01 November 2017

Awaiting the Appearance of Christ in Hope

Behold the host arrayed in white!  And fix your eyes on Jesus!

But that is easier said than done.  On the Day of His appearing you shall see Him as He is, because you shall be like Him.  But for now it has not yet appeared what you shall be.  And though you are surrounded by so great cloud of witnesses, all the Prophets and Apostles, the holy martyrs, and all the saints — all the faithful who have departed in Christ Jesus — for now you cannot see them.

What you behold is not the Resurrection, not the glorious life of heaven, but the Cross, suffering, sin and death, and all the trials and temptations of the great tribulation.  That is what you see in your neighbor, even where it's not!  And that is what you see and experience in yourself, in your mortal flesh and blood, in this poor life of labor.  That is what you behold especially in those whom you have loved in this life on earth, who have died, who are now but dust or ashes, hidden away in boxes.  Their bodies and their life in Christ Jesus are out of sight, invisible to your senses.

Often as not, what you perceive and feel is emptiness, loss and sorrow, the pain of separation, doubt and fear and uncertainty; which scare you all the more because your faith is threatened and you are tempted to despair, or else tempted to become cold and harsh and hard.  Cynicism creeps in where the catholic faith ought to hold sway, and you are tossed about within and without.

Beloved of the Lord, do not despair, and do not lose heart.  Though it does not yet appear to be so, you are a beloved and well-pleasing child of God in Christ Jesus; and at the last He shall appear, and He shall stand upon the earth, the Crucified and Risen Lord, and every eye shall see Him.  And you also, with your own eyes, from your own risen and glorified body, shall see Him as He is.

Because you are a child of God in Him, by the grace and waters of your Holy Baptism, so shall you be like Him: righteous and holy, innocent and beautiful, never to die again, but alive forevermore. Your body shall no longer be tired or sore, frail or falling apart, but immortal and imperishable, glorious indeed, like unto His own glorious Body.  This is most certainly true.

But for this present time, you fix your hope on Jesus — a sure and certain hope — not with your eyes, but with your ears, by the hearing of His Word and promise in the Gospel.  By repentant faith, and not by sight.  By the confession of His Name in the face of sin, death, and hell.  By the daily remembrance of your Baptism, and by the eating of His Body and the drinking of His Blood.

Thus are you cleansed, both body and soul, with the pure waters of life which flow from the riven side of Christ, the Lamb who has been slain.  Your ears hear and receive His Gospel, His Word of forgiveness, and the gracious outpouring of His Holy Spirit.  Your heart believes, and with your mouth you confess, you eat and you drink.

And for all of that, your eyes do not yet see the risen, exalted, all-glorious Christ Jesus.  You see Him, instead, as the Crucified One — in the hurts and heartaches of this mortal life in a fallen, sinful world.  You see the Cross all around you in the curse of sin and death.  And it is likewise the Cross that you behold in the Ministry of the Gospel, since it is the Gospel of the Cross.

What, then, shall you say and do in response to these things?

Fix your hope on Christ the Crucified by hearing and confessing His Word of the Cross, ironic as that seems.  Return to the significance of your Baptism by contrition and repentance, confession and absolution. And proclaim His death in the confidence of His Resurrection, until He shall appear in glory, by eating His Body and drinking His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving.

And as you share His death by your Holy Baptism in His Name, and as you receive His sacrificial body and blood into your own mouth and body in the Holy Communion, so also rejoice when you are counted worthy to bear and carry His Cross in your vocations and stations in life.

When your eyes behold the hurt and heartache of your neighbor, then behold Christ the Crucified in him or her, and fix your hope on Jesus by helping as you can in the confidence and confession of the resurrection of the body.  That sure and certain hope puts all things into perspective, for the sufferings and death of the body are neither insignificant nor final.

It is in the faith and promise of the Lord’s own bodily resurrection from the dead that you love and serve and care for your neighbor's body while you can.  And it is in the hope of the resurrection that you lay to rest the bodies of your loved ones who have departed in the faith of Christ Jesus.

Blessed are they who die thus — in the Lord — for they rest from their labors, and their works of faith and love do follow after them in Christ.

So do your works of faith and love likewise follow after you in Christ Jesus.  Your good works do not lead the way, but they do follow after, as you live and walk in the way of Christ, your Savior.

Already here and now, as you are given to bear the Cross in this poor life of labor, you are like Him who bore your sins in His own body on the Cross.  Indeed, He made Himself to be like you, so that you should thus become a son of God in Him, by grace through faith in His redemption.

He has borne your poverty, in order that you should receive the inheritance and all the riches of His heavenly kingdom.  He has come down from heaven to earth in gentleness and meekness, in flesh and blood like yours, even unto death, so that all of creation is redeemed, made new, and sanctified in His crucified and resurrected body.  And just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity at the Right Hand of the Father, so it is that, even here on earth, while yet on your pilgrimage, you also are at home with God the Father through faith in Christ, His Son.

The same Lord Jesus Christ has compassion on you.  He has mourned for you and for your loved ones, and He has died for you and for all.  So are you comforted in Him who is your Resurrection and your Life everlasting.  For He has reconciled you to His God and Father by His Cross, and He grants you His peace, such as the world cannot give, with His forgiveness of your sins.  He feeds your deepest hunger, He quenches your deepest thirst, and with His grace and mercy toward you He purifies you through His Ministry of the Gospel, day in and day out, throughout your life.

When you are persecuted and accused of all kinds of evil, and when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, and if it comes down to it that you are even put to death for His Name’s sake, rejoice and be glad.  For He has also been persecuted for the sake of righteousness; He has been insulted, falsely accused, and put to death upon the Cross.  So, too, His Prophets and Apostles, His martyrs and all His saints, indeed, all of His disciples who take up the Cross and follow after Him.

So also shall you and all those who bear the Cross, who suffer and die with Christ Jesus, rise with Him, as well.  Even though you die, yet shall you live, and you shall never die again forever.

To be gathered here around the Lamb upon His throne, around His Altar in the Tabernacle of His Church, is to worship and confess Him by faith.  Neither you nor the world can yet see Him here, and yet you love Him because He has first loved you.  He has given Himself for you.  He has died for you and risen for you.  He is here with you, a very present Help in the midst of every trouble; and He shall never leave you nor forsake you.  As your heavenly Bridegroom, He gives Himself to you here and now, and He abides with you, that you may live and abide in Him forevermore.

That is the sure and certain hope that you confess, and that is the new song that you sing — with the voice of His Word and Holy Spirit — when you remember and give thanks for the saints who have gone before you in the faith of Christ.  You set the Word of His Gospel, His Cross, and His Resurrection, against the apparent devastation and finality of sin and death.  You boldly declare that, not these temporal and perishing things, but Christ the Lord is trustworthy and true.

It truly is meet, right, and salutary so to do.

In the great tribulation of the Cross, you also have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Your nakedness is clothed and your shame is covered by the white robes of His perfect righteousness.  And here at His Altar, in the company of angels and archangels and all the host of heaven, with the great cloud of witnesses who surely do surround us, though hidden from your eyes, you drink the blood of that same Lamb and eat His flesh.  His blood shelters and protects you, and His flesh nourishes and strengthens you in body and soul, even through the wilderness and in the deep, dark valley of the shadow of death, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

Even now, by His means of grace, by His Gospel–Word and Sacrament, your body, soul, and spirit live safely and securely in His Body.  For so it is that all the saints of God, in heaven and on earth, live and move within the Body of Christ, the Lamb who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives!

It is this same Lamb who is also your Good Shepherd, who willingly laid down His life for you and all His sheep, and who took it up again, that you should have abundant life in Him.  As He has done all that, do not doubt that He will also freely give you all good things.  As He leads you by the quiet waters of your Holy Baptism and through the lush green pastures of His Word to His Table in His House, so shall He surely raise you up in glory at the last, to live with Him eternally.

Do not be ashamed of the tears that you cry in the here and now, whether of joy or sadness.  These, too, are sanctified by the tears of Christ and redeemed by His Cross.  But do know this, dear child of God, that in the resurrection He shall dry your tears once and for all.  No longer will you mourn or weep.  No longer will you hunger or thirst.  No longer will you suffer the ravages of heat or the bitter cold.  No longer will you hurt or have your heart broken in any way.

Then, at last, and ever after, you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him, and you shall live with Him in the glorious Kingdom of His God and Father, sanctified by His Holy Spirit.

In that sure and certain hope, in the Word and promise of Christ Jesus, eat and drink the foretaste of that Glory here and now.  Taste and see that He is very good, whose mercy endures forever.

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

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