09 August 2015

The Bread of Life from the Tree of the Cross

“I Am the Bread of Life.
He who comes to Me will not hunger,
and he who believes in Me will not thirst.”

That is the Word and promise of Christ, the Son of God, your Savior.

You have come to Him, because the Father has called you and given you to this Lord Jesus Christ, His Son.  And you believe in Him, because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, and He has enlightened you with His gifts, whereby He also sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith.

You shall by no means be cast out.  You shall not hunger or thirst, nor lack for any good thing in body or soul.  You shall not perish but live.  For Christ the Lord, to whom the Father has given you in love, shall raise you up on the last day to live with Him forever in His Righteousness.

And yet, for now, on your journey to that destination, from the waters of your Baptism you have come to Him in the wilderness.  And here, it seems, there is rather a lot of hunger and thirst.  Indeed, you are hungry and thirsty, not only in your body, but in your heart, mind, and spirit.

Not only that, but you suffer in part because of your faithfulness, because of the Name that you bear, because you are a Christian.  Far from being a remedy against hurt and sorrow, faith actually receives the Cross first of all, which puts you to death and buries you (before it raises you up).

At the same time, it is also true that what you find within yourself is that you are not so faithful.  Instead of steadfast faith and confident trust in the Lord who loves you, you harbor doubts and fears, frustrations and discouragements.  Perhaps even threats of dark despair.  And against those who have sinned against you, instead of the forgiveness and peace that you should exercise, you harbor anger, resentment, and bitterness.  Instead of speaking with the grace of the Gospel, you grumble and complain and utter harsh and spiteful words.  You harden your heart against your neighbor, whom you ought to love and care for.  In doing so, you harden your heart against the Lord your God, the very Father of mercies and God of all comforts.

Thus, you do not yet see what your eyes long to see, neither in yourself, nor in your body and life, nor in the world around you.  And it is so hard to watch and wait upon the Lord.  Your belly may momentarily be filled and satisfied, but it won't be long before it growls and rumbles once again.  And even when your body is full, your heart and mind still hunger for peace and rest.

So, then, why not just give up and die?  That is the question of your old Adam, when he is not striving to make a god out of himself, to obtain and preserve a life for himself.  You can go from towering pride to the pits of despair in a heartbeat.  What is the use, after all?  What is the point?

Your fathers ate their daily bread.  Whatever they were like, whether they prayed or not, whether they were evil or good, God the Father almighty opened His hand to feed them, to shower them with sunshine and rain, to give them everything they needed for this body and life.  Yes, indeed, your fathers ate their bread, thanks be to God — day by day, year after year — and then they died!

How, then, shall you survive and live?  Eat, drink, and be merry, and tomorrow you still die.  Or stop eating altogether and starve yourself to death.  What difference does it make?  Whether you live twenty years or seventy, forty-five or ninety, what does it even matter?  No amount of daily food and drink will spare your life forever.  It’s easy to become cynical and despondent, to slip into self-pity and despair, as even the Prophet Elijah did when all seemed hopeless and pointless.

But now, take your rest under the tree.  For that is where you live and die and rise again.  It shelters you and shades you in any case, even when you are ready to give up and die in disgust.

Consider, beloved, that your Lord Jesus has suffered and died for you in tender-hearted kindness, in mercy and compassion, with great love for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

His Cross and Passion, His innocent suffering and death were not meaningless or pointless, nor without hope.  These voluntary works of His were, instead, a sweet-smelling sacrifice and offering, by which you are beloved and well-pleasing to God your Father.  You know that is true, because God has raised this same Jesus from the dead, never to die again.  This same Jesus — the Lamb of God, who came down from heaven and became flesh, who took your sins upon Himself and died in your place — He has risen from the dead.  Therefore, you also shall rise and live with Him.

So also, even in your suffering you are not cast aside.  You are not abandoned, nor forgotten.  What you may suffer as a consequence of your sins is a discipline for your good, unto repentance and new life in the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  And what you suffer in faith and love, as a Christian, is for the glory of God and the good of your neighbor.

The bottom line remains that, baptized into Christ, you do not suffer for yourself, nor by yourself, and you do not die alone. In Christ, you shall not die but live forever.

He who for your sake died and was raised now strengthens and sustains you here under this Tree of His Cross.  Even here in the wilderness of this world, in the valley of the shadow of death.

He loves you.  He is kind and merciful.  He surely does forgive you all your sins.  And where sins are forgiven, death and the grave are undone, and life and salvation are given.

The Father has given His Son from heaven for you, in the flesh, to save you.  To give you life.  That is His good and gracious will!  It is the very thing that God most desires, and He does it.

He stretches out His hand to you in Christ, in order to lay hold of you in love; to raise you up from death to life; to strengthen you in both body and soul, here in time and hereafter for eternity.

See here, then: Christ Jesus feeds you with His own flesh and blood, which He has given into death upon the Cross for you and all people, and which He now gives and pours out for the life of the world, for His Christians to eat and to drink in this Sacred Meal

Arise, therefore. Eat His Body, and drink from His Cup, here under the Tree of His Cross.  The journey is too much for you to travel on your own, but with this Food He travels with you all the way.  He strengthens and sustains you in the one true faith.  He will not let go of you in the heat of the desert, but He shall raise you up in glory at the last.

So does He now grant you to depart in peace and joy, and so shall you also live in peace and joy.

Again I say, arise and eat, as the Lord stretches out His hand to feed you.  On the strength and vitality of this Food, the very Bread of Life, you come to the Mountain of God, now and forever.

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

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