21 December 2010

Wounded with Love, in order to Love the Weary, Weak and Wounded

Another pastor once offered his theory that St. Thomas was called “Didymus,” which means “twin,” because he looked a lot like Jesus and was frequently mistaken for Him. There’s no way to know for certain, and it doesn’t change anything, in any case, but it’s a compelling suggestion. It may help to explain why St. Thomas was so skeptical; if he were used to having people think he was Jesus, then perhaps another “twin” had appeared to his fellow disciples.

Give him some credit, at least, for identifying the real Jesus with the wounds of His holy cross. St. Thomas got that much right, even in his doubts and unbelief.

This is not the first we hear of St. Thomas the Twin. The other holy evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, only mention his name (paired with St. Matthew) in their lists of the Twelve Apostles. But St. John records several occasions on which St. Thomas steps to the fore and speaks up.

When Jesus determined to go to Bethany after His dear friend Lazarus had died, even knowing that Jews in that vicinity (near the city of Jerusalem) were out to get Him and had already tried to kill Him, St. Thomas resigned himself to “go and die” with the Lord Jesus. (Again, that makes a special sort of sense if he highly resembled the Man.)

On that occasion, then, not only did St. Thomas witness the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, but he also heard the testimony of Christ Jesus concerning Himself, that He is “the Resurrection and the Life.” Those who believe in Him shall live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in Him, shall never die.

It should not have struck St. Thomas so remarkably and unbelievably, therefore, that the same Lord Jesus Christ had Himself risen from the dead (just as He had said He would at several points along His way to the Cross). It should not have come as such a surprise to St. Thomas or any of the other disciples, but, in fact, it caught them all off guard. Each and all of them doubted the resurrection initially (and more than once), even with the risen Lord standing right in front of them. Actually, St. Thomas is relatively quick to believe and confess when he sees the evidence of our Lord’s crucified and risen flesh.

Less than two weeks previously, on Maundy Thursday, St. Thomas had stated that he and the other disciples did not know where Jesus was going, so how could they know the way or follow Him on His journey to the Father. In response, Jesus declared that He is “the Way, the Truth, and (again) the Life.” It is by Him alone, and by no other way or means, that His disciples come to the Father — through His Cross, and in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of God the Father almighty.

“He who has seen Me,” Jesus says, “has seen the Father.” Believe His Words, therefore, which He speaks from the Father. Or else believe His works, which are the works of His Father.

Or, as here, believe His wounds, which proclaim His Gospel and evidence both His Cross and His Resurrection. For here is the Paschal Lamb of God, who has been sacrificed and slain for us, and yet, behold, He lives forevermore, never to die again.

As for St. Thomas and the other disciples then, so also for you now, and forever: You do not and cannot have God as your Father, nor do you breathe His Breath of Life, that is, the Holy Spirit, except in the fellowship of this incarnate Lord God, the crucified and risen Jesus Christ — fellow-ship with Him in His wounded and glorified Body of flesh and blood.

You find and have that fellowship with the incarnate Lord Jesus in the fellowship of His Body, the Church. He comes to you and is with you in that gathering of His disciples, within His House where His Word is preached and His Sacraments are administered in His Name. So has St. John described the events of today’s Holy Gospel with the Divine Service of the Lord’s Day in view.

The Eighth Day — in this case, the day when St. Thomas is met by the Lord, who grants him peace and restores his faith through the testimony of His wounded hands and side — this is the eternal day of the Lord’s Resurrection. It is the day of Holy Baptism and of the Holy Communion. It is the day of the Divine Service and the Pax Domini.

Here, also, by the Gospel–Word and Sacrament of the same Lord Jesus Christ, even on a Tuesday evening in the middle of December, we are gathered together in His Name, in the midst of His disciples, and we enter with Him and all of them into the Eighth Day, into the eternal sunshine of His Love. This is the morning for which the watchmen wait in hope.

Here is where and when and how the Lord is with you, hidden from your eyes, but no less present in His Body of flesh and blood than He was with the disciples then.

The first mistake that St. Thomas made was in not being gathered together with the other disciples — whatever his reasons may have been for not being there. His sinful doubts and fears and unbelief are not relieved but fostered and exacerbated by his absence from that fellowship of the Church. He does not see the Body of Christ on the First Day of the week, because he is not gathered with the Body of Christ in the company of his brothers.

He is there on the Eighth Day, however, on the Octave of the Resurrection, the Second Sunday of Easter, because of the confession and witness of the other disciples who have seen the Lord. In this, they begin to serve their office and vocation as holy Apostles of Christ Jesus.

So also should you seek out your brothers and sisters in Christ when they have been missing from the Divine Service; search them out, and confess and testify to them what He says and does for you here in the fellowship of His Body, the Church. Encourage them to come with you, to be here with the disciples of the Lord Jesus — even (or especially) if they are struggling with doubts and fears and incredulity; even though they may be weary, weak and wounded in heart and mind, body and soul. Invite them to come, encourage them to come, and bring them along with you.

The Church is precisely the place for the weary, the weak and the wounded, for those who are hurting, doubtful and afraid.

It is the place for you, no matter your wounds that will not heal in this life on earth; no matter the scars you bear on the inside or on the surface; no matter your personality, your cynicism, skepticism or sarcasm, your sickness, suffering or sorrow.

The wounded Body of Christ is the place for you. Reach here, then, with your finger and your hand, to see and touch and feel and handle His holy wounds, His sacred scars. For He has been wounded in His love for you and for all, in order to love the weary, the weak and the wounded with His sacrificial flesh and blood.

Again, St. Thomas had that part right, even in the depths of his doubts, depression and despair. He looks for the Lamb who was slain. He understands that the real Lord Jesus is the Crucified One — and that remains so, even in His Resurrection. His glorified Body bears the scars of His Cross, because His Body has been glorified by the wounds He has suffered in love for us poor sinners.

He is recognized, rightly, not “in spite of” His wounds, but especially by His wounds. Indeed, He is recognized in His wounds, not only as Jesus of Nazareth, but as the Lord and God, and as your Savior and Redeemer.

He is recognized in His wounds,
and His disciples are brought to faith in His wounds.

So where do you see and touch those wounds of Christ in His Body?

First of all, in His means of grace. He approaches you by the preaching of His Gospel, which is the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name. That preaching breathes into your body, through your ears, the Spirit of Christ — from His Cross into your body, unto the resurrection of your body from the dust of the earth to the life everlasting.

His preaching of the Cross also brings you to His Baptism, whether to be baptized in the first place, if you have not been, or to return you to the significance of your one Holy Baptism through contrition for your sins, repentance, confession, and faith in His Absolution or forgiveness.

By that ongoing significance of your Baptism, you are daily united with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus in His Cross and Resurrection. You die and rise with Him, as you are baptized into His riven side, and you are washed and cleansed in the water and the blood that are poured out from the wounds of His Body upon your body and soul.

He has drowned your old Adam in that death-dealing and life-giving flood of Holy Baptism, and He has brought you through the Red Sea and the Jordan River of your Baptism, and brought you safe and dry aboard His holy ark of Christendom, so that you are now a sheep of His pasture, a member of His Body, the Church.

Here in His House, at His Table, He who is both your Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God, who has laid down His own life for the sheep and shed His blood for their Atonement and Redemption, feeds you from His wounded hands with His holy Body and precious Blood.

Not only have you entered His wounds through Holy Baptism, but you feast upon His wounded Body here in the Holy Communion, and with His own flesh and blood, the fruits of His sacrifice, He enters into your wounded body to dwell with you and abide with you in peace, unto eternal life.

As He thus deals with you so kindly and so graciously, beloved, so do you also behold His wounds and reach out to them in His other disciples, your brothers and sisters within the one Body and fellowship of His Church.

Do not be afraid to care for those who are so weary, so weak and so wounded, for whom Christ Jesus Himself, your Lord and your God, has been so wounded and sorely scarred in love.

How else should you look like Jesus, so that you might also be called “Didymus,” His “twin,” and be so closely identified with Him as to be mistaken for Him? So as to be His Christian?

Love your neighbor, that is how. Tend his wounds, care for her scars, feed his hunger, quench his thirst, and soothe her doubts.

Love your brothers and sisters, with or without emotion, but surely with your words and works of mercy and of service.

Use your body to care for your neighbor’s body, as you care for the wounds in your own flesh.

And in so doing, behold the Lord Jesus, the wounded God, who has been slain for you and for your neighbor, and yet, behold, He lives: for you, in you, and through you. If you are wounded for the sake of His love; if you are beaten and bruised, mocked and ridiculed and spit upon; if you are crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced, well, then so much the more will you look like Jesus.

How can you possibly believe this? And how on earth can you ever hope to live like this, as Jesus lives, in such love for your neighbors, even for those who hate you and hurt you?

How shall you survive your own wounds, and how shall you help to heal the wounds of others? Such wounds are not pleasant or pretty. The instincts of your sinful heart and of selfish self-preservation would have you turn away in fear and loathing. So how shall you ever become otherwise? How shall you believe and love?

It is by the apostolic ministry of the Gospel of Christ, by those who come in His Name with His word, His works, and His wounds.

It is by the apostolic witness and testimony of St. Thomas the Apostle and his fellow Apostles, and the Prophets and Evangelists, and the pastors and teachers whom Christ freely and graciously gives to His Church on earth.

Beloved, you do not yet see Him, but His Apostles have seen Him, and have eye-witnessed His Baptism, His Life and Ministry, His preaching and miracles, His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension. And as they have so seen and heard and touched and handled the Word-made-Flesh, so by their confession, preaching and teaching of the Word of Christ, you are blessed by His grace, and you believe Him and love Him, sight unseen, hidden under His Cross and revealed not yet in power but in His wounds.

So here in His Church, as a member of His Body, whether you be a joint or ligament, an arm or leg, a hand or foot, a mouth or an ear, an internal organ or a weaker member, you taste and see by faith the Glory of the Lord in His flesh and blood. You see the bread and wine, which by His Word are His Body given and His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. You hear, also, His Gospel of forgiveness. You touch and handle, and eat and drink, His wounded Body, conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, risen from the dead and glorified — for youforever — at the right hand of His God and Father.

By this apostolic ministry of the Gospel, your fellowship is with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, and with His Father and His Holy Spirit, and with all those who are His, with St. Thomas and all of the Apostles, and with all saints in heaven and on earth.

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

1 comment:

William Weedon said...

Wow. Just wow. Thank you!