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.

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