14 August 2019

The Remembrance of His Mercy

Here, then, is how the Lord comes to you and deals with you: In grace, mercy, and peace. In humility and meekness.  By His Word and Holy Spirit, He greets you and embraces you in love.  The Father gives to you His own beloved Son, in flesh and blood like yours, for the forgiveness of your sins, for the resurrection of your body, and for the life everlasting of your body and soul.

He sends His messenger to you, to go before His face, to prepare His way by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  To point to Him who is the Lamb of God, and to give you that Lamb in the flesh.  He preaches Christ into your ears, into your mouth, and into your body.

Believe the Word that He speaks to you and the promises He gives to you.  For all these things are fulfilled for you in Christ.  And they shall be fulfilled and accomplished in you, forever and ever.

In St. Elizabeth and St. Mary you are given beautiful examples of such faith in Christ, the Lord.  They hear His Word, and they trust it.  They rejoice in it gladly, with both humility and confidence, even though it remains hidden under frailty and weakness.

But there is more to these two women than example.  St. Elizabeth is a new Sarah, who conceives a promised son in her barren old age, as the mouth of the Lord has spoken.  Better still, St. Mary is the new and greater Eve, the Mother of all the living, because she conceives and bears the very Son of God in her womb, the Seed of the Woman who crushes Satan under His wounded heel.

St. Mary is a daughter of the first Eve.  So, too, she is a true and twofold daughter of Abraham; for he is the father of all who believe and trust the Lord, and she does.  She is also a faithful daughter of the Patriarch Judah and of King David; and now, in her, all the promises of God the Lord to those men and their children have come to pass.  For as her father David once brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, where the Lord caused His Name and His Glory to dwell among His people, so now has St. Mary herself become a new and better Ark of the New Covenant in the flesh and blood of her Son.  She carries in herself, not signs or types of good things to come, nor simply shadows and promises, but the Reality, the one true God Himself, in His own flesh and blood.

It is in this way — by the means of this dear woman, who is blessed above all others — that the Lord not only comes to you, to visit you in peace, but He has become like you in every way, save only without sin.  Conceived and born of St. Mary, He is the true Man, the new and better Adam.

He comes in this way, in human flesh and blood, in order to save you from your sin, to redeem you from death and from the tyranny of the devil, to reconcile you to God and bring you to Him as a dear child to your dear Father in heaven forever.  Thus, by His Spirit, you pray: “Abba, Father.”

Has Jesus not taught you to pray in precisely this way?  “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  With these words He tenderly invites you to believe that God is your true Father, and you are His true child, so that you may come to Him and pray to Him as a little child asks her dear father on earth.

It is for this purpose that the incarnate Son of God, the blessed Son of St. Mary, Jesus Christ, has taken all your sins upon Himself — indeed, He has taken the sins of the whole world upon Himself — and has borne those sins in His Body to the Cross.  There, by the shedding of His holy, precious Blood, He has made propitiation and atoned for all those sins of the world, including yours.

And having thus atoned for sin, His death is surely not His defeat but His great victory.  So it is that He is raised from the dead.  And in His Resurrection, those who have been burdened and put to death by sin are raised up to newness of life.  For just as He became like you, even to the point of death, so do you become like Him in His Resurrection through His forgiveness of all your sins.

This forgiveness and new life He grants to you, and to His whole Church on earth, by the Ministry of the Gospel.  He does it by the preaching of His messengers — as Gabriel announced the Word of the Lord to St. Mary — and as St. John the Baptist, while yet in the womb, proclaimed the Lord Jesus Christ.  Likewise, by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of Christ, which is the new birth of Holy Baptism, you are brought to life in the household and family of God.  Indeed, as St. Mary once conceived and gave birth to the Son of God by His grace and power, so does the Church give birth to the sons of God in Christ by the same Word and the same Holy Spirit.

And He gives to you, also — into your body — the same Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ, which were conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary; which were crucified under Pontius Pilate; which were dead and buried; which are now risen and ascended, alive forevermore.

As He unites His flesh to yours in this Holy Sacrament, so are you bound up with Him and united with Him, both body and soul, in His Cross and Resurrection and in His Life everlasting.

This is most certainly true.  But it is also true that, for now, it is hidden in the dark and secret place, in the womb of the Church, in the theology of the Cross.

Your life and salvation as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God are perceived only by faith in the Word and promises of Christ, in the midst of much hardship and sorrow, gossip and slander, persecution and death.  But you live in the hope of the Resurrection, which is not yet seen.

St. Elizabeth did not see it.  When she greeted her young cousin as the Mother of her Lord, and she praised that same Lord God concealed in the womb of St. Mary, that girl was barely in her first trimester, not even showing.  Nor do we have any indication or reason to believe that St. Elizabeth ever saw the Christ Child, as Simeon and Anna would see Him in the Temple.  She did not live to see her own son, St. John the Baptist, grow up to fulfill his calling as the Forerunner of the Lord. Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias were already well advanced in years when St. John was conceived.  But had she lived, she would have seen her son imprisoned and beheaded by Herod.

St. Mary did live to see her own dear Son, Christ Jesus, crucified under Pontius Pilate.  There, at the foot of His Cross, she saw Him suffer and die, and the great sword of sorrow pierced her soul, as Simeon foretold.  She was a witness of His Resurrection and of His outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost; but so did she also see the Church on earth suffer persecution, as she herself suffered in her life under the Cross.  As she was taken into the home of St. John the Apostle, she would have seen the martyrdom of his elder brother, St. James, who was put to death by Herod.

Already long before, St. Mary had suffered for her faith and because of her great blessedness.  When she returned from visiting St. Elizabeth, she was at first suspected by St. Joseph, who would have divorced her quietly for her presumed unfaithfulness; and though he took her to be his wife by faith in the Word of the Lord, one can well imagine what the rest of Nazareth would have thought and said about her and her condition.  She had to flee the murderous threats and violence of Herod, who would have destroyed her Son from the start.  She had to live in a foreign land, a stranger and alien on earth, although she was highly favored by God and blessed among women.

The great reversal of which St. Mary sings in her Magnificat — the humbling of the proud and the exaltation of the poor and lowly and despised — is accomplished by God through the Cross and Passion of His Son and hers.  And it is fully realized only in the Resurrection of the dead, which you do not yet see.  For now, what you see and experience are persecution, suffering, and death.

For now you live under the Cross.  But of course, it is and remains the very Cross of Christ which saves you.  Live, therefore, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection, in the faith and confidence of His mercy.  That hope will not disappoint you, nor will His mercy ever fail you.

Even now, there is the remembrance of His mercy.  Not simply your remembering of His mercy in the past, your remembering of His Word and promises, but His remembrance of you and His promises to you, and His remembrance of His holy Covenant in the flesh and blood of Christ.

Here, indeed, is where and how He remembers you in mercy, not just in His head but in His flesh.  Here is the Body of Christ, born of St. Mary, given to you.  Here is the Blood of Christ, shed for you upon the Cross, now poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Where there is such forgiveness of sins, there also is life and salvation.  As you hear and believe His Word, and as you receive Him into yourself in faith, it is for you as He has spoken: Your sins are forgiven, and so are you raised up from death to the Life everlasting in your body and soul.

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

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