10 May 2015

To Live and Love as Christ Does

Everything begins with and depends upon the Love of God and His Word to you in Christ Jesus, by which He calls you to faith and friendship.  For this Jesus is the Lord, the Judge of the living and the dead.  He is the Hinge on which all of creation turns, the Heart and Center of all things.  And He has loved you from the heights and in the depths, with His Body and His Life, even to the uttermost, unto the fulfillment of God’s good and gracious will that you should live with Him.

His Word to you is that you love one another as He has loved you: That you do unto each other as Christ Jesus does for you, and that you give to your neighbor what you have received from Him.  Such love is the character and content of your Christian life, which is in Christ Jesus, your Lord.

How, then, does He love you?  Which is also to ask and say: How do you love one another?

By faith in His own God and Father, the Lord Jesus lives and dies according to His calling as the Christ.  From the waters of His Baptism to His bloody Cross and Passion, He lives for you, and He lays down His life for you, in order to overcome sin, death, the devil, and hell for your salvation.  For that joy which was set before Him, He willingly bears His Cross and goes to His death, in the confidence that His Father will raise Him up again according to His Word and promise; in order that He should thus raise you from death to eternal life through His forgiveness of all your sins.

By the authority of His atoning Sacrifice and with the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead, He loves you now by speaking to you His Word of the Gospel.  With that Word, He actually does forgive you, and He gives you life in place of death.  More than that, He befriends you.  He draws near to you, not for condemnation, but to reconcile you to Himself and God the Father in the Holy Spirit and in Peace.  In fact, all that He has received from the Father, including the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection, and the Life everlasting, He now reveals and gives to you by His Gospel.

He comes to you, reveals Himself to you, and gives Himself to you by the Water and the Blood, and by and with the Holy Spirit.  Not just historically, once upon a time, but sacramentally, here and now in His Church on earth by the holy apostolic Ministry of the Gospel.  That is to say, Christ Jesus comes to you, and He loves you, by the washing of the Water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism, by His Blood of the New Testament, poured out for you from His overflowing Cup in the Holy Communion, and by the gift of His Holy Spirit in the Holy Absolution of your sins.

Bear in mind that the context of this Holy Gospel is the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, on the night when our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed, when He humbled Himself to wash the feet of His disciples, to serve them with His Body and His Blood, and to speak these gracious Words of Love to them, although He knew their sins and weaknesses, their failures, and their fears.  He loved them faithfully, even unto death.  And He loved them in that Upper Room with His means of grace.

St. John writes this Holy Gospel for those who are and already have been celebrating the Lord’s Supper according to His Word.  We should therefore understand that St. John, no less than St. Paul and the other holy Evangelists, writes from within and also for the ongoing tradition of the Liturgy.  What I mean by that is this: The Love of Christ is not abstract or generic, but, in the Ministry of the Gospel, in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in His Body and Blood, it is as tangible, concrete, and specific as His bodily death upon the Cross and His bodily Resurrection from the dead.

Those men who ate and drank with Him before and after His Cross and Resurrection, who were chosen ahead of time by God to be witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ, they were given to love the Lord’s Church as He loved them, by doing what He did, in His Name and by His divine command.  When He says to them, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” it is as much as when He says elsewhere, “This do in remembrance of Me.”  What they receive from Him, they give to His Church, and His Church hands over from generation to generation.

So does the holy apostolic Ministry of the Gospel — which begins with the Father’s sending of His Son into the Flesh — continue in His Church to the ends of the earth and the close of the age.  From the Apostles in the Upper Room to all times and places, men are chosen, called, and ordained by the Word and Spirit of Christ to preach Peace in His Name; to confess and proclaim His Cross and Resurrection; to baptize, catechize, and absolve with His own Word and by His Holy Spirit; and so also to give and pour out His Body and His Blood for His Christians to eat and to drink.

By this same Ministry of the Gospel, even here and now, in this time and in this place, you also are loved by Christ Jesus and receive from Him His Life and His Spirit.

And as the Lord Jesus loves you in these ways and means of grace, so are you called and chosen to love one another and to bear good fruits within your vocation to the glory of God the Father.

To live and abide in His Love, therefore, is first of all to live and abide in the Divine Liturgy of His Gospel, in the Ministry of His preaching and Sacraments; and then also to live by faith in harmony and continuity with these means of grace.

In other words, your life in Christ and your love for one another is defined and determined by the Water and the Blood and the Spirit of Christ Jesus, as these are generously poured out for you in the Liturgy of the Gospel.  These three testify as one to the Life and Love that are yours in Christ.

What that means, for example, is that your Holy Baptism — your dying and rising with Christ, your bearing of His Name and Spirit, and your adoption by grace as a child of His God and Father — governs and guides all of your words and actions within each and all of your stations in life.  You die to yourself and live unto God and for your neighbor.  You daily repent of your sin and return to the preaching and promises of Christ.  You cease to do evil and begin to do good.  You forgive those who trespass against you, and you gladly care for them, cover them, and clothe them in body and soul.  In so far as you are concerned, you abide in peace with all of your neighbors.

Likewise with respect to the life that you live to and from the Lord’s Altar.  As you are given to eat His Body and drink His Blood, so do you feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst.  And shall you curse, swear, lie, and deceive, gossip and complain, or speak ill of your neighbor with the very same mouth, the same lips and tongue that have received this Holy Sacrament?  Will you with your body engage in sexual immorality, physical violence, or any other wickedness, when you have been fed with the flesh and blood of your Savior, Jesus Christ?  On the contrary, as you are called to repentance and receive His forgiveness of all your sins in this Holy Supper, so be reconciled to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and do not hold their sins against them.

It is not simply that your life and your love are modeled after the means of grace, though at least that much is true.  It is rather that the Water and the Blood and the Spirit of Christ Jesus are His Life and His Love for you, and that you derive your life with God and your love for each other entirely from Him through these means of His grace, mercy, and peace.  So it is that you live and you love, not in the way of the world, and not by your own will, but by the will of God in Christ.

That is true regardless of your place in life, whether you are a mother or a child, a wife or husband, or an unmarried Christian; whether you are a student, a worker, unemployed, or retired.  Though the specific details of your life and love will necessarily and rightly differ in each of these contexts, the life that you live and the love that you give, if they are Christian, derive in every case from the same Lord Jesus Christ through one and the same Liturgy of His Gospel.

For that very reason, and because the Lord Himself has called you and chosen you for the unique place and purposes of your own vocations and stations in life, do not despair, and do not compare yourself and your position to others, and do not suppose that your place is pointless or without value and significance.  Rather, trust the Lord who has called you, abide in His Love for you, and persevere in your calling in the confidence of His Cross and Resurrection.  As God raised Jesus from the dead, so does He bear much fruit by the tree of the Cross — also in your body and life.

The Lord your God does not show partiality.  He receives you and He welcomes you to Himself in Peace and Joy, not by virtue of your greatness in the eyes of the world, but by virtue of His Love for you in Christ Jesus.  By the same token, neither does He station everyone in the same place, nor assign everyone the same purpose, but He calls each of you to live by faith in Christ, and to love as He does: To go about doing good and helping those in need as you are able by His grace.

Whatever your work may be, therefore, carry it out in the confidence of Christ: Even if your work at this point in your life, as an infant, perhaps, or in your old age, is simply to wait upon the Lord in hope, to pray and praise, and to call upon His Name for mercy and grace to help in time of need.

As He has already consecrated you by His Cross, by the Fruits of His Cross, so does He bear His good fruits in you, which remain forever in His Resurrection from the dead.  His Joy is in you by His Word of the Gospel, and it is daily perfected in you as you die and rise by faith in His Word.  Not as a condition or contingency, but as a consequence and as the evidence of His Love for you.

As He has overcome the world, sin, death, and the devil for you, so do His Victory, His Life, and His Salvation remain for you.  All of these are given to you, and they become yours in Christ, as He comes to you and loves you by the waters of Holy Baptism, by pouring out His Spirit upon you and breathing Him into your body and soul through His forgiveness of all your sins, and by giving you His own Body to eat and pouring out His Blood for you to drink here at His Altar.

This Gospel of Christ Jesus is your faith and life, and your Victory in Him, as He preaches it into your ears, presses it into your hands, and places it upon your lips in peace.  So do you live and love as He does, unto the resurrection and the life everlasting.  And the Joy of the Lord is yours.

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

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