24 August 2015

Feasting with the Royal Band of the Apostles

The fact is that we don’t know much about St. Bartholomew, but he is most likely the disciple known as Nathaniel in the Gospel According to St. John.  These two names identify him as a “Gift of God,” and as a “Son of Bravery, Boldness, or Daring.”  And so he was, by the grace of God.  But tradition suggests that he was skinned alive and then beheaded on account of his apostolic preaching and ministry.  Which seems like such a shame and such a waste.  But not at all.

To sit on a throne in the Kingdom of God is first of all to share the trials and tribulations of Christ Jesus, to bear His Cross for the benefit of others, and to serve the least, the last, and the lost at one’s own expense, in the way that Jesus Himself is among His disciples as the One who serves.

The greatness and glory of this one Lord, Jesus Christ, is in this humble service that He offers, both upon His Cross and at His Table, whereby He gives His Body & Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The Apostles in turn, St. Bartholomew included, are a princely band because they share the royalty of Christ the King by the way of His Cross.  So it is that His greatness and His glory, and His gracious gifts of life and godliness are manifested in their suffering and their service unto death.

Not only their living, but also their dying bears witness to the Gospel of the Cross of Christ.

You then receive this Service of Christ and His Cross in the holy apostolic Ministry of His Gospel.  It is given to you here in earthen vessels, in the preaching of your pastor and his administration of the Sacrament in the Name and at the Table of the Lord Jesus Christ.  By these earthly means of grace, you are preserved, even under persecution, by His forgiveness and His Peace.

You survive and live by and from His Word to you — both by His Law and by His Gospel, which teach you the faith and love of God in Christ Jesus, your Savior.  You are kept steadfast and safe in that life to which you are called by this Lord and King who is faithful in His Love for you.

And yet, do you still, like the disciples then, compete and contest with your neighbor, and roll your eyes at the Word and wisdom of God, and dispute and disagree with Him and with each other?

Are you prone to envy and jealousy, and to bitter resentment?  Are you prideful and petty, selfish and self-centered?  Or lazy?  Or scared?  Or simply weary, weak, and wounded?

Do you know your sin and shame, perhaps even scandal?  Are you beleaguered, burdened, struck down, and afflicted?  Do you find in yourself, not the strength that you desire, but only faults?

Are you persecuted, picked on, teased, or neglected to the point where you cannot take it anymore?

Or, are you alarmed and ashamed that, really, what you suffer is for the most part not for your faith and your faithfulness, but simply the consequences of your own foolishness and sinful behavior?

Well, listen up.  You are not a pagan but a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And what that means, first and foremost, is that He has called you by His Gospel, by His forgiveness of all your sins; that He has cleansed and sanctified you by the washing of Holy Baptism, and that He catechizes you by His Word and Holy Spirit.  In all these ways He has come to you and continues to serve you.

And here and now He seats you at His Table, and He feeds you with His Body and His Blood in His Kingdom.  Which tells you what He thinks of you, and how things are between you and Him, and who you really are, not by any merit of your own, but by the mercies of Him who loves you.

What this means for you is that you really are forgiven by His grace, by His Gospel, by His Cross.  Real forgiveness for your very real sins, as though you had never committed them or failed to do what you should.  And the righteousness of Christ is credited to you, as though it were your own.

If you have not stood by Him in His trials, well, neither did Bartholomew or the other Apostles at first, not to begin with on that night when He was betrayed.  Nor did they get it right away when He rose from the dead and appeared to them.  They, too, were doubtful and afraid, as you often are; and even when they did know better, they still didn’t always get it right.  Yet, the Lord was with them to sustain them, to accomplish His purposes through them, to preach and administer His Gospel by their words and works of faith and love, and to glorify Himself in them, and they in Him, by their bearing of His Cross, and, yes, by their suffering and death for His Name’s sake.

So is He glorified in you, and you in Him, by His faith toward God and His faithfulness toward you.  For the greatness of the Lord is found in this, that by and with His trials, He has stood by you, even to the point of death.  And having reclined in the dust of the earth to which you are returning, He also raises you up with Himself in His Resurrection and seats you at His Table in His Kingdom.

Here you recline with St. Bartholomew, with the Holy Apostles and the sainted martyrs of Christ, and with all those disciples who have gone before you in His Name, who have run the race and kept the faith, who now rest from their labors in the same eternal Sabbath that remains for you.

Even here and now, as you eat and drink with them at this Royal Banquet of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are fed from the hand of your King.  So do you live with Him who lives and reigns forever.

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

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