31 May 2017

Hidden Under the Cross with Christ

In His tender mercy and great compassion, the Lord your God has come to visit you, in order to be with you always, to save you, and to give you life with Himself forever.

But He does all of this — He comes to you, He visits you, and He is with you — in hidden ways that you cannot see with your eyes.  It is under the Cross, under the weight and burden and pain of the Cross.  And it is by the humble means of grace, which to the naked eye look like nothing.

The water of your Baptism.  The bread and wine of the Holy Communion.  That is all that you can see and taste and feel and smell.  Yet, it is in these means of grace that Christ your Lord, your Savior, comes and gives Himself to you.  He comes to dwell with you, within your mortal flesh.

So it is not so different than it is in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But consider what her case is like.  She has only the Word of God to go on concerning her miraculous Child, conceived in her womb by the Word and Spirit of God.  For nine months she cannot even see Him, though she can surely feel Him growing inside of her, kicking and squirming and stretching about.

Elizabeth cannot see the Child, either, but she does see her young cousin from Nazareth.  Unwed.  Coming to visit her out of the blue.  Even so, Elizabeth believes and trusts the Word of God, for she also, in her great age, after years and years of barrenness, has conceived a child in her womb, with her husband Zacharias, according to the Word and promise of the Lord.

The outward situation looks no different to St. Mary’s other neighbors.  After her joyous visit to Elizabeth, after she witnesses the birth of young John the Baptist, she goes back to Nazareth, to what?  To a fiancé who assumes that she’s been sleeping around with some other guy.  He will not stone her, as the Law would permit, but he will divorce her quietly.  That is his plan.  And though St. Joseph is brought to faith in the Word of God to take St. Mary as his wife, that does not shut up their nosy and gossipy neighbors, the people of Nazareth, who naturally assume the worst.

This is to be her lot.  For bearing the Son of God, St. Mary suffers reproach and worse.  She flees, then, to Egypt after her Son is born.  And where is it that He is born?  In a stable, in a strange little town not her own.  She trudges the distance, at nine months, and gives birth to her Son in a shelter for animals; and then her king seeks to take His life, to kill Him in cold blood.  So she must run away to Egypt with her little family, where she lives in exile for a couple of years.

And when at last the Holy Family is able to return from Egypt, there are then the years of waiting, and wondering, and watching for some sign, for some indication that this Son of hers is everything that God has promised.  There is that incident in Jerusalem when He’s twelve, but that occasion is confusing and distressing in its own right, and as perplexing as it is promising.

When her Son finally does begin to manifest Himself to Israel, then what?  He brings hatred and hostility upon His head.  People turn against Him.  They conspire and plot against Him.  They finally have Him arrested.  They manufacture charges against Him.  They hand Him over to the governor.  They hand Him over to death.  And then there is the cruelest agony of all.  The Mother stands at the foot of the Cross, and she watches her Son, her own dear Son, Jesus, whom she loves, put to death.  She sees her Savior executed as a criminal, suffering and dying before her eyes.

That is what St. Mary sees and experiences.  That is what she feels and perceives with her senses.  Which, for all the world, appears to be a crushing blow, a catastrophic disaster, an utter loss of all her hopes and dreams.  But for all of that, it is not in spite of this Cross, but precisely by the Cross of Christ, that the Lord accomplishes His purposes, His great salvation of the world.

It is likewise by the Cross that God the Lord accomplishes His purposes for you, also.  It is His great reversal of sin and death, whereby the curse becomes the blessing.  Thus are the haughty brought down, the rich are made poor, and the gluttons are sent away empty.  For the Lord kills, in order to make alive.  He humbles, in order to exalt.  He brings low, in order to raise you up.

He does it all, first and foremost, in His own dear Son, conceived and born of St. Mary; for He is crucified for your transgressions in order to be raised for your justification.  And what the Lord your God has thus accomplished by the Cross and Resurrection of His Son, He now works and accomplishes in you, in your heart and mind, body and soul, by the preaching of His Word.

He puts you to death by the letter of the Law, in order to resurrect you to new life by the Spirit through the Gospel.  He exposes your sin and humbles you, in order to bring you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of your sins, by which you now live in Christ Jesus, both body and soul, sanctified, strengthened, and sustained by His Holy Spirit, as you now sojourn under the Cross.

For now it is only by the Word and Spirit of God.  It is not by sight or sense, nor by any reason or strength of your own.  Indeed, what you experience in your body and life in this world appears to be an utter contradiction of everything that God has said and promised.  He tells you that you are His child.  And yet, your life does not go so well.  He tells you that all of your sins are forgiven.  And yet, you still suffer many of the consequences of your sins in this world.  He tells you that He loves you.  And yet, there are so many times when His apparent absence makes you wonder if He even exists, or if He cares about you at all, or if He is in fact angry with you because of your sins.

What you feel and experience is a curse instead of the blessing.  You feel the sting of the Law, not only in your ears, in your heart, and in your head, but also in your flesh and blood.  But, whereas you hear the Word and promise of the Gospel, you sure don’t otherwise feel it.  Everything just continues as it has before.  You keep on sinning, and you keep on dying, as does everyone else.

But in spite of your experience, in spite of what your reason and all your senses tell you, the truth of the matter is not only made known by the Word of God; it is determined by the Word of God.  Whatever He speaks, that is so.  “Let there be Light,” and there is Light.  So, too, whatever He says to you is true, while the whole wide world is one big liar, and one big lie, apart from His Word.

That is how it is for St. Elizabeth, and for St. Mary, and for their boys.  Blessed are they, who believe the Word that the Lord has spoken.  For every Word He speaks is accomplished, and every one of His promises is fulfilled.  Not only for those saints of old, and for the Son of God, Christ Jesus, but so also for His Church and all her children.  So also for you, and for your children.

Your dear Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mary’s Son — crucified, risen, and ascended — He is your great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  He does not look down upon you from afar, but He has drawn near to visit you in peace; He has borne your burdens, and He sympathizes with you in your weaknesses.  He also has become small, and lowly, and weak.  He also, who was rich, has become poor, in order that you would become rich and inherit the Kingdom of God.  He has borne your sins and all of their consequences.  He has become the curse itself upon the Cross.  He has been damned in your stead under the righteous wrath and judgment of God against all sin.

He has been hated by the world and His own people.  He has been forsaken by His friends.  He has been persecuted.  He has been hurt.  He has been falsely accused, unfairly condemned, ridiculed, spit upon, and shamed.  He has been put to death.  He has suffered it all.  And He has been tempted in every way that you are.  But He has remained faithful and innocent, obedient and righteous, even in His death.  And so it is that, despite appearances, His Cross is His great Victory for you.

His Cross has turned the curse inside out.  His death has conquered death and the devil.  By His death He has atoned for all of your sins, so there is nothing left to be held against you.  He has reconciled you to God, in order to give you life with God, even now in the midst of sin and death.

His own bodily Resurrection from the dead is the guarantee of your resurrection and the life everlasting of your body and soul.  And His Body and His Blood are the surety, the down payment, the Foretaste of the Feast to Come.  His Word and Spirit are His Bond.  As He has spoken, He will do.  The One who promises is faithful.  He does not lie to you.  He does all that He has said.

Dear little one of Jesus, do not be lonely and forlorn.  He forgives you all yours sins, and He raises you from death to life.  He feeds you with good things, His Body and His Blood.  He remembers you in mercy, and He remembers all His promises to you by keeping them.  So does He also sustain your faith in His Word by His good Spirit, so that the devil, the world, and your flesh do not get the better of you and drag you down into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.

This Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, is your Champion.  He is your Savior and Redeemer.  So does He open up your mouth to feed you.  And He opens up your mouth to sing His praise, who has done such great things for you.  Holy is His Name!  And marvelous are all His works.

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

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