30 May 2016

The Remembrance of His Mercy

We’re all in the same boat, the same predicament.

There may be all the difference in the world between the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the strong and the weak, the well-fed and the hungry; between the mother of ten and the barren widow.  But everyone alike is brought to nothing in the end.  For all alike are sinful and unclean.  There is no one who is righteous, no, not even one.

The grass is always greener on the neighbor’s side of the fence, but the truth is that your grass and his will wither and fade just the same, and all your flowers, too.  You both brought the same thing into this world, and you’ll take the same thing out: Nothing.  Whatever anybody has between the cradle and the grave is by the utter charity of one and the same God.

Protests of unfairness are a lie.  Your neighbor’s sins and failings seem more pronounced to you, more egregious and less excusable than your own, but that’s not really true.  Every sin is damnable.  Neither are his merits or her virtues any more or less than yours, not before God.  You and your neighbor are no different in deserving nothing but punishment.

But the Lord, the one true God, is merciful to you and to all people.  He makes no distinction and shows no partiality, but abounds in riches for all who call on Him.  For whoever calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.  He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all the world, the Gospel to all of creation.  He sends the Apostles to make disciples of all the nations, to baptize and to catechize in His Name, both Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, male and female, adults and children.  For in every nation the one who fears the Lord and does what is right is welcome to Him.

But who, then, shall be saved?  For there is no one who does right, no one who is good but God, and no one who calls on the Name of the Lord.

We’re all in the same boat, the same predicament.  And we should all be lost, every one of us, completely and forever: brought low, sent away empty, and slain as the wicked.

Except that God, the Lord, actively remembers us in love.  He has created you for life with Himself, and, not according to your merit, but according to His mercy, it is His good and gracious will to give you that life.  And as it is by the grace and mercy of God, by His tender compassion and loving-kindness, it is for one and all alike, as it is for you.

So it is that the Lord, who loves you, comes to save you from sin and death.  He comes to give you justice: not the justice you deserve, which would destroy you, but the justice of His Atonement, His Redemption, His forgiveness of your sins, His reconciliation, and His peace.  He comes to judge you righteous with His righteousness; not by your works of the Law, but by His grace, by the Word and work of Christ.  He comes to rescue the children of Adam & Eve from death and the grave, and to bring you and all into the Paradise of His New Creation.

In order to do and accomplish all of this — and this is the way and means by which He remembers you and His mercy toward you — He fully empathizes with you by making your predicament His own.  He gets on board the same boat with you, the sinking ship in the midst of the storm, tossed about by wind and wave, in which you and all are going under.  He submits Himself to the flood, to drown and die with you and all, with all your sinful lusts and desires.

He first of all becomes like you: true Man of flesh and blood, conceived and born of the Woman, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Son of God, of one substance with the Father from all eternity, takes the human nature of this Mother to be His own, so that He is now of one substance with you, with all men and women everywhere.  He has a Body of flesh like yours.  He has blood like yours.

And in His Body He bears all your sins and suffers your death.  He sheds His Blood to make propitiation for you, to establish His Covenant with you.  He takes your weakness and hurt upon Himself, your sickness unto death into His flesh, your illness and disease into His bloodstream.  All the consequences of your sin, all your guilt and shame, your punishment and failure, and all the sins of others against you, He has made His own: to feel all the pain, and to bear all the blame.

He is the One who is abandoned by friends and accused by enemies.  He is the One despised and rejected by men.  He makes Himself poor and lowly, so that you might be exalted and become rich in the Kingdom of God.  He hungers and thirsts, so that you might eat and drink and be filled and satisfied in both body and soul.

As He bears and suffers all of this on your behalf, and as He dies your death in your place, so does He also receive and bear the Holy Spirit on your behalf, in His Body of flesh and blood like yours, in the human nature that He shares with you through His Mom.

By His Incarnation, He makes Himself one with you and all people, your Brother in the flesh.  By His voluntary humiliation, by His Cross and Passion, He makes your predicament His own.  And by His anointing with the Spirit of His God and Father, as the Christ, your Savior, at His Baptism and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, He brings you out of death into life, raises you up with Himself, and sanctifies your body of flesh and blood with His own divine holiness and glory.

That is what the Son of Mary has accomplished in Himself for you, and that is what He gives you by His grace in the Holy Gospel.

As He came for you then, conceived and born of St. Mary, so does He come to you now in the same flesh and blood.  As He was conceived in her womb by the Word and Spirit of God, so by the same Word and Spirit does He give Himself to you.  And as He visited St. Elizabeth in the womb of His Mother, so does He visit you here in the womb of His Church.

What is more, as St. John the Baptist, while yet a babe unborn within his own mother, announced the coming of the Christ and pointed to Him by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so does the Lord still send His servant before His face, within His Church on earth, to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins, to baptize, to prepare the way and point to the Christ.  He does so here and now, so that you may rejoice and sing with Holy Mother Church and all the people of God.

This is the Visitation of the Lord by which you are saved, by which you are raised up, exalted, well-fed, and made rich with the good things of God.  He truly does great things for you.

As St. Mary was a new and better Ark of the Covenant, by whom the Lord came to Judah in the flesh, so does He now come to you with His flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Not only conceived and born of Mary, but crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried, risen from the dead, ever living to intercede for you as your great High Priest at the Right Hand of His Father.

His flesh and blood are the fruits of His Life-giving Cross.  So, too, your Holy Baptism is a sharing in His Cross, and the Gospel is the preaching of His Cross.

The Cross of Christ is the hiddenness of the womb in which He visits you.  It is the humiliation of His life on earth, and the hunger of His righteousness, which is by faith and not by sight.

It is thus by His Cross that He works repentance in you — unto the forgiveness of all your sins, unto faith and life in Him.  He wounds in order to heal.  He kills in order to make alive.  He puts you to death, in order to raise you up with Himself in glory.  He lets you go hungry, in order to feed you with the Bread of His own Body.

And in this way He bestows the Spirit upon you: by the Word of His Cross, the Ministry of His Gospel, within the womb of His Church, and therefore hidden from the eyes of the world in such humility and weakness, sometimes in sorrow and shame.  Though you are suspected and accused, despised and rejected — though you are sinful and unclean, conceived and born in sin, deserving of punishment, death, and damnation — your dying and rising with Christ are a new conception and new birth by His Word and Spirit.  Thus are you a child of God; indeed, a son of God in Christ.

As He has become like you in all respects, save only without sin, so have you become like Him.  You are righteous with His righteousness, and holy with His holiness.  You are faithful with His faithfulness, and, as He first loves you, so do you also love with His own love.  For there is the fulfillment of the Word that He speaks to you.  He forgives you all your sins, and you are forgiven.  He justifies you, and you are just.  He sanctifies you, and so do you live in love, in the Light of the Glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

Therefore, like the Lord Jesus, who lives in you, and you in Him: Forgive and love your neighbor, and gladly do good to those who sin against you.  Show hospitality, as Elizabeth welcomed Mary into her home, and as Mary surely served and cared for her elderly relative in those final months of her pregnancy at such an advanced age.  Care for your neighbor, too, as the Lord Himself shows hospitality to you in His Church, clothing you with His righteousness in Holy Baptism, feeding you with Himself in the Holy Communion, and caring for your body and soul with His Gospel.

In the love of Christ, by the grace of God, do good to all people, contributing as you are able to the needs of your neighbor.  Do so with empathy and compassion, since you and all are children of Adam.  All of you alike are sinful and subject to death.  But so are all of you alike redeemed and reconciled to God by the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection of the Second Adam, Christ Jesus.

To those who do not know the Lord, who do not love and trust in Him, let your gracious love, your gentle kindness, your patience and peace, be His hidden Visitation unto them.  Bear Him in your body, in all your words and actions, and in your song, as dear St. Mary bore Him in her womb and magnified His holy Name with her confession of His Word.

And all the more so, be at peace and do good to those who are your “relatives” in Christ Jesus, your brothers and sisters and cousins in the Lord, whether young or old, married or unmarried, with or without children, orphaned or widowed.  For you are all one Body in Christ.  You are children of one God and Father.  You are anointed by one and the same Holy Spirit.  You are baptized with one Baptism, forgiven alike by one Gospel, fed with one Bread and given to drink from one Chalice at one Lord’s Table.

In Him is the Life and Salvation of His whole Church, the holy Ark of Christendom, in which He visits you in mercy; in which you abide with Him in safety and in peace.

Beloved, we are all in the same Boat, the same Body of Christ, the same Jesus.  And blessed are you, who believe in Him, for His mercy is upon generation after generation of those who fear Him.  So has He spoken, so has He accomplished, and so shall it be done.

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

29 May 2016

The Beautiful Authority of Christ

The Lord our God is not a god of disorder but the God of Peace.  He has created, arranged, and ordered all things in heaven and on earth to live and move in harmony, with great beauty, and in concert with His divine Wisdom and holy Will, which is to say, according to His Word.

By His Word and Spirit, He has determined and established this good order throughout the world and especially within His Holy Christian Church.  The Gospel does not bring an end to the good order of creation, but brings it to perfect fulfillment in the Body of Christ and all His members.

So, too, in your body and life, in your own place within the world, the Lord has stationed you in relation to Himself and others, and by His Word He orders your days and your deeds in His Peace.  As He is the Author and Giver of Life — not only the Creator of all things, but the Master Artist and the Master Storyteller — do not suppose that your place and your part are without purpose.  You are not a stray mark or a smudge on the page.  Nor is your life one of random chance.  You, too, are His work of art, wonderfully made and beautifully crafted within His great Masterpiece.

Like a soldier within a well ordered military, you are under the authorities whom God has placed over you, and you are responsible for those whom the Lord your God has placed under your care and oversight.  And both you and all of them together are under the authority of God Himself.  For He is the Maker and Builder of all things, and He has so designed that you should live in Peace.

If it seems odd to use the military chain of command as an image of harmony and peace, seeing as soldiers not only drill and train but fight and die, it is because sin has intruded upon God’s good creation.  It is sin that bucks against the beauty and order of God’s Word and Wisdom.  And it is sin that wreaks havoc and chaos throughout His world and even within His holy Church on earth.

It is on account of your sin — and it is a leading part of your sin — that you resent and resist the good order of creation and life and your place and purpose within that order.  It is easy enough, for most of you at least, to insist that boys are boys and girls are girls.  But those folks who are crassly tempted to deny their own created natures and the evidence of their own bodies are not the only ones in a state of rebellion and open warfare against God’s Word and Wisdom.

You also seek to throw off the lines that God has drawn for you; to cross those lines wherever you can; and to color outside of the lines, so to speak, even boasting of your independence and your bold creativity.  But now I am not talking about your coloring books or your crafty art projects, but about your way of living in the world in relation to the neighbors God has stationed around you.

Do you not envy the big dogs?  Do you not resent and resist those people whom God has placed above you, pushing the limits and seeking to undermine their authority?  And how often do you circumvent the rules, in order to do what you want instead of what you have been given to do?

On the other hand, consider all the ways in which you neglect or take advantage of those people whom the Lord has stationed below you.  How often do you abuse your office and position to hurt and harm those neighbors, and to advance your own agenda at their expense?  As though this body and life in your God and Father’s world were some kind of cutthroat contest or competition.

Actually, your body and life on earth are the arena in which you are given, not to compete and wage wars to win the day, but to live by the grace of God, by faith in His Word, in love for Him and for your neighbors — above, below, and alongside of you — to the glory of His holy Name.

What you find, instead, in your body, in your heart, mind, and spirit, and in your behavior, is not peace and love, but chaos and disorder.  Not beauty and good order, but brokenness and ugliness.  Your life spins and spirals out of control, and it crashes in catastrophes of varying degrees.  Your body grows weary, it fails and falls apart.  And those you care about and rely upon in the world, they also suffer and face death, while you stand by helpless and powerless to save them.  Nothing else puts you in your place so squarely and decisively as death does.  Six feet under everything.

In order to find peace and rest, health and wholeness, contentment and satisfaction — not only in this body and life, but in the Resurrection of all flesh, and forever and ever; in order to live now and forever in the Way of Wisdom, in the fear and faith of God, in the knowledge and to the honor of His Name — to live the life for which you have been created — you need the Lord Jesus to forgive your sins, to save you from death and the grave, and to pour out His Holy Spirit upon you.

You need Him.  And you need to recognize your need for Him.  You need His forgiveness, first of all, for it is not life but death to remain in your sins at odds with God and His Word.  And in place of your unbelief and sin, you need the new Way of Life, the Way of faith and love, which is only in Christ Jesus.  You need Him to come and teach you His Way and knit your heart to Him.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ has done all of this for you, and for the people of all nations, for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  Not only once upon a time, but even here, and even now, He draws nears to save you by His grace, by the charity and compassion of the Holy Triune God.

The almighty and eternal Son of God has been sent by His Father to become flesh, to bear your sin, and to be your Savior.  He has fulfilled the Word and Will of God in His own Body, from the womb of His Mother Mary to His crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.  For He was born and lived under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the Law.  By His innocent suffering and death, and by His holy and precious Blood, He has atoned for your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  He has redeemed His good Creation from the curse of death, in order to make all things new and restore them to life with God in the beauty of His holiness.

The Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for you and for all upon the Cross, and His own God and Father raised Him from the dead for your justification.  He was the Man under Authority, who submitted Himself and His Will to His Father in heaven; who lived and died in perfect faith and holy love; who took up His Life again by faith in God, and received the Holy Spirit on your behalf.

Not only is He your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, and the once-for-all Sacrifice to end all sacrifice for sin, but His own crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God in heaven and on earth.  Which is to say that, wherever His Word is preached, wherever His Cross and Resurrection are proclaimed unto repentance and forgiveness, wherever His Baptism, His Body, and His Blood are administered, there do the Name and the Glory of God abide with His people.  In His Body, your prayer is heard, your sins are forgiven, and your needs are provided.

As the Author of Salvation in His own Body of flesh and blood, He has been given all Authority in heaven and on earth.  And He exercises this Authority of His by the Ministry of His Word.  That is to say, as God the Father sent His Son in the Flesh to accomplish His purposes by His Cross and Resurrection, so does the incarnate Son send others with the special Authority of His Gospel to forgive sins and save sinners in His Name.  For He loves the nations, and by His Word and Spirit He establishes and builds the Synagogue of His Church on earth to gather all people to Himself.

So it is that He calls you to Himself, and He forgives your sins by the preaching of His Gospel.  And so it is that you receive His Life, and you live, by faith in His Word, that is, by faith in Him.  You fear, love, and trust in Him.  You call upon His Name.  You look to Him and expect good things from Him, not relying on any merit or worthiness in yourself, but solely upon His mercy.

You are given an example of such faith and life in the case of the Centurion in this Holy Gospel.  He knows and confesses his own unworthiness, but he also knows and confesses the need at hand and the Authority of the Lord Jesus to help and heal his servant.  He seeks the very thing that you are freely given, that is, the Word of Jesus.  Faith clings to His Word and receives what He gives.  And that reliance on Christ and His Word is the only worthiness that avails for you before God.

As you thus live under God by faith in Christ, so does He also set you in relation to neighbors on all sides, some of them in authority over you, others under your authority, and many more besides.  And here, too, the Centurion is set before you as an example of the life that is lived by faith.  For as you recognize and rely upon the Authority of Christ the Lord, so do you exercise the authority that He has given you to serve the place and the people where He has stationed you in the world.  The fruits and evidence of your faith are thus manifested in your works of love and gifts of charity.

You confess the Name of the Lord.  You pray, praise, and give thanks.  Such words are the first fruits of your faith in Christ, which then also become flesh in your actions and sacrifices of mercy.

As the Centurion loved the nation of Israel, so do you love and serve the people of God because they bear His Name, and because they are your own family in Christ Jesus.  And you love and care for the neighbors God has given you to love, as He Himself never ceases to love and care for you.

As the Centurion built the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum, in reverence for the Word of the Lord, so do you serve and support the Church and Ministry, the Household and Family of God: With your tithe (your regular offerings, a regular and significant percentage of your income), and with your almsgiving (your additional gifts of charity for the benefit of those in need).

Beyond your gifts of silver and gold, you serve and support the Church on earth, beginning with your own congregation, with your time and energy, and with your talents and abilities.  Not to buy the Lord’s favor, as though you ever could — for neither you nor your works are worthy of Him — but because you love and trust in Him, you fear His Name, and you rely upon His Gospel–Word and Sacraments for yourself, for your neighbors in the world, and for your own immediate family.

And as the Centurion understood and found contentment in his calling, so do you find joy and satisfaction in your job, in doing your duties and fulfilling your responsibilities in your own place, wherever the Lord has stationed you.  Not to please people or impress the world, not for applause or thanks, not for praise or profit, but to honor God and to live by faith within His good order.

In much the same way, the Lord Jesus Himself continues to love and serve and care for you within His Church by the Ministry of His Gospel.  Especially with that point in mind, it is significant that the Centurion compares his calling and his place in life to that of Christ Jesus; for so do all the works of faith and love follow after His — and if they are the fruits of faith they will be like His.

Consider, then, the case at hand.  By the words and works of those whom He has called, ordained, and sent in His Name and stead to speak and act with His Authority, the Lord Jesus Himself is at work to accomplish His own purposes in fulfillment of the Will of God.  To heal and give life.

As He has called you to Himself to be His disciple, so has He called His servants to come to Him, and they come.  He says to them, “Go,” and they go where He has sent them, wherever it may be, to make disciples of all nations by preaching, baptizing, and catechizing with His Word and in His Name.  He takes the bread, He gives thanks, He breaks and distributes His Body and His Blood, and He says to His servants, “Do This in remembrance of Me.”  And so they do with His Authority.  They enter in and gird themselves with His Word, in order to feed and nourish you at His Table.

And when the called Ministers of Christ deal with you in this way, by His divine command, it is the Lord Himself who draws near to you and cares for you with His powerful Word of the Gospel.

It is true that, at the end of every day, and at the end of all your days, you are an unworthy servant, for even at your best you have done no more than your duty.  Yet, you live for now by the mercies of the Lord, and you live forever by faith in His mercy, who provides for all your needs of body and soul and gladdens your heart with His great joy.  For His servants are dear to Him, and they are valued by Him.  They are children of His own God and Father.  Pastors and parishioners alike are precious to the Lord, each of them within his or her own calling.  And so are you precious, in your own place, to the Lord who has called you by His Name to be His own dear child and heir.

He invites you into His Home, to abide in safety under His roof, to recline here at His own Table — for He has given you this place of honor — to rest in His Peace, and to partake of His Feast.  Only hear and heed the Word that He speaks for you here, and by His grace you shall be healed.

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

22 May 2016

Worship the Holy Trinity in the Body of Christ

The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, despite what many are inclined to think, is not simply a matter of trivial pursuit, as though we sat back in our leisure to ponder this whole mental concept of one God in three Persons, and three Persons in one God.  It is not abstract speculation.  And it’s not nit-picky, fine-tooth-combing of minor details that ultimately don’t matter.

The Holy Triune God, as such — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is the Fountain and Source of all things, of Life and Light and Love and all that exists.  To know Him, to believe and trust in Him, to worship Him, the one true God, is to live, really to live forever, in His Light and Love.

And otherwise, apart from Him, you do not live at all forever.  Apart from this one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are damned and die forever in despair and utter darkness.  You need Him.  You need to know Him.  You live only in Him.  You live to worship only Him.

But how on earth does that happen?  How do you know this God?  How shall you believe and trust in Him?  How shall you ever be able to find everlasting life in Him?

How is it that you know God the Father and have Him as your own dear God and Father?  How do you become and live as His dear child?  And how is it that you receive the Life-giving Holy Spirit and breathe Him into your body and life, so that you truly and eternally live?

It is always and only in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, that you do any of this.  You do not know God at all apart from Him.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, but by Him.  It is in Him, and through Him, that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon you generously.  And apart from the Christ, the Anointed One, you receive no anointing of the Holy Spirit.

It is Jesus, or it is nothing.

Dr. Luther has it right in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress, when he sings of this Lord Jesus Christ, that there is no other god.  Do not think to yourself, Well, there’s the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The Father and the Holy Spirit are no other god than this one true God who is Jesus Christ, the Man from Nazareth.  That is the point.  And that is the great Mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Each Person is one and the same only true God.  If you do not know Jesus Christ, you do not know the true God.  But if you know Jesus Christ, then you know also the Father and the Holy Spirit.

This is what was so scandalous to the Jews in this Holy Gospel and elsewhere.  This Man from Nazareth, the Son of Mary, He is the true and only God.  Not only does He live forever in Himself with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but He gives eternal life to the children of men.  He is indeed greater than Father Abraham and the Prophets.  You do not know God at all apart from this Man.

Therefore, when Philip later says to Jesus, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough,” Jesus replies, “Philip, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”

Jesus is the true and only God.  He’s not simply one option among others.  There is no other Way: no other Way to God, and no other Way to Life.  And that is true, not only for us now in the New Testament, but so has it always been from the very beginning, throughout the Holy Scriptures, in the Old Testament and the New.  The people of God in the Old Testament were saved through faith in the Christ who was to come.  And in the Word and promises of God, Christ was there.

Abraham rejoiced to see the Day of Christ.  He saw it in the birth of his son, Isaac, who was born according to the Word and promise of the Lord.  And he saw it especially when he looked up, and he saw that Ram caught in a thicket, whom God provided in place of Abraham’s beloved son.

In all the Words and promises of God, Jesus was there.  Not simply as information, but as the very God who was with His people, powerful to save them from sin, death, and the devil.

Abraham believed in Him, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  He believed the promise of the Christ who would come in the flesh among his descendants.  And now you are justified and saved by faith in the Christ who has come, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried, risen and ascended, now given and poured out at His Altar in His Church on earth, even to the close of the age.  For the Word has become Flesh, and He tabernacles among us.  All the fulness of God dwells with us in the Body of Christ Jesus.

Your faith in Him is faith in the true and only God.  Your life in Him is life with God.  It is by Him that you are saved.  It is by and with Him that you know and worship the Father in the Spirit.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God by whom all things were made, and apart from whom nothing was made that has been made.  Whenever God works, He works through this Son, this Word.  It was Christ whom the Father spoke in the beginning, and it was so.  It was by this Word that all things were brought into existence, and that you also have been brought into existence, the object of the Holy Trinity’s divine, eternal Love and affection.

One and the same Word and Wisdom of God has become Flesh and dwells among us, because He took our flesh and blood from the womb of His Mother Mary and became true Man.  And having taken flesh like yours to be His own, He also took your sin and death upon Himself and bore it in His Body to the Cross.  And there God, the Creator, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the almighty and eternal Son of the Father — there on the Cross He suffered, bled, and died.  It is correct and necessary to confess that God died when Christ Jesus died, for He is the true God.

The Son of God laid down His life for you.  And it is by the death of this true and only God that death is defeated.  It laid hold of One it could not contain.  It bit off far more than it could chew.  It was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

In His innocent suffering and death, and by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood, is the Atonement for your sin, and for all the consequences of your sin.  In His death, Satan has been trampled underfoot, and the tyranny of death and the grave has been ended.  And this great Victory of Christ, the Son of God, your Savior, is manifested in His Resurrection from the dead.  For His crucified and risen Body is the First Fruits of the New Creation, in which Life and Light and Love now reign forever and ever.  In His Body, there is no longer any death or darkness or despair.

All good things have been accomplished in Christ Jesus.  In His Person, in His works, in His death, in His Resurrection and Ascension, and in the preaching of His Word, God is actively present and at work to save you in love.  To save you for Himself forevermore.

This is how you know God.  In Jesus.  In the Gospel.  In the stories of the Bible.  Especially in the stories of Jesus in the Holy Gospels of the New Testament, but so also in the stories of the Old Testament, all of which were always about Him and have been fulfilled for you in Him.

Apart from Jesus you have no life, but in Jesus you have life everlasting.  And that really is what it’s all about.  God desires that you would live with Him, and He brings that about in Christ Jesus.

So, then, how do you know this Jesus of Nazareth?  How do you have Him as your Savior and your God?  That is the most urgent and important question that now faces you, and the answer is just as challenging and scandalous in our own day as the Word of Jesus was for the Jews in His day.

You do not know Jesus apart from His Word of the Gospel.  You do not know Jesus apart from His external means of grace.  You do not find Him in your head or in your heart, not apart from His Word.  To measure God, to measure Jesus, according to your feelings and emotions, is only to make a god out of yourself and out of your own selfish conceits and desires.

You have the Lord Jesus only as He gives Himself to you through His Word.  For He is Himself the Word of God.  And as such, the Word of Christ is not simply information about Jesus.  It is the Word of Jesus Himself speaking to you, in which He is personally present and gives Himself to you.  What is more, He still becomes Flesh to dwell with you, to be your Strength and your Song, your Savior and Salvation, to shelter and protect you, to forgive your sins and give you life.

In the waters of your Baptism, that is where you have Jesus.  And in Jesus, that is where you have the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Look for Him there in the waters of your Baptism.  By repentance and faith, by His Word and Spirit, be returned each day to the waters of your Baptism, to where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have actually given you His own Name and His own divine Life.

Where is Jesus?  He is on the Altar in the Holy Communion, given and poured out for you and for the many.  He feeds you with His Body and His Blood.  You don’t get any closer to God anywhere else in the world than there.  This is the Body of God, given for you to eat.  This is the Blood of God, poured out for you to drink.  It is God who thus gives Himself to you, and in this eating and drinking of Him in the flesh and blood of Christ, you have His Life forever in your body and soul.

When Jesus puts Himself in you, He binds Himself to you, and you to Him.  And He declares to Satan, and to death, and to the whole sinful world, that none of them can have you, because you are His.  You are His very own.  You are His forever.  You are His for Life.

You do not have Jesus apart from these means of grace — His Word and Sacraments.  And apart from Jesus, you do not have the true God, no matter what you may think or feel or experience.  But in these means of grace — in this Word and Sacrament of the Gospel — you do have Jesus.  Or, better to say, He has you; and in Him, you are a child of His Father, anointed by His Holy Spirit.

If people took this to heart, they would be beating down the doors of the Church every day of the week to hear the Gospel preached, to receive the Holy Absolution, and to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  So would they seek and find His Kingdom and His Righteousness.

As it is, the pursuits of this world — and we Christians fall into those same pursuits far too often and too easily — they are temporal things that come and go without giving life.  At their best, they are perishing.  At their worst, they are false gods that cause you to perish in both body and soul, both now and forever.  But here in His Church, hidden under the humility of His Cross, the very God of very God gives you Himself, and with Himself He gives you divine, eternal Life and Light and Love, which no one and nothing in all of creation shall ever be able to take away from you.

The Life that the Lord Jesus gives to you by the Ministry of His Gospel is not only for your spirit, nor only for your soul, but also for your body.  Though it gets sick, and gets hurt, and gets weak, and has to sleep, and some day will die, your mortal body of frail flesh and blood, fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, will rise and live forever, immortal, imperishable, and glorious in Him.

Raised in the Resurrection of Christ, ascended into heaven to the Right Hand of the Father in and with Him, you live with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever and ever.  That is the pledge and the promise of which you partake, already here and now, in the Body and Blood of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

That is what you are here to receive.  And receiving these gifts, you worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth, and you live by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

This is what it is and what it means to be a Christian.  Not only to confess the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but to worship the Holy Trinity — the Father in His Son and by His Spirit — in and with your spirit, soul, and body, within the one Body of Christ, His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.

This is what it is to live — here in time, and hereafter in eternity.

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

16 May 2016

God So Loved Robert by Saving Him in Christ

What you think of Jesus, and your relationship with Him, determines where you stand with God.

For whoever believes in Him, the only-begotten Son, has eternal life with His God and Father in heaven.  And so it is by faith in Jesus Christ that Bob is not dead and gone, but alive with God, now and forever.  His soul abides in the perfect peace of Christ, even as his body now rests from its labors and awaits the Resurrection of all flesh in the final judgment.  Indeed, though his mortal flesh has worn out, failed, and died, Bob shall not perish forever because he lives, even now, in the crucified and risen Body of Christ, his Savior.

But whoever does not believe in this Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, remains in the darkness and is condemned by and for his unbelief, and will surely perish.

For life and light and love are found only in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and it is by faith alone that you abide in that true and only God, the Holy Trinity.  Apart from Him, there is only darkness, death, and damnation, from which you could never escape or save yourself.

But of course, that is where you and all of us were conceived and born — in the darkness of sin — subject to death, deserving of damnation.  And that is where you would remain eternally, if not for the fact that God has sent His Son into the world and given Him for you; and He, Christ Jesus, the Light of the world, has come in the flesh to shine Himself into your darkness and to manifest the works of God in you for life.

Praise God, that is what He did for Bob in tender mercy and loving-kindness.  He made Himself known by the preaching and confession of His Word, and by His grace He called Bob to fear, love, and trust in Him, and to live in the Light of His Word.  Even as the same Lord Jesus Christ here causes His Word to be preached into your ears, in the face of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He causes His Word of Life to shine for you in the presence of your enemies, so that you should be rescued from all evil and live with Him in His Kingdom.

And yet, you are afraid, and you are made nervous by this Word of God.  For your deeds are evil, and you do not want them revealed.  You do not want yourself to be exposed and found naked and ashamed in the light of judgment.  You prefer to pretend that you’ve got it covered, that you’re doing fine, and that your life is safe and sound — all the while you’re wearing out and dying.

Thus, you cannot bring yourself to come to Christ.  You would instead retreat even further into the darkness of pride and ego, or into the darkness of doubt and despair, even to the point of death, rather than facing the truth.  In ignorance and fear, you would hide yourself away from Him who is alone your life and light and salvation.

Apart from Christ, you do not know the Love of God the Father, and you do not partake of the Holy Spirit — and you neither know nor can you believe the Gospel.

But without such faith, you cannot know Christ Jesus or come to Him.  You are terrified of Him and flee from Him in fear.  Even the bravest of hearts, the boldest of soldiers, who would put themselves in harm’s way, rush into the breach, and face down the enemy unflinchingly, are no match for the terrifying judgment of God’s Holy Word.

Yet, even now, take heart.  For the Lord pursues you with His Word, and He puts you to death by His Spirit, not to destroy you or drive you away, but to resurrect you from death to life, and to bring you of your darkness into His own marvelous Light.

Everything else finally pales by comparison to these mercies of God, though they are hidden in this fallen world under the Cross.  All of the Lord’s other blessings in this body and life, even those of wife and children, aim at the blessing of His Word and the preaching of it.

So it was that Elaine and her pastor and her congregation brought Bob to faith in the Word of Christ, and to the confession of His Word, and to the new birth of water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  So, too, even after Elaine’s death, Bob returned again and again to the household and family of God, to the Divine Service of His Word and Sacrament.  He was indeed faithful, even unto death, having fixed his hope on the Gospel of Christ and the promise of His Resurrection.

I can tell you that Bob and I spoke frankly about these very things over the past several months, in particular.  He lived his life and faced his death in the confidence of Christ.  And his prayer, as he shared with me in his final weeks, was that his children would likewise find their hope, their peace, and their life in the House of the Lord.

The very fact that you are here today, not to mourn as those who have no hope, but to mourn in the joyous hope of the Resurrection, is testimony to the grace of God.  For as He acted in love and mercy to call Bob to Himself, to gather him into His Church, to enlighten him with His gifts, to sanctify and keep him in the one true faith, so does the same Lord call you to Himself, to know Him, to love Him, and to live with Him by faith in His Gospel of forgiveness.

It is in love that He has acted, for Bob in his lifetime, and no less so for you.  And it is in love that He comes to serve you here and now by the preaching of His Word.

The Father sends the Son, not to condemn and punish you for your evil deeds, but to forgive your sins and judge you righteous by His grace, to save you by His Gospel.

For Christ Jesus, the Son of God, has borne your sin and suffered your punishment; He has been naked in your place upon the Cross, and He has taken your shame to be His own, so that you might be clothed in His righteousness and covered with His honor.  He was crucified, dead, and buried on your behalf, and He is risen from the dead for your justification, vindicated by His Father.

This same Christ Jesus shines His Light in the darkness, in the midst of sin and death, and He brings life and immortality to light through the Gospel of His Cross — for the forgiveness of all your sins and reconciliation with God.

So do the rivers of living water flow from His side, from His innermost being, to cleanse and refresh you in Holy Baptism.  And so are His Body and Blood prepared as a great Feast within His House, on earth as it is in heaven: The choicest Wine and finest Meat, given and poured out for His children to eat and drink, that they should thus abide with God and rejoice in His presence.

Thus do we give thanks for all His gifts and benefits, and we sustain one another with the Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of His Word.  We rejoice, give thanks, and sing the Gospel, which God the Father sings to you by the Holy Spirit in the Flesh of His only-begotten Son.

By that Word of the Gospel, He causes the Light to shine within the darkness of your heart, and He pours out the Holy Spirit upon you unto life and salvation.  So do you believe in Him who is your Savior, Jesus Christ.  He is your Strength and your Song, and He has become your Salvation.  And as you believe in Him, by His grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit, so shall you not perish but have eternal life — with Bob and with all who abide in the crucified and risen Body of Christ.

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

15 May 2016

The Language of Love

What is the language that you speak?  What are the words on your tongue?  How do you talk to and about God, your Father in heaven, your Lord Jesus Christ, and His precious Holy Spirit.

What is the language, and what are the words with which you speak to your neighbor?  To your spouse and your children.  To your parents.  To the people you work and live with in the world.

You might say, English.  Maybe you know some other language.  But that’s not really the point.

Do you speak the language of God?  That is to say, do you speak the language of love?  Are the words on your tongue words of faith, and of love for your neighbor and your God?

Or is the language that you speak rather that of the sinful world?  Words of selfishness and of self-righteousness; of pride and conceit; of envy and bitter resentment.  Hurtful words.  Unkind words.

Jesus says, if anyone loves Me, He will keep My Words.

You learn to speak as you hear, and as you listen.  So it is that you do love Jesus, and you do speak His Word.  For you pray and you confess as He has taught you, as the Holy Spirit has taught you.  As you remember your Catechism (though maybe not as well as you should).  As you daily give attention to the Word of God (though perhaps you sometimes forget).  As you pray the Our Father day by day, and as you confess the Creed each morning and each night.  As you sing the Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of the Church, which proclaim Christ and praise His Name.

But what about the other words that you speak in the course of your days?  What other language proceeds from out of your heart and out of your mouth?  What is the sort of babble that you listen to and then allow to come rolling off your own lips and tongue?

“Sticks and stones may break my bones.”  That’s how the saying goes, isn’t it?  “But words can never hurt me.”  What a load of bologna!  That could not be more wrong, and you know it.

Words are the most powerful thing of all, whether for evil or for good.  Cuts and bruises heal, but there are words that you have spoken that you cannot take back.  And words that have been spoken to you that have cut more deeply than any sticks or stones could ever reach.

And this is not by accident, that words are so powerful and bear such consequences.

The Lord God Almighty created all things by His Word.  And apart from His Word there is nothing at all.  His Word created and still upholds all things in heaven and on earth.

And as you are made in His Image and Likeness, you are a rational and logical creature.  Which means, in large part, that you’re designed to listen to words, to speak words, and to think in words.  You are created to hear and receive the Word of the Lord, and to live by faith in His Word.  So it is that words teach you the faith: For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.

But words are also used to tempt you, and to lead you astray.  And the words that you speak are not always the Word of God, but words that proceed from out of your own sinful heart and mind, echoing the lies of the devil, hurting and harming your neighbor instead of giving him life.  For it is with your tongue and with your words that you curse and swear, attack and accuse.

Think of it.  The same mouth that prays and confesses the holy Word of God, the same mouth that receives the very Body and Blood of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh — it is with that same mouth that you take the Lord’s Name in vain.  With that same mouth that you bear false witness against your neighbor.  That you utter harsh and hurtful words; that you gossip and pervert the truth; that you criticize and complain, though your words should be holy and set apart from sin and all evil.

Repent of your blasphemous and sacrilegious words and language.  Repent of the idle and useless chatter that comes rolling off your tongue.  Repent of everything that you take upon your lips that is not put there by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus!

It is the Word and Spirit of Christ — which always come and go together — for where the Word of Christ is, there is the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit does not deal with you apart from that Word of Christ — it is that Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus that call you to repentance, and bring you to repentance; that shut your mouth to evil, in order to open your mouth and fill it with God, to fill it with His language of life and love.  It is the Word and Spirit of Christ that save you from sin and all evil, from death and damnation, and from the terrible power of the devil and his lies.

It is the Word and Spirit of Christ that scatter you like dust, in order to gather you together into the one Body of Christ, His holy Church.  Not simply as news and information, but as the very work of Christ Himself, the Son of God, the Word by whom all things are made, who is now made flesh and blood for you and all the children of men; and blessed by the Spirit of God in His own Body; and crucified for you, for your transgressions; who is also risen again, and ascended to the Father, making the way for you, and opening the way.  He is the Word of God, and He is your Savior.

For by this Word, by this Christ, God the Father speaks to you in holy love and reconciles you to Himself in peace.  He recreates you for the life that He intended from before the foundation of the world, and He reunites you with Himself in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  And every bit of this He does by the Word of Christ, His only-begotten Son, also in His very flesh and blood.

Think back to the beginning, when God first created man out of dust from the ground, and He formed him from that earth.  Beyond that, He did something else, by which He made the man into a living being.  The Lord breathed His Breath or Spirit into man.  That is what gave him life.  Apart from that Breath, apart from that Spirit of God, there is no life or health or any other blessing.

But what has your sin done?  It has exhaled the Holy Spirit and driven Him out of your lungs, out of your body, and out of your life, so that you suffocate and die; for you cannot live without Him.

Your sin is like a spiritual asthma.  It chokes you and suffocates you, so that you can’t catch your breath.  It’s like putting a plastic bag over your head, cutting off your air and killing you.  It’s like those old sitcoms where people get locked in bank vaults, and the air is running out, and they cannot save themselves.  That is your predicament, as well.  But it’s far worse than suffocating.

It is eternal death when the Spirit of God is driven out of your heart and life.  For the Spirit is God Himself.  He is the perfect and personal Bond of Unity between the Father and the Son.  And He is the very Love of God, the Love of the Father for the Son, the Love of the Son for the Father.

To receive the Holy Spirit, therefore, is to receive the Life of God.  The Spirit is the “Glue,” so to speak — if it is not irreverent to say so — He is the Glue that unites you to God, that binds you to the Father in the Son, within that same divine Love forever and ever.  That is your sanctification.  That is your holiness.  That alone is your true, divine, eternal Life, in and with the one true God.

But you cannot receive this Life-giving Holy Spirit; you cannot breathe this Air; you cannot speak this Language; and you cannot live this Life, except by the redemption of your Savior, Jesus Christ, which is the forgiveness of your sins and your reconciliation with His God and Father.

Apart from the atoning sacrifice of His Cross, you cannot receive the Holy Spirit.  You are closed and shut to Him.  But that is the dire situation that Christ Jesus has undone and rectified by His own voluntary suffering and death.  And the faith and life and love of the New Creation, of Man made new by the Holy Spirit of God, Christ has manifested in His Resurrection and Ascension, and now He pours out generously from heaven through the Gospel in His Church on earth.

It is indeed this great salvation of your dear Lord, Jesus Christ, which the Holy Spirit bestows upon you from the Father through the preaching and Ministry of the Gospel.  It is the Gospel above all else that is the language of God, the language of divine Love, the language that saves you.  For it is by that Word that He forgives you, fully and freely, all of your sins.

As His Word brought all things into existence, what He speaks is so.  “Let there be,” and there is.  When He says you are forgiven, you are forgiven.  And by that Word of forgiveness, He creates and sustains faith in your heart, and love in your heart for the Father, and for the Son, and for the Holy Spirit — and love also for your neighbors in the world, for your fellow sinners, and for your fellow redeemed children of God — like the love of God for you, though you do not deserve it.

It is by the Word of the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins, and through faith in this Gospel, that God the Holy Spirit reconciles you to the Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and grants you that Peace which surpasses all human understanding.  It is a Peace the world does not know and cannot give.  A Peace that is more than the end of war, more than the end of an argument.  It is the genuine Peace of reconciliation with God, so that you can now call Him your own dear Father.

It is by this Word of the Gospel that the Holy Spirit is your Advocate and Defender, your Defense Attorney, your Counselor, and your Comforter.  And He stands with you and for you.  He speaks on your behalf.  He pleads Christ in the face of the devil’s accusation and the Law’s accusation.  He pleads Christ for you, and that is a better defense than any lawyer in the world could provide.

Sin, death, the devil, and hell can no longer accuse you.  God Himself no longer accuses you, but defends you and speaks well of you.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  And the Holy Spirit, by the Word of the Gospel, puts you in Jesus, even as He lays the same Lord Jesus on your heart.  In and with Him, you are safe from everything that would hurt you.

It is by this Word of the Gospel, this Word of Christ and His Spirit, that you are taught to confess — to say the same thing that God has spoken to you in Christ, and thereby to speak His language.  Because, as the Psalmist prays, and as we pray with the Psalmist, the Lord thereby opens your lips to show forth His praise, to pray, and to confess, and to call upon His Holy Name.

This is what He has done, and what He continues to do, for all of our catechumens, young and old, whether they be seven, or seventy, or a hundred and seventy.  Even as He feeds your mouth and theirs with the same Word made Flesh, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, your Savior.

That Word of Christ and His Holy Spirit — that Word of the Gospel — that Word is the Love with which the Father loves you.  The Word of God does not simply teach you about His love.  His  Word loves you.  It embraces you.  It holds you fast and will not let you go.

That Word of the Gospel is the true and essential unity of the Church in heaven and on earth.

Apart from that Word, apart from that Gospel, there is no life, there is no love.  Then there is only babble.  Then there is only confusion and separation, and ultimately death and eternal damnation.

But let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid.  For here and now, the Lord Jesus Christ is still speaking His Word to you.  And He’s going to keep on speaking His Word to you, and breathing His Spirit upon you and into you.  Hear what He says, and be at Peace in Him:

Take, eat; this is My Body.  It is for you.  It is for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Drink from this Cup.  It is the New Testament in My Blood.  It is poured out for you, and for My whole Church, for all of My disciples from every nation.  It forgives your sins, and with that forgiveness it gives you life and salvation.

This is the “remembrance” of Christ Jesus to which the Spirit brings you by and with His Word.  It is a remembrance not only of the heart and of the head, but one that He gives into your mouth and into your body, both now and forever, in the Peace that passes all human understanding.

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

08 May 2016

The Prayer of Your Great High Priest

Today’s Holy Gospel is from the High Priestly Prayer of Christ Jesus on the evening of Maundy Thursday, on the eve of His Passion.  As He prepares to hand Himself over to death on the Cross for the life of the world, so does He also give Himself to prayer on behalf of His Apostles and His disciples.  And not only them, back then, but for all who believe in Him through their word.  For His whole Church on earth.  For each and every one of you.  The Lord Jesus prays for you.

The Words that He uses are simple enough; straightforward, clear, and easy words, on their own.  But the Mysteries of which He speaks with those simple words are profound Mysteries indeed, impossible for you to grasp or comprehend by your own wisdom, reason, or intelligence.  They plumb the very depths of the Holy Trinity.

To know the one true God is eternal life.  But the world has not known God.  And that is your predicament, as well, apart from Jesus Christ.

Apart from Christ you are in the dark.  You are dead and dying.  You are doomed to damnation.  For you do not know God apart from Christ.  And you do not know Christ apart from His Word.

Here He speaks of divine Unity.  But what have you known, and what have you experienced in your life?  Often it is not unity at all, but division and separation, friction and hard feelings with the people around you, and enmity, ultimately with God.  That is at the heart of your sinfulness.

You do not know the divine Unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And you do not have unity in your own life.  Often even families are torn apart at their very core.  Husbands and wives at odds with each other.  Parents and children at odds with each other.  One time friends alienated from each other.  So, what is the division and separation that you find in your own life?

Jesus also speaks of divine Love.  But what you have known and experienced is often a very different sort of “love” altogether.  Not divine Love, not Agape, but selfish and self-serving love, the sort of love that looks out only for itself.  That is the sort of love that you have often had yourself, and that is the sort of love you have encountered in others.  A love that is coupled with envy and jealousy, with hatred and hostility.  That is not the divine Love of God, who gives Himself for those who hate Him; who has created all things and still preserves them, not because there is something in it for Him, but because He chooses in love to give Himself to others.

Jesus speaks of divine Glory, too, and perhaps that is the hardest thing of all to understand.  For the sort of glory that you relate to is that of man’s worldly power and achievement.  The glory that comes from winning a contest, a football game or a foot race.  The glory that comes from making lots of money, being better and more powerful than those around you.  But that is not the divine Glory of which Jesus speaks.  That is not the Glory that Jesus shares with His Church.

Your predicament is like that of the world, because in your sin you do not know God.  It is your predicament, not only because the sinful world around you picks on you, and fails you, promising things that it does not fulfill, but because you also are all out of sorts, you are sinful and unclean.

In your sins of thought, word, and deed, you are separated and cut off from God and from His life.  You are at odds with both God and your neighbor.  And you are ignorant of the true divine Glory of the Cross, apart from which you have no life and no salvation.

But you cannot even recognize any of this on your own.  And even after the Law of the Lord has brought you to an awareness of your predicament, you still cannot rectify the situation for yourself.

You cannot make things better by any powers or knowledge of your own.  You cannot get to know God by research and investigation.  You won’t learn to know Him by searching the internet or reading encyclopedias.  You don’t truly get to know Him by sitting in a closet and meditating on whatever happens to come to mind.  You know God only as He reveals Himself to you.

Take to heart, therefore, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior, He prays and intercedes for you.  Just think of that.  The Son of God is praying for you.  And among other things, His prayer teaches you, by way of example, the life of faith and prayer that you are also called to live.  For if the Son of God prays to His Father, then you also ought to pray.

You have heard from the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest Christians devoted themselves to prayer.  And St. Paul admonishes you to pray without ceasing.  Not the sort of prayer that supposes that you can climb your way into heaven, that you can twist God’s arm or force His hand.  But the voice of faith that lives by the grace of God, that recognizes your own weakness and inadequacy.

Yet, even more important than this good example of prayer, is the fact that Christ Jesus Himself is your great High Priest.  He reveals the Father to you.  He reconciles you to God.  He redeems you from sin and death.  And He restores you to the Father in Himself, in divine and holy Love.

What Jesus prays is not just wishful thinking.  It is the good and gracious Will of God, which the Father accomplishes for you in Christ Jesus.  Everything that He prays, the Father answers, and He fulfills.  All of this He does for you in Christ, by the way and means of His Cross.

And what this means, and what this amounts to, is that everything Christ Jesus, the Son of God, has with and from His Father — from all eternity, but also in His Incarnation, in His Flesh — all of that, He reveals and gives to you, and He shares with you, by His Word of the Cross.

The Unity of God, that is the Unity He gives to you.  The Love of God, that is the Love He shares with you.  The Glory of God, that is the Glory that He bestows upon you and His whole Church.

The Lord Jesus Christ has been sent by the Father.  He repeats that point in particular three times over just in this short Holy Gospel, and more than that in the course of His High Priestly Prayer.  He has been sent by the Father.  Not simply as a messenger, not simply as an errand boy, but as the One in whom the Father is known.  And in knowing the Father in Christ, you have divine, eternal Life in Him.  For He is the very Word of God, now spoken in the Flesh to and for you.

He breathes the Life-giving Spirit of God upon you, and into you, by His Word of Absolution, so that you become a living being.  So that, in Christ Jesus, by His forgiveness of sins, you are given to share and participate in the Love and Unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It is with that Love that you are loved in Christ: The Love that God the Father has for His dear Son from all eternity, that is the Love that He has for you.  And it is in that Unity of the Holy Trinity that you are united, bound to God Himself in Christ, and bound to each other in Him.

This is a Unity that cannot be broken.  It is not a unity of feelings or emotions.  It is the very Unity of the Holy Triune God, which is eternal and unbreakable.  That is the Unity with which you are now united with one and the same God in Christ Jesus.

Now, all of this is by and from and through and with the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the place of true divine Glory.  There you see and find the loving Self-sacrifice of God the Creator for His creatures; and not just for His creatures, but for His sinful and rebellious creatures.  And that is the Glory of God, which you cannot know; nor can you comprehend it, much less can you believe and trust in it, except by the grace of God, by the Word and Spirit of Christ.

You need His Word and Spirit in order to know God and to live.  Which is why, just as He has been sent by the Father, so does He send His Ministers of the Word to preach.  To preach the Gospel, to administer His gifts of the Gospel, and to forgive your sins in His Name and stead.  That is what He does for you.  That is what He is doing for you right now, here in this place, in His Church, in this “Upper Room,” in the House of the Lord forever.

You do not know God apart from Christ, the incarnate Son.  And you do not know Christ, nor can you believe in Him, apart from the Ministry of His Gospel, His Word and Sacraments.  But here in His Church, you do know Christ in His Gospel, and knowing Him, you know the Father in Him.

For here is the one whom God has sent to you.  Here is the one who speaks, not his own words, but the Word of Christ.  Who works not his own works, but the works of Christ, your Savior.

Here is the Font set before your eyes, from which the River of Living Water flows freely for you from the very Throne of God and of the Lamb, indeed, from the riven side of Christ the Crucified.  Having cleansed you in Holy Baptism, the River of Christ washes your feet in Holy Absolution, so that you are clothed and made ready for the Feast.

You are adorned as a Bride for her Husband.  You are worthy to kneel before Him and to receive into yourself the Fruits of the Tree of Life, the very Body and Blood of Christ Himself, given and poured out for you, from His Cross into your body, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

And Dr. Luther is quite right: Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Here you are returned to the Paradise of God.  You’re back in the Garden.  Only it is even better than it was, on account of the Lamb who was slain for you and for all, and yet, behold, He lives.

Having been united with God the Father in Christ here at His Altar, in divine Love, by the Glory of His Holy Cross, you shall abide with Him forever in heaven, where you shall behold Him with your own eyes, face to face, from your own resurrected flesh.  And He Himself shall be your Light, your Life, and your Salvation, evermore and evermore.

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

05 May 2016

Living with Christ in God

By His Incarnation, our Lord has graciously come down from heaven to make His dwelling here on earth with men.  He has come to visit us in peace and to bestow His Spirit and His Life upon us.  He has come to be with us here, in order to take us with Himself to His Father in heaven.  That is the special grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we celebrate with great joy on this festival day.

It is a kind of homecoming.  A homecoming for Jesus, but so also a homecoming for you.  As He returns to the Father in heaven, whence He came, He takes you with Him.  And you ascend into heaven with your Lord Jesus, not simply as a visitor or a guest, but as a beloved child of God at home with your Father.  That is why Jesus has come.  He has become like you in all things, so that you may be like Him; so that everything which belongs to Him should be yours by His grace.

He has taken not only your flesh and blood, but also your sin and death upon Himself.  He has borne your sin, and He has suffered your death, so that, by His sacrifice, and by His Resurrection from the dead, you should be set free from the bondage of sin and the fear of death, and raised up with Him to life everlasting.  For indeed, His Life is now your life.  You are a son of God in Christ.

He lives and abides with God the Father, also now in and with His human nature, in His own Body of flesh and blood.  For that which He took from the Blessed Virgin Mary in His Incarnation, He retains to all eternity.  When He ascends to heaven and returns to the Father, it is not simply as the Son of God, but as true Man, your Brother in the flesh.  For God’s purpose was that Christ should be the Firstborn of many brothers.  And so He is.  The Son of God has become like you forever.

It is therefore One like you who ascends to the Father in heaven.  It is flesh and blood like yours that now abides in the Holy of Holies made without hands, in the true Inner Sanctum of God; that resides forever in the bosom of the Father.  It is your Savior, your Redeemer, your great and merciful High Priest, who ascends to the Father — and you with Him.

His whole body and life, His flesh and His blood, are a priestly intercession for you, and a constant prayer for you.  In fact, He Himself is your Prayer, your Incense, and your Intercession, as I also said this past Sunday.  He is the Church’s morning and evening Sacrifice of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and He is heard and received, acceptable and pleasing to the Father on your behalf.

In His own Body, with His own holy and precious Blood, as the One who has made Atonement for the sins of the world, who has redeemed the world for God by His sacrificial death upon the Cross, and who has reconciled the world to God in His perfect faith and love — He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Father in heaven.  Day and night, while you go about your day, and as you sleep in your bed, the Son of God, your great and merciful High Priest, is praying and interceding for you. And for His sake, in His Name, the Father gives you all good things.

Make no mistake, the fact that Christ now lives in the presence of His Father forever, that He is your Anchor behind the Veil, as the Letter to the Hebrews so beautifully puts it, does not mean that He has gone away and left you here by yourself.  The Lord Jesus has not abandoned His Church.  He has finished His work of Atonement, that is true.  But having finished that good work, once and for all, His priestly work continues in His constant intercession, and so also in His Ministry of the Gospel, in His preaching of forgiveness even to the ends of the earth and to the close of the age.

As surely as Atonement, Redemption, and Reconciliation have been accomplished once for all by His Cross and in His Resurrection, so surely does Absolution continue every day in His Church.  For He daily and richly forgives you all your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.  And He whose human lungs were suffocated on the Cross as He died that slow and painful death, now breathes the Spirit of God into His people, into His Church on earth, by the preaching of His Word.

For you are still hindered by your sin, you are still hampered by your mortality.  You are still in the midst of tribulation and trial within and without.  So the Lord in His love for you continues faithfully to serve you with the Fruits of His Cross, with those Gifts of His Redemption, with all that He has accomplished for you by His Sacrifice.

He has not abandoned you.  Far from it!  Rather, in His Ascension, He has filled all things with His glorious Body and Life.  For He is the Fulness of all things, and He binds together both God and Man, both heaven and earth, in Himself.  He is the Head of His Body, the Church, and He ever lives to serve His Body in love, in grace, mercy, and peace.

The Gospel that He preaches, which forgives you all your sins — the Gospel which He preaches and administers, as in your Baptism, so at His Altar — gives you life and salvation.  It gives you life with God.  It gives you eternal salvation with God, because the Gospel gives you Jesus.  It is constantly binding you to Jesus, sewing you together with Him, lashing you to Him, the way a sailor might lash Himself to the mast on a boat in the midst of a great storm.

So it is that, as the storms of the world rage around you, you are not thrown overboard, and you are not lost, but you remain with Christ, who binds you to Himself, to His Cross and Resurrection.  He did it in your Baptism, in which you were crucified, dead, and buried with Him, and then raised with Him, united with Him, tied together with Him, bearing His Name, anointed with His Spirit, a son of His Father, a daughter or son of God in Christ.

And He does it so profoundly, so intimately, so graciously and tenderly, in His Holy Supper.  For He takes His Body and His Blood — the very Body and Blood that were sacrificed for you upon the Cross, the Body and Blood that rested in the tomb for you, the Body and Blood that have risen and ascended — and with that priestly Meat and Drink He feeds and nourishes you in both body and soul.  How much more closely could He possibly bind Himself to you?  And how more tightly could He bind you to Him?

And as the Gospel thus binds you to Christ, He also binds you to His God and Father in heaven.  So that, where He is, you are also.  As He lives in the glorious presence of God, seated at the Right Hand of His Father, and as He lives and abides in that Holy of Holies made without hands, your Anchor behind the Veil, you also live there with Him.  Doesn’t St. Paul say that very thing, that you have died with Christ in your Holy Baptism, and that your life is hidden with Christ in God?

Consider that, and take it to heart.  You are bound together with Christ as a member of His Body.  And you are a son of His Father, in whose home you dwell forever.  That is how sure and certain your life is.  Even in the midst of frailty and weakness.  Even though you daily sin much in your thoughts, words, and deeds, and for your sins you deserve nothing but punishment.  And though you are mortal and your body grows weak and weary and old and sick and dies.  And though you are in the midst of tribulation, just as Jesus forewarned.  Though you bear the Cross, yet your life with God is sure and certain, firmly and forever established in Christ.  Absolutely.  Unshakably.  Because it is in Christ.  And all the weakness, all the sin and all the death, all the hurt and sadness that you find in yourself, does not undo what is true for you in Christ.

You know that it is true in Him, and you know that it is for you, by the Gospel that is preached to you.  You know it from the Words of Christ Himself, especially as He gives you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink.  This, He says, is for you.  And with these Words He tenderly invites your heart to believe, to trust, to know for certain, that in Him your life is permanently established and shall not be shaken nor taken from you.

In that confidence and faith, your life in Christ moves in two different directions.  Just like His.

Here’s what I mean.  On the one hand, the Lord Jesus Christ has gone up to His God and Father.  By His lifting up in death upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has made Atonement, accomplished Redemption, and reconciled the world to God.  And now He lives to intercede for you before the Father in heaven.  So there is this upward movement of Christ, His homecoming, in which He takes you with Him.  And yet, there is also the movement of Christ to His Church and into all the world, whereby He goes out with the Gospel into all of creation, and gives good gifts, and gives Himself, and preaches forgiveness.  But this isn’t about geography or space travel.  It is about the One who fills the heavens and the earth, who is always interceding as your Priest before God, and always preaching to you as the great Apostle of the faith.

And in much the same way, your life also moves in two different directions.  As you are in Christ Jesus, by faith, and through the Holy Spirit, you also ascend to the Father in heaven.  Your prayers rise to Him as incense.  You worship Him.  Your heart, mind, and spirit, your head and your hands are lifted up to Him in Christ Jesus.  Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  So there is also this upward movement in you, in your body and soul, in your thoughts, words, and actions.

At the same time, there is an outward and downward movement to your life, as you go out to your neighbor, and as you kneel down in humility to serve your neighbor, to serve the little ones, to serve the weak, the helpless, and the despised.

So, then, as you are ascending with Christ before God, so are you also descending with Christ in love.  And you have the courage to do that, and the strength and the confidence to do that; and you have the freedom to do that, come what may, because your life is hidden with Christ in God.

He has rescued you in Himself, and He has brought you to God in Himself, not in order to take you away from your spouse and your children, your parents and family and friends; not to take you away from your neighbor, but so that, in Him, you are now able to serve the neighbors that He has put around you with the very life and love of Christ.  To forgive, as you are forgiven.  To care for your neighbor in humility and peace.  You have the confidence to live and love like that, because it doesn’t matter how people receive you.  It doesn’t matter if people even notice, whether they say thank you, or whether in fact they actually despise you for your faith and love.  Even if the whole world hates you, just as it hates Christ, nevertheless, your life remains secure and steadfast in Him.

You have this wonderful freedom of faith in the Gospel, this wonderful strength of your life in Christ, so that you can dare to do great things.  Great big things, or great little things.  You can dare to do important good works for your neighbor.  You can apply yourself to the jobs and to the tasks that God has given.  You can do your work with confidence that it actually means something.  For you go about your job as one who lives before the Father in heaven in Christ Jesus.

And not only are you able to work and to serve in love, to forgive, and to receive persecution, and to turn the other cheek, to forgive those who trespass against you.  But you are also free to receive and to use, to enjoy, and to savor the good things that God gives you in Christ even here on earth.  For all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified by the Cross and Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.  All things are made brand new in Him.  And your Father gives you good gifts because He loves you.  You can use those good gifts to serve your neighbor, to care for your neighbor, to bring joy and gladness to your neighbor.  But you also are given joy and gladness in those good things that your Father gives you in Christ Jesus, your Savior.  As you receive them and use them, as you do your job, as you suffer patiently the Cross, so do you also abide with Christ in God.

You abide in the gracious and glorious presence of your God and Father.  As you live by faith in the Body of Christ, in His Church and in His Sacrament, you are continually in the Temple praising God.  Because you are in Christ.  Whether you are near or far, whether you are home or away, whether you are working or playing, sleeping, or reading, or whatever you may be doing, you are in Christ.  And Christ resides in the Holy City, New Jerusalem.

He is the Temple and the Light of that great City, in heaven and on earth, even as His flesh and blood are the Tabernacle of God among men.  He’s not up there, somewhere, over the rainbow, in the sky by and by, but right here, right now, for you, and for the many.

He is here with you in His Church on earth, breathing His life-giving Holy Spirit into you by the preaching of His Gospel, and feeding your body and soul with His Body and Blood.  And the Father is with you in Him, in Christ His Son.  And you are with the Father.

Indeed, you are a fragrant aroma, a sweet-smelling incense to your Father.  You arise and ascend into His nostrils, and He is pleased and delighted with you because you smell like Jesus.

Your God and Father in heaven loves you and rejoices over you.  And you know how dear you are to Him by the Resurrection that we continue to celebrate throughout these great Fifty Days of Easter.  You know His heart and mind toward you, His gracious good pleasure in you, and the life that is yours in Him, in the Ascension of His Son.  Because the Resurrection of Christ Jesus and the Ascension of Christ Jesus are your Resurrection and Ascension in Him.  They are yours by your Baptism into Him.  They are yours by His Body and Blood, which He puts into you, into your body as a down payment on your resurrection.  For He who binds together heaven and earth and God and Man, also binds you to Himself, and in Himself He binds you to your God and Father.

You are beloved of God.  You are in and with Christ.  You are anointed by the Holy Spirit.  And here you stand in the presence of God.  Not for death, but for life everlasting in body and soul.

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

01 May 2016

Praying to the Father in the Name of Jesus

The promise of God, your Father in heaven, is that before you call, He will answer, and while you are yet speaking, He will act.  He has indeed taught you to pray and has promised to hear you.  But even before you have begun to do so, He is already providing for your every need.

Prayer does not begin with your choice or decision or effort.  It does not begin in your heart or with your voice.  It begins with God speaking His Word of the Gospel, by which He opens your ears, your body and life to receive His gifts, and opens your heart, mind, and voice to respond in faith.

He speaks, and He calls you to Himself.  And as He has reconciled you and all the world to Himself by the Cross of Christ, His Son, so does He welcome you into His arms.  He calls you by name, for you are His.  And He speaks such beautiful words:  That your sins are forgiven.  That you are in Christ.  That His Spirit dwells in you.  That you are beloved and well-pleasing to Him.

Such are the words that God the Father speaks when He opens His mouth and speaks forth His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  And Jesus shows you the Father plainly.  He speaks to you with words that reveal the Father’s heart:  Words of mercy.  Words of kindness, gentleness, and peace.

He shows you the Father by laying down His life on your behalf, by His innocent suffering and death, and by the shedding of His own Blood to atone for all your sins.  That is how you know what God is like.  That is how you know Him and love Him as your own dear Father in Christ.

And so do the faith and prayer of Christ become yours.  Though you are weak and weary and afraid, when you open your mouth in prayer it is Christ who speaks in you.  When you call upon your God and Father in heaven, it is Christ Jesus who is heard, and you are answered for His sake.

He teaches you to pray in this way, in this confidence, by the Word that He speaks to you.  His Word of the Gospel opens up your ears to hear, your heart to believe, and your lips to show forth the praises of God.  Thus do you learn to call upon Him for everything that you need, to call upon His Name, to pray, praise, and give thanks.

And as you have heard, so it is the Word of Christ that you speak in such prayer and confession.  In the same way that Christ has come down from the Father in heaven, so does He return to the Father on your behalf, with you in tow.  And in Him, you and your prayer ascend to the Father.

That is the truth.  But that is not yet your experience.  For here on earth you are scattered like the disciples were when Jesus was taken away to His Passion, to His innocent suffering and death.

You are scattered by the tribulations of the world.  Scattered by the sins that you commit, with which the devil accuses you.  Scattered by your fear of death.  Scattered by the alienation that exists between you and God because of sin, and between you and your neighbor because of sin.

You are scattered not only by the consequences of your own sins, by your guilt and shame, but also by the sins of others against you:  By those who mock you, those who hurt you, and those who take from you; by those who speak poorly of you, and by those who refuse to speak to you at all.

And you are scattered by the Cross, as well.  For your suffering in this life does not end with your Baptism, and it does not end with your faith in Christ.  To become a Christian is not to live a tranquil and untroubled life here on earth.

The peace that you have is not as the world gives.  It is the Peace of Christ, the reconciliation with God that is yours by His grace.  But in the world, He says, you do have tribulation.  There’s plenty of trouble in the world, of course.  And it gets worse when you are called to be a disciple, when you are called to take up the Cross of Christ and follow Him; when you are plunged into the waters of His Baptism, and you renounce the devil, all his works, and all his ways.  Do not underestimate how much the devil hates you, how vicious he is, and how savvy and clever his attacks.

In the world you have tribulation, and by that tribulation you are scattered.

But just so, the depth of your need and hurt compels you to cry out.  And even in your misery, you are not alone.  The Spirit helps you in your weakness.  And Jesus teaches you how to pray.  In fact, He does more than teach you how.  He also prays for you.  He Himself has become your Prayer.  He is your Incense and your Intercession.  As He goes to the Father, He takes you with Him.

Yes, for Christ is with you here, so that you may be with Him where He is.  The Tabernacle of God is among men, that is, the very flesh and blood of Christ, your merciful and great High Priest.  His Life-giving Holy Spirit is breathed into your body and soul by His Word of the Gospel.  And though you are scattered by your sins, scattered by the Cross, and scattered by the assaults and accusations of the devil, the Lord who is in you and with you is greater than he who is in the world.

In order to save you from death and the devil, the Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world.  He has atoned for your sins.  He has defeated the devil and crushed his head.  And this same Lord Jesus has gathered you to Himself.  He has called you by name, and you are His.  So it is that you are here in this place of prayer on this Lord’s Day: You are God’s own child, baptized into Christ.

You are here because Christ has brought you here; because He has bound you to Himself in His own Body; and because He strengthens and sustains you by His Holy Spirit, even in tribulation, even in great weakness, even in deep sorrow, and even in the valley of the shadow of death.

He gathers you into His Church, and into the peace and joy of His Resurrection, by the speaking of His Word.  For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ that is preached to you.  And as you hear and believe, so do you pray and confess the Name of Christ.

This is the rhythm of the Christian life.  This is how you breathe.  You inhale and you exhale the Holy Spirit as you hear and confess the Word of Christ.  You inhale and exhale the forgiveness of sins by faith in His Gospel, forgiving those who sin against you, as you are forgiven by God.

As He has thus called you and gathered you into His Church, let me now describe that holy Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.  Let me tell you what she is like.  Let me tell you that in her midst there are those who have been lame, and those who have been sick, and those who have been afraid, and those who have been hurt.  Into her stream people of all kinds, from all nations, because the Lord has sent His disciples to make disciples, to baptize, to teach, and to forgive sins in His Name.

This Bride of Christ, His Holy Church, stands upon the twelve foundation stones, which are His Holy Apostles who preached His Word, published Peace, and proclaimed the Gospel of salvation.  So, for example, are St. Philip and St. James the Younger remembered on this day.

The Church stands upon that Word, which seems so weak and wobbly and yet stands fast against the gates of hell.  The Church stands upon the foundation of the Word of the Apostles of the Lamb: His Word and promise of forgiveness.  For so has He spoken:  He who hears you, hears Me.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.  Do this in remembrance of Me.  Go into all creation and preach the Gospel and baptize, for all who believe and are baptized shall be saved.

That is the Rock upon which the City of God is built and established on earth as it is in heaven.  And you have entered that City by His Word and Spirit, by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  For in that River of Life you have been cleansed and sanctified, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and clothed in the white garments of His innocence and blessedness.

To be sure, there is no unclean thing in the City of God.  And you are not unclean.  You are not unholy.  There is no sin or fault or blemish in you.  You are cleansed, and you are holy, because you are in Christ, and He has brought you into His City by the righteousness of His Gospel.

This is a place of prayer, where you also pray, because this is a place where the Word of Christ is heard.  And as you hear, so do you believe.  And as you believe, so do you pray.  And as you pray, so does Christ answer.  And when you cannot speak, the Body of Christ prays for you.  And when you can hardly dare to believe what Christ says to you, the Body of Christ supports you in Him.

Now, if it so happens that you are strong in the faith, that you already know the Word, that you stride through your week in joyful confidence, in the peace and joy of the Gospel, and that you need not be here for your own strength (though I wonder about that!), be here for your neighbor.  For in the pews alongside of you, in front and in back of you, there are those who are struggling, those who are sad, and those who are afraid to pray because they do not think they will be heard.

There are those who wonder if they belong here.  And yet, by the mercies of God, they are here.  And they are part of the Body of Christ, or they are called to become members of His Body by repentance and faith in His Gospel.  The truth is that your prayers strengthen them, your presence encourages them.  And your words of peace and love in Jesus’ Name are living and active words, which spite the devil, and crush his head, and cast him away from your neighbor’s heart and mind.

That you might have such a Word to speak, to pray and confess, cling to Christ in the preaching of His Gospel.  Cling to Him for yourself.  Cling to Him for your family.  Cling to Him for your neighbor.  Cling to Him for the stranger, the widow and orphan, and the foreigner in your midst.

Cling to Him, and call upon His Name, and know that you are heard.  For you are not simply a guest in the household and family of God.  You are not only an acquaintance of the Bride of Christ, but you belong to her.  You are part of her.  So precious are you to Jesus, so beautiful by His grace, so glorious through His forgiveness, so much His very own in His Resurrection from the dead.

That is what He has given you in the waters of Holy Baptism.  More has been accomplished there and still avails for you, than your entire life on earth should ever be sufficient to consider.  You cannot exhaust this treasure.  You cannot think of it too much.  You cannot rely on it too strongly.

In Holy Baptism Christ has forgiven you all your sins, and by your Holy Baptism He is constantly washing your sins away.  Though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, the waters of your Baptism wash over you, day after day, as you hear and receive the Gospel.

Like a little fish you are born in the water, and like a little fish you live your whole life in the water of your Baptism.  For by that water, with His Word, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted you and made you His own dear child.  He has named you with His Name and made you a member of His family.

He has given you His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, the Author and Giver of Life, by whom you live.  He has given you the Spirit, not because you are strong, but because you are His.  Not because you are without sin, but that you may be cleansed.  Not because you were holy, but that you should become holy in Christ Jesus.

In your Baptism Christ has bound Himself to you.  He has taken His stand with you.  He has made all of your sins and all of your hurts, and all of your griefs and sorrows, His own.  The wounds that He bears in His Body are your wounds.  And by His wounds you are healed.

He has bound Himself to you, and He binds you to Himself, so that, where He is, you shall be also.  Thus are you crucified, dead, and buried with Him.  But His Cross does not destroy you; it makes you brand new.  And as you are crucified with Him, so are you also raised with Him: daily through the forgiveness of your sins, and at the last when your body shall be raised from the dead, immortal and glorious, perfected and imperishable, set free from every weakness, every sadness, every sin.

As He binds Himself to you, and you to Him, so also do you share His Ascension.  So also are you seated with Him at the Right Hand of the Father in the heavenly places, hidden with Christ in God.  As He has ascended, so do you ascend in His Body and in His prayer.

And so it is that here, at His Altar, in His House, is your place of prayer.  Here you are gathered by the riverside of Holy Baptism.  Here the Word of Christ is preached to you.  Here your sins are freely and fully forgiven.  Here you are set free.  Here you live and abide as a beloved child of God.  Here nothing at all shall harm you.  Death and the devil cannot have you.  Christ has you.

So this is your place of prayer, and in the Name of Christ you are heard.  In Jesus’ Name you pray, and you are answered with a loud and resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in His crucified and risen Body.  For in Him all things are yours in heaven and on earth, and there is nothing lacking.

Take courage, and be at peace.  Christ has overcome the world, and you are safe and sound in Him.

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