06 April 2020

The Hour of the Son of Man Has Come

The Hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  For so it is that He glorifies the Father by His death, and so shall the Father glorify Him and His Cross by raising Him from the dead.

Would you see Him in this way, according to the Glory of His Cross?  And would you know Him and love Him — and understand these things that He does — in the fear and wisdom of the Lord?

If so, then come up to worship at His Feast, for His Passover is at hand.

Go out to meet Him as He comes into His Holy City, and follow Him to His Cross and Passion.  Hail Him as the Lord, your true King, your Savior and your God, and call upon His holy Name.

Do you desire to worship and serve Him?  It is quite right that you should do so.  But you cannot make a supper for Him, nor does He need your money.  The poor you have with you always; therefore, help them and feed them as you are able and have opportunity.  It is in the least of these, especially in your fellow Christians, that you exercise your love and care for the Lord Jesus.

But so also, it is in faith and love for Him, in the confidence of His Word and promises, that you recline here at His Table, where the Lord Jesus serves you and feeds you with His good gifts and benefits, and He fills up your poverty with His wealth.  Already He has raised you from the dead; for He has called you both to and from the tomb through the waters of your Holy Baptism.  He has brought you out of sin and death into His forgiveness and life, out of your darkness into His Light.

By His grace, you are His disciple.  Therefore, listen to Him and learn from Him, that you might gain a heart of wisdom, and that you should begin to understand the things of God in Christ Jesus.

Where you have wandered away and gotten yourself lost, repent, and return now to the Pastor and Bishop of your soul.  Follow in His footsteps in the Way that He goes to the Cross.  And do not be dismayed, even though the whole world seeks to kill you for the sake of Jesus’ Name.

To be sure, it is a dangerous business to be raised from the dead by the Lord Jesus, and to eat and drink with Him at His Table.  Envy and jealousy, fear and anger, pride and desperation, greed and paranoia — all rear their ugly heads against you from within and without.  Even though you live, yet shall you die (or so it seems) because of Jesus.

But so it is that you learn from Him to bear the Cross in the light of His Resurrection.  And just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so shall His Father raise you also from the dust of the earth, and give you life in body and soul, and glorify you forever in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Your confidence before both God and man are the same as His, because His Resurrection and His Righteousness are yours by His grace through faith in His Word of the Gospel.

Nothing at all can hurt you forever, nor can anything destroy you, so long as you abide in the Body of Christ Jesus.  Whoever believes and is baptized in His Name shall be saved.  For He receives and bears the Holy Spirit in His Body on your behalf (from His Baptism to His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead), in order to pour out the living and Life-giving Spirit of God upon you through the forgiveness of all your sins and with the Spiritual Food of His Body and His Blood.

You recline here at His Table with Him as one who has died with Him, whose life is safely and securely hidden with Christ in God.  For as surely as He raised Lazarus from the grave, so has He raised you up from the waters of your Holy Baptism to faith and life in Him; and so shall He raise you up in His Glory at the last and give you life forevermore.  For by His stripes you are healed, and by His Voice of the Gospel He calls you by name out of the tomb into the Life everlasting.

The sweet perfume of His costly Sacrifice fills this House where you are gathered with His Peace, and it rises like incense with your prayers to our Father in heaven.  For the Lord Jesus Christ ever lives to intercede for you within the Most Holy Place, even as He remembers you here in His Sanctuary with His own Body and Blood.  He has befriended you in steadfast love, and whether you live or die you are His own.  Thus do you live and believe in Him, and so shall you never die.

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

05 April 2020

Your King Is Coming to Save You Now

Fear not, daughter of Zion!  Your King is coming to save you now, to bring you out of darkness into light, from death to life; to bring you to the Father in peace, in and with Himself, in this Feast.

He comes to you here on earth, in flesh and blood like your own, in gentle humility and meekness.  He comes not to punish, not to crush and destroy, but to rescue and save you and all other sinners.  Thus does He embrace you with love, in all your hurt and sadness, in your misery and pain, in your grief and shame.  He gathers you to Himself in safety, to comfort and protect you, even as He takes your sin and all your burdens upon Himself, to bear them and carry them in His Body to the Cross.

It is to the Cross that He has come, in humble obedience to His Father, and in merciful and loving service for you, that by the shedding of His Blood and the suffering of His death He would atone for all your sins, and for the sins of the whole world, and reconcile you and all the world to God.

Now He comes to you from the Cross, and with the Cross, not to “sacrifice” you, but to bestow the fruits and blessings of His Cross and Sacrifice upon you.  It is true that He does crucify you and put you to death, in order to break the bondage of sin and death, to set you free from that slavery, and to shatter the hardness of your heart and the idols that have reigned therein.  But even then, He is already calling you and drawing you to Himself, into His victory and His righteousness.

Because He has already borne your sins and suffered their punishments, the discipline of His Cross does not destroy you, but it conforms you to His Image and connects you to Him, not only to His death, but also to His Resurrection and His Life.  As God the Father has glorified Him by the way of His Cross, and vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead, and exalted Him in His Ascension, so do all of these things of Christ Jesus become yours through His Cross.

That is precisely what He has done for you in Holy Baptism, whereby you have been crucified, put to death, and buried with the Lord Jesus Christ — and also raised with Him in His Resurrection, just as surely as He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead.

That dying and rising of the Cross and Resurrection, and of your Holy Baptism into Christ Jesus, is your repentance, your redemption from eternal death unto Life everlasting, your reconciliation with God, and your righteousness before Him.

It is that righteousness of faith and life in Christ to which you are here called, by and through His Cross, as He comes to you in grace, mercy, and peace, in gentle humility and tender love for you.

That very righteousness of faith and life is actually given to you by this preaching of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, with the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name.  And so is it given to you in remembrance of Him — into your body — in the sacrificial Meal of His Body and His Blood.

The Lord’s Supper is the way that Jesus deliberately entered upon His Passion unto death, and it provided His own interpretation and explanation of His Cross and suffering before they occurred.

Now His Body is also given to you in the Sacrament, as it was given for you on the Cross; and His Blood is poured out for you in the Holy Communion, as it was shed for you in His Passion, for the forgiveness of all your sins — and for reconciliation and union with God in Him.  What the Lord has accomplished for you by His sacrifice upon the Cross, He now shares with you in His Supper.

He is indeed the true Passover Lamb of God — chosen by His God and Father on “Palm Sunday,” as the unblemished male lambs and goats were being selected for the Jewish Passover that would coincide with His Passion later in the week.  His Blood is thus shed to mark and seal the household and family of His Church, and to mark and seal your body, as well, so that death takes Him and passes over you and all the people of God.  His Body feeds you, strengthens you in body and soul, and gives you life, as He by His passage through death into life brings you out of Egypt into freedom; out from under Pharaoh’s bitter yoke into the grace and glory of the Holy Triune God.

The Blood that He shed for you upon the Cross, which He now pours out for you at this Altar, is also the Blood of the New Covenant (or Testament), which has fulfilled and superceded the Old Covenant that God established with His people through Moses at Mt. Sinai.  What all the blood of bulls and goats could never do, He has done with His own Blood once-for-all.  He has made propitiation and atoned for the sins of the world.  And that same holy and precious Blood, which He has offered to the Father on your behalf, He now also gives you to drink here at His Word, so that you are thereby sealed unto God and receive all His benefits through Jesus Christ, your Lord.

It is for the sake of giving you these good gifts — to mediate and deliver these good gifts to you by grace — that He now comes to you in His Church on earth, and He calls you here to Himself, to meet Him here in His Word and at His Altar.  He calls you to come in and with your body, but also in and with your heart and mind, and so also with all your thoughts, words, and actions.

Humble yourself before Him, not as though He were a tyrant or a harsh taskmaster, but as He has humbled Himself for you and become obedient in all things to His Father for your salvation.  Pray, praise, and give thanks in His Name; not as though you must appease Him or stroke His ego, but precisely because He is your gracious Savior, your Redeemer, and your Helper, who loves you.

So love Him — and, loving Him, love your neighbor, also.  If not with palms of homage in your hands, then with good works of love, with reverence before Him, and with courtesy toward others.

Do not be afraid to humble yourself before God and in the presence of your neighbors.  Do not be afraid to live righteously, that is, to live and walk by faith according to the Word of the Lord, and in such faith to love the people God has placed in your life, even those who hate you and hurt you.  Whether for life or death, or whatever the Lord your God has called you to receive, to bear and do and suffer, do not be afraid, but have in you the mind and the Spirit of Christ Jesus.

If you are falsely accused, the Lord your God will vindicate you.  If you are persecuted and even put to death, your dear God and Father will yet deliver you from every evil and bring you out of death into life.  If you are weary and worn out, stretched to the point of exhaustion, He will raise you up, refresh you, and give you rest.  If you are hard pressed on all sides and burdened by more than it seems possible to bear, He will help and sustain you.  He will never let the righteous fall.

If you perish, you perish; and yet, behold, even then you shall live.

You know that God the Lord will help and save you, and that He will raise you up again, even from death and the grave, because He has already done so for you in the Person of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  No less so does He raise you from death to life through the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins, as also through your Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

And what, after all, is the mind of Christ concerning you?  He is not angry or disappointed with you.  He is not bitter, resentful, or harsh.  He is not ashamed of you, nor is He weary of you.  Rather, the mind of Christ toward you is peace and love, it is joy and gladness.  He delights in you.  His thoughts of you are positive and pleasant.  His attitude toward you is gracious and kind.

And the Spirit of this same Lord Jesus Christ — the Holy Spirit, whom He pours out upon you generously; the Spirit with whom He anoints you, and whom He breathes into your body through your ears with His Word of the Gospel — His Spirit is the living and Life-giving Spirit of Yahweh.

So, then, you shall not die but live — and shall enter with Christ Jesus into the Land of the living.

The Holy Jerusalem He enters ahead of you is not only the earthly city of His Cross and Passion, which He accomplished once-for-all; it is also the Holy City of His Church on earth, here and now; and it is the heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, where He has already prepared a place for you with Himself, and where your life is already hidden with Christ in the bosom of His God and Father.

As He comes to you here and now — as He truly visits and abides with you by grace in the Word and Ministry of His Gospel — and as He feeds you here with the Spiritual Meat and Drink of His Passover Feast, which is the very Body of God’s Lamb and His Blood of the New Covenant — so does He gather you to Himself, and gather you up into Himself, and bring you in and with Himself into the Most Holy Place, to the very throne of God in heaven.

There seated at the Right Hand of His Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for you as your Royal High Priest, He reigns over you in love.  No foreign power and no mortal foe shall be permitted to harm or disturb you in Him.  For such a gracious King you have, a better Shepherd of the sheep than even His father David!  By His own death He has gotten life for you, and in His Resurrection from the dead is the sure and certain promise of your own eternal inheritance.

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

03 April 2020

The Sign of the Cross in the Holy Place

Everything hinges on the Cross of Christ Jesus.  Life, the universe, and everything — indeed, all of time and space — are centered in the Cross of Christ and find their heart and meaning there.  Heaven and earth and all that is in them, all of creation, and your life, too, depend on His Cross.

None of these things can properly be understood apart from the Cross.  Nor will any of it survive apart from the Cross.  Every bit of it is either put to death by the Cross, in order to live, or judged forever outside of the Cross, unto eternal death.  You either die to live, or you're living to die.

The sign of the Cross is a mark of the Church on earth and of the Christian life in this world.  Not simply as a piece of jewelry or a work of art, nor only as a pious personal ceremony, appropriate as such things are.  It involves tribulation and suffering within and without, the daily dying of the old Adam by contrition and repentance, and relentless persecution by the devil and the world.

You have been taught to love and adore the Cross of Christ Jesus, and it is meet and right so to do.  But for all of that, the Cross remains an abomination of desolation in the Temple of God; for it is the full realization of the curse of sin and death, and of God’s righteous wrath and just judgment.  It is the Cross that desecrates the old, in order to make all things new in the Body of Christ.

Such is the paradox of Christianity — the paradox of God Himself — which is entirely foolish and counter-intuitive to the wisdom of sinful man.  It makes no sense at all to you apart from the preaching of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus.

That is why your crucified and risen Lord Jesus sends His messengers to you now — as He will send out His angels on that great and terrible Day.  He sends His servants to gather His elect from the four winds, to call disciples from all the nations — all by the way and the means of His Cross, by His Word of the Cross, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Meanwhile, there are no lack of false “christs” and false prophets, who go out into all the world preaching a false “gospel,” proclaiming false promises that are not grounded in the painful Cross of Christ Jesus, but dependent on seemingly impressive signs and wonders.

Do not listen to them.  Do not be misled.

What is more, do not horde or grasp or cling to any of the wealth and wisdom of this world.  Even the Lord’s good gifts and blessings of your home and family must finally give way and be let go.  Indeed, all of nature, the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, all of it will pass away.

Repent of your idolatrous fear, love, and trust in whatever is not God.  Repent of whatever is not Christ Jesus, crucified and risen.  For only Christ and His Word of the Cross remain forever.

It is His Cross, remember that.  Your life and salvation do not depend upon your suffering and death, but on His.  It is not what you bear and carry, but His Holy Cross and Passion, His innocent suffering and death, which have fulfilled and established all of creation — and your salvation.

His Cross is laid upon you, therefore, in love by the Lord your God, not to crush and destroy you, but to save you and to give you life by His grace.  So does He also feed you here with the fruits of His Cross.  Here your sins are forgiven, so that, by His tribulation, you abide in His House forever.

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

01 April 2020

A Medicine of Peace for Heart, Mind, Soul, and Spirit

If you knew that your pastor could cure your illness and heal all your bodily diseases — and that he would gladly do so with a word, without any cost — you would surely go to him.  You know that you would.  For medical care, you’re willing to do a lot, to go through a lot, to pay a lot, even if you are one of those people who tend to put it off too long.

When it finally does come down to it, for your physical health and well-being you’re also willing to let your medical doctor examine you in ways that would otherwise be quite immodest and inappropriate.  What is more, you’re willing to let a surgeon cut into your body and open you up — in ways that actually are quite dangerous and even deadly — for the sake of dealing with even more dangerous and deadly conditions.

You’re willing to do and suffer these medical treatments, even though there are no guarantees or “warranties” when it comes to your bodily health in this mortal life.

How is it, then, that there is such hesitation and resistance on the part of so many Christians when it comes to seeking out spiritual care from their pastor and allowing him to serve them with the sure and certain Word of Christ?  Is it self-righteous pride and conceit?  Stubborn self-reliance?  Or is it, rather, embarrassment and shame?

No matter what your own reasons or excuses may be, if you recognize your sin, if you know how serious and dangerous it is, then, for heaven’s sake, seek and receive the rescue that your Lord so freely provides — just as you go to the doctor when you’re sick, even though you’d rather not.

But if you do not recognize or realize your sinful condition and its sobering prognosis, then all the more urgently do you need to be rescued and healed from it — lest it kill you eternally!  The fact is that your sin is real, and it is deadly, all the more so when you deny it.

It is for this reason that the Holy Scriptures and the Small Catechism teach you and admonish you to examine yourself according to the Commandments of the Lord your God.

That’s actually far more important than regular medical check-ups and exams, notwithstanding the wisdom and benefit of such bodily maintenance.  Take care of yourself, certainly.  But it is still the case that your body is going to die, in any event, whether it be sooner or later, no matter what you do or don’t do.  And then, what happens to your body and your soul after that point — and forever and ever — depends entirely on where you stand in relation to God, either in repentance and faith unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting, or in sinful unbelief unto eternal punishment.

Examine yourself, therefore, and discipline yourself according to the Word of God.

Otherwise — and thanks be to God for this, although it is unpleasant in the meantime — the Lord, in His love for you, will discipline you and call you to repentance, in order that you not remain in your sins, but that you would be rescued for the faith and life of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

It is to this end that the Lord your God allows you to suffer some of the consequences of your sins.  Although in His mercy He spares you from so much of what you rightly deserve, He also chastens you and wounds you, in order to heal and repair you.  He also sends His Nathans, His pastors and His “prophets,” as it were, to preach His Word to you, lest you be left in your ignorance — or, what is even worse than that, your presumptuous sins.

The Lord uses both His Law and His Gospel to call you and to bring you daily to repentance, that is, to the dying of contrition and to the rising of faith in His forgiveness of sins.  He puts the Old Adam in you to death, and He raises you up to newness of life in the New Man, Jesus Christ.

You should recognize this dying and rising for what it is, namely, the ongoing, daily, and life-long significance of your Holy Baptism.  It is not your work, nor is it in your own power, no more than your Baptism itself and its great benefits are your doing.  There simply is no “do-it-yourself” or “self-medicated” Christianity, but the Lord is always at work through His own ways and means to recall you to Himself, and to keep you close to Him.

This good work of repentance is precisely what He does for you, and gives to you, and works in you, also through the practice of Confession & Holy Absolution.

Though it may seem natural that you would focus on your confession of sins — on its difficulty and embarrassment, on its character and content, on its length and other qualities — the real focus and the “center of gravity” in this means of grace is the Lord’s Holy Absolution, that is, the spoken Word of forgiveness in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  And along with that Word, there is also then the pastor’s preaching of the Gospel to you within that personal context.

The emphasis is not on your work, but on Christ’s work.  It’s not about how “good” or “bad” you are, but how good Christ is, and how gracious and merciful He is in forgiving you all your sins.  It’s not what you must give or suffer, but what Christ Jesus freely gives to you as the fruit and benefit of His suffering for you.  It does not depend upon your remorse over the past, nor your promise concerning the future, but entirely upon the certainty of Christ’s Word and promise to you.

The Lord gives you all these good things, and He does these good things for you, by and with His Word, and not at all apart from His Word.  So did He send the Prophet “Nathan” (whose very name means gift) to speak His Word to David.

And so does He also send your pastor to you, not as a master and commander of His Word, but as a called and ordained servant of His Word, and as a personal gift of His grace and mercy.

It is true that Individual Confession & Absolution is a matter of freedom; it is a gift of the Gospel, not an obligation or a burden of the Law.  To be sure, that is not the case in matters of public sin or when it comes to stubborn persistence in unrepentant sin, both of which call for the use of the binding key and for the exercise of church discipline, as needs may be.  But the ordinary use of Individual Confession & Absolution is freely given to be freely received in repentant faith.  No one is keeping score or grading you on this practice.

However, do consider and take to heart the unique and powerful benefit and blessing of Individual Confession & Absolution, which rests upon the authority of Christ your dear Lord Himself, and which is so highly praised by Dr. Luther and our Lutheran Confessions.

The Word of Christ Jesus that is spoken and preached in Holy Absolution surely does and gives exactly what it says.  By that Word, the Lord your God removes your sins from you and lays them on the Son of David, Jesus Christ, who dies (and rises) in your stead and for your benefit.

In removing your sin, He also strengthens your faith with the Gospel.  The Word of Absolution sets Christ against your sin and death, against both the temptations and the accusations of the devil; and at the same time, it also sets the same Lord Jesus Christ, not against you, but with you and for you, as your great Champion of Salvation.

The life-giving Word of Holy Absolution pours Christ Jesus Himself into you — into your ears — in much the same way that His Body and His Blood are given into your mouth in the Holy Communion.  And in both cases, the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your heart to strengthen and sustain your body and your soul in steadfast faith and real life.

So, too, along with this central gift and benefit of Holy Absolution itself, the practice of Individual Confession & Absolution is a tremendous means of pastoral care and catechesis in the Word and faith, as I can attest from both sides of the practice.  It is a most personal bestowal of forgiveness, which addresses itself to your particular sins and weaknesses, not to condemn you, but to help and strengthen you.  It is therefore also a powerful weapon against the assaults and accusations of the devil, and a source of unsurpassed comfort, peace, and rest in the sweet Gospel of Christ Jesus.

For a pastor, let me tell you honestly that Individual Confession & Absolution is a difficult and humbling task.  Nevertheless, it is also a sacred trust and responsibility, and a profound means of care that can hardly be equaled and cannot be replaced.

Actually, the Office of the Keys and the Office of the Holy Ministry go hand-in-hand: Hearing confession and absolving sinners in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus is integral to, and in some ways definitive of, the entire pastoral office.

So much is this a part of who your pastor is and what he does, that he is not shocked or appalled (nor even surprised) by your sins.  But he is grateful for the opportunity to help you with the gifts of Christ, that is, with the Holy Absolution of the Gospel, and with the preaching of the Gospel to your own sins and personal circumstances.

In this way, and by this means of grace, your pastor is given to assist you in bearing the burdens of your sin and death.  Not by his own wisdom or strength, but by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, and by His authority as the crucified and risen Lord.  It is indeed a special authority, not of worldly power, but of loving service.

Through this exercise of pastoral care, your pastor serves, not only as a physician of your soul, but as your shepherd under Christ Jesus, and as your spiritual father in Christ Jesus.

Do not be ashamed to be a patient, a sheep, and a child of this servant.  Rather, understand that Christ Jesus — who has purchased and won you to be His very own, in order that you might live with Him in His Kingdom in eternal peace and joy — has entrusted you to the care of this poor man, so that you might kneel at this Altar and recline at this Table; that you might here be fed and nourished with the Gospel in the Word and Sacrament of Christ; and that you might be and live as a son or daughter of God in the House of the Lord forever and ever.

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

30 March 2020

Timely and Apropos for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer

O Eternal and Merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we acknowledge and confess before Thee our manifold and great offenses. We have experienced Thy goodness, but have not been led to repentance. We have seen thy judgments abroad in the earth, but have not learned righteousness. Above all, we have neglected the means of grace and set at naught Thy tender mercies in Christ Jesus. But Thou art a merciful God, full of compassion, long-suffering, and of great pity, who hast no pleasure in the death of sinners, but hadst rather that they turn from their sins and be saved. Be gracious unto us, therefore, even as Thou art wont. Spare us, O Lord, though for our evil deeds we do worthily deserve to be punished. In the midst of judgment still remember mercy. For Thy dear Son's sake, forgive us all our past sins, and grant that we may hereafter serve and please Thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of Thy name.

Be Thou our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble.

Protect Thy Church, the vineyard which Thou hast planted among us, and water it abundantly with the rivers of living water. Give grace to all the ministers of Thy Gospel, that they may both by their doctrine and life set forth Thy true and lively Word, and grant that Thy little flock may dwell in peace and safety everywhere.

Preserve us from plague and pestilence, from war and bloodshed, from fire and flood, from failure of harvest and from famine, from lightning and tempest, and from all other calamities.

We entreat Thee also for all those who are in authority over us; counsel them by Thy wisdom, and strengthen their hands, that they may so wait on their office as to promote Thy glory and the common good. And grant grace to all Thy people, that we may submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for Thy sake, and be subject to the higher powers, reverencing  them and upholding them in all their lawful endeavors to maintain justice and righteousness among men.

Teach us to live, day by day, in humble dependence on Thy promises, in cheerful obedience to Thy laws, and in a sure and certain hope of a blessed immortality.

Fill our hearts with a due sense of Thy unspeakable love in the redemption of our souls, that we may with filial confidence call upon Thee in the day of trouble and, among all the changes of this mortal life, ever be defended by Thy most gracious and ready help.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, in our every need. Save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, that Thy glory may dwell in our land.

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto Thee, and dost promise, where two or three are gathered together in Thy name, Thou wilt grant their requests, fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of Thy servants as may be most expedient for us, granting us in this world knowledge of Thy truth and in the world to come life everlasting; for the sake of the redemption and intercession of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth in equal majesty and glory, true God and man, blessed forever. Amen. (The Lutheran Liturgy, 366-368).

29 March 2020

Now, in Christ, Death Cannot Slay Me

Even the friends of Jesus are confronted with sickness and the experience of death.  They suffer hurt and disappointment.  They are subject to sadness and tears.  The same is no less true for you, as you are called to believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him.  Indeed, His disciples are called to bear His Cross and to suffer and die with Him.  To be crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.

It is one thing to bear and suffer these things along with Him.  But so often it appears as though Jesus were not present when He could be, and that He has chosen not to help you.  He waits and deliberately delays.  He does not respond right away.  He does not answer your prayer according to the longing of your heart, but in ways that are confusing and seem to make no sense at all.

If only He were here, your brother would not die; nor your nephew; nor your cousin; nor your son.

If only He would intervene and do “His thing,” your own infirmity and illness would not end in death, nor even disability, but you would surely recover and not only live but thrive.

Isn’t that what a close personal friend of Jesus ought to expect from the One who is incarnate Love and the very Mercies of God in person?  He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and He gives daily bread even to the wicked.  Will He not help His own friends?

You know the whispers and dark questions of your sinful heart and mind.  What does it mean when Jesus does not do what you are so desperately hoping and praying?  Does He not love and care for you?  Have you disappointed Him or failed Him somehow, that He should disappoint and fail you?  Is He tired of your nagging and your neediness?  Or does He just have better things to do?

To be sure, there are a thousand such temptations of doubt and fear, which are a more devastating consequence of sin than the sickness and death of your body.  Where heart and mind are insecure and uncertain of Christ Jesus, weeping and mourning do not flow in faith and love, but threaten to overwhelm you altogether, to drown you in cynical despair.  Assaulted by the crafts of the devil, you are buried, not with Christ in the hope of the Resurrection, but in hopelessness and unbelief.

Yet, for all your frustration, faithlessness, and fear, the fact of Christ’s presence and His love for you are certain.  Not because you have been such a good friend to Him, but because He is sent by the Father to do His Will and to glorify His Holy Name; and your Salvation is His divine Glory.

The Lord Jesus is the Good Physician, that is true, but He does not come to stave off death with heroic measures to protect and preserve your life on earth.  He does not call a halt to the reign of death by the fiat of His almighty power, although He surely could do that.  He could also have let Adam & Eve eat from the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden — and live forever in their sin.  But, instead of that, He would have the children of man become the children of God, and so live in His eternal Love: To be reconciled to Him in peace, and to become His friends in truth.  Thus, He comes, not to spare your body from the first death, but to save your body and soul from eternal death, and to bring you alive into the Paradise of the New Creation in His own glorified Body.

For that reason, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One who comes into the world, enters fully into the sickness and mortality of our human condition, in order to die on behalf of all the people.  He comes to save them altogether from the bondage and fear of death by His own death in the flesh, by the shedding of His blood.  He comes to bring them into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

He also will be wrapped and shrouded in grave clothes, buried in a tomb, and hidden away from sight and smell by a large stone.  For He makes His bed where your body is bound to repose.

Even so, according to the prayer and confession of the Psalmist, His sacred Body will not suffer decay, nor will the Father permit His beloved Son and faithful Servant to undergo corruption.  He always has the Life of the Father in Himself, and He is Himself the Resurrection and the Life of the world.  So it is that death and the grave are not able to hold Him or contain Him, although He willingly submits to them.  He lays down His life in death, in order to take it up again for us all.

So, then, sickness and mortality do not end in death.  Even death itself does not end in death!  But, no, in Christ Jesus a Christian passes through death into the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.  And, dear friends, that is the case, not only on the last day, but already here and now in the midst of mortal life.  Even now, by faith you walk in the Light of Christ and do not stumble or fall.

You are sorely tempted, tried, and tested, no doubt about it.  Not least of all by the ravages of sin, by sickness, suffering, and death, not only in yourself, but in your loved ones and all around you.

Nevertheless, as you believe in Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, the greatest miracle of all is that you do behold the Glory of God, not “in spite of the Cross,” but precisely in the Cross itself, which you have come to know and have believed to be the glorification of the Son of God.

It’s not that your hopes are pinned on some miraculous rescue from every illness, suffering, and tragedy in this perishing world.  You do rightly pray for the mercies of the Lord, and you rely upon His help in every kind of trouble.  But, come what may, you give thanks unto the Lord because He is good, and His mercy endures forever.  You hear and heed the Voice of Christ in His Gospel, and you find sure and certain hope in the Resurrection and the Life of His Body and His Blood.

Take courage, and be comforted, that He has also borne your griefs and carried all your sorrows in His own flesh, in His own body to the Cross; that He has suffered Himself to experience and share all your weaknesses and temptations, and He sympathizes with you, as your merciful and great High Priest.  He does not abandon you in tribulation and heartache, but He is with you to strengthen and support you in the one true faith, and to save you from every evil of body and soul.

It is so much the case that He is with you in the suffering and experience of sin and death, that it is precisely by His Cross that He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the children of God.  You enter into the friendship of God, and you share His Glory in Christ Jesus, by the way of His Cross.

So, then, whether you live, or whether you die, you are the Lord’s.  In Him who loves you, who died for you and has risen from the dead, you also rise up and live forever, even though you die.  By your Baptism you have already died with Him, in order to live with Him, now and forever.

In that Light of Christ, it is not wrong but appropriate and right to mourn for those who die from this world, who have been near and dear to you in this body and life.  For death is the consequence of sin; it is an intrusion upon God’s good creation and His gift of life.  Only, do not mourn as those who have no hope.  Do not despair.  Do not give yourself over to grief, as though it were your god.

Instead, call upon the Name of the Lord your God, and rely upon His mercy.  For even though you are threatened by sorrow and fear, still, He is not done with you; He is and remains your Savior.

In and through Christ Jesus, your Father in heaven hears and answers your prayers.

And His Answer to all your prayers, the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to your every need, is Christ Jesus Himself, the incarnate Son.  And He is not simply a means to some other end, but He is Himself your Resurrection and your Life everlasting with God in both body and soul.

As you have already died and risen with Christ Jesus through Holy Baptism, so do you also feast upon His crucified and risen Body and Blood.  In Him, therefore, you really are set free from sin and death forevermore.  No longer are you imprisoned by the grave, nor bound and constricted by its trappings.  You do not stink of death and decay anymore, no matter what your senses tell you.

In truth, you live and believe in Jesus.  You live in His Light and His Love by faith in His Word.  And both you and your prayers arise like sweet-smelling incense, a pleasing aroma, to your God and Father in heaven.  By the Voice of His beloved Son — by the preaching of His Gospel — He daily and richly forgives your sins and calls you from death and the grave into Life and Salvation.

As the Lord your God is pleased with you, do not be dismayed or afraid, but hope and trust in Him with the confidence of faith; and here behold His Glory in His Body given and His Blood poured out for you and for the many.  For in and with His Flesh the Life of God abides in you forever.

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

27 March 2020

Abiding with Christ in the Place of Holy Baptism

You do not deny that Jesus is the Son of God, and you would not dream of picking up stones to throw at Him and kill Him.  By your Baptism into Christ Jesus, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you believe in Him and love Him, and you confess that He is the Lord, your Savior and your God.

But also take to heart, in particular, that He, being God, has been sanctified and sent by the Father to become true Man, your Brother in the flesh.  He has come down from heaven to do the works of God the Father here on earth — with human words and with His bodily means of grace.

Look, then, where He is staying: He is in the place of Baptism, that is, within His Church on earth — in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins — and in the Supper of the Lamb, the One who has been slain, and yet, behold, He lives for you.  That is where you go to be with Him.

Do not look for your Savior and your God “up there,” as though you could peer into heaven and scale such heights on your own.  And don’t try to lay hold of Him, whether for good or evil, by any power or wisdom of yours.  You won’t find Him that way, nor will you catch Him in your hands.

Do not suppose that you will ever have outgrown the benefits and significance of Holy Baptism.  And do not imagine that what you need is something more and better than the same ol’ same ol’ means of grace.  Those means of the Gospel are exactly where and how Jesus is with you and for you.  That is where He remains.  That is where you find Him, because that is where and how He finds you. That is where and how you come to believe in Him and live in Him, now and forever.

Repent of your desire and your tendency to wander off and look for other gods — whatever their name or kind, whether it be your family and friends, wealth or power or fame.  Return with all your heart and soul, your body, mind, and strength, to the place of Baptism, to the Church on earth.  It is precisely there that God the Son has come from God the Father to work among you and for you.

It is in His own Body of flesh and blood — in the waters of the Jordan, in His Crucifixion and His Resurrection — that His God and Father has sanctified Christ Jesus with His Holy Spirit to be your Savior.  And it is still with the flesh and blood of Christ, and by the Word of Jesus Christ the Crucified One, that His Father sanctifies you with the same Holy Spirit, unto the Life everlasting.

This is the good work that Christ your Savior does for you.  His Word has come to you, and it is still spoken to you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  So, too, in the waters of Holy Baptism He has made of you a son of God by His grace.  His Father is your Father.  And the Holy Triune God, who has named you with His own Name, lives in you, and you in Him, forever and forevermore.

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