27 November 2010

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, through Jesus Christ, His beloved Son.

He has come to find you and has met you in a foreign land, on the outskirts, separated from Him and from others.

Sinful and unclean, you have been subject to death and to every sickness and sorrow of heart and mind, body and soul. You could not cleanse or heal yourself, nor can you feed and clothe and shelter yourself. You cannot raise yourself from death to life — but you must wait upon the Lord, and listen for His voice, and meet Him where He comes to you.

Wait and watch, therefore, and take to heart that He has come near to you, here and now, with tender compassion for you, with grace, mercy and peace, and with all that you need.

He has come to provide you with all good things, and, above all, to raise you up and bring you in and with Himself into the good land He has promised, a place of perfect peace and rest; the home where righteousness abides; to the heavenly and holy city, New Jerusalem, and into the Temple made without hands, eternal in the heavens; into the very holy of holies, the inner sanctum of the Holy Triune God.

He brings you to that good land through the wilderness of sin and death, and you survive that journey, in spite of your frailty and weakness, and though it is very hard, because He daily and richly provides you with clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home (or tent and shelter), family and friends, and whatever else is necessary — not only for this body and life, but for body and soul, for the life everlasting.

This present wilderness is not pointless, but a pilgrimage of repentance, of faith and forgiveness, whereby you learn to recognize both your own mortality and the Lord’s mercy. You learn to confess your sin, your sickness and sorrow, but also His salvation. You learn to call upon His Name in every trouble, by prayer and supplication with praise and thanksgiving — to ask Him and to thank Him, because He is good, for His mercy endures forever.

He brings you through this wilderness, through the valley of the shadow of death, and He catechizes you in this way of repentance, faith and life, prayer and thanksgiving, by the way of His Cross — in His own Body of blood and flesh like yours — as your faithful and merciful great High Priest.

He has come down from heaven to find you in the wilderness, and to lead you through all harm and danger, even through death and the grave, through the baptismal waters of the Jordan, into the good land flowing with milk and honey.

He is the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God the Father, that you may live, who has become flesh, and has given Himself for you, and gives Himself to you as the true Manna — the Bread of Life, which neither you nor your fathers could have known or baked up, but God the Father has opened His hand to give you.

But He is more.

He is more than you could ever have asked or imagined. He is more than a new and better Moses, and more than a new and better Joshua. He is more than your Prophet, Priest and King, and more than the Food and Drink which now sustain you on the way.

For He is also the Sacrifice of Atonement for all your sins. His Blood has made peace for you and reconciled you to His God and Father. Not only that, but His Blood and the water from His side are for your cleansing and refreshment, to heal all your diseases and quench your deepest thirst.

He, also, in His Body of flesh and blood, is the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving with which you are brought into the presence of God, a fragrant offering, acceptable and pleasing.

Not only does God give Himself to you in Christ Jesus, but He also brings you to Himself, in thanksgiving, through the same Lord Jesus Christ. And His own Body is the Temple of God, wherein you approach and draw near, and wherein you live and abide in His presence, both now and forever.

In short, to say it simply, everything is summed up and centered in the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord. He is God, with you and for you in the flesh, and He is the sweet-smelling sacrifice and the incense of your faith and prayer, by which you rise and live unto God. You pray to the Father in His Name, and through Him you offer thanks and praise — else even your thanksgiving would fall short!

You have no access to God apart from Christ Jesus — you would remain cut off and far removed — but now all the fullness of God dwells with you bodily in the flesh and blood of this incarnate Son.

All of creation is redeemed and sanctified, cleansed and healed and made brand new in Him, in His Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection — in His Body and by His Blood, the very Feast that is given and poured out for you, here and now, to eat and drink for the forgiveness of all your sins, for life and salvation.

Now, then, with your body, as well as with your heart and mind, soul and spirit, give glory to God, worship Him and give Him thanks and praise, by receiving this heavenly Manna and spiritual drink at His Word. Open your hand to receive what God here opens His hand to give. Open your mouth and be fed, and when you have eaten and are satisfied, open your mouth to bless the Lord and praise His Name by confessing the good Word He has spoken to you.

As everything is a gift of God’s grace to you in Christ, there is nothing for you to give Him but to return thanks; and your thanksgiving is joined to the flesh and blood of Christ, also by His grace, through faith in His Gospel–Word and Sacrament.

Your life, too, is offered as a living sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, that you might praise Him with your body and your whole being, by loving your neighbor as the Lord your God loves you in Christ. Therefore, that which you hear and receive from Him, practice in speaking and giving to your neighbor in His Name. Feed and clothe, shelter and protect, for the Lord your God daily and richly does these things for you.

Live by faith in His Word, and walk according to His commandments, because He is bringing you into the good land that He has promised to you. To live in such a way, according to His Word — in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another — in Christ Jesus — is to live, already, the heavenly life on earth.

It is to live the life of God Himself, as He has lived for you, in the flesh, on earth as it is in heaven.

And in that same Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, in His Body of flesh and blood — in His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension — you have already passed out of the wilderness through death and the grave into the life everlasting.

That is how safe you are, and your body and your life — secure with Christ in God — and that is how sure and certain your salvation is.

See, here, He opens up His hand to feed you with Himself and to satisfy you, in both body and soul, with all that you need. He forgives you with His Blood, feeds you with His Body, and renews your life by His good Spirit.

All glory, honor, worship, praise and thanks to Him who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

20 November 2010

With Christ in Paradise

Jesus remembers you today, and you are with Him in Paradise, because He is here with you in the midst of the great tribulation.

Behold, His tree is not only green, even as winter approaches, but it is fruitful; not “in spite” of His suffering, but by His innocent suffering and death. His Blood is the Seed of your salvation, and His Body is the First Fruit of the New Creation.

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Him; sons of Israel, do not mourn His death. But weep and mourn for your sins, for which the Lord Jesus dies, and sorrow for your children, who have inherited your sin and death.

Sons and daughters of Adam & Eve, weep and mourn over your fall into sin, for your disbelief and disobedience, for your departure from God and from His Garden. Weep and mourn for the death and decay of God’s good creation, which bears the burden of your fault and suffers the sorrow of your trespass, the stain of your iniquity.

The world seems, one moment so enticing, the next moment so frightening and futile. What a tragic legacy of sin and death we have all received from our fathers, and their fathers, and their fathers before them; and we no less than they hand it over to those who come after us, whether by the seed of our mortal flesh, or by our bad example, or both. Things do not get better, but worse.

Well, then, if the green and fruitful tree is subjected to death, whatever shall become of the tree that is already dry and fruitless? It will be cut down and thrown into the fire; for every tree that does not bear fruit must be removed and disposed of.

So there is the temptation to despair and hopelessness. The days have long since come when they say that the barren are blessed to have no children, and many now make themselves barren on purpose, by choice. The wombs that do not bear, and the breasts that do not nurse, are considered fortunate. Not only are children viewed as a burden and a curse to be avoided, but it is argued that this world is no fit place for a child. Everything is already so crowded, and all our energies and resources are so taxed and inadequate. One more straw will surely break the camel’s back!

There is this temptation to futility and fear, whereby you do not mourn your sin nor weep with repentance, but you despair of God and wallow in self-pity and harbor resentment in your heart.

It is all so unfair, you suppose, and nothing is of any use, you conclude. Whether you are faithful or not appears to make no difference. Whether you pray or not seems not to matter. Whether you are righteous or wicked is of no obvious consequence, unless it be that the righteous suffer want while the wicked flourish and prosper at the expense of the righteous.

Those who do their jobs conscientiously are taken advantage of, or else they are fired, whereas those who cut corners and compromise are praised and rewarded.

Those who lie and cheat and steal are able to get away with robbery and murder, while those who abide in peace are victimized and crushed under foot.

So where is your God? Why does He not help you? Why is everything so hard and such a mess?

You go to church, you give your offerings, you say your prayers and read the Bible, and you do nice things for your neighbors. And what do you have to show for it all? What’s the point? What difference does it make?

Satan taunts you, and he tempts you, as he dared to tempt Christ Jesus: If you are a dear child of God, then why this, and why that? Why do you go hungry? Why are you so poor, and so alone? Why must you suffer? Why must your job be such a pain? Why is your marriage stressful, and why are your children ill-mannered and disobedient? Or why do you have no spouse or child?

The devil hurls these assaults and accusations against you, against the words and promises of your Holy Baptism, and against the forgiveness of the Gospel. After everything that God has said, the devil puts a big question mark: “Really?” Then he’ll drive you to doubt and despair, about God on the one hand, and about yourself on the other. Either God must be deceiving you, or else unable to help you; or you’ve not done enough or done it right, so why should God even bother with you, unless it be to punish you severely for your depravity and failure?

So you are caught in this great tribulation, which rages all around you, and roars in your ears, and batters your heart, and confuses your head, and wearies your soul. The choices set before you seem utterly bleak and futile: Either God is not good enough, or you are not good enough.

If God is not good enough, or if He isn’t real, then why bother with anything in particular? You might as well do whatever you want, and it won’t matter, anyway.

But you know that isn’t true. God forbid that you should fall into such perdition. God forbid it, and God forgive you for all such doubts and fears wherever you have entertained them.

But what about you, then. Are you good enough? Have you done enough? Have you done it all just right? Have you kept your nose clean? Have you given enough? Have you prayed enough? Have you loved enough? Have you believed enough, and do you believe all the right things?

These are impossible questions, but the answer to each and all of them is, “No, you haven’t.”

You are a sinner, first of all, from the inside-out, before you have done anything. And as a sinner, all your thoughts, words and deeds are sinful. Even the best of what you manage to do is filthy with your sin. And the harder you try to make yourself righteous and “good enough,” the more sinful you become.

The root of the problem is not your behavior — be it “good,” “bad,” or otherwise — but your heart. You do not fear, love and trust in God above all things. You do not rely upon Him and look to Him, expecting only good things from Him, but you bargain and maneuver and negotiate, you plot and you strive to make some kind of compromise or deal with Him.

You dare Him to help you, not in faith and hope, but in hopeless desperation. You do not fear Him as God, your gracious Creator, but you’re simply afraid — as much in terror of your lot in life as of His eternal judgment.

Consequently, there is this reserve in what you do and how you live before God. You do not entrust your all to Him, but you offer what you think you can afford, what you figure you can live without, as much as you think it will take, but as little as you think you can get away with.

Why do you not tithe? Because it isn’t a law? Because you don’t think you can afford it? Because you do not trust the Lord to provide you with all that you need for both body and soul, for this life and the life everlasting?

Why do you not bring the whole tithe into the stores of the Lord’s House, in order to support His Church and Ministry? Why do you not give the first fruits of your labor and your income to the Lord, that His House be well-supplied with food and drink?

It is arrogant pride to suppose that it is vain to serve the Lord. It is prideful self-idolatry to reckon that He will not save you, but that you must save yourself.

“Save yourself. Save yourself. Save yourself.”

That is the devil’s satanic seduction, which he throws into your face and whispers into your ear, as he did with Christ in the wilderness, at Caesarea Philippi, on the Cross, and at all the opportune times and places in between.

“Make bread for yourself, instead of receiving God’s daily manna.”

“Go ahead and eat the fruit He has forbidden. It looks good, doesn’t it? It’ll taste good, too, and it’ll make you wise. Then you’ll be your own god! You won’t die! Why should you be denied?”

“Come down from the Cross, instead of bearing it after Jesus.”

“Betray Him, deny Him, run away and hide from Him.”

Those are the devil’s lies and temptations, and such are the inclinations of your sinful heart. You hear and heed his words; you think his thoughts, instead of God’s; you speak his lies, to yourself and to others; and you act as he urges, instead of living as the Lord has commanded.

Daughter of Jerusalem, son of Israel, child of Adam & Eve, repent of this robbery and theft. Own that you are a criminal, deserving of nothing but punishment, and be crucified with Christ, who numbers Himself with such transgressors; who numbers Himself even with you.

“A criminal?” you protest. “A robber and a thief?”

Yes, you are, and worse: an idolater and blasphemer, a murderer and adulterer, a liar and a cheat.

Is it not robbery and theft to live your life as though it were your own possession, when it is the Lord who made you, and not you? Is it not criminal to horde the things that God has entrusted to your stewardship, and to use them as though they were your own by right, instead of using those treasures and talents to love and serve your neighbor and to support the Lord’s Church?

But now, fear the Lord your God, your Maker and Redeemer. Fear God, who willingly suffers the punishment that you justly deserve. See in His Body on the Cross the wages of your sin and the price of your Redemption.

And hear His Word to you, His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins. Despair of yourself, yes, but do not despair of Him. Rather, hope in Him, in His Cross, in His Body and His Blood, in His Church and Ministry, His Gospel and His Spirit.

Do not suppose that the wicked will always prevail, nor that the righteous are forgotten.

Jesus remembers you, beloved, even unto death.

And this same Jesus is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in His eternal Kingdom. He lives and reigns to all eternity. And truly I say to you, He has done all of this, and He does it now and forever, in a Body of flesh and blood like yours. He has lived and died and risen from the dead, and He lives and reigns forever, as the true and perfect Man: your Brother!

In Him, all the fullness of God dwells bodily, so that you may live and abide with Christ in God, as He abides with you.

As the Christ of God, His Chosen One, the Holy Spirit rests upon His Body and remains with Him in His flesh and blood. Therefore, you who are united with Him as a member of His Body, and who partake of His flesh and blood, are also chosen of God and anointed by His Spirit.

Consider, then, what it means for Him to be the Christ.

He does save others — He is the Savior of the world, and He is your Savior — but He does not save Himself. Instead, He lives by perfect faith in His God and Father. He loves Him and trusts in Him, and He prays to Him in confidence, even in the face of death.

He brings the whole Tithe into the Lord’s House, and far more than 10% He offers up Himself, His whole life, His Body and soul, His flesh and blood. He is the spotless Lamb who suffers and dies in the place of His people, and who, by His sacrificial death, atones for all their sins: including all of yours. He is the sweet-smelling incense that fills the Temple with the very Peace of God.

And He is the Food, the Meat and Drink indeed, which fills the Lord’s storehouse and feeds His entire Church in every time and place, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.

His faith was not misplaced, His faithfulness not in vain. Though He was numbered with transgressors, and crucified as a criminal, cursed upon the tree between two robbers, His righteousness is vindicated and openly declared by God, who raised Him from the dead. All of this for you, dear one, and for the redemption and sanctification of His good creation.

He, the crucified and risen One, in human flesh and blood, is the Image of God in which you are made. He is the Firstborn, the First Fruits, and the Fulfillment of Creation; not as a creature, but as the Incarnate God. He is the King, and His Bride, the Church is the Queen of all creation. And He has ascended that royal throne by way of the Cross, in faith toward God and love toward you.

Because He is your King, your Savior and your Head, the Husband of His Church — of which you are a member by His grace — His Resurrection from the dead is also your resurrection, your vindication and your righteousness.

That is your sure and certain hope as you carry the cross and suffer and die.

That is your sure and certain hope, your righteousness and peace, although you are a sinner, a criminal, a robber and a thief.

Do not, for that reason, continue in your sin. But to the contrary, in the hope of the resurrection, repent, trust Christ, and live. Be crucified, dead and buried with Him, in order to live with Him in His Kingdom, in His Paradise.

Trust Him by hearing His Word and calling upon His Name in prayer.

Trust Him by doing the work He has given you to do, patiently and without grumbling.

Trust Him by honoring your parents, cherishing your spouse, and caring for your children, even though all of these individuals are poor miserable sinners like yourself.

Trust Him by forgiving those who sin against you, by loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, by turning the other cheek and gladly doing good even to those who hurt you.

Trust the Lord to vindicate you, to defend you, to speak well of you, just as He has declared you to be righteous by His Gospel. Trust Him to uphold the good Name with which He has named you.

Trust Him to feed and clothe, shelter and protect you, even when you are destitute and don’t know where or when or how His help will come — whether here in time on earth, or hereafter in the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting in heaven.

Whatever the case may be, He will surely save your life from death, and feed and clothe your body, and shelter and protect you. For He has given Himself for you, and in His Church He daily and richly provides you with all of these good things.

Here He clothes you with His righteousness and covers you with Himself. For He was stripped naked, and His garments were divided, that you might be dressed with that which is His. Here He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of the same Blood with which He has redeemed you and reconciled you to His God and Father forever. So has He made His House your home.

Knowing that this Food and Clothing of His House are far more precious and more permanent than anything else in all of creation — and knowing that His Word, which is here preached to you, alone remains forever, while heaven and earth are perishing and passing away — so trust the Lord by bringing your first fruits and your whole tithe into His storehouse.

Trust Him, and see whether He does not open up His generous hand and all of heaven to pour down the abundant blessing of His Spirit, His grace, His mercy and His peace.

Trust Him to do so, because He has already done so, and He is doing so for you here and now. Here, indeed, you are with Him in Paradise, because the fruits of the Tree of Life are freely given without cost, and the waters of life are generously poured out for your cleansing and refreshment, free and clear of any charge.

Not because you are so faithful, but He is.

Jesus remembers you — always and forever, and so also here and now — as He comes to you in and with His Kingdom. He remembers you with His Word of Peace, His Gospel of forgiveness. He remembers you with His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you to eat and drink.

Truly, by these fruits of His green tree, He is with you, and today you are with Him in Paradise. That is His Word and promise to the poor miserable sinner who is crucified and dies with Him. And that is His Word and promise to you, who have been crucified and died with Him in Holy Baptism. So surely are you also raised with Him in His Resurrection.

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

19 November 2010

It Makes Me Sad

It makes me sad that we poor sinners seem to find such sweet satisfaction in castigating others and criticizing their interests. For works righteousness is never more perverse than when we esteem and elevate ourselves at the expense of our neighbors. Yet, I recognize this wickedness in myself, even though I know the hurt of it.

Then there is our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who has found His sweetest satisfaction in taking our depravity upon Himself and suffering its shame and castigation; who esteems and elevates us at His own expense; who rescues us from our own and every wickedness by bearing the hurt of our sins and the hurt of the sins of others against us.

It makes me sad to think of what He has suffered on my account, and yet it is His greatest glory to have done so for all of us poor sinners. It is His prerogative alone to save us from our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Therefore, by His grace, my sadness also enters with my sin into repentance and His Resurrection from the dead. Therein is my freedom.

Therein, also, is my neighbor's freedom.

Not a freedom to sin, surely; for we are not set free from sin and death to become again the slaves of sin and death. But free to live unto righteousness, by grace through faith in Christ. Free to live in His forgiveness, in love for one another. Free to receive and use the good gifts of God, sanctified by His Word and prayer and gladly embraced with thanksgiving. Indeed, He is so generous in His good gifts, pouring out upon us far more than we could ever ask or imagine, that we are free to investigate different interests, to pursue different passions, and even to enjoy different entertainments than our neighbors. And at the end of each day, we are free to lay us down to sleep in His grace, mercy and peace.

14 November 2010

The Day Is Surely Drawing Near

The Day is surely drawing near, and it shall dawn upon everyone on earth, the living and the dead. Just as the sun rises and shines on both the evil and the good, so shall the Sun of Righteousness arise: with light and warmth and healing for those who fear, love and trust in Him, and with the fiery heat of vengeance upon the arrogant and all perverse and evil men, all workers of wickedness.

The rising of that Sun for the Day of Judgment is more sure and certain than the rising of the sun tomorrow or the turning of the seasons. For the heavens and the earth will pass away, but the Word of the Lord will not. All that He has spoken, and all that has been written by His Prophets and Apostles, shall be fulfilled. And all those who despise and reject His Word, who shut their ears and harden their hearts to it, will be consumed by fire and trampled under foot like ashes, so that nothing will be left for them but the utter darkness and death of eternal damnation.

In order to prepare you for that Day, and for the coming (the Advent) of the Christ, He sends to you His preachers of repentance in the spirit and power of Elijah. By their faithful preaching of the Law and the Gospel, they turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers — restoring fundamental human relationships by the reconciliation of God in Christ.

Remember the Law of Moses: the threatening and terrifying thunder and lightning, the fire and the smoke of Mt. Sinai, but also the Covenant that God the Lord established with His people by His grace (established by His Word and saving work, and sealed unto them by the blood of sacrifice). Consider the first four commandments, in particular, and how you are to fear, love and trust in the one true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and how you are to honor your father and mother.

You are to live in the faith and worship of the Holy Triune God alone, allowing nothing else and no one else to come before Him, nor even to stand beside Him. And in such faith, you are to love your neighbor as yourself, even those who hurt you and persecute you. Do no harm, but help.

This preaching of the Law, which calls you to repentance, to fear God and love people, precedes and accompanies the Sun of Righteousness, the Christ, who rises with healing in His wings for you. But where and how does He rise and shine upon you? It is in the preaching of His Cross.

So, then, pray that this Word of the Lord would spread and be glorified, also unto you.

And know that the Lord is faithful to do this very thing. Not only that, but He will strengthen and protect you by His Word and preaching — from the old evil foe and from all harm and danger.

Therefore, do not despair, and do not even attempt to defend yourself! Rather, speak the wisdom and utterance of Christ by confessing His Word. That is to confess His Cross by word and deed.

Therefore, do not grow weary of doing good, but do your work quietly and eat your daily bread.

Sounds good, right, and relatively “easy enough.” But you’ll be tried and tested by tribulation on all sides, within and without; tempted to pride on the one hand, to doubt and despair on the other.

Precisely in such tribulation — when you are at your weakest, flailing about and falling apart, not at all sure which end is up, nor how on earth you’re going to make it from one day to the next — just there, in that turmoil, in that toil and trouble, you are given the opportunity for testimony, for the confession of the Cross of Christ. Not only in what you do and say, but in what you patiently suffer, in what you pray without ceasing in the confidence of the Lord’s Resurrection.

You can be sure of this much: It gets a whole lot worse, until it gets better. There is the Cross first, and then, by the way of the Cross, there is the Resurrection from the dead. Thus, with Christ Jesus, your Savior and your God, you enter into His Glory through the suffering of His Cross.

So, yes, there is great distress; not only in others, in the world around you, but in yourself, in your heart and mind and body and soul, in your life on earth, and in your dying from this vale of tears. Truth be told, everything really is falling apart and perishing. Creation itself is in turmoil, and is dying, on account of man’s sin. Along with that, you may well find yourself betrayed by your nearest and dearest loved ones and kin, and hated by all, perhaps even put to death.

You long to see the Son of Man, but where do you look? And how shall you find Him, or even know that it’s Him, if and when you do?

Many pretenders come in His Name, and they actually can seem far more authentic and real than Christ Jesus Himself! They can look like the church, like a properly glorious Temple of God on earth, adorned with impressive beautiful stones (whether of architecture or flashy performance).

But do not be misled. And do not chase after anyone or anything but Christ and Him Crucified, who is alone the Cornerstone of the Church, the foundation of God’s City, eternal in the heavens, but established here on earth by His Cross.

Leave the city of man, turn your back on Sodom and Gomorrah, and flee to the City of God. Run to the hills, to the Mountain of the Lord of Hosts. Follow the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, on which the Son of Man comes with the power and great glory of His Cross.

Okay, so, that sounds great, but what does it all mean? Where are you supposed to go? What are you supposed to do? Who and what can you possibly believe? And how shall you endure until the end and stand before the Son of Man? How on earth shall you live?

First of all, understand and take to heart that the Cross of Christ is the beginning of the end, and already its resolution and fulfillment. In His voluntary suffering and death, He has become the Desolate One. He has suffered the wrath and vengeance of God, and He has redeemed you from sin and death forever. As He is lifted up in death, your Redemption draws near, and as He is now lifted up by the preaching of the Gospel of His Cross, so is the Kingdom of God near to you: here!

Therefore, do not flee the Cross, but flee to the Cross. That is where Christ is, and that is how He is with you now.

Behold that Tree, and know that its leaves are for your healing, for the clothing of your nakedness and the covering of your shame. And its fruits are for your nourishment and health. Where the leaves and fruits of the Cross are found, there is the summer and the sunshine of God’s love.

Cling to that Cross of Christ by hearing the Word of the Gospel (which shall never pass away), and by eating and drinking the fruits of that Tree, the body and blood of Christ Jesus, at His Word.

No matter what threatens you or befalls you, whether you are surrounded by armies or trampled underfoot, do not be terrified. And do not defend yourself, for the Lord Himself defends you, fights for you, testifies on your behalf, and saves your life.

Whatever you may suffer, He has already suffered for you. And whatever sins you may be guilty of, He has borne your guilt, atoned for your sins, and redeemed you in both body and soul. As He is risen from the dead, and lives and rules to all eternity, so shall He vindicate you from sin and death and every evil.

Not only does He number the hairs of your head, but He will not allow any one of them to perish forever — no matter what may happen to your body in this life on earth.

His life of perfect faith and love, His humble obedience, even unto death on the Cross, and His Resurrection from the dead — these are your endurance, by which you shall not perish but live.

All that He has done for you, all that He has accomplished and fulfilled, is now given to you freely by the Ministry of the Gospel. That is what is here set before you, and preached into your ears, and traced upon your forehead and your heart, and put into your hand and mouth, into your body.

This is the Apostolic Ministry of Christ, which surpasses even the Prophetic Ministry of Moses and Elijah, for all things have already been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. And it is all for you, for free.

As the Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed you by His holy and precious blood, purchased and won you by His innocent suffering and death, and as you are justified and righteous by His grace, through faith in His Resurrection, so then, live an orderly and disciplined life in faith and love. Not so to justify yourself, but in the sure and certain hope of His perfect righteousness. For even now you live under Him in His Kingdom, in His righteousness, innocence, blessedness and purity.

Sure, there seems to be no end to the apparent worries of this life on earth — you name it — but none of these worries undo the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus; nor can any or all of them separate you from the love of God in Him. Do not give yourself over to pride or despair, but be on your guard and keep on the alert by listening to the Word of Christ and by availing yourself of His Gospel. Hear and heed His Word, receive and trust His good gifts, no matter how you feel.

Enjoy the many good gifts of His Creation, for they are His, and it is good. Receive His benefits in faith and with thanksgiving, sanctified by His Word and prayer. Even so, do not “get drunk” on any of His good gifts, whether alcohol or whatever else you may receive from His hand, but let your grip on this world be light and easy. Don’t throw it all away, but hold on loosely, and be ready at any time to let go of anything and everything that is not Christ Jesus.

After all, look around you, and notice that everything in this world is passing away. This is not your future, nor your true and permanent home. This is a pilgrimage in a foreign territory.

But your dear Father in heaven has opened His heart to you in Christ Jesus, and He has His eye on you in love. His Kingdom is your fatherland. His holy city is your hometown. His house and castle is your real home, where you are welcome, where you belong.

And He is with you, here and now, in the Word of the Cross, and in the fruits of that Tree.

Thus, He grants you the strength to escape all perils, to stand before the Son of Man in His glory, justified by His blood and redeemed by His victory, to live by His grace, mercy and peace, both now and forever. Amen, and Amen.

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

09 November 2010

Hymns for Advent 1-4 Series A

First Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 2:1–5
Romans 13:(8–10) 11–14
Matthew 21:1–11

Hymn of Invocation / Catechetical Hymn of the Week
The advent of our King (LSB 331)

Hymn of the Day
Savior of the nations, come (LSB 332)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
O Lord, how shall I meet You (LSB 334)
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates (LSB 340)
Once He came in blessing (LSB 333)
Jerusalem, O city fair and high (LSB 674)

Hymn of Departure
O Savior, rend the heavens wide (LSB 355)

Alternative Hymns
Come, Thou precious Ransom, come (LSB 350)
Creator of the stars of night (LSB 351)
Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding (LSB 345)
Hark the glad sound (LSB 349)
In God, my faithful God (LSB 745)
Jerusalem, my happy home (LSB 673)
Jerusalem the golden (LSB 672)
Lift up your heads, you everlasting doors (LSB 339)
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (LSB 359)
O bride of Christ, rejoice (LSB 335)
O come, O come, Emmanuel (LSB 357)
O God, my faithful God (LSB 696)
O Jesus, King most wonderful (LSB 554)
O rejoice, ye Christians, loudly (LSB 897)
Prepare the royal highway (LSB 343)
Rejoice, rejoice, believers (LSB 515)
The night will soon be ending (LSB 337)
This is the day the Lord has made (LSB 903)
Wake, awake, for night is flying (LSB 516)
Where charity and love prevail (LSB 845)

Second Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 11:1–10
Romans 15:4–13
Matthew 3:1–12

Hymn of Invocation
Open now thy gates of beauty (LSB 901)

Hymn of the Day / Catechetical Hymn of the Week
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (LSB 344)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
When all the world was cursed (LSB 346)
Comfort, comfort ye My people (LSB 347)
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (LSB 359)
The night will soon be ending (LSB 337)

Hymn of Departure
Sing praise to the God of Israel (LSB 936)

Alternative Hymns
A multitude comes from the east and the west (LSB 510)
All Christians who have been baptized (LSB 596)
At the name of Jesus (LSB 512)
Come, Thou bright and Morning Star (LSB 872)
Creator of the stars of night (LSB 351)
Father, we praise Thee (LSB 875)
God’s own child, I gladly say it (LSB 594)
Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding (LSB 345)
Let all mortal flesh keep silence (LSB 621)
Let all together praise our God (LSB 389)
Lift high the cross (LSB 837)
Lord of our life and God of our salvation (LSB 659)
O come, O come, Emmanuel (LSB 357)
O God, O Lord of heaven and earth (LSB 834)
O Savior, rend the heavens wide (LSB 355)
Once He came in blessing (LSB 333)
Rejoice, rejoice, believers (LSB 515)
The advent of our King (LSB 331)
The Bridegroom soon will call us (LSB 514)
The day is surely drawing near (LSB 508)

Third Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 35:1–10
James 5:7–11
Matthew 11:2–15

Hymn of Invocation
O Lord, how shall I meet You (LSB 334)

Hymn of the Day
Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding (LSB 345)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice (LSB 556)
O Savior, rend the heavens wide (LSB 355) (Catechetical Hymn)
Rejoice, my heart, be glad and sing (LSB 737)
Praise the Almighty, my soul, adore Him (LSB 797)

Hymn of Departure
Rejoice, rejoice, believers (LSB 515)

Alternative Hymns
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360)
Come, your hearts and voices raising (LSB 375)
Comfort, comfort ye My people (LSB 347)
Entrust your days and burdens (LSB 754)
Hark the glad sound (LSB 349)
Hear us, Father, when we pray (LSB 773)
Hope of the world, Thou Christ of great compassion (LSB 690)
I will sing my Maker’s praises (TLH 25; LW 439; LSB 977e)
In Thee is gladness (LSB 818)
Lord of our life and God of our salvation (LSB 659)
My soul, now praise your maker (LSB 820)
Now that the daylight fills the sky (LSB 870)
O God, O Lord of heaven and earth (LSB 834)
O Lord, we praise Thee (LSB 617)
Oh, that I had a thousand voices (LSB 811)
Soul, adorn yourself with gladness (LSB 636)
The advent of our King (LSB 331)
The gifts Christ freely gives (LSB 602)
When all the world was cursed (LSB 346)
Why should cross and trial grieve me (LSB 756)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 7:10–17
Romans 1:1–7
Matthew 1:18–25

Hymn of Invocation
O Savior, rend the heavens wide (LSB 355)

Hymn of the Day / Catechetical Hymn of the Week
O come, O come, Emmanuel (LSB 357)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
The angel Gabriel from heaven came (LSB 356)
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (LSB 359)
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates (LSB 340)
Hail to the Lord’s anointed (LSB 398)

Hymn of Departure
O God of God, O Light of Light (LSB 810)

Alternative Hymns
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360)
At the name of Jesus (LSB 512)
Come, Thou precious Ransom, come (LSB 350)
Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding (LSB 345)
In the shattered bliss of Eden (LSB 572)
Jesus! Name of wondrous love (LSB 900)
Let all mortal flesh keep silence (LSB 621)
Let the earth now praise the Lord (LSB 352)
My soul, now praise your maker (LSB 820)
O little town of Bethlehem (LSB 361)
O Lord, how shall I meet You (LSB 334)
O sing of Christ, whose birth made known (LSB 362)
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)
Once He came in blessing (LSB 333)
Savior of the nations, come (LSB 332)
The advent of our King (LSB 331)
The night will soon be ending (LSB 337)
The only Son from heaven (LSB 402)
When all the world was cursed (LSB 346)
Ye watchers and ye holy ones (LSB 670)

07 November 2010

Raising Sons of God for the Bride of Christ

No one knows the Scriptures like Jesus, for no one knows the Father but the Son — and those to whom the Son reveals Him. For Christ Jesus Himself is the Word of God, by whom the Father speaks to you in love. To Him the Scriptures point, and of Him they testify, crucified and risen.

From the beginning, everything the Father does, He does for the sake of His Son: with His Son, through His Son, by the Word of His Son. For everything the Father says and does, flows from and with His love for the Son, and the Holy Spirit also abides in that divine eternal love.

The Holy Triune God creates the heavens and the earth and everything in them, because the Father loves the Son. The Man is the king of His creation, and the Woman is his queen, because the Man is made in the Image and Likeness of God — and that Image and Likeness is Christ, the beloved Son, who is the only-begotten of the Father from all eternity, but who will in the fullness of time be conceived and born of the Woman. The Father beholds His Son in the Man, and He beholds the Man in His Son. And in the Woman, whom He created for the Man and brought to him and gave to him, He beholds the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ, our Lord.

When the Woman is deceived by the serpent, and her husband follows her into sin, rejecting the Word of God and bringing death upon themselves and all their children, God preserves their life in the world for the sake of His Son, the Seed of the Woman, for He will come in mortal flesh to save them from sin and death, to slay the serpent and to set them free from his deceit and despair. The Lord sends them out of the Garden, it is true, but He does not put them to death. They live for many years and have many children, and that is already an indication of the Resurrection.

So, too, when Abraham, as good as dead — and his wife a barren old woman herself — is given the son whom God had promised, it is a testimony of the Resurrection. Likewise, when father Abraham, in faith, is ready to sacrifice that same beloved son, but receives him back as though from the dead when the Lord stays His hand and provides for Himself the sacrificial Lamb — it is a type of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Lamb, the only-begotten Son of God and the promised Seed of Abraham, who is sacrificed and raised from the dead.

It was the same when God put the whole sinful world to death with the flood, and yet preserved believing Noah and his family in the ark. That great type of Holy Baptism is no less a type of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, into which you have been baptized.

The story is told again in the Exodus from Egypt. God spares the sons from death by providing a lamb, sacrificed instead, whose flesh is their food and whose blood is their shield and protection. Again God brings His chosen people through the deadly waters and preserves them in the desert by providing for all their needs: living water from the rock and miraculous manna from heaven, lest they dehydrate and die of starvation. For in bringing them out of Egypt, He raises them from death to life, and even in the wilderness He promises to bring them at last into a good land, full of life and health and strength and every blessing. That promised land for which they hoped and set their hearts upon the pilgrim’s way, was not Canaan, but the new heavens and new earth, the Paradise of God, which they and you enter through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Really, the entire story of the Scriptures is the story of the Cross and Resurrection, because the entire Bible is a Book about Christ Jesus, the almighty and eternal Son of the living God. As He creates all things out of nothing, so does He bring new life out of death and the grave. When He creates the Man out of the dust of the ground, it is an image of the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. When He protects Joseph in Egypt and Esther in Persia, and delivers His people through them, it is a sign of the Resurrection. When He rescues Jonah from the belly of the great fish and raises him out of the watery depths, in order to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins, that too is a type of the Resurrection. And when He calls David to repentance and spares his life, it is for the sake of David’s Son, who dies in the place of His father, in place of you and all the world, but whom God also raises from the dead and seats at His right hand, enthroned above all the heavens.

The resurrection of the dead is a consequence of who God is and of what He chooses freely to do in love. For He is the living God, the Author and Giver of life, and the Creator of all things, who loves those whom He created and acts to save them by living His own life in human flesh.

Because the Son of God became true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our human nature participates in His divine eternal life, even as Man is created in His Image to begin with. Our flesh abides in God, for God has made our flesh His own flesh, and our blood and our bones His own blood and bones. As surely as God raised Jesus from the dead, therefore, so will He also raise the bodies of all the dead for the judgment, whether unto righteousness and eternal life or condemnation and eternal death. Each man, woman and child goes either to heaven or hell in the body, either to live bodily in the presence of God, or to suffer punishment apart from Him.

But the Resurrection of Christ Jesus is far more than simply the down payment and guarantee of a renewed and continued bodily existence after death. His Resurrection is the manifest victory of His Cross and Passion, the first fruits of the Atonement and of the New Creation. Everything that God ever intended for His Creation is fulfilled by the Incarnation and the Cross of Christ, and fully realized in His Resurrection from the dead in our human flesh and blood. His voluntary suffering and death, in perfect faith and love, is the fulfillment and satisfaction of the Law for us, the forgiveness of all our sins. Accordingly, His Resurrection from the dead is our redemption from sin and death, our reconciliation with God the Father, our righteousness and our holiness.

When God raised Jesus from the dead, He absolved the sins of the world, which the beloved Son had borne in His body on the Cross. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He thus declared the world “not guilty.” When God raised Jesus from the dead, He raised up you and all the baptized faithful from the dead, as well, not for an uncertain judgment that could go either way, but for the sure judgment of righteousness, unto salvation and eternal life. That is what He always intended for you, that you should have life in and with Him; not only from when you were conceived and born, but from the very beginning, yes, and even from before the foundation of the world. And that which He always intended for you, in love, He accomplished for you in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead. If Christ is raised from the dead — as He surely is — you also are raised from death to life; so that, even though you die, yet shall you live, never to die again.

It is in this light that you know the true point and purpose, the sacred significance and the relative importance of marriage and family. These things do not contradict but confess the Resurrection.

Marriage and family signify Christ and His Bride, the Church, and the children of God in Christ Jesus, who are begotten by His Word and Holy Spirit, by His Gospel of forgiveness, by the labor of His Cross and the delivery of His Resurrection from the dead. From the beginning it has ever and always been so. The creation of Man in the Image of God, male and female, and the creation of the Woman for the Man, was in view of the union of Christ and His Church. The blessing of children, that the Man and his Bride should be fruitful and multiply, was the original mission and evangelism, by which the Church has continued to grow even after the fall into sin.

Prior to the Incarnation, the begetting and bearing of children — to Adam & Eve, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the sons of Israel, and to Judah in particular, and then to David and his sons — was a preserving of the promised Seed, who would crush the head of the serpent and rescue all the sons and daughters of the Man. Every daughter was potentially the Woman whose Seed would be the Christ, and every son was potentially the One, the righteous Servant of the Lord.

For that reason, especially, the Law of Moses guarded and protected the Seed of Israel. Thus, if a man died leaving behind a widow but no children, his brother was to marry her and raise up sons for the sake of his name and his inheritance. Several times this law pertained in the genealogy of our Lord Jesus, as in the case of Tamar and Judah, and again in the case of Ruth and Boaz.

Now that the Seed of the Woman has come and has conquered in the fight, of course we do not look for any other to be the Christ, the incarnate Son of God. Yet, the fact that He was conceived and born of the Woman redeems and sanctifies the bearing of children. And as He Himself is the heavenly Bridegroom of His holy Bride, it is still for this reason that a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, the two becoming one, joined together by God through His Word. What is more, as already indicated, it is by this bodily union — in the Image of Christ and His Church — that children are conceived and born, who are also catechized and baptized, born again of water and the Spirit as sons of God in Christ. That is a high and holy calling indeed.

To be a son of God in Christ, by virtue of your Holy Baptism, is to be a son of the resurrection in Him who is your crucified and risen Lord, never to die again. In the resurrection of your body at the last, you shall be like the angels in heaven; not that you will cease to be a human being, nor that you will be a disembodied spirit, but that you will not be married or given in marriage, you will neither beget nor bear children (whether you have done so in your life on earth or not). You will live in the presence of God — sharing the Glory of God in Christ Jesus, your Brother in the flesh — deriving your life entirely from Him, and living unto Him in peace and joy forever.

Although the Day of the Lord and the final resurrection of the body have not yet come, nor the appearance of His presence in your midst (for He is with you even now, hidden from your eyes), you live already as a son of the resurrection, as a son of God in Christ, by virtue of your Baptism into Him, by His grace through faith in His forgiveness of all your sins. For where there is such forgiveness, death and the devil no longer have any claim on you, but life and salvation are yours for Jesus’ sake. His Cross and Resurrection define your life on earth, whether you are married or unmarried, whether you are a parent or a child. If you are married, your chastity in marriage — your faithfulness and love toward your spouse — confesses the marriage of Christ & His Church. If you are unmarried, you are yet a member of His Bride, the Church, and He is your Groom.

As those who are married on earth are a type of the great Marriage of the Lamb in His Kingdom, those who are not married in this life on earth provide a prophetic sign that our present life is transient and passing away; it is a pilgrimage in which we have no permanent home. Either way, married or unmarried, your hope is in Christ Jesus, and you live by faith in His Gospel. So then, whether you bear the cross of caring for your spouse, or you carry the cross of living without a husband or wife on earth, do so patiently, and redeem the time that you are given by loving and serving your neighbor: Begin with your own family, however big or small it may be, and then also care for the Church as the household and family of God (which is, in truth, your family, too).

Likewise, if you are a parent, serve the Lord in faith by serving your children in love. And if you are a child, serve the Lord by honoring your father and mother, as He has commanded you to do.

But if you have no children of your own, then love and serve the children of your God and Father in heaven, for they are your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. And if you are an orphan, young or old, then care for the older members of the Church, and for your elder neighbors in the world.

Whatever you do on earth, do it in the hope of the resurrection of the body: the resurrection of your own body, and the resurrection of your neighbor’s body. Remember that your body is like that of Christ Jesus, and so is your neighbor’s body. What you do in and with your body, and what you do for your neighbor’s body, should be a confession of the Lord’s Resurrection. Do not despair in the face of death, but neither despise the body, even in its frailty and weakness.

All doubts and denials of the Resurrection are of the devil, the deceiver. But the Lord Jesus shuts the tempter up, and silences his accusations, and slays him by the Breath of His mouth, that is to say, by the bestowal of His life-giving Holy Spirit through the Word and preaching of the Gospel.

As He has chosen you in love from the beginning, from before the foundation of the world, so has He called you by that preaching of the Gospel, the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

Stand firm in that sure and certain Word, in which the Resurrection and the Life and the Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ are yours. Live in His Gospel, and when the time comes, die in His peace. For you are alive with His Spirit, and though you are baptized with fire, you are not consumed.

Hold fast to the holy apostolic traditions, which are the testimony of the Scriptures to Christ Jesus; the preaching of His Gospel and the Word of Holy Absolution in His Name and stead; the administration of Holy Baptism, also in His Name; and the celebration of His Holy Supper in His remembrance, which is, first of all, the way in which He remembers you and moves to save you.

By these means of grace, which He has handed over to His Church on earth and has faithfully preserved among His people from generation to generation, so does He strengthen and preserve you, steadfast in His Word and faith, unto the resurrection of your body, to the life everlasting of your body, soul and spirit in His own crucified and risen Body. For His Resurrection surely is and remains your resurrection, your reconciliation and your righteousness, both now and forever.

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

01 November 2010

Fix Your Ears and Heart and Mouth on Jesus

Behold the host arrayed in white, and fix your eyes on Jesus.

Easier said than done! For even though, when He appears, you shall see Him as He is, because you shall be like Him, it has not yet appeared what you shall be. And though it is most certainly true that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, prophets and apostles, martyrs and all saints, all the faithful departed who have gone before us in Christ Jesus, you cannot see them.

What you behold is not the Resurrection, nor the glorious life of heaven, but the Cross, suffering, sin and death, and all the trials and temptations of the great tribulation. You see it in your neighbor (even where it's not!), and you see it and experience it in yourself, in your mortal flesh and blood, in this poor life of labor. Most of all do you behold it in those whom you have loved in this life on earth, who have died, who are now but dust or ashes, hidden away in boxes. Their bodies and their life in Christ Jesus are out of sight, hidden from your senses.

What you perceive and feel is emptiness, loss and sorrow, the pain of separation, doubt and fear and uncertainty — which scare you all the more because your faith is threatened and you are tempted to despair; or else tempted to become cold and harsh and hard. Cynicism creeps in, where the catholic faith ought to hold sway, and you are tossed about within and without.

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

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

But for now, you fix that hope on Jesus — that sure and certain hope — not with your eyes, but with your ears, by the hearing of His Word; by repentant faith (not sight); by the confession of His Name in the face of sin and death and hell; by the daily remembrance of your Holy Baptism, and by the eating and drinking of His Body and His Blood.

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

But with your eyes, you do not yet see the risen, exalted, all-glorious Christ Jesus. You see Him, rather, crucified — in the hurts and heartaches of mortal life in a fallen, sinful world. You see the Cross all around you in the curse of sin and death, and in the Ministry of the Gospel, since it is the Gospel of the Cross.

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

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

And having thus shared His death by your Baptism into Him, and having taken His sacrificial body and blood into your own body, rejoice when you are counted worthy to bear and carry His Cross in your vocation and stations in life.

When your eyes behold the hurt and heartache of your neighbor, then behold Christ the Crucified in him or her, and so fix your hope on Jesus by helping, as you can, in the confession and confidence of the resurrection of the body. That puts all things into perspective, for the sufferings and death of the body are neither insignificant nor final. It is therefore in the hope of the Lord's own bodily resurrection that you love and serve and care for your neighbor's body while you can, and in the same hope of the resurrection that you lay to rest the bodies of your loved ones who have died in the faith of Christ Jesus.

Blessed are they who so die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.

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

For already in bearing the Cross, you are like Him, who bore your sins in His own body on the Cross. He made Himself to be like you, that you should thus become a son of God in Him, by grace through faith in His redemption.

He has borne your poverty, that you should receive the inheritance of His heavenly kingdom. He has come down from heaven to earth in gentleness and meekness, so that all of creation is redeemed, made new and sanctified in His crucified and resurrected body; so that even here on earth, while yet on your pilgrimage, you are already at home with your Father in heaven by faith in Christ, His Son.

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

Therefore, when you are persecuted and accused of all kinds of evil, and you are insulted for the sake of Christ, and even put to death, rejoice and be glad. For He has also been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted and falsely accused and put to death upon the Cross. So also His prophets and apostles, His martyrs and all saints, and all of His disciples, who take up the Cross and follow Him.

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

To be gathered here around the Lamb upon His throne, His Altar in the Tabernacle of His Church, is to worship and confess Him by faith. Neither you nor the world can yet see Him here, and yet you love Him because He has first loved you. He has given Himself for you, He has died for you and risen for you, and He is here with you. He shall never leave you nor forsake you, but here He gives Himself to you, and He abides with you, that you may live and abide in Him forever and ever.

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

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

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

Even now, by His means of grace, His Gospel-Word and Sacrament, your body, soul and spirit live safely and securely in His Body. So do all the saints in heaven and on earth live and move within the Body of Christ, the Lamb.

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

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

But you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him, and you shall live with Him in the glorious Kingdom of His God and Father, sanctified forever by His Holy Spirit.

Eat and drink the foretaste of that Glory here and now. Indeed, taste and see that the Lord is good, whose mercy endures forever.

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