28 March 2013

One for All, and All for Love

Everything that Jesus does, He does in love for you, in order to give you Life with God the Father in Himself.  So, too, the love that He commands you to have for one another, is this same Love that He has and exercises for each and all of you.

He has come from the Father into the Flesh, and He tabernacles with His Church in the Flesh, in order to reveal the Father to you, and to all, in His own Body of flesh and blood.  And as He has come from the Father, so does He also return to the Father — in His Flesh, through His Blood, by His Cross and Passion — in order to bring you to the bosom of the Father, in and with Himself.

He is your merciful and great High Priest, and so it is that, by His sacrificial death, He enters into the Most Holy Place on your behalf.  That is to say, He enters the presence of His God and Father, in order to establish a permanent place for you there.  And so has He done.  In His crucified and risen flesh, He is your steadfast Anchor behind the veil; and where He is, there you shall be also.

This is the New Covenant that He has established between God and man; which is the bond and union, the Holy Communion, between God and man.  In Christ, forevermore, man is in harmony with God.  For Christ has reconciled the world to God the Father in Himself: in His own flesh and blood, crucified for your transgressions, and raised from the dead for your justification.  In this New Covenant of Christ, you are bound to God in peace, as He has bound Himself to you in love.

Now, the same Lord Jesus Christ calls you to receive and enter into that New Covenant of His, not by any works of yours, but by the promise of His Gospel.  He calls you by the Gospel, and you both receive the promise and enter into His Covenant by the way and the means of the Gospel.

That is what He is doing, and what happens, in the preaching of His Holy Gospel; that is what He has done for you and given to you in Holy Baptism; and that is what He continues to do and to give in Holy Absolution.  By the holy bath of your Baptism, you are already clean; and daily, by the Gospel of forgiveness, the Lord Jesus washes your feet, that you may have your place with Him.

The Holy Gospel, in each and all of these ways, bestows the very thing that it promises; although it is hidden in the Mystery of the Cross, which seems to have taken Christ Jesus away from you.  What the Gospel promises, and what it gives — not in spite of the Cross, but from the Cross — is the forgiveness of all your sins, and rescue from all of your enemies, and redemption from death.

The Blood of the Lamb has atoned for your sins and reconciled you to God.  Therefore, the devil has no rightful claim on you; he has no right to accuse you; nor is he permitted to tyrannize you.  And death is not permitted to have you anymore, either, or to hold you forever.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, as there is for you in the Gospel, there is resurrection, life, and salvation.

Thus, by the Gospel of the Cross of Christ, the Lord has executed judgment against all the gods of Egypt, against all the principalities and powers of this present age, and against the devil, the world, and the fallen flesh of old Adam, which seek to thwart His will and to destroy His people.

He has executed judgment against all of those false gods and mortal enemies of man; and, by the same token, He spares you from their demise, He delivers and redeems you from their grasp, and He brings you out of Egypt by His mighty arms and outstretched hands.

Therefore, do not turn to those false gods and enemies for life and help, for comfort or blessing.  They attempt to deceive you with false and alluring promises, but they cannot help or save you; they cannot give you life.  They cannot do anything but enslave you again with sin, and bring you again to death and the grave.   Therefore, do not forsake the Lord your God, nor forget His Holy Covenant, but daily repent of your sins, return to the sure promise of the Gospel, and cling to it.

It is for this reason, and to this end, that the Lord also disciplines you in love; so that you not be condemned with the idolatrous and unbelieving Egyptians, but rescued and redeemed for life.

He disciplines you with His Word of the Law, and with the sufferings of your mortal flesh in this fallen world.  But He calls you to repentant faith, He raises you up and restores you to Himself, by the preaching of the promise.  It never is by your own reason and strength, but by the preaching of the promise itself, that you receive and believe the promise of the Gospel.  It is His preaching that opens your ears to hear; His giving that opens your hand and your mouth to receive; and His kneeling to wash your feet that cleanses you of all unrighteousness and so enables you to stand.

Do not boast and brag of yourself, as Simon Peter did — and then he fell down hard and fast, as you will, too, on that path of self-reliance.  But hear and heed the Word of Christ, who saves you.  By His Word and promises, by His actions and His gifts, He sanctifies you in body and soul, inside and out, with His forgiveness of sins.  It is by this Gospel of His that you are completely clean.

This is what the Divine Service of His Word and Sacrament is all about.  Indeed, this is what the Divine Service actually is: The Lord Jesus coming and doing, speaking and giving, all by grace.  By the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, He returns you to the cleansing waters of your Baptism; and then He brings you to His Table, to feed you with His Body and His Blood; so that, in Him, in His flesh, you live and abide in the Holy Communion of the Holy Triune God.

It certainly doesn’t look that way for now.  You do not, and cannot, discern the Lord’s Body by your eyesight or your intellect.  Your wisdom and senses will fail you there.  But you discern the Lord’s Body, here and now, hidden under the Cross in humble bread and wine, by the Word that He speaks, and by the proclamation and catechesis of His Word.

It is His Word which not only reveals His Body and His Blood, but actually makes the bread to be His Body, the wine to be His Blood.  He uses that strong and simple word, “is,” at the heart of the Consecration, and He invites you to eat and to drink because of that identification: He speaks, and it is so.  “This Is My Body.”  Therefore, “Eat.”  Likewise, also, “This Is My Blood,” and, with that, “This Chalice is the New Covenant in My Blood.”  Therefore, “Drink of it, all of you.”

There simply is no Lord’s Supper without the Lord’s Word, which makes the Supper what it is, and which gives the Supper to you, His Christian, to eat and to drink.

But this Word of the Lord, by which He consecrates His Sacrament of the Altar, is not spoken or heard in a vacuum.  As often as the Church is gathered to eat this Bread and drink this Cup, this Holy Supper of Christ Jesus is given and received along with the preaching and teaching of His death (until He comes in glory, and all His holy angels with Him, as the risen and exalted One).

It is by the proclamation of Christ, crucified and risen, that you discern the Lord’s Body in the Holy Communion, and so receive and believe the promise of His Gospel: That is to say, not only that the bread and wine are His Body and His Blood, at His Word; but also that this Most Holy Food and Drink are given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins:

He gives you His sacred Body to eat, and He pours out His holy and precious Blood for you to drink, for the forgiveness of all your fears and failings, for your betrayals and denials, for your arrogance and envy, for your faithless despair, and for all of your other shameful sins and vices.

Thus, by His Word and promise of the Gospel, which is to say, by His free and full forgiveness of your sins, you remember Him in this Holy Sacrament: Not only in your heart and mind, with your intellect and emotions, but also with your ears, and with your hand and mouth, and in your body as well as your soul.  For His Body and His Blood are surely given for both your body and soul.

You remember Him, by His Word of the Gospel, as He remembers you in love by giving you His Body to eat, and by pouring out His Blood for you to drink.  For He is not a passive or distant observer of this Supper, but He truly is the Host, the Waiter, and the Meal; no less so than He is the Sacrifice Itself, the Meat and Drink of which are here received and shared in the fellowship of the Church with her Lord Jesus Christ, and with His God and Father, and with the Holy Spirit.

You remember Him, as He remembers you in Love, not only in the Sacrament, but also in loving one another, as He has loved you.  It is the New Covenant of Christ that undergirds and informs the New Commandment.  Not that “Love” is something altogether new; for the entire Law of God is summarized in this one word.  But Christ has fulfilled the Law, and He has made all things new; so that “Love” itself is redefined, or, rather, it is realized for what it truly is, in the Cross of Christ, in the sacrifice of His flesh and blood for the atonement of the world, and in His Holy Sacrament.

As a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus, you are given to love your neighbors without prejudice or partiality, as the Lord Jesus loves and serves all people, and lays down His life for the salvation of the world.  But all the more so are you given to love one another, who are bathed and washed and cleansed by one Lord Jesus Christ, in one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and who are fed by the same Lord Jesus Christ, with His Body and His Blood, as fellow members of one Body in Him.  It is His Love for you, in these means of grace, that fills you with His Love for each other.

His Love for you is not left behind, in the past, but is constant and continuous.  Consider that He loves you and serves you unto the “end,” with His forgiveness and life and salvation.  That is how you remember Him and follow Him, to and from His Holy Altar, even unto the life everlasting.

For what He receives from and has with His Father, He also hands over to you by the Ministry of the Gospel.  This is the Holy Tradition of which St. Paul the Apostle writes: Namely, what he has received, he also hands over to the Church.  That holy “handing over” of Christ Jesus really begins, not with Judas the betrayer, but with God the Father handing over His only-begotten Son in the flesh, even unto death upon the Cross.  The incarnate Son goes, as it has been written of Him.

And the Tradition continues with the Son handing Himself over to “His own” beloved disciples, even as He hands Himself over to the Father by His willing Self-sacrifice as the Lamb of God.

“Do this,” Jesus says, “in remembrance of Me.”  Which is, not only to love one another, as He has loved you; but, what He has done for His disciples, they are to do for His Church: To take bread and wine, to bless and give thanks to the Father, to consecrate with His Word, and, in His Name and stead, to distribute His Body and His Blood to His Christians.

By this Holy Ministry, the “handing over” of the Son by the Father reaches now to you, to your ears, to your hands, and to your mouth and body.  So that everything Christ Jesus has received from His Father, is also now yours in Him.  And as the Father remembers Him, and raises Him from the dead, and receives Him back to Himself in peace, so does the Father remember you: in Christ, His beloved Son.  That is what is done for you, and given to you, in this Holy Sacrament.

Such is the meaning and purpose of this New Covenant, which Christ has established in Himself: That, in His flesh and blood, you also have life with God in body and soul — already here and now, by grace, in the Holy Communion (on earth as it is in heaven) — and in the resurrection of your body, at the last, to the life everlasting in Paradise.  That is the promise and pledge that is bequeathed to you in the Lord’s Supper, even the eternal inheritance of the Father for His Son.

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

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