15 April 2018

The Flesh and Blood Life and Salvation of Christ

Dear child of God, your Father loves you, and He has raised up His Servant, Jesus, from the dead for your salvation.  Therefore, you are justified in Him; your sins are forgiven; and you are saved for life with God.

Why, then, are you troubled and afraid?  Do you not know that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, and death has been defeated?  There is nothing at all that can harm you any longer forever.  If you are in Christ Jesus, your sins are all forgiven.  You share in His divine Life and eternal Salvation.

Yet, you have your doubts and fears, your troubles and frustrations.  Your life in the world is scary and threatening, whereas the Word and promises of God seem so flimsy.  His gifts appear too small and insignificant to satisfy the deepest longings of your heart.  How often does the risen Lord Jesus seem more like a ghost or a spirit and feel more like a fairy tale than anything of solid substance?

Examine yourself.  Allow the Word of God to have its way with you.  And consider how is it with your heart and mind, with your spirit, soul, and body.  Are you at peace with God in your thoughts, words, and deeds?  Do you find comfort in the death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus?  Are you confident of His forgiveness?  Or do you alternately question and tremble in fear at His presence?

Fear not, little child, for your God and Father loves you.  And consider the character and content of His Love, that He has given His only Son to die for you, and that He has raised Him up again.

Everything that God has ever spoken or done has been accomplished and fulfilled in His Son, Christ Jesus.  In His flesh and blood, which He shares with you.  In His Cross and Resurrection, which He also graciously shares with you.  It has all happened in accordance with the Scriptures.  It is what God intended.  It is what He desired.  It is what He has done.  And all of this for you.

In handing Christ Jesus over to death, the Lord your God has abolished your death forever.  In sacrificing His Son upon the Cross, He has atoned for all of your sins; He has removed them from His sight.  He has reconciled you and all the world to Himself.  And in raising Christ Jesus from the dead, He declares that you also shall be raised to be like Him.  You shall not die but live.

But does all of this seem a bit too ethereal and too elusive, outside of your grasp, and frankly not much help, as you get up in the morning and go about your days, and as you drag yourself back to bed again at night?  After all, your life here on earth is quite tangible.  You can touch it and feel it, you can see it and hear it, and far too often you can smell it, whether you want to or not.  Your body hurts, it gets tired, it falters and fails.  You have duties and obligations that can’t be ignored.  Your days are challenging and difficult.  And by comparison to all of that, Christ seems so unreal, as though His Cross and Resurrection were a nice story, and all of that, but far away and long ago.  Meanwhile, here you are, deeply embedded in the flesh, in the world, surrounded by sin and death.

It is the case that, if you are too much “of the world,” if you know the world too well, then you will not recognize or know the Lord Jesus Christ.  In that event, even when He is standing right in front of you, you will not be able to see Him or receive Him.  For no one who sins knows or sees Jesus.

So, how is it with you?  Do your sins prevent you from seeing and believing the Lord Jesus Christ, though He is present with you in His Word of the Gospel and with His very Body and His Blood?

“If you persist in your sins, you cannot see Him.”  “But if you abide in Him, you have no sin.”  Yet, that Word of the Lord seems paradoxical.  It actually sounds as though St. John were contradicting himself.  Which is it?  Do you have sins, or do you not?  Can you see Jesus, or can you not?

In yourself, you are full of sin and death, from which you cannot free yourself.  And if you claim otherwise, then you’re a liar, and you accuse God of being a liar.  But if you are in Christ Jesus, then you have no sin, because it is forgiven.  It is removed.  The Lamb of God has taken it away.

If you are in Christ Jesus — which is where He calls you to be, and where you are by faith in His Gospel — then you are righteous, and you practice righteousness, as He Himself is righteous.  For He is your Righteousness.  So it is that you shall be like Him, and you shall see Him just as He is.

If you would know Him this way, if you would abide with Him, and if you would rest in His Peace, then remain here in His City, in the midst of His Jerusalem, that is to say, within His Church.  For here you are clothed by His Father with the Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel.

It is by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection that He comforts you and lifts you up from your doubts and fears to hope and joy and gladness in Him.  That is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name, that you should believe and trust in Him, and live in Him by faith, with peace in your heart through the hope and promise of His Resurrection.

Such repentance, faith, and life with God are accomplished in your body and life by the preaching of the Cross and Resurrection, because it is by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus that He has accomplished everything for you.  His dying and rising are your repentance, faith, and life.

Repentance is not just in your heart and head.  It is not just feeling sorry for your sins.  It is to be crucified, dead, and buried with Christ, and raised with Him in His Resurrection.  It is to be united with Him in that which He has already done and accomplished for you and for all, in order to die to yourself, to your sins, and to the world, and brought into life with God in Christ Jesus.

All that He has done and accomplished for you in His own Body of flesh and blood, He does and accomplishes in you, in both your body and your soul, by and with the preaching of His Word.  For His Word is powerful and active; it does and gives exactly what He says.  Your sins are forgiven.  God no longer looks at them.  With Him they no longer harm you, because He does not count them against you.  Your sins harm you only when you abide in them, and not in Christ, your Savior.

Cling, then, to His Cross and Resurrection, to His forgiveness of sins, to His Life and Salvation, by clinging to His Word and the preaching of it — just as that lame man clung to Peter and John, not for silver and gold, but for the Word of Christ Jesus and the healing authority of His Name.

Cling to His Word, and call upon His Name, although He comes to you and deals with you by the way and means of His Cross, which neither the world nor your own fallen flesh can comprehend.  You embrace His Cross and the Word of His Cross, not by your own reason, wisdom, or strength, but only because Christ in His mercy opens your eyes, your ears, your heart, and your mind, to understand the Scriptures.  To understand the Holy Scriptures is to understand Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.  For the whole Bible is the Book of Christ Jesus, and He is the One who opens that Book to you.  Not to make you smart, but to make you alive, and to make you His own.

The preaching of His Cross does crucify you.  It puts you to death and buries you with Him.  But at the same time, His Word of the Cross also removes all of your sins and raises you up with Him.

And Christ Jesus preaches this Word to you in flesh and blood like your own.  For He was not only crucified in the flesh, and not only did He shed His precious blood for you upon the Cross, but He is also risen from the dead forever in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He has known the curse of your sin and death, He has suffered your blood, sweat, and tears in His Body, that you might receive and know His Life and His Salvation in your own body of flesh and blood forevermore.

So, then, He is not far distant and removed from you.  In fact, He and His Word and His Gifts of the Gospel are more tangible, more real, and far more permanent than the world around you.  He and His Gospel are likewise more real, more solid, and more true than your sins and the sins of your neighbors against you.  His Cross and Resurrection are decisive.  His crucified and risen Body is the dawning of the New Creation, from which and to which He preaches His Gospel to you.

He preaches to you as the One who has borne your sins in His own Body, who has carried all your sorrows and felt them in His heart, mind, and soul, as He sweated those great drops of blood in the Garden, and as He trembled at the prospect of bearing the sins of the world, including all of yours.

He has suffered all that you suffer.  He has undergone every temptation that you face.  He has died the death that you have deserved.  He has endured the damnation of hell that you have merited by your sins and unbelief.  And He has satisfied the entire Law of God, which would otherwise accuse and condemn you.  He has done it all.  Not from the safety of some far distant place, but up close and personal, in His own flesh and blood.  He knows hurt and hunger and thirst, and tiredness, and abandonment, and sorrow, just as you do in your life under the Cross, in this poor life of labor.

He has done and suffered everything for you, that He should be your faithful and merciful High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  He is your Advocate and Defender.  He has come close to you, He is here with you, and He has made Himself to be like you, so that you might be with Him where He is forever, and that you might be like Him in His Resurrection from the dead.

That is why He comes to be with you here.  That is why He stands before you here in His Church.  That is why He is gathered together in the midst of His disciples, where they are gathered together in His Name, that is to say, gathered by the preaching of His Word, and around His Word, and for His Word, and in His Word, for the eating and drinking of His Word in His own Flesh and Blood.

He is here with you in His Church, and He addresses Himself to you.  He speaks from His great heart of love to your own heart and mind, to your body, soul, and spirit.  In the midst of your pain and confusion and difficulty, He’s here talking to you.  And by His Word to you, He removes your burdens, and He grants you the peace and hope that are found in His Resurrection from the dead.

It is true that He does call you to repentance, and that is a challenging Word, because it’s not just a mental exercise.  He actually calls you to turn away from your sins, from the grudges that you’re bearing, from the gossip that you persist in sharing, from your selfishness and greed, from your quick temper and short fuse, from your impatience and anger, from your laziness and negligence.  He calls you away from all of that.

Dear child of God, do not sin, for Christ has died, and Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!  Thus does He call you from your sins back to God, from the death of unbelief to the life of faith.  And He has opened that way of repentance, faith, and life, for you and all, by His Cross and in His Resurrection.  Do not complain that it is impossible.  He has already done it.  Repent, therefore, and believe the Gospel.  Stop pursuing your sins and pursue the righteousness of faith in Christ.

It is not “too good to be true.”  It is as sure and certain as the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, as solid and steadfast and true as He is.  So it is that He reaches out to lay hold of you in both body and soul, your flesh and your bones, with His own holy Body and His holy, precious Blood.  All of this He does for you, that you should receive the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore from His own hand, in your heart and mind, in your soul and spirit, and so also in your body.

As He ate with His disciples then, after He had risen from the dead, so does He graciously invite you to eat with Him here and now — indeed, to feast upon Him, the true Passover Lamb of God.

It is true that, for now, you cannot see the wounds in His Body, the marks of His Passion in His hands and feet and side.  You cannot see them with the eyes in your head.  But here you are fed from His hand, as He gives you to eat and to drink the Fruits of His Passion, His holy Body given for you, His precious Blood poured out for you.  Those Gifts are here, as Christ Himself declares.

He causes His Word to be preached to you here in this place, in this city, that you may know Him and receive Him in the Breaking of the Bread, and that you may know and love the Gifts Christ freely gives you by and with His Word.  So that, hearing and receiving, trusting and believing, you may abide in Him, and be purified in Him through His forgiveness, and raised up to newness of life in Him, both body and soul, in perfect health and strength, at peace with God forevermore.

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

08 April 2018

Peace with God in the Word and Wounds of Christ

Take comfort in the fact that, although he is perhaps best known as “Doubting Thomas,” he is in fact remembered by the Church as Saint Thomas, an Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ.  A disciple.  A fellow Christian like yourself.

He doubted, yes.  But of course, St. Thomas was not alone in doubting.  As we have heard, day after day throughout this past week, all of the disciples doubted.  Not just once, but multiple times.  When their risen Lord appeared to them and spoke His Word to them, they were slow of heart to believe.  They were foolish.  They were stubborn.

It is only by the grace of God in Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit, that any of them — Thomas included — were turned away from their doubts and restored to faith and joy and peace and life in the Resurrection of their Lord.

So, Thomas was not alone in his doubting back then.  And you also have your own doubts and fears, even now during Easter.  If I were to sit down and visit with any one of you individually, I could probably identify some of your particular doubts.  I know most of you pretty well, and at least some of your hurts and frustrations.  If I don’t know you very well, then we should sit down and talk, that I might get to know you better.  And in our conversation, I would begin to hear the doubts and fears that plague your heart and mind and permeate your words and actions.

Such doubts and fears are part of the inheritance we all share as the children of Adam & Eve.  They belong to our lot as sinners, as mortals who will die.  The doubts from one person to the next differ greatly, of course.  The doubts of men tend to be different from those of women.  A husband’s doubts are different than his wife’s.  Parents have different doubts and fears than their children, and children have different fears than adults.  Pastors, too, have doubts and fears, which are often different than those of their parishioners.  But all of us have doubts.  All of us have fears.

The doubts and fears in your heart, mind, and life are rooted in your sinfulness and sins, which cut you off from God and separate you from Him, though He is the very One you need the most.  You’re afraid of Him, though He would be your dearest and best Friend, because His holy and righteous Law exposes and condemns your sins and threatens to punish you for them.  So, you do your best to flee from Him, and you try to hide from Him, all to no avail.  And in your heart of hearts, you doubt very much whether there will ever be any hope or help for you at all.

All of your doubts, whatever their particulars may be, are finally the fear of death and the power that it holds over you.  For you are dying.  And your loved ones are dying, or else they have already died.  You can feel it more and more in your body, and there is nothing that you can do about it.  You cannot save your loved ones from dying, and you cannot keep yourself from dying.

Whether you realize it or not, and whether or not you would admit it, all of your doubts and fears are centered in your fear of death; because all of your pursuits in this world, no matter how much money you have, and no matter what else you gather and accumulate — none of it will last, and none of it will ever be able to save you from death.

In that same respect, all of your doubts and fears are an implicit denial of the Resurrection, as though it never happened.  That was Thomas’ problem, because he thought he “knew better,” that when you die, you stay dead.  So he thought, even though he really should have known better than that!  He had heard the Gospel from his Lord Jesus.  He had witnessed Lazarus come forth from out of the tomb.  And yet, St. Thomas doubted, and he was afraid.

You also have your doubts and fears, as did all of the disciples to begin with.  As I have said, and as you have heard, St. Thomas was not alone in his doubts.  He was alone, however, with his doubts and fears at first.  He was missing in action when the rest of the disciples were gathered together in that Upper Room.  They were afraid of the Jews, but at least they were together; and it is in the gathering of His disciples that Jesus appears.  But where was Thomas?

Perhaps he was following the advice of his non-Christian friends: “Get over it, and get on with your life.”  “It won’t do any good to grieve or mourn.”  “Come on, pull yourself together.”  Men, in particular, are always tempted by the desire to make it on their own, to figure things out and work things out on their own.  Maybe that’s what Thomas was doing, or trying to do.  On the surface of it, then, he might have looked like the strong and competent one.

But whatever he was doing, he was not there with the other disciples when they were gathered together on that first Easter Sunday.  And as a consequence, for yet another week, St. Thomas lived in doubt and fear instead of peace and joy.

Now, it’s not as though he were no longer a disciple of the Lord Jesus, though his absence and his doubts would have harmed and jeopardized his faith and life.  I’m sure he wanted with all his heart to believe that Jesus had risen.  He surely desired that peace which surpasses all understanding — that same peace which is so elusive in your life, as well.  But he could not find it on his own, and neither are you able to find that Peace on your own.

The prayer for St. Thomas, and the prayer for each and all of you, echoes the prayer of that father at the foot of the mountain, when Jesus had come down from His Transfiguration.  That man was desperate for his son to be healed, for the demon to be cast out of his son.  He asked the disciples of Jesus to do it, but they could not.  So then he asked Jesus if He would help him, please, if possible.  To which Jesus replied, “All things are possible to faith.”  And that man cried out with a prayer that surely resonates with every Christian heart: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

And Jesus does.  He comes to make Himself available to you in the gathering of His disciples.  Where His Church is gathered in His Name, there He is also.  He makes Himself accessible to you.

The other disciples (minus Thomas) were gathered together in fear, that is true, but even so, they were gathered together.  Heed that example, and be gathered together with the Lord’s people in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day for the Lord’s Liturgy.  For in that gathering is where you also receive your strength and hope and peace.

Even if you don’t believe that you need it for yourself, consider your brothers and sisters in Christ.  They need you.  They need to be gathered together with you.  And, truth be told, you really do need them, as well.  For it is there in the midst of His disciples that Jesus appears.  And His Word to His Church is a glorious Word: Peace be with you!

When wars rage on this earth, and political battles, and personal conflicts, the notion of “peace” takes on all sorts of connotations.  But there is a deeper Peace than temporary ceasefires.  There is the Peace of reconciliation with God, which is yours only by way of His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  And here for you there is that true Peace with God in the Lord Jesus Christ, who does not finally condemn you forever but forgives you and raises you up in His own Resurrection.

Jesus was there in the midst of His disciples on the First Day and the Eighth Day of the week.  And He is here for you in the midst of His disciples, likewise, week after week on the Lord’s Day — the Day of His Resurrection — and as often as we eat “this Bread” and drink “this Cup” in the proclamation and confession of His death until He comes in glory at the last.  Already here and now He comes with His Word and Holy Spirit, with His Body and His Blood.

What St. John has described, in his telling of this Holy Gospel, is the Divine Service, which you also receive here.  For it is by His means of grace that the risen Lord Jesus comes to you, by the water and the blood from His riven side, by the flesh and blood of His own hands, by and with His Word of the Gospel and His Life-giving Holy Spirit.  That is how He comes to you, and that is what He brings to you.  And by His means of grace He restores your weak and wobbly faith.  He removes your doubts and fears.  He bestows His deep Peace by the forgiveness of all your sins.

Such Peace is elusive.  You will not find it anywhere else than here in Christ Jesus.  For He has risen from the dead.  The One who died for you has also risen for you and your salvation.  So does He open His wounds to you in His Font and at His Altar.  They are the sign and seal of your forgiveness, the fruits and benefits of the Atonement that Christ has made for all of your sins.

Though death lays hold of you, it cannot keep you.  For the Law cannot condemn you, and the devil cannot have you.  You are the Lord’s.  He has not only created you, but He has redeemed you, purchased and won you, at a costly price, namely, that of His own holy and precious Blood.

In His love for you, therefore, in the Ministry of His Gospel — by the sending of men in His Name, as He Himself has been sent by God the Father — this Christian faith and life finds its heart and center in “the Office of the Keys.”  In Holy Absolution — which is the Word of Christ Himself, spoken by His servant — your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.  It is that sure and certain.

And it is by that Word of forgiveness, by that Word of Holy Absolution, that Jesus recreates you in His Image, in the Likeness of His own crucified and risen Body.  He breathes Life back into your dried-up, dead and dying bones.  He raises you up from the dust of the earth.  What Adam lost, Christ has regained for you and for all people, and He gives you that gift of His Life and Salvation by the Word and ways and means of His forgiveness of sins.

He gives you His Word of the Gospel, and He breathes His Holy Spirit into your body and soul, that you might be a living being, and that you might live forevermore with Him who is the Living One, the Author and Giver of Life.  He thereby gives you true and lasting Peace, even as He raises you up in Himself to live by His grace in faith and love.  Such are the fruits of His forgiveness.  And that is the whole point.  That is what you need above all else.

Here at the Lord’s Altar is your Spiritual Food and Drink.  Here is the very Breath of Life, the gift of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Gospel.  Apart from these means of grace, you do not live at all.  And yet, here you are, and by these means you do live, holy and righteous in the presence of God.  That is Christ’s desire for you.  It is why He gave His Life and shed His Blood for you.  It is why He has caused His Gospel to be written and proclaimed to the ends of the earth, that you and all might believe that this same Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh; that He died for you and rose again; and that, believing in Him, you should have life in His Name.

That is why St. John and the other holy Evangelists wrote down the Word and works of Christ, those precious Words of the Holy Gospel.  Not to be preserved in a book like a museum artifact, however.  But to be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.  To be administered and distributed from the Altar of Christ and at His Font in the midst of His disciples from all nations.  To be spoken by pastors to the people of God in many and various circumstances.  That Christ and His Life might be put into the ears, into the hearts and minds, and into the flesh and blood of His children.  That your body should no longer be a body of death, but a body destined for the Resurrection, for the Glory of Paradise, and for Life with your Father in heaven forever.

By these Gifts Christ freely gives, and by these Gifts alone, you are brought to faith in Him — and you are nurtured and sustained in that faith, even in the midst of all your doubts and fears — through the forgiveness of all your sins.  And by this faith and forgiveness you have life, and you have it more abundantly, unto the everlasting salvation of your body and your soul.

That, dear friend in Christ, is what is set before you here and now.  For Jesus is here with you in the midst of His disciples.  And what He gives to you is the Peace of God, just as He has spoken.

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

07 April 2018

Forgiveness and Life for Sinners Like You

You have heard the testimony of those to whom the Lord Jesus appeared after He had risen from the dead.  And yet, it seems that you can hardly bring yourself to believe that it is true.  Or perhaps it is more difficult for you to believe that it actually makes any difference for you and your life.

There are those times, to be sure, when the news of the Resurrection warms and gladdens your heart.  But then there are those other times when your sinful heart is cold and hard, and you refuse to embrace the Gospel.  Then you go on mourning and weeping, as though sin were not forgiven, as though death were not defeated, and as though there were no hope or help in all the world.

It is hard for you to believe, because there is nothing quite so contradictory as the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  It occurs in the midst of sin and death and unbelief, which seem so irrefutable.  And you have nothing to hang on to but the Word of the Gospel, which offers exceedingly great and precious promises — but which also seem entirely too good to be true.  After all, you still get sick and die.  You struggle to cope and make ends meet.  You wrestle with temptations and fall into sin.

Let’s face it, the honest fact of the matter is that your faith can be quite feeble and flickering at times.  By God’s grace you believe — but God help your unbelief, because you cannot help or convince yourself.  Your poor little Christian faith and life can be downright scary and precarious, actually; and then there is that Word of the Law, that he who does not believe shall be condemned.

How sobering is that, when Jesus has just reprimanded your unbelief and hardness of heart!

But in this way He calls you to repent.  To despair of yourself, yes, but to believe in His Gospel.  He turns everything around, and He makes all things new, including you, your faith and life.  That is what He has accomplished by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead; and that is what He proclaims and gives to you by the preaching of His Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.

Consider the evidence, and take to heart that the Lord Jesus is the Savior of sinners like yourself:

It is the sinful woman from whom He cast out seven demons to whom He first appears, and whom He sends to announce His Resurrection.

It is those first two disciples of Emmaus — who were so foolish and slow of heart to believe, who were so brokenhearted and sad — to whom He reveals Himself in the Breaking of the Bread.

It is the hard-hearted, unbelieving eleven disciples, who had deserted Him in His Passion, whom He sends out as His holy Apostles to preach the Gospel to all creation.

You see?  He harbors no grudges.  He does not despise, reject, or cast off His struggling followers.

Nor does He cast you away from His presence.  Far from it!  Instead, He calls you to Himself by preaching His Gospel to you.  He forgives you all your sins, and He remembers them no more.  He casts out all your demons, and He cleanses your body, soul, and spirit with the gift of His Holy Spirit.  As He did in your Holy Baptism, so does He do again and again by His Holy Absolution.  He raises you up from doubt and death to fear, love, and trust in Him, to live by faith in Him.

He reveals Himself to you here at His Table, where He feeds you with His life-giving Body and Blood.  And because this same Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you and rose again, is with you and accompanies you on the way, there is nothing in heaven or on earth that shall be able to hurt you.

Despite the frailty and weakness of your mortal flesh, sickness, sin, and death will not have the last word concerning you.  The Gospel has the last word concerning you, both body and soul.  You, too, shall rise and live in perfect peace and health, forever and ever.  This is most certainly true.

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

01 April 2018

The Ending Is Just the Beginning

One of the things I remember from my childhood, is how my Dad would often skip to the end of  a book and read the final chapter first, before he started at the beginning.  To each his own, I guess.  Mom and I could never quite understand that approach.  But the thing of it is, coming at the story backwards is how the Church has always heard and received the Holy Gospel of her Savior.

Think about it.  You have already known how the story would end — or, rather, how it continues.  It comes as no surprise at this point.  You’ve known from the start, during Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and Lent, and even on Good Friday.  Does that ruin the story or wreck the surprise?  By no means.  Knowing the truth of the Resurrection is the necessary key by which you are able to understand the Incarnation, Life, and Death of Jesus our Lord.  Knowing the Resurrection does not invalidate the rest of the story up til now.  It rather enables you to hear and receive the Cross and Passion of your Savior for what they truly are.

The Feast of Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord are the proclamation of His Victory on the Cross.  His empty tomb is the evidence, the proof, and the guarantee that death will not have the last word — not for Christ, and not for those who live in Him.  Thus do we celebrate His conquest.

After seven long weeks of holding her breath, the Church again exhales, “Alleluia!”  We sing and chant and praise the Lord with all the exuberance we can muster, reveling and rejoicing in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  And this our song shall be throughout the seven weeks of Easter now before us — as it is ever and always the hymn and chant of heaven itself.

The Church rejoices and celebrates this morning, precisely because the Resurrection was so necessary — not for the Christ, who is ever and always the Son of the Living God, but for you and all of us poor sinners.  It is for you that He was crucified, dead, and buried; therefore, it is also for you that He has risen triumphant from death and the grave.  Otherwise, apart from Christ, you are imprisoned by your sins, captivated by Satan and his evil charms, and tyrannized by death and hell.

It all takes you back to the very beginning; which is why the “surprise ending” should come as no surprise at all.  Already back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam & Eve had followed the serpent’s temptation to disobey the Lord, He spoke to them a curse and a promise, the Law and the Gospel.

In choosing to reject His Word, our first parents brought death and pain, heartache and struggle into God’s good Creation.  Food is henceforth obtained only with blisters and sweat, and children enter the world by way of great anguish and labor.  It was not God’s intention or design but man’s sin that made it so — man’s willing and willful submission to the leadership and lies of the devil.

Even so, out of His great love for Adam & Eve and all their children, the Lord did not leave us to sleep in the bed that we had made for ourselves.  His own dear Son entered the world, born of the Woman, born under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the curse of the Law.  That New Man, Jesus Christ, the new and better Adam, allowed Himself to be attacked by the serpent, that by His death He might destroy the power that death held over the sons and daughters of man, and crush the head of Satan under His bruised heal, and so bring forgiveness by His Blood.

Because the victory He gained was not for Himself but for fallen and perishing people like you, it came not with a show of divine strength, but rather by His divine suffering of your mortality.  In order to become the Second Adam, He suffered death with all who suffer and die in the first Adam, including you.  He made Himself like you in all things, bearing your sins and sharing your death, so that His Resurrection and His Life should become yours; that you might be like Him.

Hence, the proclamation of the Gospel this morning — to the holy myrrhbearers, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome — that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth is no longer in the tomb where His Body had rested.  He has gotten up.  He has risen from the dead, just as He said.  The women will not anoint His Body as they planned, because His Body is alive and glorified.

His Resurrection declares that He has saved His people from their sins.  He has earned forgiveness by His sacrificial death, a more-than-sufficient Atonement for the entire world.  It offers a Word of Absolution for you, no less than for Peter the denier.  Christ’s death was not the end of the story, but the end of death’s power; for death bit off more than it could chew when it laid hold of Christ, the sinless and eternal Son of God.  Nor was the Cross a victory for Satan, as it might have seemed at the time; it was the Lord’s decisive crushing of that vile serpent’s head.  And that great Victory of Christ and His Cross is publicized to all the world by the proclamation of His Resurrection.

The question, then, is why the fear and silence on the part of those women?  Scholars have puzzled for years over this seemingly very strange conclusion to St. Mark’s Easter Gospel.  And yet, it’s not so strange if you think about your complicity with the powers of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  As it is, the crushing victory of the Cross has also brought an end to the tyrannizing rule of your own old Adam.  It crucifies you, puts you to death, and buries you in the tomb with Christ Jesus.  And that is a painful process, because it means that you must relinquish all of your self-confidence and self-reliance, along with everything else you are and have, in order to rely on Christ alone.

It truly is a terrifying thing, what a tremendous influence sin and the devil have exercised on your heart and mind, your body and life.  For as frightening and hateful as death and the grave are for your fallen flesh, in your sinful unbelief you are actually more comfortable and satisfied with those dark powers than you are with Christ and His Resurrection.  Perhaps it is because your death is the one thing you have merited for yourself, and in your pride you resist the utter charity of life in Christ.  Whatever the logic, that is the pattern and practice of sin, as it has been from the beginning — to refuse the life that is freely offered by the Lord, in favor of self-reliance and a supposed “independence,” even though independence from the Lord your God is nothing else than death.

It is for that very reason — because of the death that you have chosen in your sin — that Christ had to suffer and die for the forgiveness of your sins and your salvation.  And that is also why you must enter His tomb and bury your old Adam with Him, before you experience His Resurrection.

The Cross and Passion of our Lord, and even His Resurrection, are never easy things for sinners to face, even though they offer nothing more nor less than grace and life and every blessing.  Instinctively, you cling to yourself and to your own meager resources.  The proclamation of the Gospel is thus far more and far different than a simple communication of facts and information.  The story of Christ is rather a death-dealing conquest of the false “life” that Adam & Eve and all their children, right down to yourself and your children, have willingly and eagerly embraced.

Simply knowing the facts, and even believing the facts of the Gospel to be “true,” is not enough.  The Reality of Christ must become your own reality, and you must be transformed with Christ into something new and altogether different than you have been.  To embrace His Cross & Resurrection with faith and confession (instead of silent fear) requires more than knowledge.  It requires the Spirit of God, that by His grace you believe His holy Word and live a godly life by faith in Christ.

That brand new life with God is the gift and benefit of your Holy Baptism, which is in truth your own participation in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, your personal Good Friday and Easter.  It is your Baptism into Christ which makes the story of the Gospel more than just a history lesson or a fascinating collection of interesting trivia about Jesus.  It is your Baptism into Christ which makes the Feast of Easter a celebration of your own Resurrection from the dead.

It is for you as it was for that familiar “young man” of St. Mark’s Holy Gospel.  For you also have been stripped naked of your old sinful ways in the Cross and Passion of your Lord Jesus Christ.  All your wealth and riches (of whatever sort you have had and relied upon) have been liquidated and given away, that you might take up the Cross of Christ and follow Him, even unto death.  So it is that you have also entered His tomb through the waters of your Holy Baptism, whereby you are cleansed of all your sins and dressed in the pure white robes of His perfect Righteousness and Holiness.  For having died with Him, you know that you shall rise and live with Him, as well.

“He is going before you!”  That is the Word of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, spoken by His servant to you and to all who enter His tomb.  And as He is going before you, so shall you follow after Him through death into Life.  For Christ Jesus is the Firstborn from the dead, the First Fruits of the New Creation.  And He is with you even now, anointing your body with His Spirit and His Blood for the true Sabbath Rest which remains for you and for all in His Body and His Blood.  It is by the grace of His Gospel that you follow Him throughout your life, even unto death, with sure and certain confidence in His Resurrection from the dead.  And that hope shall not disappoint you.

For Christ has risen from the dead; He has risen indeed, just as He said. Alleluia!

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

31 March 2018

The Paschal Mystery of Christ

Beloved of the Lord: The Mystery of the Lord’s Passover is both old and new, both transient and eternal, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal.  It is old according to the Law, but new according to the Word of the Gospel.  It is transient in its ancient type, but eternal in its true grace.  It is corruptible in the sacrifice of the sheep, but incorruptible in the Body and Life of the Lamb. It is mortal with respect to His burial in the earth, but immortal in His Resurrection from the dead.

The Law is old, but the Word of the Gospel is always new and makes all things new.  The type was for a season, but the grace is forever.  The sheep was corruptible, but the Lord is incorruptible, who was sacrificed as a Lamb, but who is risen from the dead and lives forever as God in the Flesh.  He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, but He is not a dumb sheep.  He was put to death as a lamb without a voice, but He is not a lamb.  Now the figure has passed away, and the reality has come.  For God replaced the lamb, and a Man the sheep; and that Man is Christ, who contains all things.

Therefore, the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and the sending of the sheep to slaughter, and the Word of the Law, have all been accomplished and fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  For everything in the ancient Law — and all the more so, everything in the Gospel — is centered and perfected in Him.

Indeed, His fulfillment of the Law has become the Gospel, the old comprehended and completed in the new.  The commandment has issued forth in grace, and the type has given way to the reality.  The Lamb is now the Firstborn Son, the Sheep is the true Man, and that Man is the incarnate God.

So the One who was born a Son, led to slaughter as a Lamb, sacrificed as a Sheep, and buried as a Man, has risen from the dead and lives forever as God, since He is by nature both God and Man.

When this One came from heaven to earth for the sake of those who suffer the consequences of their sins — when He became flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood in the womb of the Virgin — having come forth as true Man, He humbled Himself, took on the form of a Servant, and bore in His own Body on the Cross the sufferings of those who suffer.  He thus destroyed those human sufferings by the power of His indestructible life.  He put death to death by His death in the flesh.

Though He was led away as a lamb and sacrificed as a sheep, He delivered us from the slavery of the world, as from the land of Egypt; He released us from the bondage of the devil, as from the hand of Pharaoh; He sealed our souls with His own Spirit, and our bodies with His own Blood.

This Lord Jesus Christ is the One who covered death with shame and plunged the devil into mourning, as Moses did to Pharaoh and all his chariots and horsemen.  He is the One who struck down lawlessness and deprived injustice of its children, as Moses did to Egypt.  He is the One who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, and from tyranny into God’s own Kingdom.  He has made of us a royal priesthood and God’s own people.

This same Lord Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb of our salvation.  He is the One who patiently endured many things in many people.  He is the One who was murdered in Abel, who was bound as a sacrifice in Isaac, who was exiled in Jacob, who was sold in Joseph; who was condemned in Moses, slaughtered in the lamb, hunted down in David, and dishonored in the Prophets.

He is the One who was conceived and born of the Virgin, who was hung upon the Tree as a curse, and who was buried in the dust of the earth; who has risen from among the dead and lives forever; who also raises the sons and daughters of man from the grave below to the heights of heaven.

He is the Lamb who was slain.  He is the Lamb who was silent.  He is St. Mary’s little Lamb, who was chosen from the flock, led to slaughter, sacrificed at twilight, and buried at night.  Yet, He was not broken on the Tree, nor did His Body experience corruption in the earth.  For He is risen, He is risen indeed!  And by His rising you also are raised from sin and death to life with God in Him.

He is the One who was murdered, condemned in the very heart of Jerusalem, His Holy City, and put to death outside the walls of that once glorious abode of God.  Why?  Because He had healed the lame, and cleansed the lepers, and opened the eyes of the blind to His light, and even raised the dead.  Sweet injuries, indeed!  “Yet, they at these themselves displease and ‘gainst Him rise.”

He is the One who brought His people out of Egypt by His mighty arm and outstretched hand.  He is the One who divided the Red Sea and led them through the water on dry ground; who drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host under the waves.  He is the One whose Glory guarded and guided the people through the wilderness as a Pillar of Cloud by day and a Pillar of Fire by night.

He is the One who fed them with Manna from heaven, who gave them water from the Rock, who established His Law and His Covenant at Horeb, and who gave the children of Israel the Land that He had promised.  He sent to them His holy Prophets, and He raised up Kings in His Name.

He is the One who has come to save you, who heals those who suffer and raises the dead to life.

And He is the One you also have sinned against.  He is the One you have wronged in countless ways.  He is the One you have killed by your own sins.  He is the One you have sold out for silver.

For your transgressions He was lifted up in death on the Cross.  The very One who hung the earth in space was hung between the earth and sky.  The One who stretched out the heavens was pierced.  The One by whom all things are made was cursed and nailed to the Tree.  The Lord was insulted, God Himself was put to death, and the true King of Israel was handed over by His people to die.

But this same Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When He had clothed himself in humility, and had suffered for the sake of those who suffer, and was bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of those who return to the dust — He also rose up from the dead to everlasting life.

He is the One who now cries out: Who will contend with Me?  Let him stand in opposition to Me.  I set the condemned man free.  I give the dead man life.  I raise up those who have been entombed.

Who is my opponent?  I Am the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who was dead, and yet, behold, I live. I Am the One who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and lifted up man to the heights of heaven.  I Am the Christ, He says.

Come, therefore, all you children of men, all of you defiled by your sins and subject to death; come to Me and receive the forgiveness of all your sins.  For I am your Forgiveness.  I am the Passover of your Salvation.  I am the Lamb who was sacrificed for you.  I am your Ransom and Redeemer.  I am your Light and your Salvation, your Strength, and your Song.  I am your Resurrection and your Life.  I am your true King.  I lead you to Paradise, and I bring you to the everlasting Father.  I raise you up from death to Life by My strong arm and outstretched hand.

Thus says the Lord who made the heavens and the earth, who in the beginning created man, who was proclaimed through the Law and the Prophets, who in these last days, in the fulness of time, became true Man, the Virgin’s Son; who was crucified, died, and was buried; who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity; who sits at the right hand of His God and Father; who has all authority in heaven and on earth, by which He forgives sins and saves sinners from death.

He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the One who has no End.  He is the Christ, your King.  He is the Lord Jesus, the Firstborn from the dead and the First Fruits of the New Creation.  He is the Author and Perfecter of faith, who reveals the Father and pours out the Spirit generously upon you.  He is the living One, in whom you also live and shall not die.

For Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

(Excerpted and redacted from the Paschal Homily by St. Melito of Sardis †180)

30 March 2018

Creation Is Perfected in the Body of Christ the Crucified

On the sixth day, God created Man in His own Image and Likeness.  And what God began on that first Friday, He finishes and fulfills on this Good Friday.  For here, in truth, is the Image and Likeness of God, in which man is created:

“Behold the Man,” the King of Creation, reigning from the Tree of His Cross

It is not uncommon, of course, that you may attempt a good work, only to have it go badly wrong and blow up in your face.  But that is most certainly not what has happened here.  God’s original intention has not been thwarted by the sin of man.  What He has done, He has in fact purposed from the very beginning, indeed, from before the foundation of the world.

For the sake of His divine and holy love, God freely chose to create the heavens and the earth.  Not for His own benefit, but for the sake of loving His creatures and benefitting them.  He creates all things in order to love the man and the woman, the king and the queen of His first creation, made in His Image to live and reign with Him in Paradise eternally.

Already then, the Lord not only knows how things are going to go, but He willingly and graciously commits Himself to that very suffering and death which we here remember on this sacred day.

No one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly for us poor sinners, His fallen and rebellious creatures, in order to raise us up with Himself by His Cross and in His Resurrection.

Thus, Adam was created in the Image and Likeness of this Man, the incarnate Son, the Seed of the Woman, who is more specifically the Crucified One, sacrificed for us men and for our salvation.

But though God has created you to be and to live in the Image and Likeness of Christ, your sinful proclivity is to “create” gods of your own likeness, in your own image — false gods of selfish, self-serving, self-centered self-love.  Those false gods and idols of yours are gods of power and greed and competition, gods of envy and revenge.  And in your worship of such gods, your self-love is matched only by your hatred of anything that would hurt you, by your fear of anything that would threaten your freedom, and by your animosity toward anyone who might insult you.

But the one true God is utterly unlike those false gods and idols that you worship and serve in your sinful unbelief.  And so it is that, when He reveals Himself as He truly is in the Man of sorrows, you do not even recognize Him as a Man, far less as God in the Flesh.  But so indeed He is.  His almighty power is thus made known chiefly in showing mercy and pity toward those who deserve nothing but punishment.  And the height of His divine glory is not selfishness, but Self-sacrificing love for poor, miserable sinners like yourself, who hate Him, and hurt Him, and betray Him for money, who deny Him and flee from Him, and who put Him to death, even death on the Cross.

He turns the other cheek to those who hit and punch and slap Him, and He does not retaliate.  He loves His enemies, and He prays for those who persecute Him.  He likewise prays for you, as well, that His Father would not hold your sins against you.

It is therefore in the frailty and weakness of His flesh and blood upon the Cross — in His Body made mortal by your sins — in His bitter suffering and innocent death, and in the shedding of His holy, precious Blood — it is there that the Image and Likeness of God are most clearly and fully revealed, and are now accomplished and perfected in this one true Man, the new and better Adam.

It is in this Image, in the Likeness of Christ, the Crucified One, that you are recreated to live with Him in His Kingdom forever.  To live as He has lived in the fear and faith of His God and Father.  To love as He loves you.  To forgive others as He forgives you.  And to sacrifice yourself for the sake of your neighbor, within your own calling, as Christ has sacrificed Himself for you.

So it is that, as the woman, Eve, was taken from the side of the man, Adam, and then brought to the man and given to him as his bride, now the Bride of Christ, His Holy Church, the Mother of all the living, is taken from the riven side of this Man, Jesus Christ, and made alive in the river of living water and life-giving blood that He pours out from His Body in the sacred sleep of death.

If you would be His disciple, His man or His woman, you are entrusted to this Holy Mother, His Church on earth as it is in heaven.  You are born again by the water, Word, and Spirit of Christ.  And as often as your sin has robbed you of His Breath of Life, you are resuscitated by His Word of Peace, His Word of Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name and stead.  There is nothing that is held against you, for He has made Atonement for all of your iniquities.

Thus are you nourished at the Church’s festal board, fed with the Body and Blood of the firstborn Son who has been given in the place of lambs and sheep who love to wander, and who has been slain upon the Cross for you and for all of the children of men.

By the same token, the Woman herself, the Bride of Christ, His Holy Church, the Mother of all the sons and daughters of God, she is entrusted to the one who testifies.  She is committed in body and soul to the Apostolic witness of the Cross and Crucifixion of the New Adam, Jesus Christ.  And she is cared for by the preaching and confession of this same Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, whose Blood cleanses the Woman and all of her children.  It is His Blood that also covers you and shields you from the death and damnation you deserve.

In Him who is the very Image and Likeness of God, crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification — though you are a child of dust, subject to death and the grave for your sins — yet, in Him, you are resurrected from the dust of the earth and returned to the Garden of God, to Paradise the blest, where you are fed forevermore with the Fruits of this Tree of Life.  “Behold the life-giving Cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world!"  Take and eat.  Drink of it, all of you.  Taste and see that the Lord is very good, and that His loving kindness endures forever.

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

Today You Are with Christ in Paradise

Beloved of the Lord, do you not fear God?

It is meet and right that you should do so.  For God threatens to punish all those who break His Commandments, visiting the sins of the fathers upon their children to the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Him.  Therefore, you should fear His wrath and not disobey Him.

But how does it actually stand with you, with your heart and mind, and in your words and actions?

Do you fear the Lord your God above all things?  Or do you rather fear for your mortal body and your temporal life, without much regard for your soul or with your standing before God?

Are you more concerned about keeping your stuff, your power and position in this world, and about your health and home and family, than you are about keeping the Ten Commandments?

Do you not fear God?  It is only right that you should.  For do not doubt that you are accountable for the wrongs that you have done, and for all the good that you have failed to do.

Maybe you think it doesn’t matter.  Or maybe you don’t even care.

But if you would know what God actually thinks of your sin, and just how seriously He takes it, consider the Cross of your Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified for your transgressions.  For by His Cross He has suffered the condemnation and punishment that you have merited by your sins.

Do not presume to say that, since He is the Christ and He has suffered for you, it is now “okay” or “safe” for you to go about doing whatever you like with impunity and without consequences.  May it never be!  Do not blaspheme the Lord and His Passion with such wicked notions!

The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of the Living God, has not suffered and died so that you might go on sinning, but so that you might be brought to repentance and newness of life in Him.

For such repentance and new life, however, you must be crucified and put to death with Christ.

To begin with, the proclivity of your fallen flesh and sinful heart is to covet and to crave what is not yours, to take what has not been given to you, to rob and to steal.  As a child of old Adam you are selfish and self-serving.  You do not think of what is right or wrong, but of what’s in it for you.

You are like your first parents, who took and ate the forbidden fruit and suffered the consequences for it.  The Lord removed them from the Paradise of Eden and barred them from the Tree of Life.  He did so, not to be petty and vindictive, but to spare them from the living hell of an eternal death.

Despite the deceptions of your heart, mind, and flesh, the truth is that any “life” apart from God is nothing but death and damnation.  To persist in your sins is thus to perish apart from God.

What you need, therefore, is not some miracle drug, nor a fountain of youth, nor a handful of magic beans; but what you need is the forgiveness of your sins, repentance, and reconciliation with God.

It is for this purpose that Christ has come, and in this way that He has saved you.  Not for a “life” of sinning, but to save you from your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.

He was numbered with transgressors, and He was hung between two criminals, for the same reason that He submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance, and for the same reason that He received publicans, prostitutes, and other sinners, and ate with them.  Not as though to condone sin, nor even simply to look the other way with a wink and a nod, but in order to redeem the lost.

In order to accomplish that redemption and salvation of sinners, He has taken sin and death upon Himself.  Indeed, He has taken the sins of the world and all their curse and consequences upon Himself.  He has taken all of your sins and the punishment of all your sins upon Himself.  And He has borne the whole horrible, terrible lot of it in His Body on the Cross.  Thus has He suffered and satisfied the sentence of condemnation that was leveled against you and the entire world.

For you to persist in your sins, therefore, is to make a mockery of His Cross and Passion.

Yet for you, nonetheless, and for all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, He has done this great thing.  He has redeemed you from the curse of the Law, and from the curse of sin and death.

Not only that, but He has also opened up the way of righteousness and life in the Resurrection of His Body from the dead.  All of which is yours, by His grace alone, through faith in His Word.

Not only has He suffered all the punishments of the Law against the sins of the whole world, but He has also fulfilled the entire Law of God in perfect faith and holy love.  Everything the Law requires, He has done it on your behalf, in your stead, and also for your eternal benefit.

It is for this reason that God the Father raised this same Jesus from the dead; and so does He also raise all those who believe and are baptized into Him.  All things are made new in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  For by His Cross and Passion the satisfaction and fulfillment of the Law have been accomplished and completed.  Not only as the punishment due, but as the pinnacle of faith and love: Steadfast faith in God, and fervent love for all of His neighbors, including you.

Accordingly, it is precisely by His Cross and through His Passion that Christ Jesus comes into His Kingdom as the Savior of mankind.  And so does He reign in love from the Tree of His Cross.

It is likewise by the way and the means of His Cross that you enter with Him into His Kingdom.  For His Cross is the shape and power of Holy Baptism, and His Cross is the way of repentance unto life.  It is by the Cross that your old Adam is crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, together with all your sinful lusts and wicked desires.  But so is it also the case that you are raised up as a brand new man or woman in Christ through the forgiveness of His Cross.

The Cross does lay bare your sins and nails you for them.  But it does so for the sake of calling you to repentance, to confession, and to the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  For the Cross is also the proclamation of the Gospel to all who believe.  It is the very power of God unto salvation.

Indeed, the Tree of His Cross is the true Tree of Life, which stands in the midst of Paradise.

And because the Lord Jesus has atoned for all of your sins and accomplished your redemption by that Tree, its life-giving Fruits are not forbidden to you; they are rather given and poured out for your salvation, that you should eat and drink at His Word in faith and with thanksgiving.

That is how Jesus remembers you.  He acts in love to feed you with Himself, with His Body and His Blood, in order to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, and to give you life with God, in and with Himself, in both your body and your soul, both here and now and hereafter forever.

As often as you eat those blessed Fruits of His Holy Cross and Passion, you truly are with Him in the Paradise of God.  For He is surely with you in His Holy Supper.  He is with you always at His Altar, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He lives and dies with you here, He bears the Cross and suffers with you here, so that you might be with Him where He is and live with Him.

No longer are you a robber or a thief, no matter what your past has held.  You are a beloved child and a welcome guest at your own dear Father’s Table.  You need not steal to get what you want, not when you are so richly fed and given every good and perfect gift in the Lord Jesus Christ.

To be sure, you certainly should  fear God, for the plain and simple fact that He is God and you are not.  But so are you also called to love and trust in Him, because He is the Author and Giver of Life who loves you and preserves your life in body and soul with His Medicine of Immortality.  Indeed, it is with tender mercy and compassion that He cares for you and well provides for you.

Do not go on sinning for your supper, but receive the good things that Christ has obtained for you.  For His Cross is the Tree of Life for you, and so has He saved you from sin, death, the devil, and hell, that you might live with Him in the presence of God, not only today, but forever and always.

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

29 March 2018

To Worship the Lord Your God in the Body of Christ

To live is to worship the Lord your God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And to worship Him is your life and your salvation.  It is for this Life that He created you, and to this Life He calls you.

The Lord calls you to Himself, to find your life in Him, and to worship Him by faith in Christ, by serving you, by feeding you, and by caring for your body and soul with His Word and Sacrament.

He does it all by means of this sacred Tradition and this solemn Ceremony, in which the Father hands over His Son, and the Son hands Himself over and gives Himself to you in His Supper.

The Life by which you live is in the Blood of this Lamb, just as life is in the blood of both man and beast.  For blood brings oxygen and nutrition to the body; it cleanses the body of infection, disease, and death.  So has this Lamb been sacrificed for you, and His lifeblood has been shed for your life, that you should not die but live with God and worship Him in peace.  Sacrificed once for all upon the Cross, His Flesh and His Blood are now given and poured out for you, in order to feed you, to quench your thirst, to forgive your sins, and to cleanse you of all that poisons you and kills you.

In this way, the beloved Son, who is the Lamb of God, worships the Father with His Body and His Life; and so does He also love and serve you, His neighbor, by and with His precious Blood.

It is Christ Jesus who thus makes this House of God your home, your place of peace and rest.  For here the Ceremony of His Holy Supper (His Passover) is delivered to you, no less than He handed it over to His disciples.  By this means, He gives Himself to you as your Meat and Drink indeed.  He pours out His Blood to cover you, to shelter and protect you, here within His Father’s House.

Holy Baptism is the door through which you have entered this House, and by which you have been made a member of this Household and Family of God.  For in the washing of the water with the Word and Spirit of God, you have been signed by the Cross with the Blood of the Lamb: upon the lintel and the door posts of your body and life, upon your forehead and your heart.  So that all you think and say and do is marked by the cruciform Image of God in Christ, in whom you now live.

The Lord has given to His Church on earth these sacred rites and ceremonies as the way and means by which He remembers His people, and by which they worship Him.  Thus are His Body and His Blood administered in His Name and stead by those whom He has called and sent.  And this Holy Sacrament is both the Sign and the Instrument of His great deliverance, by which you are saved.  For the Lord your God sees this Blood of the Lamb, which marks both you and this House wherein you feast and live; His judgment passes over you in mercy, and no plague befalls or destroys you.

This definitive Ceremony of the Lord’s Liturgy — this most sacred Tradition of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who has mercy upon you and grants you peace — this Passover of the New Testament is the first and foremost of days and weeks and months and years.  Indeed, it is the beginning of eternity for you, as you eat and drink at the Word of Christ in faith and with thanksgiving.  It is a perpetual Memorial established by God for your heart, mind, body, and soul, whereby you worship the Lord here in time and hereafter in Paradise forever.  Not by your doing, but by hearing what He says, receiving what He gives, and trusting what He does.

For all of which it truly is meet, right, and salutary to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him in Christ.

It is likewise by this Meal of His Body and His Blood that you and all the children of God are one Household and Family, fellow members of one Body in Christ Jesus, anointed by one Holy Spirit.  You have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, and one God and Father in Christ, the beloved Son.  And you are given to feast upon this one Lamb who has been sacrificed for you, whose Blood now marks your Father’s House.  As you eat of His one Body and drink from His Chalice of Salvation, you are bound together with all who eat and drink, as one Body in Him.  You are bodied and blooded together with all of your brothers and sisters in Christ, as one Holy Communion in Him.

Thus, you are what you receive, and you receive what you are: The Body of Christ.  And that, not alone, but together with all who are baptized into Him, who recline at His Table and feast on Him.

To love your neighbor, therefore, is to love the Lord Jesus Christ in your neighbor.  This, too, is to worship the Lord your God and to live by faith in Him.  And so it is that you love your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves you, because Christ now lives in you, both body and soul, by and with His Word, His Holy Spirit, and His own Body and Blood, given and poured out for you in His Supper.

You wash your neighbor’s feet, as Jesus washes you.  Not only metaphorically, but sometimes for real, as when your parents or spouse are no longer able to care for themselves or wash their own bodies, or when you mothers and fathers bathe your little children and wash between their toes.

So do you also tend your neighbor’s wounds, and you tenderly care for his needs and his feelings.  You feed his body, you cover his expenses, you clothe his nakedness, and you forgive his sins.  You visit him in his affliction, in the house of bondage, and you grieve and mourn with him in the cords of death and the grave.  You comfort him with such love as the Lord so patiently lavishes upon you.  Indeed, you give life to your neighbor by your own blood, sweat, and tears.

And yet, for all of that, if you examine yourself rightly, and if you examine this Body of Christ to which you belong — if you consider even these neighbors here with you, who are your brothers and sisters in Christ, your own kin, the children of your own God and Father in Him — if you thus examine yourself, then you know that you have not loved as Christ has commanded you to love.

You have not let His love have its way with you, and so your love for others has failed.  There are those whom you have hurt, and there are those whom you have failed to help.  Your thoughts, words, and deeds have been soiled with sin, marred by selfishness, lust, and greed.  In your fallen flesh there is nothing else but this vile sin and death, from which you cannot set yourself free.

Nevertheless, the Lord your God has called you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, out from under Pharaoh’s bitter yoke.  He has delivered you from sin and death.  Not because you were more prosperous or stronger than anyone else; not because you were more pious and faithful and sincere; not because you were more Lutheran, more confessional, or more orthodox than others.  It is not because you were more plain and simple, nor because you were more formal and elaborate.

The Lord has called you, by His grace alone, with His Gospel of forgiveness.  He has passed over your sins in mercy, and He remembers them no more.  He has spared you from death and the grave, and He has brought you into Life with Himself.  He has done so for His own Name’s sake, for the sake of His divine and holy Love in Christ Jesus, the Lamb who has been slain for your salvation.

So has He named you with His Name by calling you out of bondage and bringing you into His House of peace and rest through the waters of Holy Baptism and the forgiveness of all your sins.

The Father has sacrificed the unblemished Lamb for you at Twilight, and He has marked your door with His Blood.  He catechizes you here in His House with His Word; He seats you here at His Table; and He washes your feet with the Absolution of Christ, so that you are clean by His grace.

And here the Father feeds you with the Lamb whom He has chosen from before the foundation of the world; whom He has sacrificed upon the Cross in your place, that you might live by His grace.  As He fed the disciples then, even Judas and Peter and Thomas — not because of their faithfulness, but by His own faithfulness — so does He feed you.  For the Father loves the disciples of Jesus, whom He has called and chosen by His Word and Holy Spirit.  And so does the Father love you, as Christ Jesus loves you, even to His death upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection ever after.

It is by this Love of God for you in Christ Jesus, by the Body and Blood of the Lamb, that you live and worship the Lord your God in body and soul, and that you also love as you are loved, forever.

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

25 March 2018

Blessed Is He Who Comes by and with His Precious Blood

Child of God, do not be afraid.  Daughter of Jerusalem, rejoice and be glad.

See here, your King is coming to you.  Do not be afraid of Him.  He comes to save you.  And do not be afraid of anything else, either, because your King is near.  He is here with you.  He is at hand to help you, to give you life.  He is your King, and He has come that you may live with Him in His Kingdom in safety and security, at peace with God in His righteousness.

King Jesus comes into His Holy City.  He comes in the Name of the Lord, into great Jerusalem.  He has come to die for you and your salvation. And He comes here and now to forgive you by the way and the means of His Cross, to cleanse you with His holy and precious Blood, to set you free from your sin and death, and to bring you into the presence of God in and with Himself.

He is the new and greater David, and so He comes into a new and greater Jerusalem, a City eternal in the heavens, whose Builder and Architect is God.  He comes into His Holy Church, and He calls and gathers you there to Himself.  So do we acknowledge and rejoice in His coming by singing the Sanctus and the Benedictus as our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the Highest!”

The donkey that He rides into His Church is the Altar from which He gives to you His holy Body and pours out for you His precious Blood, and the bread and wine with which He gives to you His Body and Blood.  As the donkey brought Him into His City then, into the City of His Passion and His Cross, so does this Holy Sacrament bear Him from His Cross here to you in His Church, in a new and better Passover Feast.  For Christ is your Passover, who has been sacrificed for you.

Therefore, do not be afraid.  For His coming means not death but life for you.  In fact, to share in this Feast, to partake of this Passover, to eat this Lamb and drink His Blood, this is your life.  This is your life with God in Christ, in His Kingdom, already now, and yet forever hereafter.

But how shall you “remember” these things?  And how will you “understand” this Word of Christ?

How shall you contemplate His Cross and Holy Passion, and how shall you recognize His divine Glory in His suffering, death, and burial?

How shall you receive this Cross of Christ and its precious Fruits, and how shall you rejoice in these good Gifts which Jesus freely gives you by His grace?  How shall you recognize His Cross and the Fruits of His Cross, not as a scandal, and not as foolishness, but as your great Salvation?

Watch and pray, surely.  Pray that you will not be led into temptation.  Watch with Him throughout this Hour of His Passion.  Give attention to His Word of the Cross and to the preaching of it.

For here, especially, is how you are prepared.  Here is how you are called to remember, because God remembers you in love with the Word that He preaches and the Gifts that He gives to you.  And here is how you are given to understand, and, better than that, to receive the Gifts of God in faith and with thanksgiving, not by your own wisdom, reason, or strength, but by the Holy Spirit.

Hearken to His Word of forgiveness.  For that is finally what He says to you in all of these things.  Your sins are forgiven by the Ministry of the Gospel in the Name and stead of Christ.  Your sins are removed, they are taken away; they are not counted against you, nor counted at all anymore.  For Christ has borne them in His Body to the Cross and put them to death in His Body forever.

Hearken, then, to His Word and preaching of forgiveness.  And give attention to this Sign that He performs in your presence.  It is a better Sign than His disciples were given then, on that day, when He road into His Holy City and they greeted Him with palms and shouts of “Hosanna!”

It is a better Sign that He gives to you here and now in His Supper.  For not only has He raised Lazarus from death and the grave — as by His voice He will raise your body at the last and forever — but He Himself is risen from the dead, having accomplished Redemption by His own Blood.

His Resurrection is the proclamation of His Victory, the proclamation of His Cross and of all that He has accomplished by His Cross for you and for all people.  His Resurrection is the proclamation of that Victory even to the ends of the earth.  And His own risen Body, His flesh and blood, these are the First Fruits of your Resurrection, the First Fruits of your Salvation.  His flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead, are the First Fruits of the New Creation, into which you have been born again, and in which you live by the grace of God, by virtue of your Baptism into Christ.

And this same Lord Jesus Christ, who was given over for your transgressions and has been raised for your justification, He is your King who is coming to you here within His Holy Church.

Do not be afraid.  Kneel in homage at His Name, as heaven and earth kneel at the Name of Jesus.  Worship and honor Him as your King.  Fear the Lord, all you His saints, by repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  But do not be afraid, and do not cower in fear at His coming.  Rather, welcome and receive Him in peace and with great joy, because He is coming here to save you.

He comes with Redemption.  He comes in the Righteousness of His Gospel, which is for you by His grace alone.  He comes not for condemnation, but with forgiveness, in order to give you life.

Come here, then.  Meet Him here at His Altar.  Not symbolically or metaphorically, nor with some nostalgic memory of days gone by, but in His tangible means of grace, as real — or more real — than your own flesh and blood and the whole of His good Creation.  Come to meet Him here at His Altar in His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you to eat and drink with your body.

And thereby enter with Him into His Holy City, into His Temple — made without hands, eternal in the heavens — and yet, established by the death of Christ here on earth as it is in heaven.

You do not have to go searching for Him, because He has sought you out and come to you here.  You do not have to climb the highest mountain, because He has descended from the heights into the valley of the shadow of death, in order to raise you up in His Body to the right hand of God.

He is here with you.  Come, meet Him here.  Find Him where the waters of Holy Baptism flow in and with His Word of the Gospel.  Follow those waters to the Feast, to the better Passover of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the whole world.

Here is the life-giving Fruit of His Cross, and here is the power of His Resurrection from the dead, the power of His own indestructible Life, by which He raises you from death to Life everlasting.  It is all right here in the Crucified One, His Blood shed for your salvation; and yet, behold, He lives, also for your salvation, for your justification, and for your reconciliation with God in Him.

Follow Him in the Way of His Cross, which is the Way of repentance and faith.  Follow Him in this Way of the Cross, unto eternal Life with God, through His Blood of the eternal Covenant.

The Life of God is in His Blood.  And His Blood is poured out for you here, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  As you have perhaps seen depicted in a famous work by the great Christian artist, Albrecht Dürer — or similarly portrayed by others in various works of art — the Blood of Christ that He shed upon the Cross fills His Font and His Chalice, that it might cleanse you here within His Church on earth, in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, and in the New Testament of His Blood, which is poured out for you and for the many in His Supper.

That Blood of Christ is holy and precious.  That is not simply rhetoric or piety, but a confession of what is most certainly true.  It is not imaginary Blood, nor “let’s pretend,” but the real deal, which He shed once for all upon the Cross, and which He pours out for you to drink from His Cup here at His Altar.  And it is in and with this Blood of Christ that God gives His own Life to you.

The Letter to the Hebrews is explicit.  It is by the Blood of Christ that the heavenly Sanctuary is sanctified for you.  It is already most holy in itself, because it is the dwelling place of God, but it is sanctified for you, that you might enter into the presence of God without fault or blemish or any sins; that you might be holy, even as He is holy, and worship Him forever and ever without fear.

It is by the Blood of Christ that you enter into that Holy Place, because He, by His own Blood, has entered into that Holy Place once for all.  And there in the presence of God His Blood is your Anchor that binds you to God forever, because He by His Blood has bound Himself to you.

And when the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the Blood of Christ — when I preach to you this Blood of Christ — it is the Blood that He shed upon the Cross.  And it is no less that same Blood which He pours out for you here at His Altar, that you might not simply think about it, but that you should actually drink it with your mouth into your body, according to the Word of Christ who says, “Drink. This Cup Is the New Testament in My Blood, which is poured out for you.”

It is with this Blood of His that your King, Christ Jesus, has entered into His Holy City — and what is more, He has entered into the Most Holy Place, into the very Bosom of His Father, with His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood like your own.  He has entered there for you, that you may be with Him where He is, with God forever, as He Himself has spoken and has promised.

It is by and with this same Blood of the Covenant that Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gives Himself to you here and now.  And by this Blood He binds Himself to you, and you to Him, body and soul, so that no one shall ever be able to snatch you away from Him: Not now. Not ever.

It is by this Blood of Christ that you live — tangibly, already here in this Sacrament — and bodily in your own flesh and blood, here in your life on earth within your own place, within your own home and family — and hereafter in the Resurrection of your body to the life everlasting.

It is by this Blood of Christ that you love and serve your neighbor in peace and without fear.  It is by this Blood of Christ that you bear His Holy Cross and suffer patiently, as He has suffered for you and for all.  It is by this Blood of Christ that you are strengthened and sustained in the one true faith.  It is by this Blood of Christ that all of your sins are daily and richly forgiven in His Name.

Do not fear, dear child of God.  Behold, your King is coming to you with this holy and precious Blood of His, poured out for you to drink, and with His crucified and risen Body, given for you to eat as the pledge of your own resurrection.  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the Highest, and Peace to His people on earth!

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

21 March 2018

The Household and Family of Forgiveness

By the King of Peace, in the City of Peace, God establishes a House and a Home for His family.  Not by the great and mighty King David, who was a man of war, but by his son, King Solomon, whose very name means peace, God builds a Temple in the City that He has chosen, where He causes His Name to dwell among His people.  And this is already about Jesus, the true King of Peace, who in the same City of Jerusalem establishes His own Body as the very Temple of God.

The point is not that God would have some place to live, as though He were homeless.  For even the heavens and the earth cannot contain Him.  But He dwells with you here on earth, in order that you may have a place to live with Him.  Not by any works of your own, but solely by His grace.

He has created you to live in relationship with Him.  So, to bring about that relationship, even after the fall into sin, He does this great good work.  He sacrifices His Son, in order to reconcile you and all the world to Himself in Peace.  By the Blood of Christ He atones for your sins, so that nothing stands against you.  He has set His heart at peace with you.  There is nothing from His side that prevents you from coming to Him and living with Him.  No Word of the Law to condemn you.  No threat of judgment hanging over your head.  He has dealt with it all in the death of Christ.

And in raising the same Christ Jesus from the dead, the Body of Christ has become the Temple of God.  His Body is a House of prayer for all the nations, whom He calls to Himself by His Gospel, enlightens with His gifts, sanctifies in body and soul by His Spirit, and preserves in the true faith.

Come, then, to the House of God in Christ.  Here you really are at home.  Here is where you live.

It is here in this place, in the Church of His Gospel–Word and Sacraments, in the Body of Christ, that God causes His Name and His Glory to dwell in the midst of sinners, in order to save them by His grace through His forgiveness of sins.  He abides with you here, that you might live with Him.

By and with His Word of the Gospel, by and with His forgiveness of your sins, the Lord your God has named you with His own holy Name.  He has written it on your forehead and your heart in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  Thus, you are His own dear child and heir.  You are a member of His Household and Family in Christ Jesus, a member of His Body and Bride.  Indeed, you are built upon Christ, the Cornerstone, as a living stone within the House of God.

You’re part of the Church.  And that is where and how you live the life that God has given you.

Understand, therefore, and take it to heart, that God has so arranged and ordered His Church on earth — the entire Household of His Family, the Body of Christ — He has so arranged and ordered everything for this purpose: For reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins.

He has accomplished reconciliation and peace by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  And it is for the bestowing of His Peace on you and all people that He has established His Church on earth and preserves her in the world.  And everything within His Church is for the forgiveness of sins.  If the Church were a fig tree, the forgiveness of sins would be its fig.  That would be its good fruit.

Everything we do as a congregation of the Church, everything you do as a member of the Church, and everything you are to be about as a living stone of Christ, the Cornerstone, is to have this at its heart and center: The Forgiveness of Sins.  Forgiveness that you receive by the grace of God, that you might live by faith in Him.  And the forgiveness of your neighbors, as God forgives you.

God is quite serious about this forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of His people to Himself and to each other in Christ Jesus.  It is no lark.  It is no joke.  It is what the Lord is all about, that you should not die in your sins but live with Him in faith and love, as He has always intended.

It is precisely for this purpose that God establishes His Church and causes the forgiveness of sins to be given and received through the external ways and means of His grace, mercy, and peace.

So it is that Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament, and St. John’s Baptism on the cusp of the New Testament, and the preaching of St. Paul and the other Apostles — all of these things have and exercise the authority of Christ and His Cross, all for the sake of the forgiveness of sins.

You have heard a portion of the prayer that Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple, and perhaps you have noticed how often in that prayer the purpose of the Temple is identified with the forgiveness of sins.  Wherever in the world the people of God find themselves, and whatever their circumstances may be, they are to look to that place where God causes His Name and His Glory to dwell, and there find His forgiveness, according to His Word.  Not only Israel, but also the foreigner who turns to God by turning to the House that God the Lord establishes for His Name.

So, too, the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the sending of St. John the Baptist, who goes before the face of the Lord preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And to this day, even to the close of the age, your pastors are likewise called and sent to exercise the same authority of Christ in the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name.

Who am I to speak such a word?  I am nothing.  But according to my office, I speak not my word but Christ’s.  And by His Word your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.  It is just as valid and certain on earth as it is in heaven, because God causes His Name to dwell here with you in this way.  When your pastor speaks in the Name of Christ, it is Christ Jesus who speaks and forgives.

It is a Word of reconciliation that God has entrusted to His Church, and to His ministers of the Gospel.  As Christ Himself is the Word of God, so does He deal with you by and with His Word.  He speaks to you by the mouth of His servants, that you might hear with your ears, believe with your heart, pray and confess with your lips and your tongue, and so live by faith in His Name.

That is how you live within the Church, and that is how you live with God, namely, by the hearing of the Word that He speaks to you by His Son.  And by confessing that Word you say what is most certainly true, because you say what God has said.  You confess your sins, which is to speak what God has spoken by His Law.  And you confess His Gospel, which is the forgiveness of your sins.

In making that confession of your sins and of faith in the Gospel, you come with your words and with your body to that place where God has caused His Name and His Glory to dwell on earth for you and for the many.  You come to that man, to that Font, to that Altar, to that bread and wine, to that House where God abides with you and with His people with His forgiveness of sins.

And as you hear, so do you also speak.  Not only in confessing, and not only in praying, but so also in speaking forgiveness to your neighbor.  That is not optional.  It is the way of the Christian life.

The forgiveness of your neighbor’s trespasses against you is so fundamental to the Christian faith and life that our Lord on several occasions says, quite straightforwardly, that if you do not forgive your brother his trespasses against you, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.

That is a Word of the Law that ought to cause you to tremble to the very core of your being.  And it ought to bring you to repentance for your failure to forgive.  To forgive as you are forgiven is so bound up with faith in Christ and His Gospel, that where you refuse to forgive you harden your heart against the Gospel and drive faith and the Holy Spirit altogether out of your heart and life.

It is fundamental that you forgive.  The fig tree that does not bear this fruit of forgiveness shall be cut down, and thrown into the fire, and burned.  It is impossible to live with God where forgiveness is denied and rejected; to deny and reject it for your neighbor is to deny and reject it for yourself.

What, then, are the mountains that are standing in your way?  As you contemplate your brothers and sisters in Christ — yes, even your brothers and sisters in Christ — what are the mountains that would seem to prevent you from being reconciled to them?  What is it that is getting in the way and keeping you from seeing them as God sees them, even as He also beholds you in Christ Jesus?

Have you been so badly hurt that you simply cannot bring yourself to forgive?  But is that not to measure and evaluate the cost and conditions of forgiveness, as though it were not by the grace of God but an indulgence to be bought and sold, bartered and negotiated?

Do not suppose that you will live by such a way or standard of the Law.  And do not suppose that you will be able to obtain forgiveness for yourself while you deny it to your neighbor.  For by the measure with which you evaluate and judge your neighbor, you also will be measured and judged.

If you have failed to forgive your neighbor — if there is anyone you have refused to forgive — Repent.  Insofar as it depends on you, be at peace with your neighbor.  Forgive your neighbor from the heart, as God in Christ so graciously forgives you.  And bear fruits worthy of such repentance.

God goes looking for fruits on the fig tree, even out of season, that is to say, even where the world would never expect or fathom such grace.  Because there is a Tree that He has planted, which bears Fruit all year long, in season and out of season.  And the fruits of that Tree are for the healing of the nations.  There is no season in which you cannot forgive the sins of your neighbor, because there is no season on earth when the Tree of the Cross is not bearing the fruits of forgiveness.

The first fruit of repentance, then, is to hear and receive and trust that forgiveness which God speaks to you in Christ by His Word of the Gospel.  To hear it and not despise it.  To seek it out and ask for it.  To lay hold of it, and to depend upon it.  So that your own sins no longer tyrannize you and drive you into death, and so that the sins of your neighbor no longer loom so large, either.  So that you are able to live your life in the world in relation to your neighbor in the peace of Christ.

To live by such repentance and forgiveness is to live by faith in the Word and works of God.  For the House that He has built is a place of Peace, though not confined to any one location.  You are at Peace with God within His House when you believe the Gospel that is spoken to you.  When you take to heart the forgiveness of sins that has been established for you in Christ.  When you know and trust that God has reconciled you to Himself, and you are reconciled to Him.  And thus, being reconciled to God in Christ, you are reconciled to your neighbors through the forgiveness of sins.

Repent.  But do not be afraid.  It is not too late.  And though it is impossible for you, it is not too hard for the Lord.  It does not finally depend on you.  Rather, the forgiveness that Christ commands you to give your neighbor depends on Christ Himself.  For as often as you hear His Gospel, He is not withholding His forgiveness but freely extending it to you, even as He calls you to repentance.

His forgiveness of your sins does not even depend on your repentance, but your repentance relies on His forgiveness, on the Word and promise of His Gospel.  It is not a contract to negotiate, far less an indulgence for sale, but the free gift of God in Christ, obtained for you by His Cross, and distributed to the ends of the earth in His Resurrection from the dead for your justification.

When you hear and receive His Word of forgiveness, when you cling to that Word by faith, and by that Word you know yourself to be forgiven before God in heaven, then by that same Word of forgiveness the mountains that stand between you and your neighbor are removed into the depths of the sea.  That is the same ocean of Holy Baptism in which all of your sins are drowned and done away with.  Thus, by the Word and work of Christ, all is forgiven.  And by His Word and Spirit a line is drawn through the entire ledger.  There are no longer any debts.  Not before God, and not between you and your neighbor.  For Christ has accomplished the purpose for which God the Father has spoken Him in the Flesh.  Your sins are forgiven.  There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.  Live with Him, therefore, in that Peace which surpasses all human understanding.

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