21 December 2015

Wounded for the Weary, Weak, and Wounded

The first mistake that St. Thomas made was in not being gathered together with the other disciples — whatever his reasons may have been for not being there.  His sinful doubts and fears and unbelief are not relieved but fostered and exacerbated by his absence from that fellowship of the Church.  He does not see the Body of Christ on the First Day of the week, because he is not gathered with the Body of Christ in the company of his brothers.

He is there on the Eighth Day, however, on the Octave of the Resurrection, the Second Sunday of Easter, because of the confession and witness of the other disciples who have seen the Lord.  In this, they begin to serve their office and vocation as holy Apostles of Christ Jesus.

So also should you seek out your brothers and sisters in Christ when they have been missing from the Divine Service.  Search them out, and confess and testify to them what He says and does for you here in the fellowship of His Body, the Church.  Encourage them to come with you, to be here with the disciples of the Lord Jesus — even (or especially) if they are struggling with doubts and fears and uncertainty, and even though they may be weary, weak, and wounded in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit.  Invite them and encourage them to come, and bring them along with you.

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is precisely the place for the weary, the weak, and the wounded, for those who are hurting, doubtful, and afraid.

It is the place for you, no matter what your wounds may be that will not heal in this life on earth, and no matter the scars that you bear on the inside or on the surface.  The Body of Christ is where you belong, regardless of your personality, and notwithstanding your pain and skeptical sadness.

The wounded Body of Christ is the place for you.  Reach here, then, with your finger and your hand, to see and touch and feel and handle His holy wounds, to trace His sacred scars.  For He has been wounded in His love for you and for all, in order to love the weary, the weak, and the wounded with His sacrificial flesh and blood.

St. Thomas had that part right, even in the depths of his doubts, depression, and despair.  He looked for the Lamb who was slain.  He understood that the real Lord Jesus is the Crucified One — and that remains so, even in His Resurrection.  His glorified Body bears the scars of His Cross, because His Body has been glorified by the wounds He has suffered in love for us poor sinners.

He is recognized, rightly, not “in spite of” His wounds, but especially by His wounds.  Indeed, He is recognized in His wounds, not only as Jesus of Nazareth, but as the Lord your God, and as your Savior and Redeemer.

He is recognized in His wounds, and His disciples are brought to faith in His wounds.

So where do you see and touch those wounds of Christ in His Body?

First of all, you reach out and lay hold of them in His means of grace.  He approaches you by the preaching of His Gospel, which is the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name.  That preaching breathes into your body, through your ears, the Spirit of Christ — from His Cross into your body — unto the resurrection of your body from the dust of the earth to the life everlasting.

His preaching of the Cross also brings you to His Baptism, whether to be baptized in the first place, if you have not been, or to return you to the significance of your one Holy Baptism by way of contrition for your sins, repentance, confession, and faith in His Absolution or forgiveness.

By that ongoing significance of your Baptism, you are daily united with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus in His Cross and Resurrection.  You die and rise with Him, as you are baptized into His riven side, and you are washed and cleansed in the water and the blood that are poured out from the wounds of His Body upon your body and soul.

He has drowned your old Adam in that death-dealing and life-giving flood of Holy Baptism.  He has brought you through those waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, out of Egypt into the safety, peace, and rest of His Church.  Thus are you a member of His Body, and a sheep of His green pastures.  By your Baptism into Him, and by the Catechesis of His Word, He has made you His disciple, and so it is that you belong in this place where His disciples are gathered.

Here in His House, at His Table, He who is both your Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God, who has laid down His own life for the sheep and shed His blood for their Atonement and Redemption, feeds you from His wounded hands with His holy Body and precious Blood.

Not only have you entered His wounds through Holy Baptism, but you feast upon His wounded Body here in the Holy Communion.  And with His own flesh and blood, the fruits of His sacrifice, He enters into your wounded body to dwell with you and abide with you in peace, unto life eternal.

As He deals with you so kindly and so graciously, so do you also behold His wounds and reach out to them in His other disciples, your brothers and sisters within the one Body of His Church.

Do not be afraid to care for those who are so weary, so weak, and so wounded, for whom Christ Jesus Himself, your Lord and your God, has been so wounded and sorely scarred in love.

Rather, love your neighbor, as Christ Jesus loves you in both body and soul.  Tend your neighbor’s wounds, care for her scars, feed his hunger, quench his thirst, and soothe her doubts.

Love your brothers and sisters in Christ — whether with or without emotion, that is neither here nor there — but love them most surely with your words and works of mercy and of service.

Use your body to care for your neighbor’s body, as you care for the wounds in your own flesh.

And in so doing, behold the Lord Jesus, the wounded God, who has been slain for you and for your neighbor.  Recognize that He now lives in you and with you and through you.  If you are wounded for the sake of His love; if you are beaten and bruised, mocked and ridiculed and spit upon; if you are crowned with thorns, crucified, and pierced, well then, so do you live and become like Jesus.

But how can you possibly believe this?  And how on earth can you ever hope to live like this, as Jesus lives, in such love for your neighbors, even for those who hate you and hurt you?

How shall you survive even your own wounds, and how then shall you help to heal the wounds of others?  After all, such wounds are not pleasant or pretty.  The instincts of your sinful heart and of selfish self-preservation would have you turn away in fear and loathing.  So how shall you ever become otherwise?  How shall you believe and love?

It is by the apostolic ministry of the Gospel of Christ, carried out by those who are called and sent in His Name with His Word, His works, and His wounds.

It is by the witness and testimony of St. Thomas and his fellow Apostles, by the proclamation of the Prophets and Evangelists, and by the preaching and catechesis of the pastors and teachers whom Christ Jesus freely and graciously gives to His Church on earth.

You do not yet see Him, but His Apostles have seen Him, and have eye-witnessed His Baptism, His Life and Ministry, His preaching and miracles, His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.  And as they have seen and heard and touched and handled the Word-made-Flesh, so by their confession of His Word are you blessed by His grace, and you believe in Him and love Him, sight unseen, hidden under His Cross, and revealed not yet in power but in His wounds.

Here within His Church, as a member of His Body, whether you be a joint or ligament, an arm or leg, a hand or foot, a mouth or an ear, an internal organ or a weaker member, you taste and see by faith the Glory of the Lord in His flesh and blood.  You see the bread and wine, which by His Word are His Body given and His Blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. You hear, too, His Gospel of forgiveness.  You touch and handle, and eat and drink His wounded Body, conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, risen from the dead and glorified — who is here with you and for you, that you should also be with Him where He is.

By this apostolic ministry of the Gospel, your fellowship is with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, and with His Father and His Holy Spirit, and with all those who are His, with St. Thomas and all of the Apostles, and with all the saints in heaven and on earth, both now and forever.

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

No comments: