The Life of God, and life with God, don’t look like you’d expect, actually. Whatever you might picture in your imagination, that isn’t what unfolds in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, which is yet the only place where you see God as He truly is, and the only way that you see Him rightly.
Following your Good Shepherd, who lays down His Life for the sheep, leads you also to the Cross and suffering in His Name and for His Name’s sake. So are He and God the Father glorified in you by the grace and glory of the Holy Spirit; but it hardly looks or feels anything like glory on the surface of it. Consider the case of St. Stephen, the first martyr, which echoes the Passion of the Christ, on the one hand, and exemplifies the Christian life of discipleship, on the other hand.
As you walk in the Way the Lord has called you to go, you will also bear the Cross and suffer in this fallen world. Not only on the outside, but in your heart and mind, and in your flesh and bones, whether you are put to a violent death, suffer some accident or illness, or fade away with age.
But do not let your heart be troubled. That is the Word of your Lord Jesus. It is admonishment, and comfort, and encouragement in the face of every danger, hardship, and sorrow that you bear. Believe in God, He says; which is also to believe in Jesus Christ Himself, the only-begotten Son, who is of one Substance, of one and the same divine Nature, as the Father. Hear and heed His Voice, which is the Truth and not a lie. His Cross is not your destruction, but Life indeed for all who follow Him by faith, who love and trust in Him, not by sight, but by His Word and Spirit.
It is by His own innocent suffering and death that He prepares a Holy Place for you in the House of God. He does not simply make for you a “space” to call your own within some sprawling castle, but He shares with you His own position of beloved sonship within the Father’s home and family; so that, as the Father willed and desired, His firstborn Son becomes the First of many brethren.
Thus united with Christ Jesus, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, you are a dear child in the household and family of God. So are you also a living stone, as it were, in the Temple of God, which is the Body of Christ Jesus, on earth, even now, as it is forever and ever in heaven. You aren’t just “taking up space,” nor simply occupying space “out of the way” somewhere, but you are built up into this Holy Habitation of the Lord within the Holy Communion of His Church.
That is the Place the Lord Jesus has prepared for you by His Cross and Passion, and He is likewise the Way by which you come to that Place, and by which you now live and abide there with God.
It is for this, in particular, that St. Stephen was stoned to death; because He preached that Christ Jesus is the true Temple of God, who has completely fulfilled and permanently replaced the Old Testament structures in His own Body, crucified and risen from the dead. So it is that you, also, are being put to death and daily raised to newness of life on account of His Cross and Resurrection.
By the flesh and blood of Christ, crucified and risen, and by His Word and Spirit, which are the Truth and the Life of God, you come to the Father and worship Him in the Spirit and the Truth. Which is to say that you come to the Father in peace, and you worship Him by faith, in the Body of Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed. You fear, love, and trust in the Holy Triune God, as you fear, love, and trust in this one Lord Jesus Christ — even now, under His Cross, in your life on earth.
Your life and death, by faith in Christ, are not a tragedy, but a pleasing sacrifice of thanksgiving, offered to God in your body and soul, and received by Him the way a father embraces his child.
For the Truth is, that you know and see the Father in the incarnate Son, as you know and see the same Son, Jesus Christ, in His Ministry of the Gospel: in the preaching of His Word; in the water, words, and promises of Holy Baptism; and in His own Body given, His Blood poured out for you, in the Holy Sacrament of His Altar. It is by this Way of Christ, by these means of His grace and forgiveness, that God the Father comes to you in Christ; and you come to the Father, also in Christ.
What does this mean for you? And how is it that you actually live that Way? It is in the Body of Christ Jesus, in His flesh and blood, as He comes to you and gives Himself to you in His Church, that you know what God is like, and who He is, and that you believe and trust in Him. Not only in your head, nor only in your heart, but with your whole self, your body, soul, and spirit, as a son or daughter of God, in a living relationship of love, as a dear child with your own dear Father.
And, not only that, but it is in Christ Jesus, your Savior, that God the Father beholds you, and knows you, and loves you, and receives you to Himself. For has not Christ also taken your nature to be His own? Has He not taken your place, borne all your sins, carried all your sorrows, and made Atonement for you by His death in the flesh, by the shedding of His precious blood? And has God not raised this same Jesus from the dead for your justification? It is most certainly true.
Therefore, God the Father regards you and receives you to Himself in and with Christ Jesus, as a beloved and well-pleasing son in Him. And it is in that reconciliation and relationship with God, in Christ, that your faith and righteousness are rooted and grow.
So it is that, by such faith in Christ, by faith in His Word and in His works of divine love, you also do the works of Christ: before God and in relation to your neighbor. And He does greater works than these in you, because He goes to the Father by His Cross and Resurrection. He offers Himself up as the fulfillment and perfection of all Sacrifice. As your merciful and great High Priest, He enters with His own Blood into the most Holy Place, where He remains forever with the flesh and nature that He shares with you, your Anchor behind the Veil, so that you now live with Him there.
The Father is thus glorified in His Son. Not only then and there, on Calvary in the first century, but to this very day, and even to the close of the age. For the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is also glorified by the words and works of those who believe in Him; who confess and call upon His Name; who follow after Him, taking up His Cross and suffering with Him, and so living with Him in His Resurrection from the dead; who speak and sing and sacrifice in His Name.
It looks different for each one of you, no doubt. Even among the Holy Apostles, there were quite different personalities, abilities, backgrounds, and characters. Yet, the Lord has created and called each and every one of you to be glorified in Him, and He in you, with a passionate personal Love as unique as each individual. Neither Creation nor the Cross brings about a sameness of all things, but a unity and harmony of all things in Christ, and a fellowship of faith and love in His one Body.
And within that Holy Communion, as different as all of you are from one another, with different ages, different shapes and colors, different interests, different jobs to do — with different sorrows to suffer, and different joys to rejoice in — each of you bears the Image of Christ the Crucified. Each of you echoes His Passion and exemplifies His Cross within your own particular place in life. And far from contradicting the grace of God in Christ, it is right there that He is glorified in you.
On account of Christ Jesus, and living by faith in His own Body of flesh and blood, you also go to the Father; you are offered up to Him as an acceptable, living, and spiritual sacrifice in both body and soul. No less so than your crucified and risen great High Priest is seated at the right hand of the Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Throne of God.
In, with, and under the Cross of Christ, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, your whole life is offered as a prayer of praise and a song of thanksgiving to your God and Father in heaven.
Not as though He were far away and distant from you, so that you should have to find and make your way to Him. But you know the Way, because He who is the Way is here with you, so that where He is, there you may be also. It is for this life and salvation with His God and Father, in and with the Holy Spirit, that your dear Lord Jesus comes to you, and gives Himself to you, and that you receive all things in Him and from Him, as a beloved child of God in Christ.
Therefore, you are not put to shame, and you shall not be disappointed. Although you are being crucified and put to death all day long, heaven is here open to you in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, who has prepared this most Holy Place for you, and by whom you enter and abide in Peace.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.