26 April 2014

Remember the Word that He Speaks to You

The Resurrection of our Lord should not come as such a shocking surprise to His disciples, but it does.  Even His enemies remembered what He had said, that He would rise again on the third day.  But His own disciples either don’t remember, or they simply don’t believe it.  When confronted with the empty tomb and the news of the Resurrection, they are dumbfounded, perplexed, amazed, frightened, confused, and incredulous.

As sad and disappointed as the disciples were, it appears they would have been more comfortable and content with a dead body in the ground than with the Living One who has risen from the dead.

So what is your excuse?  Why do you look for the Living One as though He were still dead and buried?  Why do you not believe the Gospel?  For the fact is, that all your efforts to find happiness and satisfaction, to find or make a life for yourself in your own ambitious plans and enterprising schemes, are simply your own version of scouring the graveyard and dredging the tombs.

You’ll actually get nothing and nowhere apart from the forgiveness of your sins; for your sins will kill you dead forever.  But forgiveness comes only from the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

You’ll not get forgiveness and life from your family and friends; not from your job, nor from your hobbies; neither from your achievements and success and popularity in the world.  No matter where you go or what you do, you’ll not find Jesus apart from His Word of the Gospel; and you’ll not find life apart from Jesus.

So, then: Remember His Word to you.

Remember, not so much with your mind and nostalgic emotions, but with your ears.  Remember the Word of Jesus by listening, by hearing it preached to you.  For He remembers you by preaching His Gospel, His forgiveness of all your sins; and you remember Him by hearing.

And faith comes by such hearing of His Word.

Do not despise such preaching of the Gospel.  Do not regard it as nonsense.  Do not suppose that the Word of Jesus is empty and unable to meet your every need.  So long as you maintain that obstinate unbelief, you’ll remain confused and frightened, entombed in a kind of living death.

But the Living One does not leave you in dismay.  He has not forgotten you, nor does He fail to help you.  He has come to you in the midst of death, and He raises you up to life with Himself.

It is for this that He suffered and was crucified, that is, to atone for your sins.  And, having done so, He has risen victorious; so that you, also, are raised up alive through His forgiveness.

That is how He remembers you: with His forgiveness of your sins, with His Gospel of Life in place of death.  He remembers you with Holy Absolution.  He remembers the significance of your Holy Baptism, that you have thus been crucified, dead, and buried with Him, in order to rise and live.

He remembers you with His holy Body and His precious Blood, with which He feeds and nurtures you in body and soul.  Such nonsense, it seems; and yet, it is the Truth.  Here is the Body of the Lord Jesus, the Living One among the dead, that you may have life.

Again, and again, remember His Word to you:  Take, eat; this is My Body.  Drink this Cup, it is the New Testament in My Blood.  For you.  For the forgiveness of all your sins.

Eat and drink. Arise, and Live!

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

25 April 2014

How Sweet Is the Word upon Your Lips

You also have received the testimony of the Gospel, including that of St. Mark, that the Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.  And yet, how often do you harden your heart and refuse to believe this Gospel?  Not so much that you would deny the historical facts concerning Jesus, His Cross and Resurrection, but that you do not take these things to heart for yourself, as your life and salvation.

But, now then, repent of your unbelief and hardness of heart!  For whoever does not believe shall be condemned — just as surely as you witness all the signs of condemnation, all the curse and consequences of sin, all around you in the world, and in your own mortal body and life.

Repent of your sin and sinful unbelief, which lead only to death and condemnation.

Repent, trust Christ, and live!  For His Gospel, His forgiveness, His salvation, and His Life are not only most certainly true, but they are most certainly for you.

Indeed, as the Lord has commanded, this Gospel is preached to all creation; for all of creation has been redeemed, and is sanctified and saved, by the Incarnation, Cross, and bodily Resurrection of the Son of God, our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

And have you not heard, how those very men whom Jesus first of all reproached for their unbelief, are then immediately sent to preach this saving Gospel to the world?  Already with those first disciples, with the Apostles themselves, the grace and mercy of God in Christ is demonstrated.

So also in the case of St. Mark, the Evangelist.  He, too, was called from sinful unbelief to faithful discipleship and holy service.  That would be the case, in any event, as a matter of course, as it is for every Christian; but all the more pointedly, if Mark were that rich young man, as many think, who was previously unable to give up his wealth to follow Christ; who later ran away naked and afraid in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night when Jesus was handed over to His Cross.

It is by such men, who were so much in need of the Gospel, and who received it by the mercies of the Lord, that the Holy Gospel has been preached everywhere, ever since; and written down, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the preaching and administration of the Gospel in all times and places.  So that you, also, are here and now forgiven all your sins, unto faith and life and salvation.

It is by that Word of the Gospel that Christ is here with you, even as you recline here at His Table with Him.  He reproaches your unbelief by His preaching of repentance, it is true.  Not because He is here to condemn you; He is not.  But because He is here truly to save you, in body, soul, and spirit, for the resurrection and the life everlasting with Him.

He would have you believe these glad tidings of salvation.  And, to that end, He both grants to you and strengthens your faith in His Gospel.  Not only because it is true — Amen! It is! — but that you would be comforted in your weakness, doubt, and fear; and, that you would not despair and die in your sin, but live in peace and rest in Christ, your Savior.

Sin, death, the devil, and hell do not get to have you; nor are they permitted to have the last word concerning you.  The Lord Jesus, by His Cross and Resurrection, has shut that lion’s mouth, who would otherwise devour you with lies and bitter condemnation.

He has opened up, instead, the mouth of another lion, His servant, St. Mark, to publish peace to the ends of the earth by the proclamation of the Gospel, which is the Truth and blessed consolation.

That is the Word that is spoken, not only here and now to you, but by God Himself concerning you.

You are baptized into Christ.  In Him, by faith, you are saved.  For He has died your death, so that you are now raised up in His Resurrection.  Your sin is no longer against you, because you have died with Christ, and your life is safely hidden with Him at the Right Hand of your God and Father.

Sickness, suffering, and death are all finally powerless against you, because Christ is with you, who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever; and He is most certainly for you.  There is no poison in the Cup that He pours out for you.  He shall neither hurt nor harm you.  But He is your dread Champion, who has crushed that old serpent, your enemy, the devil, under His feet; who has sent the beautiful feet of His Apostles and Evangelists into all the world, to all creation, to speak with the new tongues of the Gospel, and to write with the skilled pen of His great mercy.

How sweet is this Word in your ear and in your heart, upon your lips and tongue, and in your body!

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

24 April 2014

Repentance and Faith in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus

How you feel about Jesus may be up for grabs from time to time, but there is no doubt or question about His love for you.  He has but one desire for you and all His sheep, that you have life with Him, both now and forevermore.  To that end, He has suffered and died for you, and risen again, and, even to the close of the age, He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

His love for you is clear and consistent and certain.  Your love for Him, not so much; not always.  Your good intentions do not always translate into faithful loving words and actions.  When push comes to shove and you are put to the test, you sometimes deny and disown the Lord who loves you; sometimes actively, by what you do and say, and sometimes passively, by what you don’t.  Instead of taking up the Cross to follow Him, you sometimes run away and try to hide.

But now has Christ arisen, and it is high time for you to repent.

Do not get defensive or defiant, but recognize where you have done wrong, where you have fallen short and failed.  Confess your sins, believe the Gospel, and, living by such faith, do better.  Become altogether other than you have been.

Are you grieved by your sins?  It is right that you should be.  But do not simply weep and gnash your teeth about it.  Go and sin no more.  Stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  Stop trying to pick and choose your own way, your own life.

It is not for you to decide and determine the way in which you will serve and glorify God.  Your self-chosen pursuits and bold promises are likely to crash and burn, anyway.  But, whatever may become of you and your efforts, you are not actually your own man or woman; you are the Lord’s.

Do what you are given to do, and follow Jesus in your God-given calling and place in life.  Confess His Cross and Resurrection by your words and deeds, and care for your neighbor as you are able.

Do so for Jesus’ sake, and for your neighbor’s sake, and not as though your life and your salvation depended on it.  Worry and anxiety stem from the false assumption that your life is in your own hands, and from the lie that your righteousness and holiness are achieved by your own works.

But that is not how it is.

Your life is in the hands of Christ, who is your Righteousness and Holiness by His divine grace.  Whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s, who lived and died for you, and rose again for you.  What He calls you to do for others, He has already done for you, and He continues to do for you.  And it is Christ Jesus Himself who is at work in your vocations to serve your neighbors, as well.

I know that it can sometimes feel as though everything were out of control and falling apart.  But it’s not.  Not really.  If it is taken out of your hands, that is for the best, but it is not outside the scope of Christ and His Cross.

Life and death and everything in between have already been fulfilled and worked out in His Cross, and beautifully resolved for life everlasting in His Resurrection from the dead.  That’s where you are, too, even now, and forever and ever, by your Baptism into Him, by faith in your Baptism.

The One who calls you to repentance is the One who loves you.  He calls you through His death into His Resurrection and His Life.  He does call you to feed His sheep entrusted to your care within your own proper office and station, but He is no less determined to feed you, Himself, by His own ways and means of grace, and by the shepherds whom He gives to you in His Name.

Indeed, He governs and directs all things in heaven and on earth for the sake of serving His Church, His flock, His lambs and sheep.  And so He does for you.  If you have fallen, wherever and however it is that you have failed, rest assured that He has risen for you.  And in His rising from the dead, you also are raised up to live in Him.

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

23 April 2014

Come, Eat and Drink the Gifts Christ Freely Gives

The Lord Jesus Christ has laid down His own life for you upon the Cross, and He has taken it up again, also for you, in His Resurrection from the dead.

This was entirely His work, from start to finish, and His free and full salvation remains a gracious gift, unto the resurrection and the life everlasting of your body and your soul.

That is true, not only in the way it has been accomplished for you, but so also in the way and with the means by which it is given to you.  For the risen Lord Jesus Christ manifests Himself to you, gives Himself to you in love, and serves you with grace, mercy, and peace.  Otherwise, you would not even recognize Him, much less be able to come to Him or believe in Him.  Neither would you know what to do with yourself; nor would you be able to accomplish anything at all on your own.

You may resort to what you think you know, and return your attention and energies to the cares and occupations of this life.  Nothing wrong with that, actually, if that is where the Lord has called you to serve your neighbor and glorify His Name.  But all of your pursuits and efforts are pointless and unproductive apart from the Word of Jesus.  Even if you manage to succeed in the eyes of the world, you really accomplish nothing of any lasting value without Him.

As that goes for your temporary body and life in this world, it is all the more so for your spiritual life and salvation, which is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Throwing yourself into your job and into your hard labors may be good and right and useful, especially for your neighbor’s sake.  But it may also be a frantic and futile attempt to remedy your spiritual doldrums, or to make amends, to make up for and atone for your sinful faults and failings.

That is to say, for every time you’ve dropped the ball or really blown it, you’re going to work twice as hard as everyone else put together, to prove yourself, to demonstrate your ability, your zeal and commitment, your worth and value.  But it won’t work that way.  And it isn’t necessary.

Such efforts are driven by guilt and shame and fear, and all of this leads only to despair and finally death.  Your own self-righteousness is really no righteousness at all, but only a lie.

That is not the repentance to which you are called; that is not the newness of life which you are granted in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Before you are sent to work for your neighbor, you are first of all called to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Before you are sent to feed and clothe and visit your neighbor, you are invited to be fed and clothed and visited by Christ, your Savior.

He has not come to scold or reprimand you, but to care for you and provide for you.  He died for you on purpose, in order to atone for all your sins.  And He has risen to life again, in order to raise you up with Himself through His forgiveness.  There are no amends for you to make up to Him, no worthiness for you to prove in His sight.

Set things right with your neighbor, as you are able.  But know this, that your debt with God is already settled and paid in full.

Here, then, in the Lord’s House, there is only Jesus on the shore, with the Meal that He has already provided and prepared for you.

Little children, you have nothing of your own to eat, do you?  But never mind that.  Come here and eat what Jesus has for you, which is given and poured out for the forgiveness of all your sins, for the resurrection of your body from death to life, and for your everlasting salvation with Him.

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

22 April 2014

Given and Poured Out for the Whole of You

It is in both body and soul that Jesus has suffered and died for you, and in both body and soul that He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns eternally as your true King and great High Priest.

He is not a disembodied spirit, nor any sort of ghost, but glorified and perfect Man; the new and better Adam; the Head of His Body, the Church, which shares His Resurrection and His Life.

That is the Resurrection that is preached to you.  That is the Holy Gospel.  The Jesus who is with you is the Savior of your body as well as your soul and spirit; the Savior of your flesh and blood, your bones and sinews, along with your heart and mind, your thoughts and emotions.  To all of “you,” to all that you are, He speaks Peace; and with His Word, He does and gives what He says.

His Cross and Resurrection have wrought forgiveness of your sins, not only your sinful thoughts and sinful words, but all your sinful actions, too.  For as you sin with your heart and mind, with your mouth and your body, so does He forgive you all those sins and grant His blessed peace and rest and saving health to your heart and mind, your ears and mouth, your soul, and your body.

Why, then, are you troubled?  And why do doubts arise in your heart?  Why do you gasp and groan and shake with fear?  Is this not the Savior you expected, whom you have longed for, and prayed for, and waited for many a day?  Or, were you wanting, instead, a Jesus who would calm your spirit and grant peace to your heart and mind, but who would leave your mouth and body alone, so that you might be free to live your own life in the world?

Well, forget that fabricated, New Age nonsense sort of “Jesus.”

The crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ, does grant peace and rest to your heart and mind, your soul and spirit; so all of these belong to Him, too.  But He is also the Author and Giver of Life to your body, which likewise belongs to Him by rights.  And this Life He grants to the whole of you by His Word, which you hear with your ears, believe in your heart, and confess with your mouth.

Where you have refused to listen, repent with your ears.

Where you have doubted and questioned and refused to believe, repent with your heart.

Where you have refused or failed to confess the Word of Christ, His Cross and Resurrection, repent with your mouth: confess your sins, and confess your faith in the risen Lord Jesus.

And where you have dishonored His holy Name with your body, and where you have failed to love and serve your neighbor in his body, repent with your body, and live henceforth by faith and love.

But don’t suppose that you’ll pull it off or manage it on your own.  You won’t.  You can’t.  It is surprising, actually, how many Christians suppose themselves to be superior to and more capable than the Lord’s chosen Apostles.  But, no, the Spirit of the Father is bestowed upon you by the preaching of the Word of Christ.

It is by that preaching, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name, that Christ Jesus Himself comes to you and dwells with you and grants you His Peace.

His Word does and gives what it says, just as the Holy Scriptures of St. Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets preached Christ in days of old, and were perfectly fulfilled with His coming in the flesh.

His Word of the Law and the Gospel calls you and brings you to repentance; which is to say that He thereby turns you around, away from your preoccupation with sin and death, and He brings you into faith and life in Him.  Because His Law exposes your sin and puts you to death for it, and His Gospel forgives you all your sins and raises you up to the life everlasting in both body and soul.

His Word likewise puts His Body and His Blood into your hands and mouth and body, so that He lives and abides in you, not as a disembodied ghost, but as the One who is your Brother in the flesh, true God and Man, your Savior.

In this Holy Supper, everything is fulfilled and accomplished, just as it is written, and just as it is preached.  For this true Body and Blood of Christ in you is the down payment and surety of your own resurrection on the last day.  With these, all your sins of thought, word, and deed are forgiven, and you are preserved, body, soul, and spirit, steadfast in the true faith unto eternal Life.

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

18 April 2014

Forsaken for the Sake of Your Salvation

It is at the Ninth Hour, the hour of the evening sacrifice and prayer, when the Lord Jesus Christ lays down His life and lets go His Spirit.  Better to burn out than fade away, but Jesus does neither.  He lays down His life in the strength of perfect faith and perfect love, and hands over His Spirit to the Father who has handed Him over to the Cross.  He takes and drinks the Cup that He has been given, conforming His will to that of His God and Father, in the hope of the Resurrection.

As the priests at the Temple are beginning the daily rites and ceremonies of the evening sacrifice — the sin offering and the whole burnt offering, and then the incense offering from the golden altar  before the veil of the Most Holy Place — at that very Hour, the Son of God in human flesh becomes them all; He completes and fulfills them all in Himself, for the sake of your salvation.

This Man, Jesus the Nazarene, is the Sin Offering who is sacrificed once for all, for the propitiation of the sins of the world; He is the Whole Burnt Offering, by whom God and man are reconciled; and He is the sweet-smelling Incense that arises as your acceptable Prayer in the presence of God.  With all of that, He is Himself your merciful and great High Priest, who enters on your behalf into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, in order to bring you to the Father in and with Himself, to live and abide with Him there.

Despite appearances, He is under no compulsion; no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly.  He is moved entirely by His own divine Love for His Father, for you and for all.  It is in accordance with the good and gracious will of the Holy Trinity that He sacrifices Himself on the Cross for your salvation; on account of your sin, first of all; and, not only that, but that you might also be sanctified and live forever in the holiness and righteousness of the Lord your God.

Thus, although He is the Son of God from all eternity, He learns obedience by what He suffers in His own human flesh and blood, made mortal by your sin, and subjected to your death.  He does not turn aside from the duty of His calling as the Christ, but humbles Himself and perseveres to its completion on the Cross.  In this Sacrifice, He is perfected as the True Man, and so becomes the Fountain and Source of eternal salvation to all who hear and heed His Word in faith.

He lives and dies by faith in His Father, and He is heard because of His piety and reverence; even though it would appear that His God and Father has either forgotten or rejected Him at the last.  For He is not spared from suffering and death; far from it.  Indeed, there is no suffering that He has not suffered, no death that He has not died.  And yet, as St. Matthew indicates even at the Hour of His death, He is vindicated and glorified in His Resurrection from the dead.  All as your merciful and great High Priest, that you who sleep in the dust of the earth might also rise and live in Him.

He remains faithful to the uttermost of adversity, bearing the full burden and consequence of sin and death.  And He cries out from such depths of real anguish; neither as a pretense or a sham, nor in wretched unbelief and hopeless despair, but, even now, in steadfast faith and fervent love.  For He cries out with a loud voice, again and again, to the One who shall raise Him up from death.

But let us not underestimate or neglect to consider what our dear Lord suffers on our behalf, not only in His body, but as much or more so in His heart and mind, within His human soul and spirit; that He bears, not only the reproach of man, but also the forsaking of His God and Father.

Is this not a contradiction?  A paradox of the highest order and of the deepest mystery?  That our Lord, who remains faithful unto death, cries out to His God and Father, who is faithful in all things and changes not; and yet, the Son cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

It is not simply a case of misunderstanding or emotional dismay; neither is it the exasperated retort of bitter disappointment or cynical depression.  What our Lord Jesus cries out is a confession of the truth, a solid expression of the raw facts that He is actually experiencing.

Although the Father and the Son remain united in the perfect unity of the Holy Spirit, within the one eternal Godhead of the Holy Trinity, the Father does not spare His Son from death upon the Cross, but wills that He should suffer and die that death for you and for all people.  He hands Him over to it, and He does not act to stop it.  He does not blow the whistle, throw a flag, or call a foul to call a halt to the injustice of it all.  He does not stay the execution, as He did for Abraham’s son, but He offers up His own beloved Son as the Passover Lamb, in order to spare all the others.

Neither does the Son exercise His own divine prerogative or power to save Himself from the Cross and suffering, but He submits to it in humble obedience to His Father.  He trusts that His God and Father will accomplish His purpose in this way, and that He will glorify Himself in His Son, first of all by His sacrificial death for the salvation of the world, and then also by raising Him from the dead as the Firstfruits of the New Creation.

Jesus isn’t pouting or complaining, therefore, but He cries out from within His genuine anguish to the One who remains, even now in death, His true and only God.  His experience is painful and real, but it does not alter or undo the fact of His relationship with the Father; nor does it destroy His faith in His Father’s Word and promise.  Indeed, it is that Word that He confesses and prays here, from the Psalter.  He takes upon His lips the song of Israel.  He who dies thus, dies well.

His suffering is genuine, make no mistake, as is the curse of sin and death that He not only bears but becomes in your stead.  But, even so, His Father will yet rescue and restore Him from the dust of the earth, from the depths of Sheol, even from death and the grave.  Why?  And what for?  So that the people of God, reduced to dust and dried-up dead bones by their sins, should also be raised up from the dead and live forever with the Lord.  So that the alienation and separation of sin and death should be overcome and undone, from the inside-out, through Jesus Christ our Savior.

The death of Christ is the death of death.  That is why the earth quakes and the rocks are split; because the broken-ness of this broken world is broken.  The old passes away, and, behold, all things are made brand new.  All of creation passes through death into life in the Body of Christ.

For, truth be told, Elijah has already come in order to fulfill all righteousness and restore all things.  He has already come in the Office and Ministry of St. John the Baptist; and look at what they did to him!  He was finally imprisoned and beheaded for his faithful confession of the Word of God.  But he had come preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; to which Christ Jesus submitted Himself as the Lamb of God, for the repentance and forgiveness of the world.

By that Elijah, He was Baptized into His own death, in order to take upon Himself and bear away the sins of the world in His own Body, to suffer and die for them all; but then, also, to emerge and arise unto newness of life in body and soul, to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

By His Baptism — which is really to say, by His Cross and Resurrection — the heavens have been opened to all who believe and are baptized into Him.  And thus, the curtain also is opened, and God is revealed in the awe-full Glory of His own crucified Body.  For His Body is the Ark of the New Covenant, the Mercy Seat, and your Anchor behind the Veil; so that you now have access into the presence of God through the Flesh of Christ, and by His Blood, given and poured out for you.

As He has suffered and died for you, in your place, on your behalf, so it is that, in His Resurrection from the dead, you also come out of your tomb and enter the Holy City.  Not only on the last day, but even now, in the Body of Christ, in the Holy Communion, which is already the Holy of Holies on earth, as it is in heaven.  In His flesh and blood, you rise up with Him as incense to the Father.

Take your cues, then, dear child of God, from the way and the what that Jesus prays.  He prays the Psalter, which you also are given to pray.  It is not only instructive in the faith and knowledge of God, but it exercises your faith and love, as it opens up your lips and mouth to praise Him rightly.

There is a stark and refreshing candor to the Psalms, which honestly lay before the Lord your grief and hurt and pleas for mercy in the day of trouble.  Everywhere they give you words to cry out to the Lord for rescue and protection, for vindication, and even for vengeance against your enemies.

Among their appeals for deliverance, the Psalms often point out that the dead cannot praise God; their lips are silenced in Sheol.  On the other hand, the Psalms frequently confess that the one who trusts in the Lord shall not be put to shame, but shall be saved from every evil of body and soul.

Yet, here now, in the Psalm that Jesus prays from the Cross, everything is turned inside-out, as it is fulfilled in Him, in His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection from the dead.  For here is the Righteous One who trusts in the Lord unfailingly, and still He suffers all measure of abuse and pain from all sides.  But then the “Why?” of His God-forsaken-ness is answered:

For it comes to pass, in His faithfulness even unto death, that the dead who sleep in the dust of the earth shall in fact praise the Lord!  For this Lord Jesus Christ retrieves them from the grave and saves them, as He Himself is raised up from the dead by the Glory of His God and Father.

It is precisely in the midst of deep darkness that He thus brings forth the Light of eternal Day.

And what does this mean for you?

It is the answer to all your “Why’s?” and “Wherefore’s?”  It is the answer to all the Psalms, and the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to all your prayers.

As Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, has been forsaken by the Father in His suffering and death on the Cross, so has He taken His place with you and joined Himself to you in the suffering of your sin and the darkness of your death.  But that is not the end of the story; neither His, nor yours.

Notice, again, how St. Matthew, at the very point that He records the death of Christ, he is already writing of His Resurrection; and not only of His Resurrection, but of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting of the saints, the holy ones of God, and of their entry into the Holy City.

As you are baptized into Christ, you are baptized into His death.  You share His Cross and Passion.  Not only because of your sin, that you should thus be called to repentance, but also because of your righteousness by faith in Christ Jesus.  Your faith and righteousness are exercised, strengthened, and confessed, therefore, in the suffering of His Cross.  And so do you also share the Resurrection and the Life everlasting of the same Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God.

The alienation and separation of your sin and death are no longer decisive, nor does any of that get to have the last word.  It is real enough, so long as it lasts; but, though you die, yet shall you live.

The Lord, who has joined Himself to you in the darkness of sin and death, shall never leave you nor forsake you, but shall raise you up from death to life.  The One who promises is faithful, and He shall do it.  For it is in Him, in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood, that you behold the Glory of God and actually live and abide in His presence.  So it is that, even now, from your mortal flesh and blood, you praise and glorify the God and Father of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, as a beloved son or daughter in Him.

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

13 April 2014

Your Priestly King Enters His Holy City

Is this not an amazing thing, that your King, the Lord Himself, the Son of God in His own flesh, comes to you and makes His dwelling with you?

But what does this mean?  It might be rather frightening, actually.  Does He come to provide for you or punish you?  To promote you, or to pull rank on you?  After all, a visit from the powers that be and the governing authorities often means discipline, or some consequence for wrongdoing.

There is a certain ambiguity and tension in the coming of your King: Is He coming to put you in your place, or to remove you from the place and position you have had?  Wondering and worrying about when and where and how the axe is going to fall is nerve wracking and scary.  And if, on the other hand, you get your hopes up that your King is coming to set things right and make everything better in your life on earth, you’re very likely to be surprised and disappointed by what He does.

It’s true enough, as the Holy Scriptures testify, that things are pretty messed up: not only in your own personal life, but on a national and global scale.  And though you may not be a ruler or a boss — perhaps you’re one of the little guys, or you’re still making your way to wherever it is that you’re going — you’ve done your part to mess things up in your own little niche or corner of life.

There is no one who is righteous.  No, not one.  No one but Christ Jesus, the King who comes to His own people in righteousness and peace.  But then consider how this one Lord, Jesus Christ, is regarded and received.  Hailed on Palm Sunday, yes, but mocked and ridiculed, condemned and crucified before the week is over.  Falsely accused, brutally beaten up, and spit upon.  His closest companions betray Him, deny Him, and abandon Him.  So, what is such a King to do about it?

Even now, as He enters the Holy City on the cusp of His Passion, it is only because of His miracles that the great crowds throng to see Him and to welcome Him.  Not even the disciples understand what’s going on, not yet.  Everyone is eager for a Bread King, a great big generous Sugar Daddy, a Miracle Worker to build a glorious Kingdom on earth, to compete with the nations of the world.

To be sure, the raising of Lazarus from the dead has been an impressive Sign, as even the skeptics must admit and the enemies of Jesus grudgingly concede.  But, as a Sign, it points beyond itself to something else, that is, to the dying and the rising of the Lord Jesus Himself.  The way that He approached that situation, as you heard last week, has testified to that: The Glory of God in Christ is found, first of all, in His suffering and death, and only then in His Resurrection and His Life.

That is the pattern, too, of Christian faith and life, as your Baptism signifies and testifies, if you think about the dying and rising of that Holy Sacrament.  It is also your experience of life in the world, with all its ups and downs, with all its hopes and disappointments, frustrations and fears.

It is frankly confusing and difficult to navigate.  Just when you think you’ve finally figured it out, and gotten your bearings, and found your footing in the world, then everything shifts and changes, and you’re left not knowing what’s up and what’s down, or which way to turn.

Think of how it must have been for the disciples in the course of that first Holy Week, from Palm Sunday, through Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday and Easter.  The Passion of Christ Jesus is a profound and powerful story, even to consider it; but it is also the life into which you are baptized, by which the Lord recreates you from the dust of death and conforms you to the Image of Christ.

It is impossible to understand any of this superficially, nor at all apart from the accomplished fact of the Cross and Passion, as manifest in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and now realized for you in the Sacrament of the Altar.  The Lord’s Supper is the interpretive key to the Lord’s Passion, both beforehand and afterwards.  It not only explains what happens to Him, and why, but it delivers and bestows the fruits and benefits of His suffering, death, and resurrection.

Only in the Body and Blood of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and for the many, do you see and know and believe what is the Truth of God in Christ, your King: That He has indeed come to “take your place,” and to “put you in your place,” but in such a way that you could never have guessed or imagined or invented for yourself.

Do not be afraid, dear child of God!  For the Lord has made you a beloved son or daughter of His Church on earth, and, therefore, a son or daughter of the Father in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  Rejoice in His mercy, and give all thanks and praise to this one Lord, Jesus Christ, your King, who comes to you in Peace; not to punish you for your sins, but to bear your punishment and grant you His Peace.  He comes to save you from your enemies; to give you rest from your weariness, relief from your fears, and safety in place of uncertainty; and to reign over you in love with His Word.

He has not come to “lord it over you” in the way of earthly monarchs, but, as your Lord, your Savior and your King, He calls you by His Cross and Resurrection to become and be like Him.

To that end, He has first of all become like you in every way, save only without sin.  He has been tempted in every way that you are; He has suffered every burden of your mortal flesh, and every dire consequence of your sin.  He truly has taken your place, your sin and death and every ill, and He has made it all His own.  All for the sake of bringing you into His place with God the Father.

By His Self-Sacrifice, He opens up the way through suffering and death into the Resurrection of the Body and the Life everlasting.  For He is a priestly King, and a royal High Priest, who enters the Most Holy Place by His own Blood, in order to bring you into the presence of God in Himself.

He humbles Himself, even unto His death upon the Cross, in order to be exalted and glorified on your behalf by His God and Father.  He becomes a disciple, Himself, in order to make a disciple of you by the catechesis of His Word and by your Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.

So it is that your salvation is accomplished, established, and secure in the Person of Christ Jesus, in His own crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood.

Now, then, He testifies to the Sign of His own Cross and Resurrection, by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  His dying and rising are the fulfillment of all things, and they are also then the Sign of your own dying and rising with Him, by which you are saved from sin and death unto life and salvation forever.  What He has suffered and received in your place, in order to save you, He now preaches and gives to you by His Word.

His preaching to you is not simply information to be processed and stored, but it calls you to follow after Him.  As you hear the testimony of His Cross and Passion, come out to meet Him, as He comes in Peace to meet you here, at His Altar, within His Church on earth.

His preaching of repentance does put you to death; it crucifies and buries you with Him.  So, then, you do lose “your place,” the place that you have made for yourself, the place of sin and death, which Christ has taken from you and made His own.  But so does He also bring you to life and put you in His place.  He gives to you His Sonship, His Spirit, and His Glory in and with the Father.

In calling you to follow after Him, His preaching calls you and brings you into the New Covenant of His flesh and blood, which He has established forever: the Promise of His eternal Inheritance.

Beloved of the Lord, as He entered the Holy City on Palm Sunday for His Cross and Passion, so do you enter the heavenly City, New Jerusalem, by the way and means of His Cross and Passion.

And as He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with His own Blood, by His innocent suffering and death, and in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension, so do you now enter with Him into that same Holy of Holies, eternal in the heavens, by His flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

That is why the Liturgy has taught you to cry out in prayer and praise, to rejoice, give thanks, and sing, as the Lord comes to His Altar: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest, and the Peace of the Lord on earth.  For here, indeed, He comes to save you now in this Divine Service; to sustain you with His Word and Spirit; and to sanctify you for the Life everlasting in body and soul with His own holy Body and His holy and precious Blood.

As He thus remembers you in mercy, and forgives you all your sins, and gives you His own Life and Salvation in body and soul, so remember Him by faith, repent of all your sins, and rejoice in His Resurrection.  For as surely as He comes to you here, so shall you surely follow after Him, to be with Him where He is, even forever and ever.

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