25 March 2016

Receive the Fruits of the Passion in the Church

It is made clear throughout the Holy Gospels, and by the evangelist St. John, in particular, that the Passion of the Christ was undertaken and accomplished voluntarily by the Son of God: out of His great love for the Father, and out of His own divine love for this whole wide world of lost sinners.

He is handed over to His Cross and Passion according to the good and gracious will of God, in accordance with, and in fulfilment of, the Old Testament Scriptures.

In short, Jesus lays down His life willingly and freely, graciously and lovingly.  In doing so, He bears the sins and iniquities of the entire world, and all the consequent griefs and sorrows thereof.  He endures the judgment, condemnation, and punishment of the Law, the righteous wrath of God against all sins, even the eternal damnation of hell, compressed into those hours of His Passion.

So it is, that, yes, by His stripes you are healed.

But this healing of your body and life from sin, death, and hell, and the gift of health and strength and eternal salvation in Christ Jesus, are actually administered and given to you as a medicine of immortality in the Gospel–Word and Sacraments of Christ Jesus within His Holy Christian Church.  These means of grace are the life-giving Fruits of His Holy Cross and Passion.

So it is that St. John directs you to hear and receive the Passion of the Christ, and to embrace the benefits of His Passion by faith within His Church on earth, by giving attention to the preaching of His Word and by partaking of His Holy Sacraments.  For the Cross and Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ will do you no good apart from faith in the Ministry of His Gospel.

There are actually a number of ways by which St. John points you to this life of the Church and indicates that it is the place where the Passion of the Christ is now given to you for life in Him.

There is, most profoundly, the way that Jesus gives His Mother to the disciple whom He loves, and His beloved disciple to His Mother.  Neither St. Mary nor St. John is identified by name, but they stand at the foot of the Cross as living icons of the Church herself and of all the disciples of Jesus.

The Church is here entrusted to the Apostolic Ministry of the Word; and the disciples of Jesus, the children of His God and Father in heaven, are here entrusted to His Church on earth.  For in much the same way that St. Mary conceived and gave birth to the Son of God by the Word and Spirit of His Father, so does the Church conceive and give birth to the children of God by the preaching of the Word of Christ and by the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism.  And as you have received that new birth from His Church, so are you a disciple whom He loves.

It is within His Church on earth that Jesus speaks His Word openly for all the world to hear and believe, or to reject to their own demise.  Just as Jesus declared before the high priest, Caiaphas, that He had always spoken openly in the synagogues and in the Temple.  So does He continue to speak in the congregations of His Christian Church by the Ministry of His Gospel.  That is where He preaches, and that is where and how you apprehend Him, not with violence, but by faith.

In particular, Christ Jesus speaks to His Church from the Cross, by the Word of His Cross, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  And it is by this preaching that He pours out the Holy Spirit upon His people from the atoning Sacrifice of His Crucifixion.  Otherwise, apart from the Atonement of His Cross and Passion, you would never be able to receive the Holy Spirit and survive, since you are sinful and unclean, unrighteous and unholy.

But when Jesus has finished His work of redemption, He brings it to perfection by giving up His Spirit from the Cross; or, to say it better, in the way that St. John does, He hands the Spirit over.

He breathes His Holy Spirit upon you, in order to give you life with God in your body and soul, by the Word of forgiveness that He speaks through His ministers of the Gospel who are sent in His Name and stead.  St. John makes that clear in the next chapter of the Holy Gospel, as we’ll hear again on the Second Sunday of Easter.  For by and with His Spirit, the Lord Jesus gives the Office of the Keys to His Church on earth for the binding and releasing of sins with His own authority.

Along with the Gift of the Holy Spirit from the Cross, St. John also describes and emphasizes that Jesus then pours out the water and the blood from His wounded side in the accomplished fact of His Sacrifice.  Not only does the Evangelist testify to this event here in the Holy Gospel, but he refers again to the triune testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood in his First Epistle.

On the sixth day of the first Creation, the Lord caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and from his side, from one of his ribs, God crafted the Woman and brought her to the Man to be his bride.  So, now, on the sixth day of the New Creation, on this Good Friday, the new and better Adam enters the sacred sleep of death upon the Tree of His Cross, and from His side His holy Bride, the Church, is born from the water and the blood of her dear Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church herself receives her entire life from the Body of Christ, even as she lives in His Body and becomes one flesh with Him.  She is both cleansed and covered by the washing of the water with His Word, like a Bride made ready for her Husband.  And she is enlivened and sustained on her pilgrimage by the Spiritual Drink of His holy and precious Blood.  In the same way, in turn, her children are born from the waters of the font and nursed on the Blood of Christ at His Altar.

Indeed, it is not possible to think or speak rightly about the Sacrifice of Christ, the Passover Lamb of God, without also considering the sacred Meal of His Body and His Blood.  For He not only dies in the place of sinners, but He calls them to newness of life in His crucified and risen Body, and He feeds them with the Fruits of His Cross.  He feeds you with His own Flesh and Blood.

St. John makes this point, that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, throughout his account of the Passion.  Sometimes the connection is subtly expressed, but it is persistent, not only in the Passion but really throughout the Holy Gospel.  Already in the preaching of St. John the Baptist, you have heard that Jesus is the Lamb of God; and again, that means not only that He is sacrificed for the sins of the world, but that His Flesh is given for the life of the world, to be eaten by His disciples in holy faith.

Jesus is crucified as the Passover lambs are being sacrificed.  And in fulfilment of the Scriptures, “not a bone of Him is broken,” as per the Old Testament cooking instructions for the Passover.

So, then, you partake of the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus by participating in His Supper, by eating the Body that was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, and by drinking of the Blood that was poured out from His side to cover and protect you from death.  To do so is not a private matter, nor even a simple gathering of your own little family in your home.  It is the Feast of the Father and the Son in the Household and Family of God.  It is celebrated in His Church, and it binds together His disciples from all nations in the one Body of Christ Jesus.

In the same vein, let us also consider the Cup which Jesus receives from the hand of His Father, which He drinks for all of us and our salvation.  It is for Him the Cup of wrath, of the judgment of God, of suffering and bitter death, which He endures for the sins of the entire world.  This Cup He drinks down to the dregs, in order to remove its deadly and damnable sting from you and all.

In draining that Cup through His Sacrifice upon the Cross, He has thereby also filled it with His own precious Blood, which He now pours out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the New Testament in His Blood, He says to His disciples.  It binds you to God in Christ, not for the punishment that you have otherwise deserved, but for Communion with the Holy Trinity.

By the Cross and Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Cup of wrath and judgment and suffering and death has become for you the Cup of Blessing, which we bless in and with His Name.  And this Cup of the Lord now overflows with His forgiveness and His life, poured out for you in peace.

As you take up this Cup of Salvation and call on the Name of the Lord, you give all thanks and praise to God through Jesus Christ, and in His tender mercies you are given to drink from the Fountain of His crucified and risen Body.  You feast at His Table in His House under the shelter of His Cross, and so shall you abide in Him, as He abides in you, unto the life everlasting.

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

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