Most of you have known at least some of those dear Christians we name before the Lord’s Altar this morning, who have departed in the faith and confession of Christ. And surely all of you have lost loved ones in the past, whether recently or long ago; whether from the womb or after many years of life together. Parents and children, spouses and siblings, neighbors and friends.
Think about those people, those men and women, boys and girls, all of them sinful and mortal like yourself. What was important to them? What did they treasure? How did they spend their time? Where did they invest themselves? With what did they depart this vale of tears, and with what did they enter eternity? What did they take with them? And what do they have now?
All that remains forever is Christ Jesus and His Word, His Spirit and His Father. Apart from Him, there is only darkness, death, and damnation. So, then, where shall your heart and life be found? And how shall you live here and now, so that you may rise and live with the Lord forever?
To set aside for God a part or portion of your time would be idolatrous. To dedicate or offer to the Lord a percentage of your possessions would be a sacrilege. For how shall you call Him the Lord your God, to whom you would give only a portion of yourself? And how shall you worship Him, if you presume to assign Him a place as one priority among so many others in your life?
It will not do to subdivide yourself, your time and energy, your heart, mind, soul, and strength. No, you are to love and serve the Lord your God, and nothing else besides Him, with everything you are and have. For there is one Lord, one God, not many. There is one Author and Giver of Life. Wherever else you would look for life, you will have nothing but death. Not that God is merely a means by which you get life for yourself, but He alone is your Life and Light and Salvation.
To whatever else you would direct or dedicate your thoughts, words, and actions, if not the Holy Triune God, that is your idol, your false god and false religion. Or to suppose at any point that you have “done your time” and “paid your dues,” is already to have failed and fallen far short of the glory of God. For He would have all of you, that you would have your whole life entirely in Him.
Your offerings and your alms are inadequate and insufficient, no matter what the amount, and no matter what percentage of your income and your wealth, if you still withhold yourself from God and from your neighbor. For you are to love the Lord your God with your entire being, and you are to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Which is not to say that you should love your neighbor in addition to God, nor alongside of God, for that would be to make another god out of your neighbor. Rather, you are to love your neighbor under and within your love for God, that is, according to His Word and after the example of His own great heart of love.
It is for God’s sake that you thus love your neighbor in humility, in faith, in mercy, and in peace. And that is how you are to live your whole life in the good land to which the Lord your God has called you, which He has promised to you in His Word, and which He gives to you in Christ Jesus.
Where you do not love the Lord God and your neighbor, there is alienation, enmity, separation, loneliness, and fear. Not peace and rest, but anxiety and hard labor. Not life, but death, now and forever. That is the land laid waste by your lack of love for God and man. That is the kingdom and the city of your own idolatrous self-love. It is sprawling, unruly, divided, and running amok.
But over His good land the Lord your God has raised up and established a good King, who is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, with whom He has made an everlasting Covenant for your salvation. Indeed, He is the royal High Priest who has redeemed you with His Life-Blood by His Cross, and He has reconciled you to God in His Resurrection from the dead, in order that you may in fact live with Him in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Who is this King of Glory, who does such great things for you? He is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord because He is the Word made Flesh, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Word and Spirit of the Father.
In the great Mystery of His Holy Incarnation, the Lord your God has thereby fulfilled the first and greatest commandment — and likewise the second — for you and for all people. For the Son loves the Father — also now in His own human flesh and blood — with all His heart, with all His soul, with all His mind, and with all His strength. And in such love for His Father, He has made Himself your Neighbor, even your Brother in the flesh, in order to love you with His own body and life.
Thus, the one true God, beside whom there is none other, has come beside you, and He has placed you beside Him, so that you might share His Life and abide with Him in His divine and holy Love.
He has held nothing back. He has emptied Himself, poured Himself out, and given Himself to God, even unto death upon the Cross. That is His Priesthood and His Sacrifice, which He offers to God on your behalf. His Life is in His Blood, and He gives His Life entirely in love for God and in love for you. For by the shedding of His Blood, He atones for all your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. He redeems you for Himself, forever and ever. And He establishes the New Covenant between God and Man in His own flesh, with His own Blood.
His own Body is the new and greater Tabernacle, in which God abides with you and you abide with God. For this Son of David, the King of Peace, replaces the old Tabernacle with the Temple of His crucified and risen Body. And by His holy and precious Blood, you enter with Him into the Holy of Holies, which is to say, into the very presence of God. You are brought to the Father in Him, in order to receive the eternal inheritance that belongs to the Son of God. That is what He freely gives to you by grace in the Holy Communion, which is the New Covenant in His Blood.
Here there are no contingencies, nor is there anything lacking or amiss. There is nothing “iffy” or uncertain about the Life that is here given by the one true God, who gives Himself to you. For He has offered Himself as the perfect Sacrifice once for all. And this same Lord Jesus has risen from the dead, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father where He lives and reigns forever.
Therefore, with His Gospel, which is the “sprinkling” of His Blood, He cleanses your conscience of all sin and shame and every stain. As He was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, so now He daily and richly forgives you, reconciles you to His God and Father, and sanctifies and purifies your body and soul with His Holy Spirit. All of this by His Blood, with which He gives to you His Life. He thereby raises you from death to divine life in Himself.
The Law commands you and requires you to love the Lord your God, but here the Lord your God loves you. The Law tells you to cleanse your heart and draw near to God, but here, by His Gospel, the one true God draws near to you in Christ, in order to cleanse you by His grace and forgiveness. He comes to free you from the devil’s kingdom, from the slavery and prison house of sin and death, and to bring you into the Kingdom of God. The King Himself, the Christ, the Son of God, shares with you His faithfulness, His faith and holy love. He fully gives to you His relationship with His God and Father, so that the true and only God is now your God and your Father in Him.
That is what the dear Lord Jesus Christ has done for those who have gone before us in the faith, whom we rightly remember with thanksgiving to God in Christ. We do not worship them, but with them we worship God. And loving Him above all things, we love them also for His sake. For they belong to us in Him, and we belong to them. They are not dead and gone, but alive forevermore. Not by their own wisdom, reason, or strength — not by their own faithfulness and love — but by His grace, by His faith and faithfulness, and by His love for them; by His perfect obedience and the absolute sacrifice of His entire Body and Life; and by His Gospel in the Word and Sacraments.
So does He give Himself, His Life, and His Love to you. This only-begotten Son of the Father, your merciful and great High Priest, the Prince of Peace, preaches and teaches the Word of God, which is the Word of Life, the Word of faith and love. He does so for you and all His children, and for His children’s children from one generation to the next, even to the close of the age.
It is in the Temple that He preaches and teaches the Word to you, that is to say, within His Body, the holy Christian Church on earth as it is in heaven. His Word is spoken to you from His Holy Altar, from which He also gives to you His Body and pours out for you the New Testament in His Blood. For since the Word has become Flesh and tabernacles among us, the Word is never without His Flesh but He always brings you to His Father in His Body and with His Blood. He gives you not a part or portion, but His whole self, perfect and complete. He withholds nothing from you.
As there is one Bread and one Cup, one Spiritual Food and Drink — of one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all — so there is one Holy Communion in heaven and on earth, which is the one Body of Christ. He is not divided, but the many are united and become one in Him, just as the many grains of wheat become one Bread, given for you, and the many grapes are united in one Cup of wine, poured out for you and for the many. So it is that, in His one Body and Blood, all of the faithful of all times and all places live and abide in perfect peace forevermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.