09 May 2013

Never Say Goodbye

Beloved of God, the Lord Jesus has not gone away.  He has not left you alone, but He Himself is with you, and He has poured out the promised Spirit of His Father upon you.  The same Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, is, even now, and shall be evermore, your merciful and great High Priest.  He lives before God in righteousness and purity forever, on your behalf; in order to establish a place for you with God.  And He reigns over you in love with His Gospel.

As He has stretched out His arms for you upon the Cross, in offering up Himself to the Father as the Sacrifice of Atonement for all your sins, so does He lift His hands in blessing upon you, to justify you with His own righteousness, to raise you up from death to life with Himself, and to anoint you with His Spirit by His Word.

Thus, He gives Himself to God as the true Man, and He gives Himself to you as the one true God; and, in Him, both God and Man, and heaven and earth, are bound together in perfect harmony.

Righteousness and peace kiss each other in Him, so that you are now reconciled to God the Father in His beloved and well-pleasing Son.  Indeed, your flesh and blood, your body and soul, your whole life, and all of creation, are sanctified with God eternally, in the Body of Christ Jesus: in His own Person, first of all, but also in His Body, the Church, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

It is in Him that you know and love God rightly, and that you live the true life.  Not by escaping from your body of flesh and blood, nor from your place in life, wherever it might be, but precisely in that place where God has put you, in your own skin, in your life and occupations on earth.

Remain there, where He has stationed you, and be gathered here within His Church on earth, and wait upon the promise of your Father in Christ.  Already you are being clothed with His power from on high, with His Spirit and His righteousness.  Already you are God’s own child, and a citizen of His heavenly Kingdom; although for now it is by faith in His Word, and not by sight.  For as the Christ entered into His Glory through His suffering and death upon the Cross, so do you enter the Kingdom of God through repentance, by faith in His forgiveness of sins.

Therefore, do not be afraid, and do not despair of His presence and His peace.  For His blessing is upon you in the lifting up of His wounded hands, and the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection is preached to you in His Name; even as He lives and reigns forever at the Father’s Right Hand, and intercedes for you as your Royal High Priest.  God the Father has established Him there by an unbreakable oath, by raising Him from the dead, crowning Him with Glory and honor, giving Him all authority in heaven and on earth, and putting sin, death, the devil, and hell beneath His feet.

Now, I know — and He knows it even better than you and I do — that you don’t yet see or feel or experience the Glory of His Resurrection and Ascension.  You don’t yet see all things beneath His beautiful feet.  You don’t yet experience the fact that His enemies and yours have been defeated.  You don’t yet feel His Victory and your Redemption, except by way of His Cross and suffering, which still seems like exactly the opposite: a contradiction of what it really is.

It has crossed my mind, these past few days, that if you were kidnapped and held captive for a decade, bound in ropes and chains, used and abused by some stranger, you would be sorely tempted to hopelessness and despair, and could easily suppose that you had been abandoned and left utterly alone in your misery.  How often would you cry out, frantic for someone to help you, but seemingly not heard, and not helped?  Would you conclude that your family, friends, and loved ones had forgotten you and given up on you?  And what about Jesus?  Where would He be then?

I pray to God that none of you are ever in such dire straits and terrible circumstances as we have all been hearing about this week.  But you are likely tempted and tried in many of the same ways, even so.  Perhaps you feel trapped, or imprisoned, not by some stranger, but within your own home and family, by your job, or by your debts and obligations.  Perhaps you are tied up and chained by doubts and fears, by guilt and shame, or by envy and jealousy.  Perhaps it is the devil who is using and abusing you with his lying and murdering, day and night, within and without.

Or, whatever the particulars of your own case may be, you have heard the Word of the Lord, that in the world you have tribulation.  That’s not the exception, but the rule in this mortal life.  What you see and feel and experience is not the Resurrection, but the Cross, and it would seem as though the Ascension were hardly a case for celebration, but nothing so much as a sad goodbye.

And yet, the Lord is with you.  He has not gone away and left you.  He’s not some pie in the sky, but He has entered the presence of His God and Father in your own skin, as it were; in the same flesh and blood and bones that He shares with you and all people.  The Cloud that received Him is the grace and glory of God, by which He also comes to you and abides with you in the Gospel.

It is not by accident or coincidence that two men in white stand before you and proclaim the Word of the Lord Jesus to you; for thus it was necessary, that, not only must He suffer, die, and rise again on the third day, but also that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His Name to the ends of the earth.  By this means, He fills all things, and the Kingdom of God comes to man.

It’s like the difference between a single radio, which can only fill a limited space with its sound, depending on its wattage and speakers and volume, and, by contrast, a radio broadcast tower, which can blanket a huge area with its signal, and be heard wherever its signal is received.

So does the Word of the Lord go forth, beginning from Jerusalem, to all of Judea, to Samaria, to Rome, to the New World, the Third World, to Africa and Asia, and to the whole planet.  And as the Word goes out, so does it gather disciples of Jesus together into one Body, one Church, into the Holy City of God, the New Jerusalem, where the Lamb upon His Throne is not only the Priest and King, but He is the Temple of God among men, the Lamp and the Light which illuminate the New Creation, and both the Bridegroom and the Wedding Feast of finest Wine and richest Meat.

That is your home, your place of peace and Sabbath rest.  That is where you live, because that is where Christ is, both with you and for you, forever.  Because He really does unite and hold all things together in Himself, as He serves you, and worships the Father, and pours out the Spirit by the Gospel, and prays and intercedes for you at all times.

It is not only that He is everywhere at once, filling all things with Himself; nor only that He is with you here, and with the Father in heaven — although that much is true, to begin with.  But He also brings God to you, the Father and the Holy Spirit, in and with Himself, in all that He continues to teach and to do, and in His own Body of flesh and blood.  And in Him, at the same time, you are with God; for He brings you to the Father, and He seats you with Himself in the heavenly places.

Beloved, you are baptized into Christ, and that means, not only that His Cross and Resurrection are yours, but also His Ascension, too, His Spirit and His Father, and His place within the Holy of Holies.  So, too, when you eat His Body and drink His Blood here, within His Church on earth, you live and abide with Him in the Bosom of the Father in heaven.  This, indeed, is already to be living the true divine life for which you have been created by the Holy Triune God.

Not as though your life on earth, now, under the Cross, were always pleasant or easy.  We all know better than that!  With the rest of creation, we are longing for the consummation of all things: for the resurrection of the body, the revealing of the sons of God, and the life everlasting in Paradise.  We long for that, and pray for that!  And rightly so, as Christ our Lord has taught us to pray to our Father in heaven for the coming of His Kingdom.  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!

But let us do so — let us pray for the coming of Christ and His Kingdom — precisely in the bold confidence that Christ our Lord has borne the Cross for us and conquered in the fight, and that His resurrected and glorified Body is already the Firstfruits of our own sure and certain resurrection.

In Him, it is already finished: a done deal.  And it is for us.  It is for you, as the Sacrament declares.

This is what His Ascension means and signifies and does for you.  He fills all things in heaven and on earth, in order to be actively present and at work in and with His Church; and in order to bring His Church and all her members, including you, to His God and Father within His own Body.

The fact that He ascends as the Crucified One, and that He serves you by the ways and means of His Cross, means that all the hurt and heartache and hard things shall not be able to destroy you, nor to separate you from Him, His Life and His Love; but, by His grace, they actually help to heal you and save you and bring you to heaven.  For He works repentance in you, and disciplines your mortal flesh, in order to bring you through suffering and death into faith and life with God.

There simply is no pain, no persecution, no place nor pit nor hell hole, where He is not with you in peace.  And so, you are with Him, who lives and reigns forever at the Right Hand of the Father.

He doesn’t make you come to Him, nor even to meet Him halfway.  And He doesn’t simply come to keep you company in misery.  But He gathers you fully to Himself, and He embraces you with Himself, and He abides with you, as true God and true Man, as your Savior and your Salvation.  Thus, as you know from the testimony of St. Paul, your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Mortal life in this fallen world is one of constant separations, which cut you off and distance you from family, friends, and loved ones, and even from your nearest and dearest kin.  Whether by death or disease, by accidents or atrocities, by adventures or adversities, by ailments or age, your relationships and your connections are constantly being changed, and eventually they are ended.

But the Ascension of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus proclaims a permanent place for you, and perfect peace with God.  It does not change, and it cannot be taken away from you.  Nor is it far away from you now, but up close and personal, a very present help at all times, in every trouble, and a source of genuine great joy in the face of everything that confronts you.

It is here for you in the Temple of God, given and poured out for you to eat and drink.  It is here for you in the hands of Christ Jesus, with which He blesses you, and feeds you, and absolves you; with which He signs and seals you as a Christian, a child of God; and by which He raises you up.

As all of this is here for you in Him, in His Body and His Blood, so shall He be with you always, wherever you may be; and so shall you be with Him, and with the Father and the Holy Spirit — at home and at peace with the Blessed Holy Trinity, forever and ever, world without end.  Amen.

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