lion, His servant, St. Mark, to publish peace to the ends of the earth by the proclamation of the Gospel, which is the Truth and blessed consolation.

That is the Word that is spoken, not only here and now to you, but by God Himself concerning you.

You are baptized into Christ.  In Him, by faith, you are saved.  For He has died your death, so that you are now raised up in His Resurrection.  Your sin is no longer against you, because you have died with Christ, and your life is safely hidden with Him at the Right Hand of your God and Father.

Sickness, suffering, and death are all finally powerless against you, because Christ is with you, who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever; and He is most certainly for you.  There is no poison in the Cup that He pours out for you.  He shall neither hurt nor harm you.  But He is your dread Champion, who has crushed that old serpent, your enemy, the devil, under His feet; who has sent the beautiful feet of His Apostles and Evangelists into all the world, to all creation, to speak with the new tongues of the Gospel, and to write with the skilled pen of His great mercy.

How sweet is this Word in your ear and in your heart, upon your lips and tongue, and in your body!

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

24 April 2014

Repentance and Faith in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus

How you feel about Jesus may be up for grabs from time to time, but there is no doubt or question about His love for you.  He has but one desire for you and all His sheep, that you have life with Him, both now and forevermore.  To that end, He has suffered and died for you, and risen again, and, even to the close of the age, He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

His love for you is clear and consistent and certain.  Your love for Him, not so much; not always.  Your good intentions do not always translate into faithful loving words and actions.  When push comes to shove and you are put to the test, you sometimes deny and disown the Lord who loves you; sometimes actively, by what you do and say, and sometimes passively, by what you don’t.  Instead of taking up the Cross to follow Him, you sometimes run away and try to hide.

But now has Christ arisen, and it is high time for you to repent.

Do not get defensive or defiant, but recognize where you have done wrong, where you have fallen short and failed.  Confess your sins, believe the Gospel, and, living by such faith, do better.  Become altogether other than you have been.

Are you grieved by your sins?  It is right that you should be.  But do not simply weep and gnash your teeth about it.  Go and sin no more.  Stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  Stop trying to pick and choose your own way, your own life.

It is not for you to decide and determine the way in which you will serve and glorify God.  Your self-chosen pursuits and bold promises are likely to crash and burn, anyway.  But, whatever may become of you and your efforts, you are not actually your own man or woman; you are the Lord’s.

Do what you are given to do, and follow Jesus in your God-given calling and place in life.  Confess His Cross and Resurrection by your words and deeds, and care for your neighbor as you are able.

Do so for Jesus’ sake, and for your neighbor’s sake, and not as though your life and your salvation depended on it.  Worry and anxiety stem from the false assumption that your life is in your own hands, and from the lie that your righteousness and holiness are achieved by your own works.

But that is not how it is.

Your life is in the hands of Christ, who is your Righteousness and Holiness by His divine grace.  Whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s, who lived and died for you, and rose again for you.  What He calls you to do for others, He has already done for you, and He continues to do for you.  And it is Christ Jesus Himself who is at work in your vocations to serve your neighbors, as well.

I know that it can sometimes feel as though everything were out of control and falling apart.  But it’s not.  Not really.  If it is taken out of your hands, that is for the best, but it is not outside the scope of Christ and His Cross.

Life and death and everything in between have already been fulfilled and worked out in His Cross, and beautifully resolved for life everlasting in His Resurrection from the dead.  That’s where you are, too, even now, and forever and ever, by your Baptism into Him, by faith in your Baptism.

The One who calls you to repentance is the One who loves you.  He calls you through His death into His Resurrection and His Life.  He does call you to feed His sheep entrusted to your care within your own proper office and station, but He is no less determined to feed you, Himself, by His own ways and means of grace, and by the shepherds whom He gives to you in His Name.

Indeed, He governs and directs all things in heaven and on earth for the sake of serving His Church, His flock, His lambs and sheep.  And so He does for you.  If you have fallen, wherever and however it is that you have failed, rest assured that He has risen for you.  And in His rising from the dead, you also are raised up to live in Him.

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

23 April 2014

Come, Eat and Drink the Gifts Christ Freely Gives

The Lord Jesus Christ has laid down His own life for you upon the Cross, and He has taken it up again, also for you, in His Resurrection from the dead.

This was entirely His work, from start to finish, and His free and full salvation remains a gracious gift, unto the resurrection and the life everlasting of your body and your soul.

That is true, not only in the way it has been accomplished for you, but so also in the way and with the means by which it is given to you.  For the risen Lord Jesus Christ manifests Himself to you, gives Himself to you in love, and serves you with grace, mercy, and peace.  Otherwise, you would not even recognize Him, much less be able to come to Him or believe in Him.  Neither would you know what to do with yourself; nor would you be able to accomplish anything at all on your own.

You may resort to what you think you know, and return your attention and energies to the cares and occupations of this life.  Nothing wrong with that, actually, if that is where the Lord has called you to serve your neighbor and glorify His Name.  But all of your pursuits and efforts are pointless and unproductive apart from the Word of Jesus.  Even if you manage to succeed in the eyes of the world, you really accomplish nothing of any lasting value without Him.

As that goes for your temporary body and life in this world, it is all the more so for your spiritual life and salvation, which is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Throwing yourself into your job and into your hard labors may be good and right and useful, especially for your neighbor’s sake.  But it may also be a frantic and futile attempt to remedy your spiritual doldrums, or to make amends, to make up for and atone for your sinful faults and failings.

That is to say, for every time you’ve dropped the ball or really blown it, you’re going to work twice as hard as everyone else put together, to prove yourself, to demonstrate your ability, your zeal and commitment, your worth and value.  But it won’t work that way.  And it isn’t necessary.

Such efforts are driven by guilt and shame and fear, and all of this leads only to despair and finally death.  Your own self-righteousness is really no righteousness at all, but only a lie.

That is not the repentance to which you are called; that is not the newness of life which you are granted in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Before you are sent to work for your neighbor, you are first of all called to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Before you are sent to feed and clothe and visit your neighbor, you are invited to be fed and clothed and visited by Christ, your Savior.

He has not come to scold or reprimand you, but to care for you and provide for you.  He died for you on purpose, in order to atone for all your sins.  And He has risen to life again, in order to raise you up with Himself through His forgiveness.  There are no amends for you to make up to Him, no worthiness for you to prove in His sight.

Set things right with your neighbor, as you are able.  But know this, that your debt with God is already settled and paid in full.

Here, then, in the Lord’s House, there is only Jesus on the shore, with the Meal that He has already provided and prepared for you.

Little children, you have nothing of your own to eat, do you?  But never mind that.  Come here and eat what Jesus has for you, which is given and poured out for the forgiveness of all your sins, for the resurrection of your body from death to life, and for your everlasting salvation with Him.

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

22 April 2014

Given and Poured Out for the Whole of You

It is in both body and soul that Jesus has suffered and died for you, and in both body and soul that He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns eternally as your true King and great High Priest.

He is not a disembodied spirit, nor any sort of ghost, but glorified and perfect Man; the new and better Adam; the Head of His Body, the Church, which shares His Resurrection and His Life.

That is the Resurrection that is preached to you.  That is the Holy Gospel.  The Jesus who is with you is the Savior of your body as well as your soul and spirit; the Savior of your flesh and blood, your bones and sinews, along with your heart and mind, your thoughts and emotions.  To all of “you,” to all that you are, He speaks Peace; and with His Word, He does and gives what He says.

His Cross and Resurrection have wrought forgiveness of your sins, not only your sinful thoughts and sinful words, but all your sinful actions, too.  For as you sin with your heart and mind, with your mouth and your body, so does He forgive you all those sins and grant His blessed peace and rest and saving health to your heart and mind, your ears and mouth, your soul, and your body.

Why, then, are you troubled?  And why do doubts arise in your heart?  Why do you gasp and groan and shake with fear?  Is this not the Savior you expected, whom you have longed for, and prayed for, and waited for many a day?  Or, were you wanting, instead, a Jesus who would calm your spirit and grant peace to your heart and mind, but who would leave your mouth and body alone, so that you might be free to live your own life in the world?

Well, forget that fabricated, New Age nonsense sort of “Jesus.”

The crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ, does grant peace and rest to your heart and mind, your soul and spirit; so all of these belong to Him, too.  But He is also the Author and Giver of Life to your body, which likewise belongs to Him by rights.  And this Life He grants to the whole of you by His Word, which you hear with your ears, believe in your heart, and confess with your mouth.

Where you have refused to listen, repent with your ears.

Where you have doubted and questioned and refused to believe, repent with your heart.

Where you have refused or failed to confess the Word of Christ, His Cross and Resurrection, repent with your mouth: confess your sins, and confess your faith in the risen Lord Jesus.

And where you have dishonored His holy Name with your body, and where you have failed to love and serve your neighbor in his body, repent with your body, and live henceforth by faith and love.

But don’t suppose that you’ll pull it off or manage it on your own.  You won’t.  You can’t.  It is surprising, actually, how many Christians suppose themselves to be superior to and more capable than the Lord’s chosen Apostles.  But, no, the Spirit of the Father is bestowed upon you by the preaching of the Word of Christ.

It is by that preaching, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name, that Christ Jesus Himself comes to you and dwells with you and grants you His Peace.

His Word does and gives what it says, just as the Holy Scriptures of St. Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets preached Christ in days of old, and were perfectly fulfilled with His coming in the flesh.

His Word of the Law and the Gospel calls you and brings you to repentance; which is to say that He thereby turns you around, away from your preoccupation with sin and death, and He brings you into faith and life in Him.  Because His Law exposes your sin and puts you to death for it, and His Gospel forgives you all your sins and raises you up to the life everlasting in both body and soul.

His Word likewise puts His Body and His Blood into your hands and mouth and body, so that He lives and abides in you, not as a disembodied ghost, but as the One who is your Brother in the flesh, true God and Man, your Savior.

In this Holy Supper, everything is fulfilled and accomplished, just as it is written, and just as it is preached.  For this true Body and Blood of Christ in you is the down payment and surety of your own resurrection on the last day.  With these, all your sins of thought, word, and deed are forgiven, and you are preserved, body, soul, and spirit, steadfast in the true faith unto eternal Life.

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

21 April 2014

Home Is Where the Body of Jesus Is

Disciples of Emmaus, you know the things that have happened, concerning Jesus of Nazareth, both the Cross and the Resurrection.  By His Cross He has redeemed you, forgiven all your sins, and conquered the power of death over you.  And in His Resurrection, He has opened heaven to you, and poured out His Spirit and His Life upon you.

Why, then, are you sometimes so sad?  Sometimes frightened, sometimes angry.  Why are you often so foolish and slow of heart to believe the Gospel?

You are caught for now in a time between, on a journey to your true home.  You are torn between death and life, between sin and faith, between what you know and what you can and cannot see with your eyes.  Torn between heaven and earth.

And your senses too easily trick you and fool you; so that earthly things seem powerful, glorious, and heavenly, whereas heavenly things seem ghostly, ghastly, and hard to comprehend or bear.

You live by faith, and not by sight, along the way, and, as such, your one real recourse is the Word of God: The Holy Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles; the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, as recorded by His Holy Evangelists; the Word of Christ Himself, the Word made Flesh.

Avail yourself of that Word.  Speak it to your neighbor, and ask that it be spoken to you.  Confess it and pray it as you go about your day, as you rise up in the morning, and as you go to bed again each night.  In particular, give attention to the preaching of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins.

It may sometimes seem sort of pointless and useless to “talk about Jesus” in the face of all the hurts and disappointments that wear you out and weigh you down.  If that sounds impious to say, even sacrilegious, still, you know that it can feel that way, and that you often live as though it were so.

There are those days when you can barely keep yourself going, one foot in front of the other; and you may not feel like talking anymore, and you really don’t want to hear it, not even about Jesus.  That’s one of the main reasons it’s so important that you not go it alone; so that you do not spiral into a silence of the Word of God, or, what is worse than silence, the constant buzz and white noise of your own inner dialogue, which does not believe but doubts and denies the Word of the Lord.

Despite your sadness, and whatever you may be thinking or feeling at any given point, it is in the speaking of His Word, in the “talking about Jesus,” that the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Himself draws near and travels with you.  And by His active presence, in and with His Word, and by His gracious Spirit, He opens the Scriptures to you.

He opens your ears to hear, and He opens your heart and mind to comprehend and believe the Gospel; to hear and receive the forgiveness of all your sins, which is the solution to your doubts and fears, the remedy to every infirmity of heart and mind, of body, soul, and spirit.

Not only that, but He with His Gospel brings you home, that is, to your true home, which is with Him.  In fact, although it may seem as though He were coming to be your guest, He is actually the Host who takes you in and cares for you and serves you at His Table, from His own hand.

With His Word and Spirit, He comes to make His home with you here, in order to make your home with Him, already now in His Church on earth, and thereby also in the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting of His Kingdom in heaven.

Here at His Altar, where He tenderly invites you to recline and take your rest at His lavish Table, He takes the bread, He gives thanks, and He gives to you what everyone is looking for and needs: Not just an empty tomb, and more than the news of the Resurrection.  Here you have the Body of Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread, in the distribution of the Holy Communion.

And with that, dear friends of Christ, disciples of Emmaus, you are at home!

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

20 April 2014

Lay Hold of His Feet and Worship Him

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It is for the worship of the Holy Triune God in the Person of the Incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, that you have been created.  Indeed, it is the joy and the purpose of the whole Creation to find its life in Him, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.  If you want to know the meaning of life and why you’re here, it is simply this, that you worship God in Christ with all that you are and have.

That is the goal of the women, too, of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, when they head to the tomb after the Sabbath, at the dawning of the New Day.  They go to worship God in Christ, though they are at something of a loss and do not know how to go about it.  We know from St. Mark that they were planning to anoint the dead body of Jesus, but St. Matthew writes that they were going “to look at the grave.”  It’s not unlike “staring off into the middle distance,” as some of my favorite authors like to describe.  Not much point to that, but they don’t know where or how to focus.

They’re looking for Jesus, really, because they love Him, and they miss Him, and they just don’t know what else to do at this point.  But they’re looking in the wrong place and in the wrong way.

You do the same thing, in your own fashion, when you set out “to look at the grave.”  By that I do not mean visiting the cemetery where your loved ones are buried; though that could be an example.  What I do mean are all the ways that you go looking for life and love and meaning and purpose in the monuments and treasures of this dead and dying world, when what you need is the crucified and risen Jesus, who is not dead but living.  He is not in the tomb, and you will not find Him there.

Not only that, but, ironically, those who try to guard and keep the tomb — to protect it from any disturbance or violation, as though it were the goal and the prize — they end up like corpses!  Which is the end result and consequence for all who set their hearts and minds on things below.

The Marys do not find Him dead and buried, either, but, by the grace of God, they are not left in their ignorance and perplexity.  Instead of tending the tomb or looking at the grave, they are sent by the Word of the Lord to the place where Jesus has already said that He would be: in Galilee.  That is where and how He will be found, that is to say, wherever His Word is spoken and directs.  As soon as the women leave the tomb and proceed as He has said, the Lord Jesus meets them.

It is always the case that the worship of God in Christ begins with His speaking and His coming to you.  Only then are you able to come to Him, to lay hold of Him, and to worship Him rightly.

You need not go to Galilee to find Him; though, if you find yourself in that part of the world, then seek out His Church in that place, to hear Him in the preaching of His Word, and to find Him in His means of grace.  But that is the same as it is for you here in this place, too.  You are called and gathered to Him by the preaching and the catechesis of His Word, as spoken by His messengers.

Let your eyes and your feet be directed by His Word and promise in your ears; then you are on the right path, and the crucified and risen Lord Jesus meets you on the Way, as He met and greeted the women.  By giving attention to His Gospel and the preaching of it, you set your heart and mind on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of His God and Father.  And then the mixed feelings of fear and joy give way to the pure and utter gladness of faith and the worship of Jesus.

There is a rather profound irony in all of this, that you find your life hidden with Christ in God, in the heavenly places, by laying hold of His feet and worshiping Him here in His Church on earth.  For heaven has come down to you in the flesh and blood of Christ and in His Word of the Gospel.  As the angels who spoke to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds directed them to the Body of the incarnate Son of God; and as the preaching and Baptism of St. John the Baptist were the means of grace by which the Father poured out His Spirit upon the Body of His Son; so does God continue to proclaim His Word from heaven on earth, to lead you to and give to you the Word made Flesh.

Those dear ladies had it right when they took hold of Jesus’ feet and worshiped Him.  They sought the Lord where He is found, and they worshiped God in the flesh of His Son.  And this story has been written for your learning, that you might also believe in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, and that, by faith, you should likewise come to Him, lay hold of His feet, and worship Him.

Do not attempt to scale the heights of heaven.  That is what the dead things of this earth presume and aspire to do, though all the while they are trodden down into the dust.  But the Lord Jesus Christ — who has risen from the dust of the earth, and who has in fact ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven — He meets His people and takes His stand upon the earth.  He speaks forgiveness into their ears; He pours out His Spirit upon them by the washing of the water with His Word; and He gives them to eat and drink with Him, even to feast upon His Body and His Blood.

So you also find your life in Him, hidden below in the flesh of Christ, in earthly means of grace, yet dwelling with Him above, even now, in the heavenly places, at the right hand of the Father.

You are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified for your transgressions.  And you are in the right place this morning.  For He is risen from the dead, and He is here for you.  This is your Galilee, to which His angels have directed you.  Here your Redeemer stands upon the earth.  Here His beautiful feet have come, that you may hear and believe His Gospel, and lay hold of Him in love, and worship Him in faith.  It is for this very life that you are created, redeemed, and sanctified.

Therefore, do not be afraid.  For this life that is given to you here on earth is safe and secure in the Body of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is hidden, yes, so much so that you cannot see it even in yourself.  But it is true, and it is real, as surely as the Lord Jesus Christ has spoken to you.  As all of Creation is made brand new in Him, in the Resurrection of His Body from the dead, there is nothing at all in heaven or on earth that can rob you of the Life that is yours in Him.

It is true and real for you here, where His Word has called and gathered you to Him.

It is true and real, also, in those places and stations in life to which He has called you to live in faith and love.  There, too, it is a hidden life, which the world does not recognize for what it is;  and you also become discouraged and frustrated.  There are days when you are sorely tempted to go “look at the grave,” to stare off into the “middle distance,” to spin your wheels doing nothing at all, because it all seems lost and hopeless.  You’re looking for Jesus, but you don’t find Him.

And, yet, do not be afraid.  That is not only my word to you, but His.  The truth is that, not only is He risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity, but He is now and ever with you where His Word has directed you to go and be.  He is here with you at His Altar, yes, where you worship the Holy Triune God in Him by hearing His Word, by receiving His forgiveness, by remembering your Baptism, and by eating and drinking His Body and His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving for His great Salvation; by confessing what He has spoken to you, by calling on His Name in prayer, and by singing the new Song of the Lamb in the midst of His great congregation.

But so is He also with you as you go at His Word to His brothers and sisters, to love and serve them within your own proper vocations and offices in this world.  There, too, you worship Him, and you glorify the God and Father of the same Lord Jesus Christ, by and through His Holy Spirit, as you carry out the duties of your calling, and as you care for those entrusted to your stewardship.  Do not doubt that it is true, and do not be afraid.  His Word and promise are sure and certain.

His feet not only come to you and take their stand upon the earth; they also go with you wherever you go.  He meets you on the Way, and He accompanies your journey, even unto life everlasting.

Your life in Christ is a hidden life.  It is still hidden under the Cross, even in suffering and death, while this dead and dying world vaunts itself to great heights, attempting to make a name for itself.  But the Truth remains, which is Christ Himself, in flesh and blood like yours, crucified and risen from the dead.  And that Day will soon come, which has already begun in His own Resurrection, when you shall see Him as He is, and you shall know as you are known, and you shall be like Him.  Already you are clothed in His righteousness; for your sins are all forgiven by His holy, precious Blood, and by His Word of Holy Absolution.  Therefore, sin and death have nothing more to say or do concerning you.  It only remains to be revealed what is already true for you in Christ Jesus:

He is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia! And so surely are you raised up and made alive in Him.

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

18 April 2014

Forsaken for the Sake of Your Salvation

It is at the Ninth Hour, the hour of the evening sacrifice and prayer, when the Lord Jesus Christ lays down His life and lets go His Spirit.  Better to burn out than fade away, but Jesus does neither.  He lays down His life in the strength of perfect faith and perfect love, and hands over His Spirit to the Father who has handed Him over to the Cross.  He takes and drinks the Cup that He has been given, conforming His will to that of His God and Father, in the hope of the Resurrection.

As the priests at the Temple are beginning the daily rites and ceremonies of the evening sacrifice — the sin offering and the whole burnt offering, and then the incense offering from the golden altar  before the veil of the Most Holy Place — at that very Hour, the Son of God in human flesh becomes them all; He completes and fulfills them all in Himself, for the sake of your salvation.

This Man, Jesus the Nazarene, is the Sin Offering who is sacrificed once for all, for the propitiation of the sins of the world; He is the Whole Burnt Offering, by whom God and man are reconciled; and He is the sweet-smelling Incense that arises as your acceptable Prayer in the presence of God.  With all of that, He is Himself your merciful and great High Priest, who enters on your behalf into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, in order to bring you to the Father in and with Himself, to live and abide with Him there.

Despite appearances, He is under no compulsion; no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly.  He is moved entirely by His own divine Love for His Father, for you and for all.  It is in accordance with the good and gracious will of the Holy Trinity that He sacrifices Himself on the Cross for your salvation; on account of your sin, first of all; and, not only that, but that you might also be sanctified and live forever in the holiness and righteousness of the Lord your God.

Thus, although He is the Son of God from all eternity, He learns obedience by what He suffers in His own human flesh and blood, made mortal by your sin, and subjected to your death.  He does not turn aside from the duty of His calling as the Christ, but humbles Himself and perseveres to its completion on the Cross.  In this Sacrifice, He is perfected as the True Man, and so becomes the Fountain and Source of eternal salvation to all who hear and heed His Word in faith.

He lives and dies by faith in His Father, and He is heard because of His piety and reverence; even though it would appear that His God and Father has either forgotten or rejected Him at the last.  For He is not spared from suffering and death; far from it.  Indeed, there is no suffering that He has not suffered, no death that He has not died.  And yet, as St. Matthew indicates even at the Hour of His death, He is vindicated and glorified in His Resurrection from the dead.  All as your merciful and great High Priest, that you who sleep in the dust of the earth might also rise and live in Him.

He remains faithful to the uttermost of adversity, bearing the full burden and consequence of sin and death.  And He cries out from such depths of real anguish; neither as a pretense or a sham, nor in wretched unbelief and hopeless despair, but, even now, in steadfast faith and fervent love.  For He cries out with a loud voice, again and again, to the One who shall raise Him up from death.

But let us not underestimate or neglect to consider what our dear Lord suffers on our behalf, not only in His body, but as much or more so in His heart and mind, within His human soul and spirit; that He bears, not only the reproach of man, but also the forsaking of His God and Father.

Is this not a contradiction?  A paradox of the highest order and of the deepest mystery?  That our Lord, who remains faithful unto death, cries out to His God and Father, who is faithful in all things and changes not; and yet, the Son cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

It is not simply a case of misunderstanding or emotional dismay; neither is it the exasperated retort of bitter disappointment or cynical depression.  What our Lord Jesus cries out is a confession of the truth, a solid expression of the raw facts that He is actually experiencing.

Although the Father and the Son remain united in the perfect unity of the Holy Spirit, within the one eternal Godhead of the Holy Trinity, the Father does not spare His Son from death upon the Cross, but wills that He should suffer and die that death for you and for all people.  He hands Him over to it, and He does not act to stop it.  He does not blow the whistle, throw a flag, or call a foul to call a halt to the injustice of it all.  He does not stay the execution, as He did for Abraham’s son, but He offers up His own beloved Son as the Passover Lamb, in order to spare all the others.

Neither does the Son exercise His own divine prerogative or power to save Himself from the Cross and suffering, but He submits to it in humble obedience to His Father.  He trusts that His God and Father will accomplish His purpose in this way, and that He will glorify Himself in His Son, first of all by His sacrificial death for the salvation of the world, and then also by raising Him from the dead as the Firstfruits of the New Creation.

Jesus isn’t pouting or complaining, therefore, but He cries out from within His genuine anguish to the One who remains, even now in death, His true and only God.  His experience is painful and real, but it does not alter or undo the fact of His relationship with the Father; nor does it destroy His faith in His Father’s Word and promise.  Indeed, it is that Word that He confesses and prays here, from the Psalter.  He takes upon His lips the song of Israel.  He who dies thus, dies well.

His suffering is genuine, make no mistake, as is the curse of sin and death that He not only bears but becomes in your stead.  But, even so, His Father will yet rescue and restore Him from the dust of the earth, from the depths of Sheol, even from death and the grave.  Why?  And what for?  So that the people of God, reduced to dust and dried-up dead bones by their sins, should also be raised up from the dead and live forever with the Lord.  So that the alienation and separation of sin and death should be overcome and undone, from the inside-out, through Jesus Christ our Savior.

The death of Christ is the death of death.  That is why the earth quakes and the rocks are split; because the broken-ness of this broken world is broken.  The old passes away, and, behold, all things are made brand new.  All of creation passes through death into life in the Body of Christ.

For, truth be told, Elijah has already come in order to fulfill all righteousness and restore all things.  He has already come in the Office and Ministry of St. John the Baptist; and look at what they did to him!  He was finally imprisoned and beheaded for his faithful confession of the Word of God.  But he had come preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; to which Christ Jesus submitted Himself as the Lamb of God, for the repentance and forgiveness of the world.

By that Elijah, He was Baptized into His own death, in order to take upon Himself and bear away the sins of the world in His own Body, to suffer and die for them all; but then, also, to emerge and arise unto newness of life in body and soul, to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

By His Baptism — which is really to say, by His Cross and Resurrection — the heavens have been opened to all who believe and are baptized into Him.  And thus, the curtain also is opened, and God is revealed in the awe-full Glory of His own crucified Body.  For His Body is the Ark of the New Covenant, the Mercy Seat, and your Anchor behind the Veil; so that you now have access into the presence of God through the Flesh of Christ, and by His Blood, given and poured out for you.

As He has suffered and died for you, in your place, on your behalf, so it is that, in His Resurrection from the dead, you also come out of your tomb and enter the Holy City.  Not only on the last day, but even now, in the Body of Christ, in the Holy Communion, which is already the Holy of Holies on earth, as it is in heaven.  In His flesh and blood, you rise up with Him as incense to the Father.

Take your cues, then, dear child of God, from the way and the what that Jesus prays.  He prays the Psalter, which you also are given to pray.  It is not only instructive in the faith and knowledge of God, but it exercises your faith and love, as it opens up your lips and mouth to praise Him rightly.

There is a stark and refreshing candor to the Psalms, which honestly lay before the Lord your grief and hurt and pleas for mercy in the day of trouble.  Everywhere they give you words to cry out to the Lord for rescue and protection, for vindication, and even for vengeance against your enemies.

Among their appeals for deliverance, the Psalms often point out that the dead cannot praise God; their lips are silenced in Sheol.  On the other hand, the Psalms frequently confess that the one who trusts in the Lord shall not be put to shame, but shall be saved from every evil of body and soul.

Yet, here now, in the Psalm that Jesus prays from the Cross, everything is turned inside-out, as it is fulfilled in Him, in His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection from the dead.  For here is the Righteous One who trusts in the Lord unfailingly, and still He suffers all measure of abuse and pain from all sides.  But then the “Why?” of His God-forsaken-ness is answered:

For it comes to pass, in His faithfulness even unto death, that the dead who sleep in the dust of the earth shall in fact praise the Lord!  For this Lord Jesus Christ retrieves them from the grave and saves them, as He Himself is raised up from the dead by the Glory of His God and Father.

It is precisely in the midst of deep darkness that He thus brings forth the Light of eternal Day.

And what does this mean for you?

It is the answer to all your “Why’s?” and “Wherefore’s?”  It is the answer to all the Psalms, and the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to all your prayers.

As Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, has been forsaken by the Father in His suffering and death on the Cross, so has He taken His place with you and joined Himself to you in the suffering of your sin and the darkness of your death.  But that is not the end of the story; neither His, nor yours.

Notice, again, how St. Matthew, at the very point that He records the death of Christ, he is already writing of His Resurrection; and not only of His Resurrection, but of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting of the saints, the holy ones of God, and of their entry into the Holy City.

As you are baptized into Christ, you are baptized into His death.  You share His Cross and Passion.  Not only because of your sin, that you should thus be called to repentance, but also because of your righteousness by faith in Christ Jesus.  Your faith and righteousness are exercised, strengthened, and confessed, therefore, in the suffering of His Cross.  And so do you also share the Resurrection and the Life everlasting of the same Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God.

The alienation and separation of your sin and death are no longer decisive, nor does any of that get to have the last word.  It is real enough, so long as it lasts; but, though you die, yet shall you live.

The Lord, who has joined Himself to you in the darkness of sin and death, shall never leave you nor forsake you, but shall raise you up from death to life.  The One who promises is faithful, and He shall do it.  For it is in Him, in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood, that you behold the Glory of God and actually live and abide in His presence.  So it is that, even now, from your mortal flesh and blood, you praise and glorify the God and Father of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, as a beloved son or daughter in Him.

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

13 April 2014

Your Priestly King Enters His Holy City

Is this not an amazing thing, that your King, the Lord Himself, the Son of God in His own flesh, comes to you and makes His dwelling with you?

But what does this mean?  It might be rather frightening, actually.  Does He come to provide for you or punish you?  To promote you, or to pull rank on you?  After all, a visit from the powers that be and the governing authorities often means discipline, or some consequence for wrongdoing.

There is a certain ambiguity and tension in the coming of your King: Is He coming to put you in your place, or to remove you from the place and position you have had?  Wondering and worrying about when and where and how the axe is going to fall is nerve wracking and scary.  And if, on the other hand, you get your hopes up that your King is coming to set things right and make everything better in your life on earth, you’re very likely to be surprised and disappointed by what He does.

It’s true enough, as the Holy Scriptures testify, that things are pretty messed up: not only in your own personal life, but on a national and global scale.  And though you may not be a ruler or a boss — perhaps you’re one of the little guys, or you’re still making your way to wherever it is that you’re going — you’ve done your part to mess things up in your own little niche or corner of life.

There is no one who is righteous.  No, not one.  No one but Christ Jesus, the King who comes to His own people in righteousness and peace.  But then consider how this one Lord, Jesus Christ, is regarded and received.  Hailed on Palm Sunday, yes, but mocked and ridiculed, condemned and crucified before the week is over.  Falsely accused, brutally beaten up, and spit upon.  His closest companions betray Him, deny Him, and abandon Him.  So, what is such a King to do about it?

Even now, as He enters the Holy City on the cusp of His Passion, it is only because of His miracles that the great crowds throng to see Him and to welcome Him.  Not even the disciples understand what’s going on, not yet.  Everyone is eager for a Bread King, a great big generous Sugar Daddy, a Miracle Worker to build a glorious Kingdom on earth, to compete with the nations of the world.

To be sure, the raising of Lazarus from the dead has been an impressive Sign, as even the skeptics must admit and the enemies of Jesus grudgingly concede.  But, as a Sign, it points beyond itself to something else, that is, to the dying and the rising of the Lord Jesus Himself.  The way that He approached that situation, as you heard last week, has testified to that: The Glory of God in Christ is found, first of all, in His suffering and death, and only then in His Resurrection and His Life.

That is the pattern, too, of Christian faith and life, as your Baptism signifies and testifies, if you think about the dying and rising of that Holy Sacrament.  It is also your experience of life in the world, with all its ups and downs, with all its hopes and disappointments, frustrations and fears.

It is frankly confusing and difficult to navigate.  Just when you think you’ve finally figured it out, and gotten your bearings, and found your footing in the world, then everything shifts and changes, and you’re left not knowing what’s up and what’s down, or which way to turn.

Think of how it must have been for the disciples in the course of that first Holy Week, from Palm Sunday, through Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday and Easter.  The Passion of Christ Jesus is a profound and powerful story, even to consider it; but it is also the life into which you are baptized, by which the Lord recreates you from the dust of death and conforms you to the Image of Christ.

It is impossible to understand any of this superficially, nor at all apart from the accomplished fact of the Cross and Passion, as manifest in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and now realized for you in the Sacrament of the Altar.  The Lord’s Supper is the interpretive key to the Lord’s Passion, both beforehand and afterwards.  It not only explains what happens to Him, and why, but it delivers and bestows the fruits and benefits of His suffering, death, and resurrection.

Only in the Body and Blood of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and for the many, do you see and know and believe what is the Truth of God in Christ, your King: That He has indeed come to “take your place,” and to “put you in your place,” but in such a way that you could never have guessed or imagined or invented for yourself.

Do not be afraid, dear child of God!  For the Lord has made you a beloved son or daughter of His Church on earth, and, therefore, a son or daughter of the Father in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  Rejoice in His mercy, and give all thanks and praise to this one Lord, Jesus Christ, your King, who comes to you in Peace; not to punish you for your sins, but to bear your punishment and grant you His Peace.  He comes to save you from your enemies; to give you rest from your weariness, relief from your fears, and safety in place of uncertainty; and to reign over you in love with His Word.

He has not come to “lord it over you” in the way of earthly monarchs, but, as your Lord, your Savior and your King, He calls you by His Cross and Resurrection to become and be like Him.

To that end, He has first of all become like you in every way, save only without sin.  He has been tempted in every way that you are; He has suffered every burden of your mortal flesh, and every dire consequence of your sin.  He truly has taken your place, your sin and death and every ill, and He has made it all His own.  All for the sake of bringing you into His place with God the Father.

By His Self-Sacrifice, He opens up the way through suffering and death into the Resurrection of the Body and the Life everlasting.  For He is a priestly King, and a royal High Priest, who enters the Most Holy Place by His own Blood, in order to bring you into the presence of God in Himself.

He humbles Himself, even unto His death upon the Cross, in order to be exalted and glorified on your behalf by His God and Father.  He becomes a disciple, Himself, in order to make a disciple of you by the catechesis of His Word and by your Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.

So it is that your salvation is accomplished, established, and secure in the Person of Christ Jesus, in His own crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood.

Now, then, He testifies to the Sign of His own Cross and Resurrection, by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  His dying and rising are the fulfillment of all things, and they are also then the Sign of your own dying and rising with Him, by which you are saved from sin and death unto life and salvation forever.  What He has suffered and received in your place, in order to save you, He now preaches and gives to you by His Word.

His preaching to you is not simply information to be processed and stored, but it calls you to follow after Him.  As you hear the testimony of His Cross and Passion, come out to meet Him, as He comes in Peace to meet you here, at His Altar, within His Church on earth.

His preaching of repentance does put you to death; it crucifies and buries you with Him.  So, then, you do lose “your place,” the place that you have made for yourself, the place of sin and death, which Christ has taken from you and made His own.  But so does He also bring you to life and put you in His place.  He gives to you His Sonship, His Spirit, and His Glory in and with the Father.

In calling you to follow after Him, His preaching calls you and brings you into the New Covenant of His flesh and blood, which He has established forever: the Promise of His eternal Inheritance.

Beloved of the Lord, as He entered the Holy City on Palm Sunday for His Cross and Passion, so do you enter the heavenly City, New Jerusalem, by the way and means of His Cross and Passion.

And as He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with His own Blood, by His innocent suffering and death, and in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension, so do you now enter with Him into that same Holy of Holies, eternal in the heavens, by His flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

That is why the Liturgy has taught you to cry out in prayer and praise, to rejoice, give thanks, and sing, as the Lord comes to His Altar: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest, and the Peace of the Lord on earth.  For here, indeed, He comes to save you now in this Divine Service; to sustain you with His Word and Spirit; and to sanctify you for the Life everlasting in body and soul with His own holy Body and His holy and precious Blood.

As He thus remembers you in mercy, and forgives you all your sins, and gives you His own Life and Salvation in body and soul, so remember Him by faith, repent of all your sins, and rejoice in His Resurrection.  For as surely as He comes to you here, so shall you surely follow after Him, to be with Him where He is, even forever and ever.

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

09 April 2014

A Medicine of Peace for Heart, Mind, Soul & Spirit

If you knew that your pastor could cure your illness and heal all your bodily diseases — and that he would gladly do so with a word, without cost — you would go to him.  You know that you would.  For medical care, you’re willing to do a lot, to go through a lot, to pay a lot, even if you are one of those people who tend to put it off too long.

When it finally does come down to it, for your physical health and well-being, you’re even willing to let your medical doctor examine you in ways that would otherwise be quite immodest and inappropriate.  Likewise, you’re willing to let a surgeon cut into your body and open you up — in ways that actually are quite dangerous and even deadly — for the sake of dealing with even more dangerous and deadly conditions.

You’re willing to do and suffer all of these medical treatments, even though there are no guarantees or “warranties” when it comes to your bodily health in this mortal life.

Why, then, is there such hesitation and resistance on the part of so many Christians when it comes to seeking out the spiritual care of their pastor and allowing him to serve them with the sure and certain Word of Christ?  Is it self-righteous pride and conceit?  Stubborn self-reliance?  Or is it, rather, embarrassment and shame?

No matter what your own reasons or excuses may be, if you recognize your sin, if you know how serious and dangerous it is, then, for heaven’s sake, seek and receive the rescue; just as you go to the doctor when you’re sick, even though you’d rather not.

But, if you do not recognize or realize your sinful condition and its prognosis, then all the more do you need to be rescued and healed from it — lest it kill you eternally!  For your sin is real, and it is deadly; all the more so when you deny it.

It is for this reason that the Holy Scriptures and the Small Catechism teach you and admonish you to examine yourself according to the Commandments of God.

It’s actually far more important than regular medical check-ups and exams, even as wise and beneficial as those kinds of physical maintenance are.  For the truth is, your body is going to die in any event, whether sooner or later, no matter what you do.  But then, what will happen to your body and your soul after that, and forever and ever, depends on where you stand in relation to God: whether in repentance and faith, unto the resurrection and the life everlasting, or in sinful unbelief, unto eternal punishment.

Examine yourself, therefore, and discipline yourself according to the Word of God.

Otherwise — and thanks be to God for this, although it is unpleasant in the meantime — the Lord, in His love for you, will discipline you and call you to repentance, in order that you not remain in your sin, but be rescued for the faith and life of His Son.

To this end, the Lord your God allows you to suffer some of the consequences of your sins.  Although, in mercy, He spares you from so much of what you rightly deserve, He also chastens and wounds you, in order to heal and repair you.  And He sends His Nathans, His pastors and “prophets,” as it were, to preach His Word to you, lest you be left in your ignorance, or, what is even worse than that, your presumptuous sins.

The Lord uses the Law and the Gospel to call you and bring you to repentance, that is, to the daily dying of contrition, and to the rising of faith in His forgiveness of sins.  He puts the Old Adam in you to death; He raises the New Man within you unto life.

You should recognize this dying and rising for what it is, namely, the ongoing, daily, and life-long significance of your Holy Baptism.  It is not your work; nor is it in your own power, no more than your Baptism itself and its great benefits are your doing.  There simply is no “do-it-yourself” or “self-medicated” Christianity, but the Lord works through His own means to recall you to Himself, and to keep you close to Him.

This good work of repentance is precisely what He does for you, and gives to you, and works in you, through the practice of Confession & Holy Absolution.

Though it seems natural that you should focus on your confession — on its difficulty and embarrassment, on its character and content, on its length and other qualities — the real focus, and the “center of gravity” in this means of grace, is Holy Absolution, that is, the spoken Word of forgiveness in the Name and stead of Christ your Savior; and then, along with that, the pastor’s preaching of the Gospel to you in that context.

The emphasis is not on your work, but on Christ.  Not how “good” or “bad” you are, but how good Christ is, and how gracious and merciful He is in forgiving you all your sins.  It is not what you give or suffer, but what Christ gives to you as the fruit and benefit of His suffering for you.  Not your remorse for the past, nor your promises for the future, but the certainty of Christ’s Word and promise to you in the here and now.

The Lord gives you all these good things, and He does these good things for you, by and with His Word; and not at all apart from His Word.  So did He send the Prophet “Nathan” (whose very name means gift) to speak His Word to David.

And so does He also send a pastor to you; not as a master and commander of His Word, but as a called and ordained servant of His Word, and as a gift of His grace.

It is true that Individual Confession & Absolution is a matter of freedom; for it is a gift of the Gospel, not an obligation or burden of the Law.  That is not the case in matters of public sin or with a stubborn persistence in unrepentant sin, which call for the use of the binding key and for the exercise of church discipline.  But the ordinary use of Individual Confession & Absolution is freely given to be freely received in repentant faith.  No one is keeping score or grading you on this practice.

However, do consider and take to heart the unique and powerful benefit and blessing of Individual Confession & Absolution, which rests upon the authority of Christ your Savior, and which is so highly praised by Dr. Luther and our Lutheran Confessions.

For the Word of Christ that is spoken and preached in Holy Absolution surely does and gives exactly what it says: By it, the Lord your God removes your sins from you and lays them on the Son of David, Jesus Christ, who suffers and dies in your stead.

In removing your sin, He then also strengthens your faith with the Gospel.  For the Word of Absolution sets Christ against your sin and death, against the temptations and the accusations of the devil.  What is more, it sets the same Lord Jesus Christ, not against you, but with you and for you, as your great Champion of Salvation.

The life-giving Word of Holy Absolution pours Christ Jesus Himself into you, into your ears, in much the same way that His Body and His Blood are given into your mouth in the Holy Communion.  In both cases, the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your heart to strengthen and sustain your body and your soul in steadfast faith and real life.

So, too, along with this central gift and benefit of Holy Absolution itself, the practice of Individual Confession & Absolution is a tremendous means of pastoral care and catechesis in the Word and faith, as I can attest from both sides of that relationship.  It is a most personal bestowal of forgiveness, which addresses itself to your particular sins and weaknesses; not to condemn you, but to heal, help, and strengthen you.

Thus, it is a powerful weapon against the assaults and accusations of the devil, and a source of unsurpassed comfort, peace, and rest in the sweet Gospel of Christ Jesus.

For a pastor, let me tell you, honestly, that Individual Confession & Absolution is a difficult and humbling task.  Nevertheless, it is also a sacred trust and responsibility, and a profound means of care that can hardly be equaled and cannot be replaced.

Actually, the Office of the Keys and the Office of the Holy Ministry go hand-in-hand: Hearing confession and absolving sinners in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus is integral to, and in some ways definitive of, the entire pastoral office.

So much is this a part of who your pastor is and what he does, that he is not shocked or appalled, nor even surprised by your sins.  But he is grateful for the opportunity to help you with the gifts of Christ, that is, with the Holy Absolution of the Gospel, and with the preaching of the Gospel to your own sins and personal circumstances.

In this way, and by this means of grace, your pastor is given to assist you in bearing the burdens of your sin and death.  Not by his own wisdom or strength, but by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, and by His authority as the crucified and risen Lord.  That is the special authority, not of worldly power, but of loving service.

Through this exercise of pastoral care, your pastor serves, not only as a physician of your soul, but as your shepherd under Christ, and as your spiritual father in Christ.

Do not be ashamed to be a patient, a sheep, and a child of this servant.  But take to heart that Christ Jesus — who has purchased and won you to be His very own, so that you might live with Him in His Kingdom in eternal peace and joy — He has entrusted you to the care of this poor man, so that you might kneel at this Altar and recline at this Table; that you might here be fed and nourished with the Gospel; and that you might be a son or daughter of God in the House of the Lord forever and ever.

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

06 April 2014

Now, in Christ, Death Cannot Slay Me

Even the friends of Jesus are confronted with sickness and the experience of death.  They suffer hurt and disappointment.  They are subject to sadness and tears.  The same is no less true for you, who are called to believe in Christ Jesus and to follow Him.  Indeed, His disciples are called to bear the Cross and follow after Him, to suffer and die with Him: crucified, dead, and buried.

It is one thing, however, to bear and suffer these things with Him; but it would appear that Jesus is not here with you, when He could be, and that He does not do what He could to help.  He waits and deliberately delays; He doesn’t respond right away.  He does not answer your prayer according to the longing of your heart, but in a way that is confusing and seems to make no sense at all.

If only He were here, your brother would not die; nor your nephew; nor your cousin; nor your son.

If only He would intervene and do “His thing,” your own infirmity and illness would not end in death, nor even disability, but you would surely recover and, not only live, but thrive.

Isn’t that what a close personal friend of Jesus ought to expect from the One who is incarnate Love and the very Mercies of God in person?  He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and He gives daily bread even to the wicked: Will He not help out His friend?

You know the whispers and dark questions of your sinful heart and mind.  What does it mean when Jesus does not do what you are so desperately hoping and praying?  Have you disappointed Him or failed Him, somehow, that He should disappoint and fail you?  Is He tired of your nagging and your neediness?  Or does He just have better things to do?  Does He not love and care about you?

To be sure, there are a thousand such temptations of doubt and fear, which are a more devastating consequence of sin than the sickness and death of your body.  Where heart and mind are insecure and uncertain of Christ Jesus, weeping and mourning do not flow in faith and love, but threaten to overwhelm you altogether, to drown you in cynical despair.  Assaulted by the crafts of the devil, you are buried, not with Christ in the hope of the Resurrection, but in hopelessness and unbelief.

Yet, for all your frustration, faithlessness, and fear, the fact of Christ’s presence and His love for you are certain.  Not because you have been such a good friend to Him, but because He is sent by the Father to do His Will and to glorify His Holy Name; and His divine Glory is your Salvation.

The Lord Jesus is the Good Physician, it is true, but He does not come to stave off death with heroic measures to protect and preserve your life on earth.  He does not call a halt to the reign of death by the fiat of His almighty power; although, yes, He could do that.  He could also have let Adam & Eve eat from the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden, and so live forever in their sin.  But, instead of that, He would have the children of man become the children of God, and so live in His eternal Love: To be reconciled to Him in peace, and to become His friends in truth.  Thus, He comes, not to spare your body from the first death, but to save your body and soul from eternal death, and to bring you alive into the Paradise of the New Creation in His own glorified Body.

For that reason, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the One who comes into the world, enters fully into the sickness and mortality of human sin and death, in order to die on behalf of all the people.  He comes to save them altogether, by His own death in the flesh, and by His holy, precious blood, from the bondage and fear of death; and to bring them into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

He also will be wrapped and shrouded in grave clothes, buried in a tomb, and hidden away from sight and smell by a large stone.  For He makes His bed where your body should be laid to rest.

Even so, according to the prayer and confession of the Psalmist, His sacred Body will not suffer decay, nor will the Father permit His beloved Son and faithful Servant to undergo corruption.  He always has the Life of the Father in Himself, and He is Himself the Resurrection and the Life of the world.  So it is that death and the grave are not able to hold Him or contain Him; although He willingly submits to them, and lays down His life in death, in order to take it up again for us all.

Thus, sickness and mortality do not end in death.  Even death itself does not end in death!  But, no, in Christ, the Christian passes through death into the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.  And, dear friends, that is the case, not only on the last day, but already here and now in the midst of sin and death.  For now, by faith, you walk in the Light of Christ and do not stumble or fall.

You are sorely tempted, tried, and tested, no doubt about it; not least of all by the ravages of sin, by sickness, suffering, and death, not only in yourself, but in your loved ones and all around you.

Nevertheless, as you believe in Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, the greatest miracle of all is that you do behold the Glory of God.  Not “in spite of the Cross,” but precisely in the Cross itself, which you have come to know and have believed to be the glorification of the Son of God.

It’s not that your hopes are pinned on some miraculous rescue from every illness, suffering, and tragedy of this perishing world.  Oh, yes, you rightly pray for the mercies of the Lord, and you rely upon His help in every kind of trouble.  But, come what may, you give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.  You hear and heed the Voice of Christ in His Gospel, and you find sure and certain hope in the Resurrection and the Life of His Body and His Blood.

Take courage, and be comforted, that He has also borne your griefs and carried all your sorrows in His own flesh, in His own body to the Cross.  For He has suffered Himself to experience and share all your weaknesses and temptations, and He sympathizes with you, as your merciful and great High Priest.  He does not abandon you in tribulation and heartache, but He is with you, to strengthen and support you in the one true faith, and to save you from every evil of body and soul.

So much so is it the case, that He is with you in the suffering and experience of sin and death, that it is by His Cross that He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the children of God.  You enter into the friendship of God, and share His Glory in Christ Jesus, precisely by the way of the Cross.

Therefore, whether you live, or whether you die, you are the Lord’s.  In Him who loves you, who died for you and has risen from the dead, you also rise up and live forever, even though you die.  By your Baptism, you have already died with Him, in order to live with Him, never to die again.

In that Light of Christ, it is not wrong, but appropriate and right, to mourn those who die from this mortal coil, who have been near and dear to you in this life on earth.  For death is the consequence of sin; it is an intrusion upon God’s good creation and gift of life.  Only, do not mourn as those who have no hope.  Do not despair.  Do not give yourself over to grief, as though it were your god.

Rather, call upon the Name of the Lord your God, and rely upon His mercy.  If and when you are undone by sorrow and fear, yet, He is not done with you, but He is and remains your Savior.

In and through Christ Jesus, your Father in heaven hears and answers your prayers.

And the Answer to your prayer, the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to your every need, is Christ Himself, the incarnate Son.  Not simply as a means to an end, but as the One who is your Resurrection and your Life everlasting with God.

As you have already died and are risen with Christ Jesus through Holy Baptism, so do you also feast upon His crucified and risen Body and Blood.  Here He comes into your world, and He is with you in the flesh.  It’s not “too little, too late.”  This Sacrament is the promise and the pledge, the sign, seal, and delivery of His own indestructible Life.  The Holy Absolution of His Gospel, His speaking of forgiveness, is already the loud and clear voice of the Resurrection, by which He calls you to come forth out of the darkness of despair into the sunshine of His eternal Day.

In this Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, you really are set free from sin and death forevermore.  No longer are you imprisoned by the grave, nor bound and constricted by its trappings.  You do not stink of death and decay anymore, no matter what your senses may tell you in the meantime.

Instead, you live and believe in Jesus.  You live in the Light and Love of His Word to you.  And you and your prayer arise like sweet-smelling incense, a pleasing aroma, to your Father in heaven.

As the Lord your God is pleased with you, do not be dismayed or afraid, but hope and trust in Him, in the confidence of faith.  And here behold His Glory in the Body given and the Blood poured out for you and for the many.  For with His own flesh, the Life of God Himself abides in you forever.

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