03 April 2016

Blessed Are You Who Do Not See, Yet Believe

As a consequence of your fallen human nature and the frailty of your mortal flesh, not only are you wearing out and always in the process of dying, but you are not able to perceive or comprehend the things of God.  You do not have the capacity to receive or live the Life that is found in Him.

The problem is not that you are a finite creature, but that you stubbornly insist on trying to live as a god unto yourself, instead of living by faith in your Creator.  Indeed, you were created, neither for death nor for independent life, but to live forever by the grace of the Holy Trinity, by faith in His Word, by the providence of His divine goodness and mercy toward you and all His creatures.

So, again, the real problem is not that you are finite, but that you are sinful and unclean.  And while that does involve and manifest itself in bad behavior and a failure to do what you should, your sin is chiefly a matter of misplaced faith in all the wrong gods, including the false god of yourself, and a failure to fear, love, and trust in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

All sin at its root is false belief, which is to say, it is the false worship of idols instead of the right worship of the one true God.  That’s not really unbelief or atheism, which are either a pretense or a poor self-deception, but a belief in that which is not God and is not true, and a worship of that which is not God, whether it be the self, or the world, or death and the devil, or nothingness.

Whatever the alternative, your sin begins and continues with false belief, which turns you away and cuts you off from the Lord and His Life.  Without Him, you cannot live as you were created to live.  You’re tapped out, and your finite flesh gives way to sickness, suffering, and finally death.

It is likewise on account of your false belief and sinful idolatry that you refuse to acknowledge or accept, far less to believe or trust, the incomprehensible things of God.  Such Mysteries as the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection of Christ are too great for your proud wisdom and fevered passions to investigate or understand.  In bold rebellion you refuse to believe His Word or live according to it, but you insist upon the very opposite and persist in your self-chosen way.

It’s not just you, but all of the children of Adam and Eve have inherited this fatal legacy of doubt and disobedience.  It is no surprise, therefore, that Thomas is hardly alone in disbelieving the Word of the Gospel as it is preached by the disciples of the Lord.  Indeed, those same disciples were themselves doubters and skeptics when the Lord first appeared to them, and again and again, as we have heard throughout this past week and this morning.

It is the way of sinful man to trust his own experience or insights, his own reason or emotions, his own perspective, perceptions, and powers, instead of bending his will and bowing before the Word that God has spoken in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus.  That is how it is with you, as well.

Despite your frailty and finitude, you still consider what you know (or think you know) to be more certain and reliable than what the Lord says to you through His called and ordained servants.  Although you have been taught and you confess that when they deal with you according to His Word, it is the dear Lord Jesus Himself who deals with you in mercy, you decline His help and prefer to go it alone.  You rely on yourself, on your abilities, efforts, investments, and strategies, instead of receiving and trusting the Ministry of the Gospel.  Not always, no, but far too often.

Where, then, does that leave you?  And what can you do about it?  Here, too, you can see yourself in Thomas, as it was for him that first week of Easter.  For you also are left with the weight of the world on your shoulders.  Your misplaced faith, your false worship of the world or of whatever, leaves you in your doubt and fear, stewing in your sins, with all your guilt and shame stacked up against you.  There’s no way you can talk yourself out of that deep dark hole that you’re in.  You can’t reason your way out of it.  You’re trapped by your false belief, which can only end in death.

Your one and only recourse is here exemplified by the once doubting Thomas, who was brought, not by his intellect or will, but by his brothers in Christ, to the place where Christ Jesus Himself is at hand.  You also, then, are gathered together with the disciples of Jesus within the household of His Church, because this is where Jesus is found — or, better to say, this is where Jesus finds you — with His Word of forgiveness, His blessing of Peace, His Spirit, His Body, and His Blood.

Here, by faith in His Word, is where you worship the one true God rightly in the Flesh of Christ.

But only the Lord Jesus can bring you from your idolatry to such right worship and faith in Him.  For He is the One who has reconciled the world to God, and only He can grant you Peace with God and peace in your heart, and so also with your neighbors in the world, in place of the doubt and fear that otherwise dominate your heart, mind, life, and all of your relationships apart from Him.

To accomplish this purpose — to grant you this Peace, such as the world can neither comprehend nor bestow — it is a most remarkable thing that Jesus does for you, here and now, as He did for Thomas then.  Do not allow your familiarity with the story to overshadow its profound intimacy and significance.  Rather ponder what it means for the Lord Jesus Christ to open up His wounds to you, His nail-scarred hands and His spear-pierced side, that you should find your solace there.

In some respects, it is the flipside of His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when the almighty and eternal Son of God became flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood by the Word and Spirit of His Father.  Then He entered into her womb, to become true Man within her body, and to fulfill the Will of God for your salvation in human flesh and blood exactly like your own.

And now, within this Upper Room where He gathers His disciples in the fear of God, the same Lord Jesus Christ — who was conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried for those few days, but risen from the dead and seated at the Right Hand of the Father — He gives you access to His Body of flesh and blood.

He opens His hands to feed you.  He opens His arms to receive you to Himself in peace.  He opens His innermost being to cleanse you with the water and the blood and to shelter you in His Body.  And He breathes His Holy Spirt upon you by His Word of forgiveness in order to give you life.

All of this He does for you now, because He has first of all taken your finitude and frailty to be His own, that He should live by faith in His Father, in exactly the way that Man was created to live; and yet, that He should also bear your sins and griefs and sorrows in His own Body, and suffer the full weight of your mortality in His own flesh and blood, even to death on the Cross.  That is how deeply He has entered into your skin and bones, in order to save you in body and soul by His grace.

By His Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection, He has endowed your frail flesh and blood and your over-burdened mortal body with His own indestructible life, His immortal nature, His Spirit and His Name, His faith and peace and hope and joy, even in the midst of sin and death.

Thus, He has grafted you into His riven side.  He has transplanted you from the dust of the ground into that rude incision in His Body, from which His Holy Bride, the Church, has been drawn and fashioned as the new Eve from this new and better Adam.  To this Bridegroom and this Marriage you belong, because you are baptized in His Name into His Cross and Resurrection.

And so does He welcome you here to reach out your hand and to enter into His holy wounds, from which He feeds and nurtures the children of God at His Holy Altar, like newborn babies at their mother’s breast.  For the Body and Blood with which He feeds you are the fruits of His sacrifice.

In this you see how the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God puts Himself into your hands and places Himself at your disposal, so that, by grasping Him in both your body and your soul, you are brought from the darkness and doubt of idolatry into the life and light of true worship.

Or, very likely, you do not see it.  Granted, there are those people who give the appearance of constant energy, eagerness, and joy in the Gospel.  And if there are some who do go from strength to strength in the faith they have been granted by the Word and Spirit of God, well, then, Christ be praised!  But for most of us it is more like it was for the Apostles.  Which is to say that our faith is a wobbly, unsteady sort of venture, with lots of ups and downs and back-and-forths, sometimes living in the light of day, but too often languishing through the long dark night of doubt and fear.

In any case, you do not yet see the Lord, His Resurrection, and His Life with your eyes of flesh.  Nor do you fully experience the realization of all God’s words and promises to you.  For now your body and life remain under the Cross, and you see only vaguely, dimly, as through a dark glass.

So you proceed in the only way that any Christian can live, the strong and weak alike, which is by faith and not by sight.  Not alone, but in the company of the disciples of Jesus: In the glorious company of the holy Prophets and Apostles, the Martyrs and Evangelists, and all the company of heaven, yes indeed, who were not so different from you, but who have all been saved by grace.  But also in the company of your brothers and sisters in Christ here on earth within the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Do not underestimate your need for them, nor their need for you.

And do not doubt the value of being gathered together in the Name of Jesus in this place, wherein the Word of Christ is spoken to you on the basis of the Apostolic witness.  For here the Peace of Christ is granted to you through the Office of the Keys by the spoken Word of Holy Absolution.  And here the flesh and blood of Christ are placed into the hands and mouth of your body for the forgiveness of all your sins and the sustaining of your true faith unto the life everlasting in Him.

By using these means of grace according to His Word, you worship Him rightly and honor Him.

And as you receive His crucified and risen Body into your own, so shall your body be raised up from the dead, immortal, imperishable, and glorious, like unto that of Christ Jesus Himself, your Savior and your God in the Flesh.  And then, indeed, you shall see Him with your own two eyes; from your own flesh you shall see Him.  And you shall know Him as He is, as you are already known by Him.  And you shall be like Him, who made Himself to be like you forevermore.

In that sure and certain hope, in eager anticipation of that day, so also do as the other disciples did for Thomas.  Confess the Word and faith of Christ, and call your neighbors to be gathered here with you in His Church, to receive and belong to His Body.

Even so are you here blessed with faith by the Word and Spirit of Christ.  For there is no other way to believe rightly in the one true God than by the blessing of His Word and Holy Spirit.  And it is by and with His Ministry of the Gospel that He does bless you in this way, as the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, opens up His wounded hands and side to you and grants to you His Peace.

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

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