21 June 2018

Living the Sacramental Life

The Fulfillment of Creation in the Baptized and Eucharistic Life

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  He created all things out of nothing by His Word and Holy Spirit.  All things are His, therefore, and whatever He has created is very good.  It is good because it is the work of God.  It is good because the Word of God, by whom all things are made, has Himself become flesh, true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And in spite of man’s fall into sin, all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified, and it is made brand new, in the Body of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, crucified and risen from the dead.

So is the goodness of creation confirmed and sealed unto you by the fact that Christ administers His grace, His Gospel, His forgiveness, life, and salvation, through the creaturely means of water, bread, and wine.  As God creates and gives new life through holy marriage, by the bodily union of husband and wife, so does He create and give new life in body and soul through Christ and His Bride, the Church, in Holy Baptism.  And as He opens His hand to satisfy and sustain every living thing, so does He feed and nourish His children with the Body and Blood of Christ at His Altar.

In responding to those who demonically oppose the goodness of marriage and forbid various kinds of food, St. Paul affirms that God has created these very things “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good,” he writes, “and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by means of the Word of God and prayer” (1Timothy 4:3b–5).  That is a comprehensive and inclusive statement, to be sure.  But it is instructive to note how precisely it pertains to the Holy Sacraments.

The waters of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine of the Holy Communion are indeed sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, not only in theory but in practice, according to the institution of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And these good gifts are received in faith and with thanksgiving to God.  Not simply as a matter of course, but as the preeminent example of creation made new in Christ.

All of creation is fulfilled and perfected in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is redeemed and sanctified for you in His Holy Sacraments.  You are baptized into His New Creation, by way of His Cross and Resurrection.  You belong to His holy Body, and you live a new life to and from His holy Altar.  So do you receive and use the good things of God’s creation in faith and with thanksgiving, and you become a living sacrament of Christ in relation to your neighbors in the world, within your own callings and stations in life.

The Fulfillment and Fruition of God’s Good Creation

As creatures of God, water, bread, and wine are good, even outside of their use in the Sacraments.  Indeed, they are fundamental to this body and life on earth, and for that reason alone they should not be despised but received with thanksgiving.  Even so, the fact that our Lord has chosen to use these particular elements in Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar also distinguishes water, bread, and wine in the midst of His good creation.  They are significant on account of that usage.

When God created the heavens and the earth, He started with water.  And when He recreates and makes all things new, He starts with water.  “The earth was formed out of water and by water,” and then, in the days of Noah, the world “was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:5–6).  And just as righteous Noah and his family, eight persons in all, “were brought safely through the water,” so it is the case that “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:20–21).  So water itself is a sign of the way that you are put to death and raised to new life as a new creation in Holy Baptism.

As Luther says in his Flood Prayer, by the Baptism of His beloved Son, Christ Jesus, God sanctified the Jordan and all water to be a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins.

So, as you go about your day and you encounter water as refreshment and cleansing, and as basic to life in this world, you are called to remember that with water and His Word the Lord your God has forgiven your sins, rescued you from death and the devil, and given you everlasting salvation.

When you eat bread — which is so basic that “daily bread” includes everything that pertains to this body and life — remember and give thanks that God also feeds you with the living Bread from heaven, the flesh of Jesus Christ, that you should not perish but have everlasting life in His Body.  After all, He reveals Himself and gives Himself to His disciples in “the Breaking of the Bread.”

And when you drink wine, rejoice, not only in the goodness of that gift, but in the fact that God uses wine to give you the precious Blood of Christ.  None of this is accidental or incidental.  It is by God’s design from the beginning, from before the foundation of the world, that He should love you and give Himself to you by the means of His good creation.  And now, as He does so in the Holy Sacraments, He shapes the way you look at the rest of the world and your life in the world.

A sacramentally shaped life is one that exercises reverence for the goodness of God’s creation, and a profound appreciation and respect for the body.  Such good things are holy in themselves, because they are God’s work and His gift.  And they are made holy for you by God’s Word, as you receive them and make use of them with prayer and thanksgiving in His Name.  Your own body is likewise redeemed and sanctified by the Word and Spirit of God.  For your body is washed with pure water, and your body is fed with the Body and Blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:22–26).  By these creaturely means of grace, you are raised up with Christ to live with Him, both body and soul, in the New Creation.  Not that God takes something bad and makes it good.  He rather takes the good that He has made, and He brings it to its proper fulfillment and perfection by the Word of Christ.

Instead of succumbing to pride or despair, consider yourself according to the Word that God has spoken concerning you.  You are His creature, to begin with.  So are you His workmanship in Christ Jesus, as He has baptized you in His Name, and as He feeds you with His Body and Blood.

As creation is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, and as the Sacraments are what they are because God’s Word comes to the elements of water, bread, and wine, so is your life in the world also governed and sanctified by the ongoing catechesis of the Word of God.  Even the winds and the waves, so also bread and wine and all His creatures, are subject to the authority of His Word.  For He is the Author and Giver of Life and the Fulfiller of Creation.  How much more so, then, are you to live by faith in His Word, and according to His Word, in the place where He stations you.

Luther calls the Word of God the most holy Relic of all, which sanctifies your whole life.  In the Holy Sacraments, it is the Word of God that takes water and makes it a Baptism, and the Word of God that takes bread and wine and makes them the Body and Blood of Christ for you.  So it is that your body and life are made holy by the Word of God, which you hear and confess in daily prayer, in catechesis with your family, and with all the people of God gathered around the Lord’s Altar.  By the prayer and preaching of His Word, your apparently mundane life is sacred and significant.

As all things are made by and for the Word of God, your life in Christ is a verbal life, which hears, confesses, and prays the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His Son.  Indeed, you speak, as you are spoken to, the language of the Church and of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  That is the new tongue of the New Creation, which is rehearsed and handed over in the Holy Sacraments.

First and foremost is the Name of the Lord, with which He has named you in your Holy Baptism.  He has written it on your body and soul, on your forehead and your heart, along with the sign of the Holy Cross.  You are baptized in and with the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And His Name is hallowed in you by the preaching of His Word and by the life that you live according to His Word.  So do you also confess and call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, because He has named you with His Name and adopted you to be His child in Holy Baptism.

In the Lord’s Supper, there are the Words of Christ: “Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you.  Drink of it, all of you, this Cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.”  To live by faith in those Words, and to receive what they give you, is central to the Christian life.  But these gifts of Christ are administered “in remembrance of Him.”  Which is to say, first of all, that the Lord remembers you in the Sacrament by the Ministry of His Word, by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection.  For as often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, it is necessary that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ be proclaimed until He comes.  The catechesis of His Word thus brings you in repentant faith to the Feast of the Word-made-Flesh.

So also in your whole body and life, the Word that sanctifies all your days is the remembrance of Christ Jesus, which is the confession of His Name, the confession of His Cross and Resurrection, the confession of what He does for you, and says to you, and gives to you.  That is what defines and determines your life as a Christian, and it is rooted in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  For the preaching of Christ is always pointing to His Supper, and His Supper is always celebrated with the preaching of His Word.  So it is that you are always living to and from His Holy Supper.

Not only in the Liturgy, but as you make your way to and from the Liturgy throughout the week, the Name of the Lord that you have received in Holy Baptism and the remembrance of the Lord Jesus in the Holy Communion are shaping your life in relation to God and your neighbor.  These Holy Sacraments set you within the Body of Christ, wherein you live by faith in His Word and not by human sight or sense.  You perceive your parents, your spouse, your children, and your place in the world according to the hidden majesty of the Word, just as the true glory of the Sacraments is likewise hidden under apparent frailty and weakness.  Both your sins and your righteousness are determined by the Word and Spirit of Truth, by the Law and the Gospel, and not by your feelings.

The sacramentally shaped life, as your Baptism signifies from the outset, is one of repentance and faith, of dying and rising with Christ Jesus.  Which is also to say that, in relation to the Lord and one another, it is a life of confession and absolution.  You confess your sins and receive absolution, that is forgiveness, from your pastor as from God Himself.  You likewise acknowledge your sins, apologize for them, seek your neighbor’s forgiveness, and make amends as you are able.  And for your part, you readily forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against you (even repeatedly).  That is the rhythm of your life from the Font to the Altar, and from the Altar through the week.  And by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, it is already to live within the New Creation.

Your First, Foremost, and Forever Vocation

To speak of Creation (both old and new) is also to speak of your vocation in the world.  That is not so much your job or what you do and accomplish.  Your vocation is chiefly a matter of who and what God has called you and created you to be.  You are a human being, male or female.  You are a son or daughter.  Perhaps you are also a husband or wife, a father or mother, a brother or sister.  These are permanent or lifelong callings, which set you in lifelong relationships.  The Divine Call to the Office of the Holy Ministry is likewise a life-changing, permanent vocation, which sets a man into a new relationship and responsibility with respect to the Lord and His Church on earth.

By contrast, your offices and stations in life — your particular posts or positions with their duties and responsibilities at any given time — are subject to choices and changes within the freedom of the Gospel.  You won’t always be a student.  You won’t always be changing diapers.  You won’t always be flipping burgers at McDonalds or greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart.  In Christian faith and love all of these endeavors are holy and pleasing to God.  They glorify His Name, and they benefit your neighbors.  But they are not permanent callings, and they do not define your identity or value.

Beyond all of these temporal callings and stations in life, there is yet one vocation that is not just permanent for this body and life, but is actually eternal.  That is the vocation of your Holy Baptism, in which the Lord God has called you to be His child, a son of God in Christ, and a member of His Bride, the Church.  Note the similarities to the most basic earthly vocations of marriage and family.  And yet, you have become a child of God, not just for a time, but for eternity.  And you are united to Christ, your heavenly Bridegroom, in such a way that even death shall never be able to part you.

It is from the vocation of your Baptism that you fulfill all of your other vocations in life, and that you serve your various offices and stations in this world as a Christian.  You live and you love as a child of God, because you are a child of God, by virtue of your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  It is in your Baptism that God the Father has named you with His Name and thereby adopted you as a beloved and well-pleasing son in Christ Jesus.  It is in your Baptism that Christ has cleansed you, and sanctified you, and dressed you in His righteousness, as a Bride made ready for her Husband.  It is in your Holy Baptism that God has called you into His own household and family forever.

Thus bearing His Name, beloved of God and beautiful in Christ, the vocation of your Baptism governs and defines all of your relationships, especially those of marriage and family, of parents and children, of brothers and sisters, all of which point beyond themselves to the household and family of God.  For how you live in the world is determined by who and what you are in Christ.

As a husband and father, myself, and as a pastor, having baptized many of my own children, and having witnessed the marriage of several of my own children (with another one on the horizon), I have been very aware of the intimate link between Holy Baptism and these holy vocations.  As marriage and family are the crowning glory of the first creation, so is the glory of the New Creation found in the marriage and family of Christ and His Bride, the Church.  It is for this glory that you are baptized, and it is to this glory that your familial vocations in this world are pointing.  By the same significance, you learn how to live as a child, by faith, by your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  You learn how to be a husband from Him who loves you, who has given Himself for you, who has betrothed you to Himself as a Bride in Holy Baptism.  You learn how to be a father, to love and care for children, from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has called you by His Son to be His very own in Holy Baptism.  And you learn how to be a wife and mother from the Church, who cleaves to Christ, her Head, who gives birth to the children of God by the washing of water with His Word and Holy Spirit, and feeds them at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.

Whether married or unmarried, whether fruitful or barren, young, old, or in between, your whole body and life, your flesh and blood, your soul and spirit, the space and time in which you live and move, your words and actions, all are redeemed and sanctified by your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  God has thereby called you out of the nothingness of sin and death into the Life and Light of His eternal Day, into the somethingness of the incarnate Word.  Thus do you live and abide in Christ, and He in you, and all your days and nights, now and forever, are lived in the presence of God.

In the Old Testament, once a year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, and in him all of Israel would stand in the presence of God.  But Christ has entered the Sanctuary made without hands, eternal in the heavens, where He stands forever as your merciful and great High Priest.  His Body, crucified, risen, and ascended, is your Anchor behind the veil.  You are anchored to God by the flesh and blood of Christ, even as you go about your life in this world.  For your body, soul, and spirit have been washed with pure water in His Name.  He has bound you to Himself forever.  And as surely as He feeds you with His Body and His Blood at His Table, so surely do you live and abide in the House of the Lord, as a beloved child of His God and Father, unto eternal Life.

Living as the Household and Family of God in the One Body of Christ Jesus

The preaching and catechesis of Christ have brought you to the Font, named you with His Name, adopted you as a child of His God and Father, and anointed you with His Holy Spirit.  So do His preaching and catechesis henceforth bring you to and from His Altar in repentance and faith, that you might receive His forgiveness of all your sins, and that you might live and abide in His Body and Blood, as a living and active member of His Body and Bride, the Church.

To eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ is to be united with Him in the most intimate union possible.  It is surely nothing less than the consummation of His baptismal betrothal, whereby the Bridegroom and His Bride become one Flesh.  It is the fulfillment of the Image and Likeness of God, in which the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, were created, that man should not be alone but live in love, in fellowship with the Holy Trinity, in a community of many sons and daughters.

To have such profound communion with Christ Jesus in His Marriage Feast, is to have communion with His whole Church in heaven and on earth, as surely as He is the Head of one Body and the Husband of one Wife.  You belong to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and they belong to you.  You are all one Body in Christ, because you all eat of the one Bread which is the Body of Christ, and you all drink of the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.  You are bodied and blooded together in Him.  You are among the countless grains that have been gathered from a thousand hills and baked together into a single Loaf.  In the Holy Communion it is, therefore, as St. Augustine says: You receive what you are, and you are what you receive, the Body of Christ.

You love and care for your brothers and sisters in Christ, as members of one household and family of God, because you have one and the same God and Father in Christ Jesus, you share the same divine Name, you are all anointed by one Holy Spirit, and you are bound to each other by the flesh and blood of one Lord.  You do not have the option of turning your back on those who belong to this Body of Christ, but you are obliged to them, and they to you, for His Name’s sake.  This, too, belongs to your vocation as a child of God, as a member of the Bride of Christ, which is forever.

Within your own family, if any of the children failed to show up for a meal, and you had no idea where they were, you would not say, “Oh, well, I guess they’re just not here.”  No, if one of your children were missing, you would not rest until you found her.  So, too, there ought to be a similar care and concern for all of the children of God, who are your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

I realize that you are constrained by your callings and stations in life.  There is a limit to what you are able to do.  You are finite.  And your finitude does not belong to the curse and consequences of sin, but to the fact that you are a creature of God.  You are not God.  You are created and called to live by faith in Him, in love for your neighbors within your own proper place.  So, of course, it is not possible for you to be friends with everyone, nor to give everyone your full and equal time and attention.  You cannot love everyone the same way, nor should you try.  But in so far as you are able, as opportunity permits, you are called to love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The household and family of God is not secondary (or incidental) to your own earthly household and family.  The community of Christ’s Church, the communion of saints in His Body and Blood, is the primary thing.  All of your other relationships take their cues from that holy fellowship, which is with the Father and His Son in the Holy Spirit.  You do not favor your husband or wife, your parents or children, over the Bride of Christ and the children of God.  You love your nearest and dearest in this life as the Father loves you in Christ, His Son, and as Christ Jesus loves you in the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, as you go about your week from day to day, it is with care and concern for all who eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ.  He is the Firstborn of many brothers, and you belong to those many brothers, because you are named by God and forgiven by God in Christ.

As previously noted, the fellowship and life of the Church are characterized by repentance and reconciliation, as each and all Christians are forgiven by Christ Jesus and called to forgive each other in His Name.  That is to live by faith in the significance of your Holy Baptism, and to bear the good fruits of a worthy participation in the Holy Communion of Jesus’ Body and Blood.

As you are forgiven by the grace of God, and reconciled to God in Christ, you are also reconciled to one another in Him.  You forgive those who trespass against you.  You do not harbor bitterness or resentment against anyone.  But if anyone has anything against you, then you are to leave your gift at the Altar until you are reconciled with your brother.  Where things stand between you and your neighbor impinges directly upon your life in the Lord’s Liturgy.  Your relationship with God, tangibly expressed in your offerings and gifts, is inextricably connected to your relationship with your neighbor.  Your approach to the Lord’s Altar has both a vertical and horizontal dimension.

Reconciliation with your neighbor is no mere token or formality.  It is more than a handshake and greeting of “peace.”  It means that you actually bear the fruits of repentance in relation to your neighbor.  You die to yourself and rise to newness of life in Christ, as a new creature in Christ, in the way that you relate to your husband or wife, in the way that you relate to your children, in the way that you relate to your coworkers, and in the way that you relate to friends and foes alike.  You take up the Cross and follow after Christ in the way that He has walked, in holy faith and love.

The Pattern of Life in Christ by Participation in His Holy Sacraments

To live as a disciple of Christ Jesus, to live and walk in the way that He does, is to live with Him in Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion.  For disciples are made and sustained by the Baptism and catechesis of Christ, and it is to His disciples that He gives His Body and Blood.  It is in these Holy Sacraments that you are forgiven all your sins and given the life of Christ in body and soul.

In the Old Testament (Exodus 24 and following), the Lord reveals to Moses the Pattern by which he is to construct the Tabernacle, and by which he is to arrange the Priesthood and the Sacrifices.  So the Tabernacle is made according to God’s direction, and afterwards the Temple in Jerusalem is built on the same Pattern.  The Pattern itself is the Lord’s own divine, eternal life in heaven, which God shows to Moses in order to make it available to His people on earth in the Tabernacle.

That divine Pattern is the incarnate Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is His own Body, which is the Temple of God.  It is His Priesthood, by which He sacrifices Himself once for all, and by which He enters with His own Blood into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, in order to establish a place for you and all His people in the presence of God the Father.

That same Pattern — the incarnate Christ, crucified and risen, and His Body the Temple of God — that same heavenly reality is revealed and given to you in the New Testament Tabernacle, which is the Body of Christ, His Church, in Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion.  That is where the Lord dwells with His people.  That is where His Name and His Glory are found, on earth as in heaven, that you might draw near to Him, derive your life from Him, and dwell with Him in peace.

And that is the Pattern which is also formed in you, which shapes your body and life in Christ, as you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him by the ongoing significance of your Baptism, and as you are given to eat and to drink the Fruits of His Cross and Passion, His Body and Blood.

The Pattern of this sacramental life is laid out for you by the Word of God in the basic catechesis of the Small Catechism, and it is exercised for you and given to you in the Divine Liturgy.

The Ten Commandments, to begin with, reveal the good and acceptable will of God for what a life of faith and love looks like.  They describe the life of Christ, first of all, which is also how you are to live in Christ, in faith toward God and in love toward your neighbor.  Certainly that is true with respect to the Second Table of the Law, as well.  But here I’m going to focus on the First Table.

The First Commandment commands you to worship the Lord, the one true God.  That is to kneel and bow down before Him in your heart, mind, body, and soul.  The Second Commandment directs you to sanctify His Name and use it rightly, which is to confess and call upon His Name at all times and in all places with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  And the Third Commandment calls you to rest from your own words and works, in order to give attention to His Word and to rest in His good works.  All three of these Commandments are thus fulfilled in the Liturgy, in which you worship God rightly by hearing His Word, receiving His good Gifts, calling on His holy Name, and resting yourself in the Body of Christ Jesus, the Sabbath who remains for the people of God.

In the Catechism the Creed comes next.  It is the Word of God, which He places on your lips to confess.  By speaking as He has spoken, not only do you praise and glorify His Name, but you also serve your neighbor, and you strengthen your own faith and life in Christ Jesus, by rehearsing what is most true and sure and certain.  You confess who God is and what He has done for the life and salvation of sinners, thereby echoing the Word of the Gospel that He has preached to you.  That is the Pattern of your Christian life, not only in the Liturgy, but throughout your days and weeks.

Likewise, in the Our Father, as a baptized child of God, you are taught and invited to pray to Him as your own dear Father.  So has He given you the very words with which to call upon His Name in Christ, the Son.  This, too, is a fundamental prayer of the Liturgy, and of the entire Christian life.

Then we have the Sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion, which are the foundation, heart, and soul of the entire Liturgy.  It is instructive that the Lutheran Church has identified these means of grace as being among the Chief Parts of the Christian faith and life.  They are fundamental to what it means to be a Christian, fundamental to who we are as the Church.  From your Baptism to and from the Lord’s Supper in the confession and forgiveness of your sins, that is the rhythm of the sacramental life, the structure of your life with God in Christ Jesus.

So the Pattern of the Christian life is set forth and taught in the Catechism.  But it is lived in the Liturgy.  That is where you are invited and drawn into the Pattern by the Word and Spirit of Christ.

The first part of the Liturgy mirrors the first three Commandments.  You come into the presence of God, in order to worship Him, because He is the Lord your God.  You pray, praise, and give thanks.  You kneel and bow down.  You call upon His Name in the rites of preparation, that is, the Invocation, Confession, and Absolution.  You call upon His Name in the Gloria in Excelsis and the Kyrie, the Introit, and the Collect.  And then you begin to find your Sabbath Rest in the Word that is read to you from the Holy Scriptures, which is preached to you in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus.  And it is the catechesis of that Word which brings you in repentant faith to the Table, where you actually do recline on Jesus, and you receive and eat and drink His Body and Blood.

Now, within this scope and sequence of the Liturgy, the Offertory Rites come between the Service of the Word and the Service of the Holy Communion.  It is the baptized faithful who thus confess the Creed, who pray and intercede for the Church and the world, who offer themselves and their substance for the glory of God and the good of their neighbor, and who then offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving as they approach the Lord’s Altar to receive all good things in His Body and Blood.

In these Offertory Rites, you are already doing those very things which you also continue to do as a Christian living in the world.  You confess the Word of God that you have heard.  You pray for your neighbors, for your family and friends, and even for your enemies and those who persecute you.  You dedicate and give yourself, your body and life, in service to God and your neighbors.  And you offer to the Lord your thanks and praise, in view of the fact that He gives you every good thing and all that you need in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

All of these activities, both within the Liturgy on the Lord’s Day and throughout the days of your week from Sunday to Sunday, are offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One who comes to visit you, who serves you and feeds you with Himself at His Table.  The Catechism and the Liturgy both culminate in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Holy Communion is also the high point of your Christian life.  You live to and from the Lord’s Altar, and everything you do and say is a sacrifice of thanksgiving for His Sacrament.

Think about it.  The Kingdom of God is already yours in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  So, it is in that confidence, in the gratitude that arises in response to that glorious grace of the Gospel, that you live your life to the glory of God and for the benefit of your neighbors.  You glorify God by keeping His Commandments, and you love and serve your neighbor according to God’s Word, because you lack no good thing in Christ Jesus.  You have nothing to prove.  You have no need to compete with anyone for anything.  You have it all in the Word and Flesh of the incarnate Son.


From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have called the Lord’s Supper “the Eucharist,” the Greek word for thanksgiving, first of all because Jesus Himself gives thanks in His institution of the Sacrament, and then also because this Holy Supper is the greatest and best Gift, the fulfillment and fruition of God’s good creation in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son.

It is not simply that the Church gives thanks in the celebration of the Sacrament.  It is rather that all thanksgiving finds its true beginning and its culmination in the Eucharist, because the Life of the New Creation finds its center there in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  It is, after all, the gift of God Himself in the flesh.  Throughout the heavens and the earth, there is no other part of creation that is also the Creator, given and poured out for His creatures, that He should live and abide in them, and they in Him.  Nothing else can even begin to compare to this most excellent and priceless Treasure.  But the Eucharist does not result in the despising or rejecting of creation!  No, it is the Eucharist that makes this poor life of labor, not only tolerable, but a wonderful blessing.

As you are given to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ — no matter what else may come your way or happen — you are able to say and to sing, “Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever,” because the pledge and promise of that reality is given to you in the Holy Communion.  Indeed, the Church gives thanks in the celebration of the Sacrament, not only because it is meet and right so to do, but in order to exercise and practice the giving of thanks at all other times and in all other places.  You learn to look at all of life, and to receive it, as a gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  For that is what it surely is.  And when everything is a gift, then there is nothing left for you to do, except to be giving thanks to the Giver of all good things.

It is thanksgiving that is always overflowing from the Eucharist into your whole week and the whole world.  And then it is always returning to the Eucharist, because that is where the Lord, the great Good Shepherd, has prepared His Table for you, His lavish Feast of the finest Wine and the choicest Meat, that you should there have joy and gladness in Him, in the presence of God, and in the face of all your enemies.  What can sin, death, the devil, or hell do to you, when the Blood of the Lamb not only marks your door but fills your body and soul with His own divine Life and every grace and blessing of God?  And what can man do to you, when you are fed with the Body of Christ, the incarnate God, as a pledge and a down payment on the resurrection of your body?

The eucharistic life that you live in and from the Sacrament of the Altar is firmly grounded in the confidence that everything is yours in Christ Jesus.  For the Lord your God has not only pledged Himself to you with His sure and certain Word, but He actually feeds you with His own holy Body and His precious Blood.  Thus do you stride forward with the bold courage of Joshua taking the Promised Land, knowing that the Lord is with you, that He fights for you, and that He withholds no good thing from you.  Thus are you absolutely and utterly free to live and to love without fear.

You are free to give yourself to and for others.  You are free to pour yourself out, even unto death.  You are free to lay down your body and life as a sacrifice.  You are free to forgive and gladly to do good to those who sin against you.  You are free to give up your ambitions in order to care for your family, to care for the stranger at your door, and to care for the Lazarus laid at your gate.

It is in such confidence and freedom that you give thanks to God in all that you do and say, at all times and in all places, because you discover in the Eucharist that all of creation is God’s good gift to you in Christ.  As you receive His Body and Blood with thanksgiving, so do you receive all things with thanksgiving, and you happily enjoy them and put them to use in faith and love.  Your fasting and prayer, your confession of God’s Word, your tithes and almsgiving, and all of your good works, all flow from the fact that you are in Christ, and Christ Jesus lives and abides in you.

You live this eucharistic life in the Cross and Resurrection of the same Lord Jesus Christ, not simply as historical events and intellectual facts, but by way of your Holy Baptism, by Confession and Absolution, and by participation in the Lord’s Supper.  It is the life of discipleship, which is to bear the Cross and to follow after Christ, sharing in His Baptism and drinking from His Cup.

Which is to say that living a eucharistic life is a daily practice for a faithful martyrdom, however that may come, as God so wills.  Perhaps not with a gun to your head or a sword at your neck, but yet by the daily drowning and dying of repentance, by the bearing of the Cross in faith and love.  Your thanksgiving to God is exercised and put into practice by dying to yourself and living unto Christ.  You cling to His Gospel, and you willingly let go of everything else, even your life in this world, as needs may be.  You love and forgive your neighbor, as the Lord Jesus does for you.

All of this you do and suffer in the hope and promise of the Resurrection, the pledge of which you have received in your Holy Baptism and in the Holy Communion.  Though you die with Christ, you know that you shall be raised with Him, as well, and glorified with Him in body and soul.  That is your comfort and your peace in the midst of all adversity.  And that is the comfort you are also then able to confess, by word and deed, to and for your neighbors in the world.

Living Sacrifice and Living Sacrament

As you receive Christ Jesus in His Word and Holy Sacraments, so do others receive the Love of God in Christ through you.  On the one hand you become a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12), and on the other hand you are a living sacrament of His grace, mercy, and peace to your neighbor.

If one considers the Old Testament, it becomes obvious that sacrifice is broader than offering and death.  It is also fellowship and life in the gifts of God, as that which has been offered is shared with the Lord, with His ministers, and with His people.  The Peace Offerings, in particular, were sacrifices of thanksgiving, which acknowledged and confessed the grace of God and the peace that He has obtained and bestows by His Gospel.  And those sacrifices always included a festive meal, in which family, friends, and neighbors were invited to participate in the good gifts of God.  Those gifts were sanctified by His Word and prayer; they were received and shared with thanksgiving.

So also for you, thanksgiving to the Lord is manifest, not only in the prayer and confession of His Word, the fruit of lips that praise His Name, but also in love for your neighbor.  To know and trust that everything you have is a gift from God, is also to understand that He provides for you so that you are able to love and serve the people He places alongside you in the world.  As you return thanks to the Lord and offer yourself in faith to Him, you also share what you have received with your neighbors in love.  You live and work for your neighbors in the peace that God has given you in Christ Jesus.  In particular, as you give thanks for the salutary Gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, you are strengthened by that Gift in faith toward God and in love for your neighbor.  And so is your neighbor served and strengthened by your love, unto faith and life with God in Christ.

You can see it exemplified in St. Polycarp of Smyrna, a beloved bishop and martyr of the second century.  His life and ministry, and especially his faithful martyrdom, are described in sacramental terms, as though he were becoming the Sacrament itself, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ, in his martyrdom.  It is clearly understood and expressed that he is not Christ, nor could he ever take the place of Christ, which is not the point at all.  It is rather that his entire life and ministry have been rooted in the giving and receiving of the Sacrament.  So, as he goes to his martyrdom in faith and love, he does so abiding in Christ, and Christ in him.  The Lord is with him in his death, so that he is sustained in his confession and witness, and countless others are strengthened by him.

Your own life, as well, is lived to and from the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, in such a way that you also become a living sacrifice of faith and thanksgiving, and a living sacrament of peace and love, as your body and life are conformed to the Pattern of Christ Jesus.  As He has given Himself for you on the Cross, and as He gives Himself to you in the Sacrament of the Altar, so does He offer you to the Father (in Himself) as an acceptable and pleasing sacrifice, and so does He give you to your neighbor as an instrument of His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

To be sure, you speak the Word of the Gospel to your neighbor, as you are given opportunity to do so.  And as a Christian, you forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  But your love and forgiveness are demonstrated, and the love of God is confessed and demonstrated, in all the ways that you serve and care for your neighbor in this body and life.  As you fulfill your stations in life, and as you provide for your neighbor’s needs, you are among the gifts of God for your neighbor.  All of this in spite of the fact that neither you nor your neighbor are worthy of these good things.

It is not unlike the way that St. Mary becomes a living sacrament of Christ when the Word of God is conceived in her womb and becomes true Man.  God the Father gives to us His only-begotten Son by this Woman through conception and birth.  And He gives Himself to your neighbor through you, through your words, through your hands and feet, through your callings and stations in life.
Such love for your neighbor is the fruit of Christ’s love for you in His Holy Supper.  As He serves you at His Table with His Body and Blood, so do you love and serve your neighbors in the world.

He says to His disciples, and so also to you: “I Am here at the Table to serve you.  I am with you as the One who serves.  So, you also serve one another.  As I have loved you, so love one another.”  So the very things that Christ Jesus does for you and gives to you in the Holy Communion, you in turn do for your brothers and sisters in Christ, for your neighbors in the world, because it is now Christ who lives in you, shaping and filling your entire life by the means of His Holy Sacrament.

“I Am the Vine, you are My branches,” says the Lord.  “He who abides in Me bears much fruit.”  As you abide in Him, therefore, by abiding in His Sacrament, He bears His good fruits in you.  As His Cup overflows for you, so does His Cup overflow in you for your neighbor.  For there is no end to the grace of God in Christ and the Gifts that He freely gives to you in love by His Word.

As the Church and the ministers of Christ administer the Sacrament in the Name and remembrance of Jesus, you likewise do what He does in remembrance of Him.  Not that you would presume to administer the Lord’s Supper apart from His Divine Call and Ordination to the Office of the Holy Ministry, but that you do for you neighbor what Christ Jesus does for you.  He washes your feet.  He feeds you with His Body and Blood.  So you also love your neighbor.  You do wash his feet, as needs may be, and there are those neighbors who need such help and assistance.  You love your neighbor by taking care of his body, and by taking care of his spiritual life through the confession of Christ’s holy Name.  You feed him when he’s hungry, you give him to drink when he’s thirsty.  You give your time and energy, and you pour out your body and life, in service to your neighbor.

Now, consider the various ways that Christ deals with you in the Sacraments: He visits you in mercy.  He sets you free from the bondage of your sin and death.  He reconciles you to Himself and to His Father.  He brings you into His House and clothes you with His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness.  He shelters you and feeds you at His own Table.  He heals you.

If you think about those things that He does and gives in Holy Baptism, in Holy Absolution, and in the Holy Communion — He visits you with charity, He covers your nakedness, He feeds and shelters you, He gives you drink, He heals and gives you life — what does all of that sound like?  Are these not the very things that Christ describes in St. Matthew 25, when He addresses His sheep and testifies to all that they have done for even the least of these, His brothers?  You live that life and do those works of love for your neighbor, because Christ Jesus does all of these things for you.

It is in this way that God takes His creation to Himself, and He redeems it and sanctifies it.  All of creation longs for the revealing of the sons of God.  And even now, though hidden under the Cross, the sons of God are being revealed, as Christ gives Himself to them in His Gospel, and as He then lives in them by grace.  It is a flesh and blood life that He lives in them, and they in Him.  It is real.  It is not just a message, but a life that is lived in the Body of Christ, to and from His Altar into the world.  For not only Christ, but His Body, the Church, is revealed in the Breaking of the Bread.

When a Christian lives faithfully, and suffers patiently, and does good for his neighbor, Christ be praised that He is thereby establishing and extending His Kingdom in this world, albeit hidden under His Cross.  So it is that Christ Jesus, who reigns over you in love from the Tree of His Cross, and whose Kingdom comes to you in your Baptism and in the Eucharist, comes with His Kingdom in the life of faith and love that you and all of His Christians now live in Him within the world.

The Grain of Wheat has died and bears abundant fruit.  Not only for you, but so also in your body and life.  In the confidence of your Baptism, dying and rising with Christ Jesus by His Word and Holy Spirit, you live a heavenly life within your place on earth.  You anticipate the Resurrection of the body, and you dwell by faith in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells, even as you live and serve, and suffer and die, in your mortal body here and now. 

That is no pretense.  For Paradise is reestablished within the Church on earth, the Tree of Life at its center in the Sacrament of the Altar.  As you eat and drink the Fruits of that Tree, the Medicine of Immortality, the Body and Blood of Christ, so do you bear good fruits after His own kind to the glory of His holy Name, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is one God, now and forever.

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