26 April 2015

The Pure Wisdom of Your Good Shepherd

Your primary and permanent vocation, to which you have been called by the Name of the Lord in Holy Baptism, as Katherine has been called this morning, is to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd.  That is also to be a disciple of Christ Jesus, a Christian anointed by the Holy Spirit, and a child of God the Father in heaven.  There are more ways than one to describe your relationship to the Lord who has called you, which is your true identity from the washing of the water with His Word unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul with the one true God.  But today the Lord has called you by His Gospel to be His own dear sheep, His little lamb, as He is your Good Shepherd; that you should hear His Voice and follow Him, and belong to His one flock in heaven and on earth, and learn from Him to live by His grace, to live and love as He does.

This is your vocation, now and forever: To be and to live as a sheep of this one Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, by faith in His Gospel, in love for Him, for His Father and His flock.  That is true for each of you who are baptized in His Name, whether you are barely a week old or already in your nineties, and at every age in between, even to the close of the age, and even forevermore.

But of course, what it looks like, and what it involves to live this vocation in the world, depends on your own particular station in life, which differs not only from person to person but through all the stages and seasons of your life on this earth.  Little Katherine’s vocation is the same as yours in Holy Baptism, but her own place and her duties of faith and love at this point are different than yours, and they are different than they will be in years to come.

Along the way, at every given point, both you and she will have shepherds who are given to care for you in the Name of the Lord, with and according to His Word.  There are pastors and parents, teachers, and other authorities, who are called to instruct you in the way that you should go, to lead you and guide you, to discipline you as love may require, and to protect and provide for you.

In much the same way, you are also given to serve and care for others who are placed under your authority, as Josh and Sarah, for example, are given to care for Katherine, and as I am called to be your pastor, a shepherd under the Good Shepherd in His Name and stead.  So are you called to love your neighbor, especially those who are entrusted to your care, in the way that Jesus loves you.  This, too, belongs to following your Shepherd, that you should thus become and act like Him.  Has not St. John made this very clear in his Epistle, that you are to do as the Lord Jesus does for you?

So, are you a shepherd, a good shepherd, to those neighbors under your authority?  Or do you act like a hired hand, a mercenary, for whom your place in life is merely a job or a means to an end?  Do you actually care about those you are to care for?  Or do you simply go through the motions, paying your dues and putting in your time, until you can punch the clock and go home?  Do you lay down your life in love for your little flock?  Or do you flee in fear at the first sign of danger?

You are frightened and tempted to run away from your responsibilities by the prowling wolf, who seeks to attack and devour you, to snatch you away from your own Good Shepherd and drive you away from the sheep you are given to protect.  The goal of that wicked wolf is to destroy whatever he can, and to scatter the rest of the flock in a thousand different directions through enticements to sin, threats of dire punishment, and the terrible fear of death.  All your laziness and negligence, all your selfishness and greed, and all of your anxieties and phobias derive from that fear of death.  For you know that you cannot escape it or defeat it.  Face it or flee from it, either way you die.

This is why the Gospel is such glorious good news.  For it is Christ Jesus, your Good Shepherd, who rescues and saves you from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He does not flee from the danger and leave you helpless, but quite the opposite, He races to help you, He runs to protect you.  He interposes Himself between you and the ravenous wolf.  He enters the breech and puts Himself in harm’s way, in order to keep you safe.  He lays down His life for you and all His sheep.

More than that, the Shepherd becomes the Lamb for the slaughter.  His voluntary suffering and death is a Sacrifice of Atonement, whereby your sin is all forgiven, death is put to death forever, and the devil is defeated; he is robbed of his fierce weapons.  The big bad wolf has swallowed up this Shepherd in sheep’s clothing, and he has broken his teeth on the Body and Blood of the Lord.  He can bark, but he can’t bite.  He can howl and moan and whine, but he’s got nothing left with which to hurt you or scare you.  The death of Christ has taken away all of your sins, and His rising from the dead has reconciled you to God in righteousness and holiness, innocence and blessedness.

In divine and holy love, the Lord Jesus, your Good Shepherd, has laid down His life for you, and in holy, perfect faith He has received it again from His own God and Father, in order to raise you up from death to life and gather you to Himself by the authority of His Cross and Resurrection.  And not only that, but to gather together one flock from all the nations by His Word and Spirit.

All of this Christ Jesus does in keeping and fulfilling the command of His Father for the sake of the salvation of the sheep.  As the Word made Flesh, He loves the Father, and He loves the sheep, not only with His preaching and teaching, but with His whole body and life, in deed and in truth.  For this good work of His, to be the Shepherd of the sheep, to save them, and to keep them safe, that is your dear Lord’s vocation and station in life, and so also His authority as the Son of Man to judge the living and the dead, to forgive sins, and to justify sinners with His own righteousness.

In diametric contrast to the howling wolf, this great Good Shepherd of the sheep does not snatch and scatter them, but He gathers them together into one holy flock; He protects them and provides for them whatever they need for both body and soul, for here in time and hereafter in eternity.

You belong to that one flock, because you belong to that Good Shepherd: You are His, and He is yours forever.  For you are baptized into Him.  You share His Cross and Resurrection.  You are a member of His Body.  You are named with His Name and anointed with His Spirit.  So, indeed, is dear little Katherine a sheep of the same Shepherd: She belongs to you, and you to her in Christ.

Little lambs and sheep of the Lord Jesus, hear and heed His Voice to you.  Hearken to His Word.  Follow Him, stay close to Him, and do as He commands, according to your vocation and within your own proper station in life.  As you know Him and love Him, so love one another in His Name.

Beloved of the Lord — Katherine Sophia, so newly baptized, and each one of you, both young and old, both great and small — this love is not an optional endeavor; it is your calling as Christians.  This is the Pure Wisdom of the Lord, in contrast to the foolishness of sin and death; that you should live by faith in your Shepherd, and so lay down your life in love for His lambs and sheep.

Is this not what your Baptism indicates?  That you should die and rise each day by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not that you could ever atone for the sins of the world, nor even for your own sins, but that, by faith in His Atonement, in the confidence of His Resurrection, you live as Jesus does.  You die to yourself and to your sin, and you live unto God and for your neighbor.

It is, again, the same vocation to which all of you are called, and at the same time it is different for each one of you within your respective stations in life.  If you are a soldier, a police officer, or a firefighter, you may well be called to put yourself in harm’s way and die for your neighbor.  But for most of you, and for all of you most of the time, you are called to lay down your life, not by dying, but by living for your neighbor instead of for yourself.  Which is to say that you not seek your own safety, satisfaction, or success, but invest yourself and your skills in serving others.

It is not about making a name for yourself, but honoring the Name of the Lord which you bear.

Do not snatch and scatter like the wolf, but gather together and protect like the Good Shepherd.  That is to say, be concerned and zealous for the well-being of the entire flock, for all the lambs and sheep, and for their unity in Christ.  Do not be driven by greed or selfish desire, nor flee from your neighbor in fear, but speak and act in love for others.  Follow your Shepherd in caring for His own; for in loving His sheep, you love Him; nor can you love the Shepherd without loving His sheep.

It is certainly not by your own reason or strength, as you well know.  By the nature of the case, you cannot become nor can you live as a sheep of the Good Shepherd except by His calling and His care for you.  But so it is, that He not only was, but He is and remains your Good Shepherd.  Not only did He give His Life for you in His death upon the Cross, but in His Resurrection from the dead He also now gives His Life to you by His Ministry of the Gospel; and in this way, He receives His Life back in you, in your body and soul, raising you up through His forgiveness of your sins.

It is to this end that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, raises up shepherds after His own heart to care for His Church on earth in His Name: To teach the people, to proclaim the Resurrection, and to forgive sins by the special authority of the Gospel.  Thus are you raised up and made healthy, whole, and strong, in order to live by the grace of God in Christ, by faith in His Name, as a sheep of His fold.

By the preaching of His Word by men like Peter and John, and by your pastors even to this day, the Voice of your Good Shepherd calls you and gathers you from the ends of the earth to Himself.

He leads you to and from the living and life-giving waters of your Holy Baptism, and alongside those peaceful waters day by day, so that you are cleansed and refreshed in body, soul, and spirit — as He has done for Katherine Sophia before your very eyes and in your hearing this morning.

He abides in you by the Spirit He has given you in this washing of the water with His Word.  He lives and abides in you with His Word, and so do you live and abide in Him by faith in His Word.  You begin to keep His commandments, to live within your vocation as a sheep of the Shepherd, and thus to love your neighbor as you are loved by the Lord Jesus Christ.

You do begin to see the evidence of His Life and His Love for you in your own life, in spite of your sin and death, and notwithstanding the fact that you are by no means perfect in yourself.  Your heart and mind, your body and soul, your words and actions begin to resonate in harmony with the Body of Christ, crucified and risen, with His flesh and blood, given and poured out, and with His Word and Holy Spirit — because you are called and cared for by this Lord Jesus Christ.

He feeds you on the green pastures of His Word, His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  There is no other name in all the earth by which you could ever be saved, but this holy Name of His, this divine Name above all names in heaven and on earth, truly is given to you: In Holy Baptism, in the Holy Absolution of your sins, and in the remembrance of this Jesus who laid down His life for your sins, whom God the Father raised up again for your justification.

And this is your Life and your Salvation: To be a sheep of this great and glorious Shepherd, to hear His Voice and follow Him, and to belong to His one flock forever and ever.  This is the Feast of Holy Love, which He has prepared for you at His Table in His House, to which He calls you by His Gospel, and to which He brings you in peace and joy and safety.  Here indeed are you gathered together as one Body in Him — as one flock with one Shepherd — as you are fed from His hand, as you all together eat of His one Body, and as you drink from His overflowing Cup of Salvation.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, in all your going out and coming in, even forevermore

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

12 April 2015

Peace That Passes Human Understanding

What you hear and receive in this Holy Gospel is the very grace of God that Jesus now comes and speaks to you, and does for you, and gives to you in this place:

He comes and stands in the midst of His disciples, and He presents Himself to you in the Ministry of His Gospel.  He speaks His Peace upon you, and He breathes His Holy Spirit into your body and soul by the preaching of His Word of forgiveness.  And He opens His wounds to you, His hands and feet and side, that you might know Him and believe in Him, confess Him and abide in Him.

He does all of this in love for you, with tender mercy and compassion for all of your infirmities and hurts of heart, mind, and body, so that, believing in Him, you have life everlasting in Him.

By this grace of God in Christ — although you have not yet seen Him — you do believe in Him and hope in Him; and you love Him, as He has first loved you by His Word and Holy Spirit, which is to say, by the Holy Apostolic Ministry of His Gospel.  You have faith in Him, you fear, love, and trust in Him, because He has forgiven you all of your sins — as He daily and richly forgives you in the Communion of His Holy Church — and because His forgiveness actually does something.

By His means of grace, His Gospel of forgiveness, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus sets Himself, His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness against your sins and weaknesses and failings.  With His forgiveness of your sins, He reconciles you to God through His own Cross and Resurrection; He removes from you the power of death and the devil; and He replaces all your nagging doubts and terrible fears with true faith and great joy.

By and with His Word of forgiveness, your dear Lord Jesus Christ actually gives to you His perfect Peace in heart and mind, in body and soul, such as the world cannot give and does not understand.  For you are born again to a new and living hope through His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  Your forgiveness, peace, and joy are therefore as sure and certain as the risen Body of Christ Jesus.

He Himself, in His own flesh and blood, is the Propitiation for all your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  As He was faithful in all things, even unto death upon the Cross, so is He faithful and just in His Resurrection from the dead to forgive you all your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness by the ways and means of His Gospel.

When He comes and stands before you at His Altar and speaks His Peace to you in the Liturgy —  in the Pax Domini — the Peace of the Lord really is with you and is given to you, in and with His Body and His Blood and His forgiveness of sins.  His Peace is yours, here and now and always.

But I wonder, does that Peace of the Lord still seem elusive and beyond your comprehension?  Does it sometimes evade you?  It is already yours in the Body of Christ Jesus, but is it missing from your thoughts and feelings and emotions?  Many Christians struggle with such difficulties, and it scares them all the more to confront the misgivings of heart and mind.  How is it for you?

Are you restless and afraid?  Are you hiding from someone or something, inwardly or outwardly?  Do you find yourself (or place yourself) on the outside looking in, feeling estranged and distant?  At odds and out of sorts with yourself and others?  Bitter and resentful?  Or cynical and sour?

Do not mistake your own emotions, be they good, bad, or otherwise, with the Peace of Christ, which is objective and true regardless of how you are thinking or feeling at any given point.  For God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ, and He does not count your sins against you.

That is the real Peace that is given to you and is yours in the Gospel that is here preached to you.

But even though you have this genuine Peace of the Lord, and you are reconciled to God the Father in heaven through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, still there is no perfect peace in this mortal life on earth.  The New Creation has dawned in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, but the old creation — under the curse of man’s sin — is still wearing out, winding down, and dying.

For now, therefore, you do not experience the Peace that is already yours in Christ Jesus: not always, and not perfectly.  Not in your sinful heart and mind, which are torn by temptation and sin and yearn for that which is not God; neither in the world around you; nor in your relationships.

In all of these arenas, as in your own mortal and perishing flesh and blood, you still experience the warfare of sin and death, the inner and external conflict of doubt and fear, of anger and despair.

Though by the grace of God you do believe the Gospel, you also struggle with your unbelief and false belief.  You do not trust the Lord your God as you should.  You do not look to Him for help, pray to Him at all times without ceasing, or expect good things from Him.  Instead you put your trust in yourself, in your own strategies and strengths, and in your acquisitions and negotiations.

And though your sins are all freely and fully forgiven by the Gospel — Christ be praised! — the fact remains that you are still sinful from the inside-out, in all of your thoughts, words, and deeds.  You daily sin much, as the Catechism has taught you to confess, and it is true that you deserve nothing but punishment for your transgressions and neglect of duty.  For you keep on doing what you already know to be wrong, and you constantly fail, day after day, to do what is good and right.

Although the devil is defeated by the death of Christ, in his hatred and rage that old dragon still hounds you and harasses you.  The wicked foe attacks you with his deceptive temptations, and then he accuses you with a vengeance when you have fallen into his traps and snares.  With his lying and murdering, day and night, he is determined that you should have no peace within or without.

Despite the fact that you have already died with Christ in Holy Baptism, so that you also share His Resurrection and His Life, both now and forever, Satan haunts you with the specter of death on all sides, in your own perishing flesh and in the withering bodies and minds of your loved ones.  Consequently, death seems far more tangible, more painfully real, and more terribly present than your faith and life in Christ, which are hidden under His Cross awaiting a hope that is not yet seen.

The wounds that you actually perceive — the wounds that you see and feel and experience each and every day and all the time — do not appear to be the holy wounds of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, but the deep and festering wounds and the painful ugly scars of your own sins and the sins of others against you, which mar your body, trouble your mind, and grieve your weary soul.

Where, then, is there any Peace to be found?  Where is your hope, your joy, and your life?  These are the questions to be considered, and the Answers are provided in this familiar Holy Gospel.

Against the lies of the devil, the truth remains that your Peace and Joy, your Faith and Life, and your sure and certain Hope are where they have always been: They are in your dear Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who has been crucified for you and raised from the dead.

Who He is, what He has done, and what He does for you now is not yet to be seen with your eyes.  Nor is the glory of His Gospel yet perceived for what it truly is with your outward senses.  Instead, it is heard and received as a pledge and a promise in His Voice of the Gospel, which is to say, in the preaching and absolution of His sent ones, who are themselves under the same Cross as you.

What is more, not only is Christ Jesus heard in the preaching of His Word, but He is bodily given and received within His holy and precious wounds, which testify to His identity as the incarnate Son of God; to His Cross and Resurrection; to His mercy and compassion upon your own wounds, because He is your merciful and great High Priest; and to His very real presence with you in all your shame and suffering.  He is with you to help you, to save you with His gracious forgiveness of all your sins, and to glorify you with Himself by the ways and means of His Cross.

Christ is with you in His Word and Sacrament, here and now in this place, as surely as He was with the Apostles then, because the Ministry of the Gospel continues to this day, and to the close of the age, on the basis of their apostolic witness.  For this we should be most grateful that St. Thomas, one of the Twelve, saw and heard, and even touched and handled the Word of Life, so that he and his fellow Apostles should then testify to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  By their preaching and teaching of that Word-made-Flesh, you now have fellowship with God the Father in His Son.

Through the Holy Apostolic Ministry, which began with the Twelve and continues in the pastoral office throughout the Holy Christian Church on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ opens His wounds to you, no less than He once did so for St. Thomas, only now in the Holy Sacrament of His Body and His Blood.  Thus, He gives to you Himself and all the fruits and benefits of His Cross and Passion.  And this is your Holy Communion with the one true God in Christ, in both your body and soul.

Your dear Lord Jesus joins Himself to you in this way, in holy Peace and perfect Love, in order to strengthen and sustain you in the one true faith, in genuine joy, and in fervent love for others.

Indeed, He also sets Himself before you in the wounds of your neighbor, that you might see Jesus there by faith, and love and serve Him there in the hurts and sorrows and needs of your neighbor.

Beyond that, as the risen and glorified Body of the Lord Jesus Christ bears the marks of His Cross — which are the trophies of His atoning sacrifice and the medallions of His victorious salvation — so does His Body, the Church, bear the marks of His Cross on earth.  His holy Christian people suffer the reproach and persecution of the world, as well as the frailties of their own mortal flesh, so that you and all might learn to live by faith and love, and to rely upon the Crucified One.

We are all of us wounded, in one way or another.  Some of you are doubtful and afraid, and some of you more so than others.  Some of you are prideful and presumptuous, and are no less wounded in your boasting than is your neighbor in his brokenness.  Each and all of you here, and each of your brothers and sisters throughout the world, struggles with hurts and sorrows and burdens and pains, with temptations and regrets, and with sin and death.

Love one another in such weakness.  As each and all of you are wounded, so do you all have one and the same wounded Savior, who does not despise or cast away the weary, weak, and wounded, but He welcomes them to Himself, strengthens them with forgiveness, and grants them His Peace.

Have all things in common, therefore, in the Body of Christ.  For all things are yours in Him, and there is nothing lacking.  As you find yourself in Him, and as you receive Him into yourself — as you abide in Him, and He abides in you — so invite the missing ones to share in this Gospel with you, to be fed and clothed, to be comforted and cared for, and to find Peace and Rest in Christ.

And now, then, if you have been the missing one yourself, or if you have never missed a service — whether you are strong or barely hanging on — whether your wounds are on the outside for all to see, or hidden inside of you in some secret shame — whether you are joyful or sad; whether you are very brave, or trembling and shaking with nervousness, anxiety, and fright — the Lord Jesus is here for you, not with condemnation, but with tender compassion and divine consolation.

Crucified and risen from the dead, He opens His arms to you in love, and He embraces you in mercy.  He gathers you into His wounds, as He also gives you to eat and drink from His wounded hands, so that you may belong to Him, believe in Him, and be glorified in Him, body and soul.

Here with His Word and Holy Spirit, He forgives you all of your sins, and gives to you His Life and Salvation.  So does He grant you His own Peace, which surpasses all human understanding.

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

10 April 2015

Worship the Lord by Faith in His Word

It is the One who was crucified for you, who suffered and died in your place, who has also risen from the dead and lives forever.  Thus do you rise with Him and live with Him in His place.

As by His Baptism in the Jordan River He took your sin and death upon Himself and bore it in His Body to the Cross, so by your Baptism into Him have you received His Resurrection and His Life everlasting, in your body and your soul, through His forgiveness of all your sins.

The wages of sin is death.  Therefore, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is salvation from death and the free gift of eternal life with God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is because His death has atoned for the sins of the world that death has been defeated; and as it had to relinquish its hold on Christ Jesus, so must it also let go of all who belong to Him.  It is a lie of the devil to suppose that death is simply a normal and natural part of life; that is not the case.  Death is the devastating consequence of sin, but it has been undone by the Cross of Christ.

Therefore, the stone is rolled away, the tomb has been emptied.  The grave could not contain the Lord Jesus, and it shall not contain you: His disciple, His brother or sister, His friend.

Even so, that is not yet what you experience in your life here on earth, where the ground sometimes shakes beneath your feet, and airplanes can fall out of the sky and crash into mountains; where people die in countless ways, and you get sick and frightened; and where you are not the faithful disciple, brother, sister, or friend of Jesus that you are called to be and ought to be.

And I’ll not say or suggest that none of that matters.  It does, actually.  When you live in the fear of unbelief, you’re as good as dead already, even while you go about the pretense of living.  Then you have no peace or rest within yourself, and you have no love for others.

But the Lord has not left you without help or recourse.  Indeed, He is Himself your Strength and your Song, as He has become your Salvation.  Not just once upon a time, but now and forever.

Though He has risen from the dead, and He is never to die again, He has not forgotten you, nor shall He ever leave you or forsake you.  He has gone ahead of you, it is true, through death and the grave into the Resurrection and the Life everlasting; yet, He has not left you behind in the dust.  Although He is not visible to your eyes, He is actually not far away or absent from you.

His feet are rather firmly planted on the earth in the midst of His Church, where, by His Word of the Gospel, He meets you and greets you with His forgiveness of sins and His good gift of life.

The Font, the Altar, and the Pulpit from which His Word sounds forth in His Church, these are the Mountain to which He calls you and sends you, the Galilee where He now reveals Himself to you.

Everything depends upon His Word, just as everything has happened according to His Word, in fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures.  It is by His Word that He befriends you, and by His Word that He makes of you His disciple, His brother or sister.  It is likewise by His Word of the Gospel that He keeps you steadfast in the true faith, in place of your doubts and fears, anxieties and worries, so that even in the midst of death you live.

It is by His Word, therefore, and not by your own wisdom, reason, or strength, that you find Him — where He has promised to be with you — and you lay hold of Him by faith and worship Him.

It is likewise by His Word — by faith in His Word, and by His grace — that you speak in love to your neighbor in the world.  And it is His Word that you are given to speak, including especially His Word of forgiveness for those who have trespassed against you.

There is no place in the light of Easter for any refusal to forgive or to be reconciled to your brother or sister.  For your neighbor’s trespasses, along with your own trespasses, have been removed in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  Together you live by the grace of that Gospel.

Though your sins have been like scarlet, His Word of the Gospel has cleansed you white as snow.

And though the Lord remains here with you on earth, He has also hidden your life with Himself in God, until your body, too, shall be raised from the dead and glorified and live forever; for He has taken you with Himself, in His own Body, through death into life.  So it is that, already now, you live, as it were, a heavenly life on earth.  And that is especially the case here at His Altar.

Though you cannot see Him — but the day will dawn when you do, with your own eyes, from your own risen flesh — yet, even now, hear His Word to you, and know that His Word is true.  For the One who was crucified for you, who has risen just as He said, also speaks to you here and now:

“This is My Body, given for you.  This is My Blood, poured out for you.  Eat and Drink.  All your sins are forgiven.  And as I live, so shall you.”

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

05 April 2015

Your Passover, Christ, Has Been Sacrificed

There’s no denying the victory that God has won for His people.  It’s there before their eyes, that the Lord has gotten glory for Himself over Pharaoh.  So Moses and Israel sing with great joy, and praise the Name of the Lord, and celebrate their salvation from slavery and death in Egypt.

But then what?  Within a chapter the people are groaning and complaining against the same Lord God, and against His servant Moses, because they are hungry and thirsty, bored and restless.

From the waters of the Red Sea they are confronted by the wilderness with its harsh and difficult conditions.  That is what they will have to face and deal with for the next forty years.  Only two of the grownups will live to enter the Promised Land.  So it’s out of the frying pan, into the fire.

And so it is for you, as well, who share the Exodus of Christ Jesus by virtue of your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  You die and rise with Him, and then you still have to face the fallen world with all its sins and griefs and sorrows, as you sojourn through this vale of tears.

The Christian faith and life are a struggle against the ongoing experience of sin and death, and against the knowledge of natural reason, which may be persuaded by the evidence and the facts, but cannot comprehend the Scriptures.  As of yet, you do not know as you are known.

On the one hand, you are confronted and seemingly trapped by your enemies, who hate you and hurt you and hurl abuse at you.  And on the other hand, you must grapple with the poverty and depravity of your own life, within your heart and mind and outwardly in your words and actions.

The Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is in fact your rescue from all of this, no doubt.  It is the saving grace of God, the answer and solution to all of your problems.  But it hardly seems real for the time being, and it may not appear to be making any difference or doing any good.

You’re still sinning against God and your neighbor, still grumbling and complaining against the Lord and against His servants.  What is more, your neighbors and the devil are still sinning against you; if not Pharaoh and his minions, there are plenty of others who oppress you and fight with you.  And on both counts, you’re still dying, day by day, year after year, both inside and out.

So there is this wrestling match within you, in your heart and mind, and in your flesh, between faith and unbelief, and between real love and the lies of anger and fear, apathy and despair.

Against all that, again, there is the fact that Christ has died — once for all, never to die again — and that Christ is risen — He is risen indeed, just as He said!  But He seems to have disappeared, to be missing in action, and frankly you don’t know what to do with yourself.  “They” have taken away your Lord (whoever “they” are), and you do not know where or how to find Him.

So you’re in the same quandary as those dear first Christians who have gone before you in the struggle of faith — from the waters of Baptism into the wilderness under the shadow of the Cross.

Like Mary Magdalene, from whom the Lord cast out seven demons; who loved Him with such deep gratitude, and depended on His mercy and compassion, even as she served and supported Him.  She’s there first thing to pay her respects, to remember and grieve, but she’s still in the dark.  And when she finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, she is beside herself with sorrow and weeping.  She is at an utter loss.  How will she ever know any peace or happiness again?

And there is Simon Peter, so bold and brave on occasion, but now living with the deep sadness and bitter regret of his denials.  How often hasn’t he spoken out of turn without understanding, but he did not speak up when he should have done, and now he is dumbfounded by the death of Christ and the discovery of an empty tomb.  Is there any hope for Peter?  Any chance for reconciliation?

Even the disciple whom Jesus loves — the Teacher’s pet, the golden boy, the wunderkind — he, too, is at a loss.  He enters the empty tomb, he sees with his own eyes, and he believes the facts of the case before him, but he does not yet know what it means.  So he goes home.  But what now?

And how is it for you and yours?

Whether in confidence or desperation, you race ahead to get where you’re going, to wherever it is you think you should be, but you also come up short.  Johnny or Suzie on the spot — up before the dawn, or burning the midnight oil — but then it’s the proverbial “hurry up and wait.”

With misplaced zeal, you cling to the wrong things, because they seem so good and so right, and yet, you fail to see or recognize the Lord Himself when He is standing before you in His Gospel.  Your overeager efforts do not help, but lead you instead to exhaustion and disappointment.

Maybe you have brief glimpses of clarity and insight, moments when everything seems to make sense.  But then it all shatters and fades away, and you’re left again with perplexity and confusion.

Despite all that you know and believe, there is still this darkness that weighs upon you, and hovers over you, and follows after you like Eeyore’s little black rain cloud.  It threatens to expose all your junk, to destroy your carefully crafted façade, and to bring you to shame and disgrace.

Whatever the contours and particulars of your own story, there is all this old leaven in you, which permeates your being and nature, your heart and soul, your body, mind, and spirit.

And the solution, which you already know but don’t yet understand — the great Salvation of your Savior Jesus Christ — is so counter-intuitive and scary, because it is first of all your own undoing.

It’s not just that you can do nothing to save yourself, but that you must be utterly undone in order to be saved.  It doesn’t matter who you are, the good, the bad, or the ugly: You must be undone.

For the Lord God is a Warrior, Yahweh Sabaoth.  In drowning and destroying Pharaoh and all his host, the same Lord also puts you to death — to yourself, to your sin, to your own righteousness, and to the whole world of sin and death, both near and far, all around you and within you.

You must be purged of the leaven on which you have relied.  You must enter into the depths, to pass through the waters — with your enemies hot on your heels, breathing threats and murder.

Not only that, but what awaits you on the far side of the deadly waters is a desert, and who knows how many years of wandering, in which you will not feed or clothe yourself, but you will be fed and cared for by the Lord your God.  He is the One who brings you through the wilderness — into Paradise at last — by His grace alone: By the true Bread of Life from heaven, and by the Living and Life-Giving Water that flows from the innermost Being of Christ into your body and soul.

Do not cling to what you have known or experienced in the past, but let it go, and be done with it altogether.  Do not pine away for the fleshpots of Egypt, no matter how hard the desert may be.

It’s not a game.  The Lord is not teasing you.  The ordeal is not pointless.  For it is on this journey through the wilderness that you are catechized — day by day, year after year, your whole life long — unto repentance and faith.  Thus are you taught to rely upon the Lord, to trust His Promise of the Resurrection, even as you are being put to death or simply wasting away.

How, then, shall you be saved?  And how shall you be able to sing in the midst of the struggle?

It is by the Lamb who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives!  He is your Strength and your Song, because He has become your Salvation.  He is your Passover, who has been sacrificed for you, who now feeds you with Himself, with His own flesh and blood.  Indeed, His Blood covers you and cleanses you, and anoints you in body and soul, inside and out.  And His Body enlivens you and strengthens you with forgiveness of sins and communion with God.

The same Lord Jesus Christ has passed through the deep waters — ahead of you, and with you — in order to bring you through death and the grave into His Resurrection and His Life Everlasting.

So does He travel before you and with you — He is your Vanguard and your Rearguard — through the wilderness into the Promised Land.  His Ministry of the Gospel and His Means of Grace are the Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night, by which He leads and guides you all the way.  And as He has passed through the waters of the Jordan into Canaan by His own Baptism — that is to say, by His Cross and Resurrection — so do you enter with Him, by your Holy Baptism, into the Good Land that God has promised and pledged to you in the Body of Christ Jesus.

For in His Body, with His Blood, Christ ascends to His God and Father in heaven, that you might also be with Him there; and not only with Him, but like Him, and one with Him; that His God be your God, and His Father your Father, by adoption and by grace, both now and forevermore.

You also are His disciple whom He loves.  You follow after Him and learn from Him, who has in fact also made Himself your Brother in the flesh, in death as in life, unto the Life Everlasting.

To your enemies within and without (including your own old Adam) He is a fierce and mighty Warrior, and the thunder of His mighty Law is not to be denied.  But hearken to this Holy Gospel, and hear how He also speaks to you so gently, and how He calls you by name to Himself, and calls you by His own Name.  For you are His dear lamb, and He is your Good Shepherd forever.

With His gentle voice of the Gospel, He raises you from doubt and fear to faith and joy, from perplexity to confidence and peace, from death and the grave to divine eternal Life in Him.

He teaches you sincerity and truth in all your dealings with others, by His own Word and Spirit of the Gospel in all His dealings with you, that is, by His mercy and His forgiveness of all your sins.

Mary Magdalene is not forgotten or forsaken.  Simon Peter is not cast away or rejected.  And you are not abandoned, condemned, or denied, either, but you are surely rescued, renewed, and made righteous before your God and Father in Christ Jesus.

As He feeds you here in His own House with the unleavened Bread of His own Body, so do you become brand new in your body and soul, and you live a new life in Him as a member of His Body.

In this Paschal Feast He brings you into the Paradise of His New Creation, and He establishes you in the true Sanctuary, made without hands, eternal in the heavens, which is His crucified and risen Body.  You enter through the Veil of His Flesh, cleansed and redeemed by His Blood, anointed and sanctified by His Spirit, and so do you worship the Father in Him, in the Spirit and the Truth.

Beloved of the Lord, as He thus calls you by His Word and lays hold of you with His own flesh and blood, given and poured out for you, so cling to Him in these Means of Grace.  You will not find Him in the fleshpots of Egypt, nor in the old leaven of malice and envy, but here at His Altar is where you find Him and know Him rightly as He is: Your Savior and Redeemer.

Therefore, let us keep this Feast of feasts to which the Lord invites you.  For He, your Passover, is sacrificed and risen for you, and ever lives for you as your merciful and great High Priest.  So shall you sing the New Song of Christ, of God and of the Lamb.  And all the host of Yahweh, together with His whole Church in heaven and on earth, the true Israel of God, sings with you in the joy of His Resurrection, to the praise of His glorious grace.

For Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

03 April 2015

It Is Finished

In the beginning was the Word.

As we consider the “seven words of Jesus from the Cross,” it is well to remember that there is really the one Word of God, that is, our dear Lord Jesus Christ Himself: the almighty and eternal Son of God, who has become flesh and tabernacles among us.  It is chiefly that one Word of God, which the Father speaks in the Body of flesh and blood upon the Cross, crucified for all your sins, which you are called upon to hear and receive on this Good Friday, and no less on Easter Sunday, and on Pentecost Day, and at Christmas, and throughout the whole year and your whole life.

It is with that Word of God in Christ that the holy evangelist, St. John, begins his record of the Holy Gospel.  For Christ Jesus, the only begotten Son, was in the beginning with God; and He is God; and by Him were all things made, as God spoke His Word, and it was so.  In taking up that divine Word, St. John proclaims the Gospel in the Light of Genesis and the Creation.

In fact, there are a number of points and places in the course of St. John’s Gospel that manifest the Lord Jesus as the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  And He has come in the flesh in order to redeem and sanctify His own Creation, to bring it to the fulfillment of His good and gracious will for those whom He has made in His Image and Likeness.

In the first place, He is the Light of the world, and He is the Life of men, as in the beginning He called forth the light out of the darkness and breathed His Breath of Life into Adam.

And as He separated the land from the water and brought forth the fruits of the earth on the third day of Creation, so it was “on the third day” that Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, manifesting in advance the dawn of the New Creation.

So is He the One who gives new birth through water and the Spirit; Who also works and heals and gives life, even on the Sabbath.  For as the Father is always working, creating and preserving life, so does the Son — the Word of God — continue to work and give life, thus providing rest for man.

Indeed, He is the Resurrection and the Life, so that all who believe in Him, even though they die — as did His friend Lazarus — yet shall they live — as surely as Lazarus was raised from the dead.

For all of that, even His raising of Lazarus is still only the anticipation of the Hour of Jesus, when He will finally accomplish and manifest His divine Glory in the flesh.  In fact, ironically enough, it is His raising of Lazarus that precipitates the Hour of His Glory, the Hour when He is lifted up for the life of the world in His death upon the Cross, and He thereby draws all people to Himself.

So it is that the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Author and Giver of Life, Who is Himself the Life and the Light of the world, comes into His Glory by way of suffering and death.

What is the point and purpose of God in all of this, in the Person and work of His incarnate Son, Christ Jesus?  What does it mean that He is glorified in Crucifixion?  How can this be?  And why?

Once more, we must begin with the beginning, when the Lord God created all things out of nothing, by and through His Word, for the sake of His own divine Love.  That is to say, it is the Father’s divine, eternal Love for His Son — and the Son’s divine, eternal Love for His Father — in the Holy Spirit — it is for this Love that the Holy Triune God created the heavens and the earth.

He created all things, and man in particular, in order to share His own divine, eternal Life — His own Being of Love — with others outside of Himself; to love and serve His own creatures.

More to the point at hand, and also to put this more personally, He created you in order to love you.  That is why you exist: namely, so that God may love you with Himself.

Thus, again, the Holy Triune God created man in His own Image, in the sense and for the purpose of sharing Himself, His Life and His Love, with man; so that all the children of man, receiving these gifts and graces of God, would also reflect the Glory of God in both soul and body.

In thus creating man in His Image and Likeness — out of the dust of the ground, into the flesh — and breathing into man His living and Life-giving Spirit — the Father was already anticipating the Incarnation of His dear Son, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Image of God.

Tragically, though, in contradiction of God’s good and gracious will for us men and our salvation, when we fell into sin through unbelief and disobedience, we brought death and destruction upon ourselves.  We cut ourselves off from the Word and Spirit of God, and thereby rejected the Life and the Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Incarnation of the Son of God was therefore undertaken for a two-fold purpose:

On the one hand, the Incarnation is the way and the means by which God has firmly established His divine Image in the flesh and blood of Man, in the Person of Jesus Christ, in the very Body of Him who is both true God and true Man.  He thereby accomplishes in Himself the primary purpose of His Creation.  And on the other hand, in the same Lord Jesus Christ, He rescues man from sin, death, and hell through the forgiveness of sin, the defeat of death, and the satisfaction of judgment.

Thus, what began with the creation of all things by and through the Word of God, is fulfilled in the Incarnation of the same Word, culminating in His voluntary Cross and in His Resurrection.

It is for the sake of the same divine Love for which all things are made, that God Himself in the flesh lays down His own body and life in loving Self-sacrifice for the salvation of His creatures.

All of this the Lord our God has done, for you and for all people, by subjecting Himself to the utter depths of that death and damnation which you brought upon yourself by your sin.  So that, even there — in your death and damnation — you are no longer separated from His Life and His Love.

Indeed, He has spoken His Word — His “Let it Be!” in the flesh — in the midst of the darkness to which you had succumbed.  He has invaded the nothingness to which you had returned by your sin, and He calls you to come forth again from out of your tomb, out of your hole in the ground.

Once more, the Lord God creates out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) by and through His Word, precisely by submitting Himself, in the Person of His Word, His only-begotten Son, to the utter depths of death and the grave.  Everything is thereby turned inside-out, because the Light of God has entered the darkness, and the divine Life has stormed the gates of Hades.

So does He also, then, “give up the Spirit.”  Which is to say, in this Holy Gospel, that He hands over and restores the living and Life-giving Spirit of God to the children of man, who otherwise return to the dust from which they have come.  So it is that, in His Resurrection, Jesus breathes the Spirit upon His disciple — and through them into you by the Holy Absolution of all your sins.

This forgiveness of sins by and from the Cross, unto the life and salvation of your body and soul — that is the Glory of God, and the Hour of His Glory.  Thus, “It is finished,” as He says from the Cross.  What is “it”?  The point and purpose of God’s Creation.  And how is it “finished”?  By the death of God in the flesh, for the redemption and salvation — and the restoration — of Creation.

Once again — as in Genesis, when God had finished all His work and He rested — so does Christ also rest in His tomb on the Sabbath — whereby He sanctifies and establishes this perfect Sabbath Rest for man.  Therefore, even death is no longer able to frighten or alarm you, because it has been filled with the Peace and presence of Christ.  As He who is the Light of the world and the Life of men has entered into your tomb, so are you called to enter into His rest by faith in His Gospel.

And in the Light and Life of this completed New Creation in Christ, a brand new day begins — a day beyond the Sabbath, a never-ending day beyond the days and weeks of this temporal world: A new eternal “Eighth Day” dawns for you in His Resurrection from the dead on Easter.

That new, eternal Day begins, and it is manifested in His Resurrection for the whole world to receive and enter into it and live forever in Christ Jesus, because all of His work of Creation and Redemption has been accomplished, completed, and perfected on this day, on this Good Friday — the Sixth Day — in the Cross and Crucifixion of the incarnate Son of God.  Everything henceforth is the “It Was So” of this final “Let It Be!”

And the Lord God saw all the works of His hands, which He had finished, and, behold, it was very good!  So may you also rest in His Peace, both now and forever.

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