01 November 2011

You Live as Christ Lives

By your Holy Baptism into Christ Jesus, you have received the gracious adoption of sons, so that you are God’s own child, and He is your true Father. Though it is yet hidden from even your own eyes and senses, you have been signed with the Cross of Christ and sealed with His Holy Spirit, so that you also have life and salvation in Him. And, as you thus belong to Him, so has your Baptism situated you within the Holy Communion of His Body, the Church; even as you are given to eat His holy Body and to drink His precious Blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for the cleansing of your body and soul, within and without.

Belonging to the Body of Christ, and bearing the sign of His Cross upon your body, upon your forehead and your heart, you have been set upon the pilgrims’ way. Your Baptism has given you a new identity in Christ Jesus, and it is not of this world. The world does not know you, dear Christian, because it does not know Him who has anointed you and named you after Himself. Here, then, in this fallen world, you are a stranger in a strange land. For this is not your true home, and this is not your fatherland. But your true home is in Christ with your Father in heaven.

In this life on earth, as a baptized Christian, you are on a journey — one with many twists and turns, and ups and downs — in the midst of a great tribulation. It is a narrow way, often dark, and painful: Like the pain of labor and delivery for both mother and child, and like the dark and narrow chamber of the grave. It is the tribulation of the Cross that weighs upon you, and works in you both death and life. Because it is the daily journey of repentance, on which your old Adam is put to death in you, crucified and buried.

But the journey does not end in death. Weeping may remain for a night — and that may be a long, dark night, indeed — but there is joy in the morning of the Lord’s Resurrection, and day by day He wipes away every tear from your eyes. He forgives your sins, raises you up from death, and gives you life in Himself. So the Cross that you bear is not only the death of your old Adam, but it also becomes the burden of love and forgiveness that you bear for your neighbor in Christ.

So there is the Cross and burden of both death and life, but both of these belong to the journey; neither is yet your destination. Already there is a Sabbath Rest for you in Christ, even in the midst of all your labors. And even now He leads you and guides you to the springs of the water of life in the Ministry of the Gospel. But there shall down a still more glorious Day — the eternal Eighth Day of the Resurrection — when all your burdens shall be no more, and you shall rest from your labors in the endless joy and felicity of Christ Jesus.

That Peace and Rest in Christ — in the face of sin and death — is the promise and hope to which we cling, and which we celebrate in the witness of the faithful departed. In the death of those who die in the Lord, we recognize not defeat, but victory; not a tragic ending, but a blessed sleep. We dare to say of dust and bones, that these shall be raised and live in glory. For the First-fruits of the Resurrection have already been offered to God in the Body of Christ Jesus. He has gone up the Mountain and taken His seat at the Right Hand of the Father, and so do His works follow Him: His disciples from all the nations, from many tribes and tongues and peoples, all who believe and are baptized into Him; they come to Him in peace, and the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

So do we rightly dare to say and confess concerning you, also, even though your mortal flesh already reeks of death and the grave, and despite the fact that all of your best efforts and most righteous works are dust and bones. But we boldly confess that you shall from death and live forever in glory, because you are surely cleansed and covered and clothed by the Blood of the Lamb. For He has taken your mortal flesh to be His own, and He has taken all your sins upon Himself, and He has been sacrificed for you. See, His Blood now marks the door of this House, where you have been given a home with His God and Father. And His paschal Blood permeates the waters of your Baptism, whereby you are washed and vested in the white robes His perfect righteousness. He has redeemed you with His life, and He has reconciled you to the Father in His Resurrection from the dead. Now He also feeds you with His crucified and risen flesh, and He pours out His Blood for you to drink, that you might have His Life in you, not only in your soul, but in your body. As death could not hold Him, neither shall it have any final claim on you.

That is the endurance with which you run the race that is set before you. His Cross and Resurrection are your courage in the face of sin and death. His Body and His Blood are your food for the journey: your Manna in the wilderness, your water from the Rock. His Righteousness is your strength, His forgiveness your peace, and His Gospel your life and light and salvation.

Therefore, do not die within yourself — do not lose heart or give up hope — but live, as Christ lives. Pursue the path that the Lord your God has set you upon. Be content with your own particular calling, and fulfill it faithfully, whether it be great or small. Bear the Cross in love for your neighbor. Be patient, and persevere in the faith of Christ. For you are a son of God in Him, and He has honored you with His own life-giving Spirit.

As your hope is in Him — and your life, your health and strength are in Him — purify yourself in Him, just as He is pure. That is to say, live by the grace of the Gospel. Forgive those who trespass against you, just as you are forgiven all your sins by your Father in heaven, for Jesus’ sake. Humble yourself before Him, and so deal with your neighbor in humility and gentleness. Have mercy upon your fellow sinners, as upon your fellow Christians, and, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all people. Swallow your pride, and make the first move to apologize, to make amends, and to be reconciled with your neighbor.

As you are comforted by Christ in your sadness, comfort those who mourn. Call them, or write to them, or visit them if you are able. Remember those who are hurting, not only in and with your prayers, but with the balm of your kind words and your presence in their anguish. Feed your neighbor, not only with food and drink, but with whatever means the Lord has generously provided you, for whatever needs your neighbor may have in heart, mind, body or soul.

And do not resent the needs and weaknesses of those you are given to help, as though you had any strength or sufficiency of your own — when, in fact, you having nothing but the charity of God. Therefore, pursue righteousness, not with the force of the Law, but by the Gospel of the Cross.

That is the pilgrims’ way, and that is the race that is set before you. That is the journey of your Baptism — through death into life with Christ Jesus, your Lord.

Beloved, take to heart that you are not alone on this journey. Surely the Lord Himself is with you always, as He has promised. But consider the ways and means by which He accompanies you and abides with you, and realize that, precisely in Him, you are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. There is the testimony and the evidence of the saints who have gone before you in the faith of the Gospel, as well as the witness of those who love and serve you within their own vocations now. As you are given to care for your neighbor, so do your brothers and sisters in Christ care for you.

Not only the saints in heaven, but the whole Church in heaven and on earth is gathered before the Throne of God in His Temple, to worship the Lamb in the center of the Throne. For He who is both perfect God and perfect Man, who was crucified for your transgressions, and raised for your justification — who was sacrificed for you, and yet, behold, He lives — He fills all things and unites all of the children of God in Himself. While He ever lives to intercede for you at the Right Hand of His Father, so does He also serve you in His Church on earth. For He is the One who preaches and teaches, who baptizes and absolves, and who communes you with His Body and His Blood. He is the great Good Shepherd who spreads His Tabernacle over you, even as He is your merciful and great High Priest, who brings you to His own dear God and Father in peace and love.

Fix your eyes and ears, your heart and mind on Him: on Jesus, your Savior. You see and hear Him in His saints, not by their own merits, but according to His mercy, because He is their Life — as He is also yours. So, too, their example and their faithfulness, by His grace, point you to the Gospel. For it is the Gospel of Christ Jesus that their lips and their lives have confessed.

Everything flows from Him, returns to Him, and centers in Him. For He is the Author and Perfecter of faith and life, and the Firstborn of many brethren: by His Incarnation, by His Baptism, by His Life and Ministry, by His Cross and Resurrection, and now also by the preaching and administration of the Gospel in His Name and stead.

Everything that was necessary for you to have life and salvation with God, this dear Lamb the Lord Jesus, has done and accomplished for you: not only on your behalf, but in such a way that everything He has done is credited to you, and given to you, so that it actually becomes yours. In fact, it is already yours, by His grace, through faith in the Gospel. Because He gives you nothing less than Himself in and with and through the Gospel.

Your strength is in Him — and it is an all-sufficient strength, which is not defeated but made perfect in weakness. That can be frustrating and discouraging, because it is so contrary to your instincts, and so foreign to the wisdom of the world. It seems foolish and helpless. That is the way of the Cross. On the one hand, it appears so weak and impotent, while on the other hand it crucifies you and puts you to death. But out of this great divine paradox — and out of this great tribulation — the Cross releases you from sin and death, and sets you free to live with Christ Jesus. In fact, by the Gospel of forgiveness — this weak and foolish charity and compassion of God — from His own Cross and Passion, He gives to you His own Resurrection, and His Life.

That’s right: His Victory over death and the grave is your Victory. His Resurrection and His Righteousness are yours. And His Life is yours. Indeed, everything that belongs to Him, now belongs to you, by His grace. It is given to you freely, by and with and in His Gospel. And not even death shall be able to snatch it from you; no more than death can snatch you from Him.

That is what we celebrate in this Feast of All Saints. For here you also are gathered with that great throng of witnesses, robed in white, encircling the Lamb once slain. Just as He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity, so shall you not die, but live.

For you are in Him, and He abides in you and with you. He surrounds you round about, supports you as a firm foundation, and shelters you with Himself as a strong shield.

Though you struggle and suffer, and you are crucified, dead and buried, you share the Lord’s Resurrection and His Life — even as you eat His Body and drink His Blood. And you are knit together with all His saints in the fellowship of His Church in heaven and on earth. You are bound together, in Him and with Him, in His flesh and blood, with all those who have gone before you in the faith and Baptism of Jesus.

Though it does not yet appear what you shall be, it is already true in Him, and when He appears, then you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him: glorious with His glory, immortal, imperishable, and fully alive forever and ever.

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

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