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.

19 March 2018

A House and Home for the Son of David

The once great house of David has been reduced to a stump, if even that.  It’s nothing.  It’s nowhere.  No one is looking for a new king from the house of David anymore at this point.  The “City of David” is no longer the great capital of Jerusalem, but the little burg of Bethlehem, where Joseph must travel with his fiancé, who is expecting a Child, but not his own.

Even so, it is from the stump of David that God the Lord now raises up this faithful servant, this quiet, humble, righteous man of faith, St. Joseph.  He is a carpenter, and he will make a house and a home, a shelter and protection for the Lord.  Not in the way that Solomon once did, with his magnificent temple, but a home on the run, in foreign countries and strange places, under constant threat to the life of his little family — that is where St. Joseph will make a home for the Lord Jesus.

With all of that, it is the Lord who is at work in this way to establish a House for His servant David, and a House for His servant, St. Joseph.  And such a House it is, which this man is given.

Do not romanticize the tales at hand.  These stories are full of grandeur, peace, and joy, to be sure.  But consider that Joseph was a man of flesh and blood like your own, a person much like yourself, living in the world with hopes and dreams, expectations, and plans for his future and his family.  Being a carpenter, I fully expect that he was already working on a little place for his new bride and their family, working to lay foundations and to build not only a house but a life together.

But whatever Joseph’s hopes and dreams might have been, they are interrupted and rewritten by the Word of God in extraordinary ways.  He is called to circumstances that are by no means easy.  And look at what he is given to do.  To take this Woman, who is already pregnant; they have not even come together, but here she is, bigger with child every day.  He believes the Word that God has spoken to him, but what about everyone else?  His family already has a reputation, after all.  Tamar.  Rahab.  Ruth, the Moabite.  Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.  It would seem that Joseph is now following in the footsteps of his fathers, but not quite in the way that anyone would hope.

And yet, in faith, he takes this Woman to be his own wife.  He covers her would-be shame with his honor.  And according to the Word of the Lord, he protects her, he guides her and leads her — and the little One within her womb, then in her arms and at her breast, but always with her.  Over and over, Joseph is directed to care for “the Child with His Mother,” which is to speak of Christ and His Church.  They travel to Bethlehem, and then they must flee to Egypt, and then to Nazareth.

In all of this, Joseph says not a word, none that are recorded in the Scriptures.  He is spoken to, he listens, and he obeys.  He gets up in the middle of the night, as needs be, and he goes wherever the Word of the Lord directs him.  He is the epitome of the strong silent type.

Perhaps you have known men like this.  Perhaps your grandfather was a man like this.  Maybe you are a man like this.  You don’t speak much, but you quietly go about doing whatever the Lord has given you to do.  Such a man was Joseph.  His solid, steady strength was by faith in the Lord.  And his faith was expressed in a ready obedience to the Word of the Lord, whatever it might be, whatever it might require of him and cost him.  Thus were St. Joseph’s entire life, his name and reputation, all bound up with St. Mary and her Child.

In this a way, under such trying and humble circumstances, even humiliating circumstances, he gathers up into himself the history and the story of his far more famous namesake and forebears.

He is another Joseph like the Son of Jacob.  He is Judah and Israel, fleeing into Egypt in order to save their lives.  He is Moses and Joshua, leading the children of Israel back out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  He is David and Solomon, a descendant of that family to whom the Lord had promised the Messiah, though it is not from him but from St. Mary that the Son of David is given.

Here with St. Joseph, himself a son of David, the story of the Exodus unfolds again, in such a way that it is now imprinted upon the life of the little Lord Jesus.  The Child goes into Egypt, that God might call Him out of Egypt.  He is brought into the Land of Promise, that He might fulfill that promise in His own Body and Life, and bring His people into that Land in and with Himself.

Consider the responsibility that is thus placed into the hands of this quiet and faithful St. Joseph.  He is given charge of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.  He is entrusted with the duty to protect and provide for the Christ Child, the very Son of God, your Savior, Jesus Christ.

To do all of that is nothing anyone could do or accomplish by any human strength or reason.  Joseph does it, in frailty and weakness, by faith in the Word and promises of God.  And the Lord is faithful in providing for him.  The Lord protect him, and through him protects the Holy Family.

Joseph is a good and faithful husband and father.  And he is a good example to those of you who are husbands and fathers, to those who will be husbands and fathers, and really to each of you.  He does what God has given him to do within his vocation as a child of God, within his stations in life.  And so are you given your own tasks and responsibilities within your own particular stations.

You have no way of knowing the significance and magnitude of the mundane tasks that you are given to carry out in your own place and time.  It does not matter.  St. Joseph knew the promises of God and the hope of the Resurrection in the Christ, the Seed of the Woman, but he certainly had no way of knowing ahead of time how his own part in the story would play itself out.  He acted in faith in doing the work that was set before him by the Word of the Lord, in the confidence that the Lord would accomplish His purposes for him and others.  It is much the same for you, as well.

It is the Lord who has called you to care for the people He has placed alongside you and entrusted to your responsibility and oversight.  He guides and directs you by His Word and Holy Spirit, and by the messengers of His Word who are sent to you in His Name.

The Lord will accomplish His purposes for you and your family, and for your neighbors, as surely as He did in the case of St. Joseph.  Not because of your wisdom and efforts — though He will surely make use of the strengths and abilities He has given you — but all by His grace, by the wisdom of His good and gracious will.

So you live by faith in the promises of God, and you live according to the Word He has spoken.  And He remains the Creator and Preserver of your life, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.

Now, in the case of St. Joseph again, in his particular office and station, he is also a kind of pastor.  For he is entrusted with this Mother, who is an icon of the Church.  He is entrusted with the Christ Child, who is the Savior of the world, that all might become the children of God in Him.

As with any husband and father, Joseph is given to pray with and for his family, to teach them the Word of God, to take them to the Lord’s House, and to exemplify the piety and practice of faith in his words and actions.  Think of that.  St. Joseph taught the Word and faith of God to the little Lord Jesus.  And if you are a husband and father, you are likewise called to care for your wife and children in those same pastoral ways, that they might fear the Lord and walk in His ways by faith.

For all that, in all his faithful service, St. Joseph bore the Cross that was laid upon him, as you also live under the Cross from your Baptism into Christ, even to the end of your life in this world.  He was faced with difficulties and hardships, which he bore by faith in the Word and promises of God, under the same Cross to which you are called and pointed.  That is the Cross of Christ which was already writ large on the horizon at His birth.  The Cross that marks the entire life of our Lord in this fallen world of sin and death.  The Cross that is given to you and all of His disciples.

Of course, it is not your Cross, nor the Cross of St. Joseph, but the Cross of Christ that saves you and redeems you and accomplishes a great salvation for the world, a divine rescue from sin, death, the devil, and hell — and from all the Pharaohs and Herods that tyrannize this poor life of labor.

St. Joseph lived by faith in the Word and promise of God in the Cross of Christ, as you are called to live by faith in the Word and promises of God in Holy Baptism.  God’s Word will not disappoint you.  Your faith and hope in Christ will not be put to shame, no matter how much you are given to suffer on earth.  He will do as He has said and promised, for you as He has done for St. Joseph.

Live, then, as St. Joseph did.  His sights were set on the Seed of the Woman; the Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Seed of David, not by Joseph, but by St. Mary.  It is this Seed, the promised One, the long awaited Savior, who saves you and all people by His innocent suffering and death.

It is in God’s time, not man’s.  It is neither Herod nor Pharaoh who ends this story.  It is God who hangs His Son on the Cross.  It is God who raises Him again.  It is in His Resurrection that you also have life everlasting.  It is the Christ Child, conceived and born of Mary, who reigns forever in the House of David, from the throne of His Cross, with love and mercy and forgiveness for you.

Consider that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ also entrusts you with His Son.  He places Him into your hands, into your mouth, and into your body, within His Holy Christian Church.  And He sets His Son before you in the person of your neighbor, whether that be your wife or husband, your son or daughter, your brother or sister, your coworker, colleague, peer, or student.

In some cases, your neighbor’s life may seem scandalous.  And yet, there is Christ, an opportunity for you to love and serve Him, and thereby to give thanks to your God and Father in heaven.

Yet, again, it is not the crosses that you are given to bear, but the Cross of Christ Himself, the Son of Mary, that saves you.  It is by His forgiveness of your sins that He strengthens and sustains your faith, so that you are able to live within your vocation and stations in life in love for God and your neighbor.  Indeed, it is by His forgiveness of sins that He gives you that life, in and with Himself, and that He now lives in you, even in the face of death.  So is the Word of God fulfilled in you.

And so it is that God also now calls you and brings you out of Egypt into Paradise, in and with His Son, as a beloved child by His grace, bearing His Name forever and ever.

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

18 March 2018

Sharing with Christ in the Glory of His Cross

“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes.  They will condemn Him to death and hand Him over to the Gentiles.  They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.”

It is on the heels of this, His third and most explicit prediction of the Passion, with Palm Sunday and Holy Week on the immediate horizon, that James and John make their bold request of Jesus:
“Grant that we may sit, one on Your right hand and one on Your left, in Your glory.”

This request to “sit” with Jesus in His glory might have the Messianic Banquet of heaven in mind — which Jesus described for His disciples on several occasions.  And that would certainly coincide with His primary reference to the “Cup.”  But the disciples do not yet realize that the Banquet will begin with the Last Supper, when Jesus Himself will become the Passover Lamb, handed over to the Cross for sacrificial death, and His Blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.

It may well be that James and John did sit to the right and left of Jesus at the Last Supper.  We know that John reclined beside Him.  But as for being with Jesus in His Glory, that was appointed for the two thieves who were crucified with Him, “one on His right hand, and one on His left.”  Then the Scriptures were fulfilled, that He would be numbered with transgressors.  And it remains the case, for James and John, and for you, as well, that being with Jesus in His glory is first of all to share His Cross and die with Him, as you have in fact been granted to do in your Holy Baptism.

What James and John wanted, however — and what all of the disciples desired — was honor, prestige, and a favored position, no less so than you also desire such things.  They wanted to be great.  They wanted to be close to the top.  They wanted to be popular and powerful.

In one respect, James and John and the other disciples have chosen well in hitching their wagon to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, in seeking a place at His side.  Although it seems incredibly bold and equally tacky to ask for personal privileges on the heels of His Passion prediction, at least they are assuming that Jesus will triumph over all the obstacles before Him and in spite of all opposition.

Yet, none of the disciples really knew what they were asking.  The one who wants to be great must be the servant and minister of the others; and the one who wishes to be first must become a slave to all the rest.  Those are the standards and criteria of the Lord, who operates with a very different measure of greatness and glory than the world.  He sets the standard by His own voluntary death.

What James and John and all the disciples of Jesus, yourself included, must learn to understand, is that the divine glory of the Lord Jesus Christ will not be “in spite of” His Cross and Passion, but it will be accomplished and manifested precisely by the way and the means of His Cross.

To share in His greatness and His glory, therefore, necessarily means sharing in His Passion.  To sit on His right or His left means that you hang side-by-side with Him on the Cross, that you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.  And then, having suffered and died with Him, you also live with Him, as well, in loving service to others.  It means that you liquidate and relinquish everything you are and have for the sake of your neighbors, including those who make you mad.  You take up the Cross and follow after Christ, through death and the grave, into life everlasting.

It is not that you must be crucified on a cross of your own, as if to make payment for your sins and to satisfy the justice of God.  That would never work, but neither is it necessary.  Rather, it was necessary that Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, be crucified for you, His Life alone the all-sufficient Ransom for the many.  And now you must be crucified with Him, in order to rise with Him and live with Him in the Kingdom of God; for it is in and with Christ Jesus, and only through Him, that you have access to the Father and bold confidence to come before the throne of grace.

It is in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead, that you find grace to help in time of need, His forgiveness and life and salvation.  Apart from Christ, the Cross would just be the beginning of your eternal judgment, which is all that you deserve by your sins.  But that is what the Cross became for Him — the entire judgment of God compressed into those long dark hours — in order to become the Tree of Life for you and for all the sons and daughters of man, and the Fountain of His divine mercy, grace, and Peace, given and poured out for you.

It is especially significant that Jesus describes His fast-approaching Cross and Passion as a Cup that He is drinking and a Baptism with which He is being baptized.  Here, at the heart and center of the Gospel, the Lord describes His entire Life and Ministry with reference to His Sacraments, which are the way and the means by which He saves you, and by which you follow Him in faith.

As for the Cup, that was first of all an image of God’s righteous wrath and judgment against sin.  That is the sense in which Christ prays, in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He bears the terrible burden of your sin and death in His truly human flesh: “Father, if possible, take this Cup from Me.”

The physical pain of crucifixion is already enough to cause the bravest and strongest of people to tremble and faint.  But this Cup that your Lord drinks for you is far worse than even that.  It is the everlasting wrath and judgment of hell and damnation, leveled against the sins of the whole world, of all times and places, including all of your own most heinous and hideous sins of thought, word, and deed — all of them carried in the body of the Son of God and judged forever in His flesh upon the Cross.  That is the Cup of wrath which He drains down to the dregs for you and for the many.

How is it, then, that James and John will drink this Cup that Christ is drinking?  And how shall you be able to drink that Cup?  You surely cannot bear the wrath and judgment of God against even your own sins, far less those of others.  But you are given to drink the Cup of Christ, and you are able to receive it and drink it in peace, because the Lord has first of all drained that Cup for you.

The Lord Jesus Christ has borne the wrath and judgment of God in His own Body on the Cross; He has shed His Blood of the New Testament for the forgiveness of all your many sins.  So it is that, what was wrath and judgment for Him, is mercy and grace for you.  In the Cup of Christ, which He pours out for you here at His Altar, you receive the fullness of His Life and Salvation.

The same thing is true for His Baptism, with which you also are baptized.  From the moment that He stepped into the waters of the Jordan River and submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the Lord Jesus took the sins and iniquities and frailties and burdens of the entire world upon Himself and bore them in His Body on His Way to the Cross.  He entered the water sinless, holy, and perfect, but He emerged thoroughly soaked with your sins.  His entire Life, therefore, is one long continuous Baptism into His death — a Baptism by which He undergoes the destructive and death-dealing Flood of God’s wrath and judgment against sin.

So, then, as with His Cup, so also with His Baptism: It is one thing for Him, quite another for you.  In each case, it is a Baptism into His Cross; for you know that you were buried with Him through your Baptism into His death.  But, whereas it was for Christ a drowning of judgment and wrath, it is for you a rich and full washing away of sins and a gracious water of Salvation.  For though you enter those waters sinful and unclean, you arise and emerge from those waters decked out in the beautiful white robes of Christ’s perfect righteousness, united with Him as a beloved child of His God and Father in heaven, anointed by His Holy Spirit, and born again as a brand-new creature.

It is by these gracious means of Holy Baptism and the Cup of Christ that James and John, and you also, receive precisely what they asked for, though not in the way they were hoping or expecting.

In the waters of your Baptism, and in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood, you are indeed seated with Christ in the glory of His Kingdom, because you are thereby united with Christ in His Cross and Passion, which is the Hour of His Glory.  To drink the Cup of Christ, and to be baptized with His Baptism, is to share His Cross, His Passion, and the promise of His Resurrection.

This Sacramental union with Christ in the accomplished fact of His Gospel means that, even now, two thousand years after the events of Good Friday and Easter, you participate fully and most intimately in His great Salvation.  His Baptism and His Cup define His entire Life and Ministry from the Jordan to Calvary, and from the tomb back to the right hand of His Father.  But so also do His Baptism and His Supper define your life in and with Him, in His Cross and Resurrection.  Not so much as a confluence of separate and independent things, but as one reality in the Body of Christ Jesus: His Baptism and yours, His Cup and yours, His Cross and yours, His Life and yours.

That is all very good news, for which you rightly thank, praise, serve, and obey your dear Lord Jesus Christ.  So it is that we prize and treasure so highly the Holy Sacraments, which are the heart and center of the Christian faith and life and of your salvation in Christ.  By the same token, bear in mind the character and content of this divine Life that is yours in Christ Jesus by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism and by the Cup that He pours out for you at His Altar.

The fact that Christ has shed His blood for you, that He has suffered and died for you, in your place, does not mean that your Christian life is going to be painless, smooth, and easy-peasy.  To be sure, on account of Christ and His Cross, you have a sure and certain hope in the Resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting of your body and soul with the Father in Paradise.  But in the meantime, here and now, living with Christ means that you bear the Cross and follow after Him.

That, too, was part and parcel of the glory that James and John and the other disciples shared with Christ Jesus, their Lord.  So, for example, St. James was martyred rather early by King Herod in Jerusalem; his brother St. John was persecuted for his faithful witness and exiled to the Island of Patmos; St. Peter was crucified in Rome, and St. Paul was beheaded, also in Rome.

These Christian disciples and holy Apostles of our Lord learned to understand the real greatness and glory of Christ Jesus in the bearing of His Cross.  Both St. Peter and St. Paul thus describe their sufferings for the sake of Christ as a blessed privilege, giving thanks that they were counted worthy to share His Cross and Passion for the Gospel.  Along the same lines, St. Paul describes his life and ministry, and that of the other Apostles, as a drink offering that is poured out for the sake of others to the glory of Christ.  The Gospel itself was embodied in their Ministry, even unto death.

What, then, does it mean for you to be a disciple of Christ?  And how shall you live as a Christian?

First and foremost, you live as a Christian disciple and share in the glory of Christ by participating in His Life, Death, and Resurrection, most especially through your Holy Baptism and in the Holy Communion.  As Christ here indicates, these Sacraments are definitive of His Gospel and of your life in Him, which is by faith in His Gospel.  And as disciples are made from all the nations by way of Baptism and catechesis in the Name of Christ, so do you continue to live as a disciple by living in the significance of your Baptism and by drinking the Cup of Christ, according to His Word.

And sharing in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ by way of His Baptism and His Supper, you live now for others as He has lived and died and lives again for you, because He now and ever lives in you and through you, and by His Word and Spirit He conforms you to His divine Image and Likeness as the incarnate Son of God.  In Christ Jesus, therefore, you do love your neighbors, including your enemies, as Christ Jesus loves you.  You do unto others as Christ does for you.  You forgive, as you are daily and richly forgiven by Christ.  And you sacrifice your time, treasures, and talents to the glory of His Name and the benefit of your neighbors, as He was sacrificed for you.

This life of grace, mercy, and peace is yours, and it continues to be yours, because everything that Jesus says in this Holy Gospel is repeatedly spoken to you here at His Altar, in a most direct and personal way, every time the same Lord presents you with His Cup and speaks these gracious Words: “Take, drink; this Cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins,” for the strengthening of your faith, and for the life everlasting.

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

14 March 2018

The River of Life from the Body of Christ

What you confess in the Creeds and pray in the Our Father, the Holy Triune God does for you and gives to you in Holy Baptism.  For you could not find Him, nor could you make your way to Him, but He has come to you in this way, by this way and means of grace, by the water and the Word.

What He has spoken and promised by the Prophets and Apostles, and what He has accomplished for you and for all people in Christ Jesus, He gives to you and accomplishes in you through the waters of Holy Baptism; so that you may live in Him and with Him, both now and forevermore.

Now, water by itself, apart from the Word of God, is just plain water.  But water, in and of itself in this fallen world, is ambiguous.  It is certainly necessary, to be sure.  It is fundamental to life on earth, but either too much or too little of it can be deadly.  Not enough water, and there is the danger of deyhdration.  Too much water, and it puts pressure on your heart; it can cause a heart attack.  Water quenches your thirst, but water can also drown you.  Water washes you clean, but it can also wash your home away.  It is refreshing when it falls in a gentle rain, but it is downright dangerous and deadly in the torrential downpour of a raging thunderstorm or a hurricane.

But these waters of Holy Baptism — water included in God’s command and combined with His Word — these waters flow from His Sanctuary to give life to His New Creation in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

These waters flow from the side of Christ, from His innermost Being, from His Body crucified and risen — from His Body lifted up on the living and life-giving Tree of His Cross — from the Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise, which is the Throne of God and of the Lamb.

And these waters of your Holy Baptism — which are poured out for you from the riven side of Christ the Crucified — they are Spiritual waters that flow in and with and of the Holy Spirit.  For the same Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is sent from the Father in heaven to give life to the world, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  The flowing of these waters thus begins with the Father, who in love pours out the Spirit upon you through Jesus Christ, His Son.  Indeed, the Holy Triune God pours Himself out for you in the waters of your Baptism.

And those same waters of Life continue to flow with the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, as He is spoken and the Spirit is breathed by God the Father in the Ministry and preaching of the Gospel.

Now, this River of the Spirit and of Life in Christ — though it begins in humility with His death upon the Cross, where it appears that everything is coming to an end, as though Christ were defeated — this River does not diminish as it flows into the world, but it actually grows and increases, even to the ends of the earth.

You’ve heard that from the Prophet Ezekiel.  That flow of water which begins as a little trickle, a little stream from the Temple, just south of the Altar, the further out it flows, the deeper it gets: Up to the ankles, up to the knees, up to the loins, and then finally so deep that you can’t ford it but have to swim in it.  That is what this River of Life is like.  It flows from the Throne of God and of the Lamb, from the Altar of the Cross, from the Temple of the Body of Christ, to give life in the desert, streams in the Arabah, to freshen the waters of oceans and of great seas.

This Spiritual River from the Cross of Christ gives life to the world and makes disciples of all nations, of both Jews and Gentiles alike.  Right?  That’s what Jesus says: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them — not apart from His Word, but by the washing of water with His Word, and by the ongoing catechesis of all that He has taught and commanded, unto the ongoing significance of Holy Baptism.  So do those fishers of men whom Jesus sends in His Name and stead catch a great multitude of fish of every kind in those waters with the nets of His Gospel.

It is true, the same waters of Holy Baptism drown and destroy the unbelieving world, as surely as the world was drowned in the days of Noah in the waters of the flood, and as surely as Pharaoh and his army, his chariots and horsemen, were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.  So are you also drowned and put to death in the waters of your Baptism, along with all your sins and unbelief.

Even so, these waters of Holy Baptism are not ambiguous.  They are not fickle and arbitrary.  But with these waters God drowns and destroys sin, death, and all the enemies of man, all the ways and works of the devil, in order to bring about the New Creation in the Body of Christ Jesus, and to give real life to His disciples, to His Christians.  In order to give real life to you in Christ Jesus.

So it is that the waters of Holy Baptism wash you and cleanse you of all your sins.  They cleanse your conscience before God.  They wash you inside and out.  And they quench your deepest thirst with the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  They bring true and lasting refreshment to your body and your soul.

These Spiritual waters of Holy Baptism give you divine, eternal life with God.  Yet, they are free.  They flow to you freely from Christ the Crucified, who has paid the price that you might live with Him by grace.  Not for any amount of money, neither gold nor silver, but by faith in His Gospel.

Though His Baptism has put you to death, and it continues to do so by contrition and repentance throughout your life on earth, it gives you life and health and peace and every blessing of God.

So also, by these waters the living and life-giving Spirit of Christ Jesus — that is to say, the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified as the one true God — He flows in you and through you and from you as a River of Life to others.

That’s what Jesus says.  His words point, certainly, to His own Cross, to His pierced side, and to the blood and water that flow from His innermost being in the completion of His Sacrifice.  For everything that becomes true for you is first of all accomplished in Him, in His Body, for you.  But He speaks these words about the Holy Spirit flowing as a River of Life from the innermost being of those who believe in Him, those who receive the Spirit from Him.  And that includes you.

You have received the Spirit in your Holy Baptism.  You have received the Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of the Gospel.  So now that Spirit of God wells up in you, as a Fountain of Life, and as a River of Life that flows from your innermost being out into the world around you.

As you are born again in the washing of the water with the Word — and as you are washed and sanctified by those waters, so that you are without spot or blemish or any such thing; you are holy and righteous before God — and as you have also entered the Holy City of God, that is, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the Body of Christ, by the way and means of those waters — and as you eat from the Tree of Life, because you are baptized in those waters, which flow freely from the Tree of the Cross; you have washed your robe and made it white in the blood and water of the Lamb who was so slain — so have you been planted as a tree alongside those living waters.

In the words of the Psalmist, you are a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; so that whatever you do prospers in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  For you have received and learned to love the Word of Christ, and you have received His Spirit in your Baptism, in His forgiveness of your sins, and in His Body and Blood at His Altar.  So are you a tree after the same kind as the Cross of Christ, suffering whatever you must bear for the sake of love, while exercising faith and trust in your dear God and Father.  You thus bear leaves for the healing of your neighbor, and good fruits to nourish those around you.

You do so according to your own vocation and stations in life, that is to say, first of all, as a Christian, baptized into the Cross of Christ, living within your own particular place in the world.  That is where your leaves give healing.  That is where your good fruits feed your neighbors.  In the particular ways that God has called you and given you to serve, that is where and how the fruits of your Baptism and the Spiritual waters of Life are multiplied and increased in your body and life.

You are so fruitful and productive, like the Tree of the Cross, because you are constantly being watered and fed from the Body of Christ, within the Body of Christ, in the Ministry of the Gospel.

You are healed and nurtured and sustained by the waters of your Baptism: not repeated, but always effective, because those waters flow from the Cross and are always sufficient, always increasing, even to the close of the age, constantly cleansing you with the free and full forgiveness of sins.

And you are fed by the Fruits of the Tree of Life, that is, the Body and the Blood of Christ Jesus, which you are given to eat and drink as one who has been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism.

There is no ambiguity in that!  There is no iffyness, and there are no contingencies upon the Word and promises of God in Baptism.  Those sacred waters bring to you and give to you the very Life and Love of the Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Spirit is one God, now and forever.

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

11 March 2018

That You Should Not Perish But Live

Here for now you’re on a journey.  You’re traveling.  Maybe not through the best of circumstances, but you’re moving along from one point to another.  You’re on a journey from the crossing of the Red Sea to the crossing of the Jordan River.  You are with Israel in the wilderness.

This wilderness through which you travel, as a stranger in a strange land, is a place of repentance.  It is a place of training and discipline.  It is where the Lord your God catechizes you, the way a father catechizes his children, unto repentance, faith, and life in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.

Your time here in the wilderness is preparation for eternity in the Land that God has promised.  He would have you learn to live by faith, that is, to rely on Him and receive all things from His hand, as a child relies upon his or her father.  But, as that is not the inclination of your sinful heart, you must be disciplined and trained, and taught repentance and faith.  Thus do you learn to enter into Paradise by faith, and to rejoice in the Lord your God as your Life, your Light, and your Salvation.

Such is the point and purpose to your life in this world, namely, that God would bring you through this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.  It may well seem a long, slow death along the way, with trials and troubles aplenty.  But the Lord provides you with all that you need for the journey.  He has not left you helpless or hopeless, though you sometimes feel that He has wronged you.

Here stands the Font before your eyes, recalling how the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted you and named you as His child.  And this very place is a Tabernacle in the desert, a Temple of God in the midst of this fallen and perishing world.  Here He instructs you with His Word of life in the preaching of His Law and His Gospel.  He declares that He is your God, that you are His own, and that He is here with you, not for nothing, but for grace, mercy, and peace.  And that Word of God is not empty or lifeless.  He does what He says and gives what He promises.

Here also is the Altar of the Lord, which recalls the Sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross, and from which He feeds you with Meat and Drink indeed, which are your Spiritual Food in the wilderness.

It is for you much as it was for Israel in the wilderness, as they traveled by the way of the Red Sea.  For you also live and move by the waters of your Holy Baptism, through which the Lord brought you out of Egypt into the freedom of His Easter (which is yours in Christ, even now during Lent).

You also are fed with miraculous Bread from heaven, to say nothing of the daily bread with which the Lord feeds and sustains your body and life on earth.  You also are given to drink from the riven Rock, which is Christ Jesus.  But will you join with Israel, then, in complaining that you have no food to eat?  Although what you really mean is that you do not want the Food that you are given; just as you do not want the parents, the spouse, or the children that God has given you to care for.

How is it with your heart and soul in the presence of the Lord your God?  Are you impatient on the journey?  Does forty years in the wilderness, or eighty years, or even one-hundred, seem too long to bear?  Are you tired of the Manna with which your Father feeds you?  Would you return to Pharaoh and the fleshpots of Egypt, rather than persevering through this desert wasteland?

Child of God, do not doubt His gracious providence, and do not despise His good gifts, for He will sustain you.  Do not grumble and complain against the Lord who loves you, who has named you with His Name.  Do not complain against His Divine Service, His Ministry of the Gospel, with which He daily and richly forgives all of your sins and calls you, body and soul, to everlasting Life.

Do not allow your stubborn, sinful heart to prefer the slavery of sin and death to life under the Cross, by which the Lord is bringing you through the desert into the Paradise of His Resurrection.

Again, it is unto repentance, faith, and life that you are being disciplined on your journey through the wilderness.  Not by your own resolve and efforts.  And not by your own works, of which you may not boast.  It is by the work of God that you are trained.  It is in love that He disciplines you.

Of course, you know how it is with Moms and Dads, and how it has been for you as a parent or child.  Patience wears thin, tempers are lost, angry words are spoken in the heat of arguments, and “discipline” is sometimes intemperate, harsh, and unfair.  That is how it is with us poor sinners, who are fallen and mortal.  But not so with your Father in heaven.  He does not lose His temper.  He is patient and long-suffering, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  He is full of mercy and compassion, and when He disciplines His children it is always in His love for them.

So, too, when He sends His fiery serpents to bite you, it’s not because He’s done with you, ready to lower the boom and let you have it.  His goal is not to destroy you.  His goal is not to kill you, not forever.  He rather uses sin to punish sin and bring it into the light.  And He allows the sin that is actively at work in your heart and mind to be outwardly manifested in your body and life, in order that you may recognize that your sin is killing you.  Not that He would leave you to die and be damned in your sins, but that you should turn back to Him in repentance and so live by faith.

The Israelites were in no more jeopardy with the fiery serpents than they already were in grumbling and complaining against God.  For safety and salvation are not found in escaping the adversities of this perishing world, but solely in repentance and by faith in the Lord’s forgiveness of sins.

When the Lord God disciplines your flesh, therefore, it is for your eternal well being.  He exercises fatherly care in seeing to it that you learn from your mistakes.  Not that you get better at getting away with your sins, but that you repent of your sins and turn away from them to God in faith.

So it is that, along with His discipline of your flesh, and even with His punishment of your sins, in love for you He also provides the way of escape, the rescue, the means of life and salvation.  Even in the midst of death, He is at hand to save you.  But He does so in truly remarkable ways.

In the case of Israel, He had Moses make an image of the very thing that was killing them, and had him hang it on a pole for all to see.  If you were bitten by one of those fiery serpents, you had only to look at the fiery image of a serpent on that pole, and then you would not die.  Now that is crazy.  But it worked, because God the Lord had spoken His Word, and His Word determines all things.

Not only that, but that serpent on a pole was more than just a remedy and rescue for ancient Israel.  By it the Lord your God was already proclaiming the Cross of Christ, His beloved Son, whom He would hang as a serpent on a pole, that you might look to Him and live.  The Son of God Himself assumes the very image of your sin and death, and He is lifted up on the Cross for your salvation.

This, too, is the crazy foolishness of God.  But you are guided by His Word to know the Truth and believe it.  Otherwise, without His Word, if you look at the naked Man on the Cross, condemned as a criminal outside of Jerusalem, you see not life but death, and your sinful heart recoils from it.  You don’t like to look at suffering and death, because it reminds you and accuses you of your own.

Nevertheless, this is the way and the means by which God loves you, and the extent to which He loves you.  He sends His only-begotten Son and hangs Him on the Cross for you.  So does He become your sin.  And He becomes your death.  And He becomes the curse that hangs over you.  He bears all of that in His own flesh, and He dies.  It is all put to death and buried with His Body.

When you look to Him, therefore, as God has spoken, you shall not die but live, because your sins are all forgiven.  Your death has been put to death in Christ, once and for all.  And the curse has been turned into a blessing.  God loves to do that, to bring forth life from out of death, to call forth light from out of the darkness, to create all things out of nothing by His Word (who is made flesh).

You have the Word that God spoke to Israel made more sure in Christ.  You recognize Him on the Cross for who and what He is, because God has spoken by His Son.  The Lord Jesus has catechized you and opened your eyes by His Word and promise: Whoever looks to Him in faith, crucified and risen from the dead — whoever believes in Him — shall not perish but have everlasting Life.

Look, then, to Christ on the Cross, and live.  Why should you die?  Fix your eyes on Jesus by faith in His Word.  For you “see” Him, not so much with the eyes in your head, but by the sound of His Gospel in your ears.  It is by the hearing of His Word that your eyes are opened in faith to behold Christ, the Crucified One, and to recognize Him as your Savior.  Apart from His Word, all that you are able to see is sin, death, and hell — upon the Cross, in yourself, and in the world around you.  But what you are given to see by faith in His Word is true divine Life.  Hear, then, what the Lord your God has done for you, and thereby know and trust the love of God for you in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans, “He who did not spare His only Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also, with Him, freely give us all good things?”  Yes, it is most certainly true!  What more could He give than He has given?  What more could He do than He has done?  Look to Jesus by fixing your faith in His Gospel, and you will know exactly where you stand with God.

Return to the waters of the Red Sea.  Not that you should go back to Egypt, which is where your sinful heart too much resides, but return to the Passover of the Lord and to your Exodus from Egypt by your crossing of the Red Sea with Jesus.  Return to the waters of your Baptism, and die, in order to rise with Christ Jesus and live with Him in the Kingdom of His God and Father.

Examine your life, your heart and mind, your words and actions.  Look at yourself in the Light of God’s Word.  Go through the Ten Commandments, as the Catechism has taught you, and then compare what God has said to the way that you have lived in the world where He has put you.  And when you thus discover that you have fallen so far short, repent.  Do not despair, but confess your sins, and hear the Gospel.  Receive His Word of Absolution, by which He delights to forgive you.

Let the Word of Christ constantly be ringing in your ears.  Don’t worry, you won’t overdo it.  It is not possible to hear His Word too much.  Let it ring in your ears at all times.  Pray the Catechism when you’re driving in your car, or when you find it hard to sleep at night.  Sing the hymns of the Church which confess the faith.  Teach these things to your children, if you have children, but do not neglect them for yourself.  Be in the Lord’s House to hear the preaching of His Word.  Treasure it in your heart and mind, and rehearse it with your lips by praying and confessing what He says.

And set the Cross of Christ before your eyes.  It is true that fixing your eyes on Jesus and focusing on the Cross is more than simply jewelry and artwork.  But by the blessed Incarnation of Christ God has redeemed His creation, so that it is now able to proclaim the Gospel also in these ways.  So that pictures and statues, a cross around your neck, and the sign of the Cross that you make upon your forehead and your heart, all of these are able to confess the Cross of your salvation, that you might be drawn to Him who is your Savior, and that by His Gospel you might live and not die.

Above all, fix your eyes on Jesus here at His Altar.  Hear the Word of His New Testament, and by that Word know that He gives you His Body to eat, that He pours out His Blood for you to drink.

The Lord your God has not left you without provision.  He has not set you loose in the wilderness to fend for yourself and make your own way from the Red Sea to the verge of Jordan.  He travels with you in His Tabernacle, which is the very Flesh of Christ, and He daily and richly provides you with all that you need, both for your body and your soul.  He preserves your body and life in this world, for this present time, that you might hear and receive the gifts Christ freely gives by the Gospel, and that you might confess and share His Word of the Gospel with your neighbors, also.

The Son of Man, Christ Jesus, is lifted up most surely in this Holy Communion, that His death might be proclaimed as your Life and your Salvation, until He shall come to call you from out of this desert wilderness, across the waters of the Jordan into Canaan, into Paradise the blest, where you shall live and abide with Him in divine Peace and Sabbath Rest forevermore.  The One who promises is faithful, and He will surely do it.

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