30 April 2017

The Catechesis of Christ in the Way of His Cross

The truth of the matter — in accordance with all that the Prophets have spoken and all that the holy Apostles have preached and declared to you and to the whole Church — the truth of the matter is that Jesus has redeemed His people, His Israel, His Church.  Indeed, He is the Propitiation, not only for your sins, but for those of the entire world.

True God, begotten of His Father from eternity, He has also become true Man, conceived and born of the Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He has offered His Body and Life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and has shed His holy and precious Blood to make Atonement for them all.  He has redeemed you, purchased and won you, lost and condemned creature though you were.  Not with perishable things, but with His own Body and Blood, by His innocent suffering and death.

His Cross was not the defeat that it appeared.  The shame and humiliation of His Passion were the accomplishment of His purposes.  By His death, He has conquered death, because He bore the sins of the world in His flesh and put them to death in Himself.  And when God the Father raised this same Jesus from the dead, He thus declared that all of those sins were forgiven and done with.  And as the wages of sin is death, so the forgiveness of sins is life and salvation.

So, you have been redeemed by this Lord Jesus Christ.  You are His own, and His Life is yours, even as He preaches it into your ears.  He puts it into your flesh with His own.  That is the truth.

But that is not what you see, or feel, or experience in this world.  Here you often stand still looking sad, and feeling sad.  Here you are often disappointed, and all your hopes are dashed.  Here you  experience sickness in your own body, and you see it in the lives and bodies of your loved ones.  Here there is suffering within and without.  You suffer because of your sins, and because of your neighbor’s sins.  And you suffer for the sake of Christ and the Name that He has given to you.

You perceive that you still sin in your body and life.  You still do those things that you should not, even when you are trying with all your might to stop.  You fall into sin day after day.  You are hampered by temptations in what you see, in what you think and feel, and in your mortal flesh.

And there is still death.  We proclaim the Resurrection.  We confess the Resurrection.  We believe and hope in the Resurrection.  But there is still death, and we do not yet see the Resurrection here on earth.  Loved ones to the left and to the right suffer and die, even as you and they suffer the loss of parents, spouses, and children.  And every death you see is a reminder that you also will die.

That is what you see, and feel, and experience.  So it seems as though the Resurrection were a lie; that the Gospel were a lie; that the Redemption of your Lord Jesus Christ were a lie, or a hoax.

Your eyes have been closed to the Resurrection.  You hear the news of the empty tomb, but Jesus you do not see.  His Body appears to be missing.  He has vanished from your sight, and your eyes are prevented from seeing Him.  Apart from His Word, you are not able to find Him.

In so many ways, it seems as though Jesus has gone farther, that He has gone ahead without you, leaving you behind.  That your day in the sun is now almost over.  That the night is at hand.  For you and your family.  For your job or your relationships.  Perhaps even for your own Emmaus here.  As though you’ve been left behind and on your own, and Jesus is nowhere to be found.

What fervent prayer have you offered, day and night, with great tears of sorrow, and yet it seems as if no answer were ever going to come?  What hope have you had in Jesus that appears to be forever disappointed?  And, for that matter, what sort of Jesus have you been hoping for?  What sort of Savior do you think He is?  What is it that you have expected?

St. Paul is quite right that your hope shall not be disappointed — when your hope is in Christ the Crucified.  Do not despair in the face of His Cross.  O foolish man!  O foolish woman!  O foolish child!  Do not be so hard of heart and slow to believe the Word that God has spoken to you.

The Cross and suffering are not your defeat.  For the Cross of Christ is the very power of God unto salvation.  It is the victory of your Lord Jesus Christ over sin, death, and the devil.  It is the Glory of God manifested in His Body of flesh and blood.  It was necessary that the Christ suffer in this way, and thereby to enter into His Glory.  And it is through His suffering that you also enter into His Glory.  It is by the Cross that you have been redeemed, and it is by the Cross that you are brought into life with Jesus.  Strange as it seems, it is by Way of the Cross that you share His Resurrection and His Life.  If you suffer and die with Jesus, then you also rise and live with Him.

Live, therefore, in the Word of the Cross, in the hope and promise of the Resurrection.  For in the speaking of this Gospel — and by no other way or means or place or time, but in the speaking of this Gospel — Christ Jesus is at hand.  He draws near.  He travels with you on the road.  And He abides with you forever.  All this precisely under the Cross, in this valley of sorrow.

Take to heart the example of those first two disciples of Emmaus, and follow in their footsteps.  Though they really did not understand the things that had happened in those days, and they were so sad and slow of heart and foolish, nevertheless, they did exactly the right thing in traveling together and speaking to each other about Jesus: His death, and the news of His Resurrection.

They were speaking of Jesus.  And it was in their speaking of Him that Jesus Himself was right there with them.  That is how you also are given to proceed on the road that God lays before you.

Talk to your neighbor about Jesus.  And ask your neighbor to speak of Jesus to you.  So, too, be where His disciples are gathered by and for the Word of Christ.  For where His Word is spoken, there He is.  And He is here.  He is with you, with His Gospel, with His Life and salvation for you.

Hear and confess His Word against your despair.  Falling into despair is a burdensome thing.  It will crush you.  But it is also sinful.  Don’t wallow in it.  Don’t give yourself over to it.  Don’t listen to the lying voices in your heart and mind, but speak of Christ for yourself and for others.  Rehearse His story, His Word and promise, and don’t rely on yourself but give ear to the Gospel.

Seek the Lord where He may be found in this Day of Salvation.  Has He not here taught you that He is with you on the way in the Holy Scriptures and in the Breaking of the Bread at His Table?  These means of grace are the only real remedy for your melancholy, grief, and sorrow.

But on that note, why does He act as though He’s going to go farther?  It sounds like a trick, or a deception.  Is He teasing them?  Is He toying with them?  And is He playing games with you when He acts as though He’s going to go farther and leave you behind to deal with life on your own?

Well, no, Jesus is not teasing you; He does not treat you in that way.  He does not toy with you.  He loves you, and He cares for you.  But He would teach you, and He would train you in the way that you should go.  And to that end, He does not immediately place into your hands everything that you could possibly want or desire, nor even everything that you need.  He allows you to go hungry for a time, so that He may feed you in due season, and you might learn to know and trust that you do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

He acts as though He is going farther, because He would prompt you and train you to pray.  To call on Him and ask Him to stay.  To take Him not for granted, but actively to love and trust in Him.

Pray, then, as He has taught you to pray, with boldness and confidence.  Pray with the words that He has taught you and placed upon your lips.  Do not trust your experience, your senses, your own wisdom, knowledge, or intelligence.  All of those things will deceive you and mislead you.  Hear only the Word of Christ, and trust that Word, no matter what you see, and no matter how Jesus may seem to be acting at any given moment.  His Word of the Gospel has faithfully revealed that His desire is to stay with you.  Pray for that.  And know that He hears and answers your prayer in love.

Those first two disciples were exercising good hospitality by inviting Jesus to stay with them.  The people of that time and in that culture understood the importance of that practice better than we tend to in our own day.  But I suspect they also hungered for more of that Word which Jesus had been preaching to them.  For He spoke words that cut them to the quick, to begin with, but which had also begun to heal them of their doubts and fear and sadness, of their foolish unbelief and hardness of heart.  By His Word, He had begun to give them real life in the face of death, even before they knew who this was who was talking to them, who spoke as one having authority.

By inviting Him into their home, they were not only extending hospitality and love to a neighbor, but they were asking Him to keep on preaching the Gospel.  And of course He did.

You also, then, keep praying for that grace of the Gospel.  Pray that Jesus would stay with you and keep preaching His Word of the Gospel to you by those whom He has called and sent in His Name and stead.  Pray not in doubt and fear, but in faith, in hope, and in love.  Despite appearances to the contrary, the Lord Jesus has come precisely for this purpose, to abide with you forever, that you would abide in and with Him, in the courts of the Lord’s House, in His Holy of Holies.

His deepest desire is to care for you and serve you with His gifts.  Pray for Him to do that, and know that, even before you pray, He is already answering; and while you are yet speaking, He is already at hand.  He is already working to save you from your sin and death in body and soul.

From our perception we have invited Him to come and be our Guest.  As many of us often pray at our dinner tables, so do we pray together as a congregation, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  We invite Him into this House that we and our forefathers have built and furnished.  And yet, what do we find?  He is here at the Table, not as our Guest, but as our Host, and we are His guests.  You are His guest at His Table in His House.  For He has come into this house and has made it His own.

So you find yourself here at His Table, and He is your gracious Host, a divine Waiter, serving you the finest of Foods, the richest of Meats, and the best of Wines.  To be sure, He is not only your Host and your Waiter, but He is the Main Course, the Meal Itself.  For He is the very Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for you, who feeds you with Himself as your Meat and Drink indeed.

This Table of the Lord is where Jesus is found.  Especially in Luke’s Gospel, everyone is looking for Jesus, wanting to see Jesus.  Where is His Body?  That’s what they all want to know.  They find the empty tomb and hear the news, but Him they do not see.  They don’t know where His Body is.

You know the answer.  He’s here.  His Body is here.  It’s in the Breaking of the Bread.  You know it and perceive it by faith in His Word, not by sight.  But it is no less true.  It is no less tangibly real.  Jesus is with you in this way, in this place, with His Body and His Blood in the Sacrament.

His Word — which alone abides forever — His Word declares to you the truth.  And His Word makes it so.  What He speaks, He does by His speaking.  What He speaks, He gives to you by His speaking.  By His Word and Spirit He opens your ears to hear.  And He opens your eyes of faith to see.  He opens your heart to believe, and your mind to comprehend the Scriptures.  And He opens up your mouth to be fed, to be quenched, to eat and to drink, and so also then to confess.

This Blood that He pours out for you has redeemed you.  This Body with which He feeds you has conquered death and the grave.  This Body and Blood have obtained forgiveness for you, which is now given to you in and with this Sacrament.  Eat and drink, therefore.  And know that, as Christ Jesus lives, so do you also live.  By these Fruits of His Cross, you enter with Him into His Glory.

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

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