12 August 2018

The Living and Life-Giving Bread from Heaven

The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of St. Mary, has come down from the Father in heaven to be your Savior; and He is the One who promises and says: “I Am the Bread of Life.  He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”

You have come to Him, today as in the past, because the Father has called you and given you to Christ, His Son.  And you believe in Him, because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, and He has enlightened you with His gifts, even as He sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith.  None of this by your own knowledge, insight, or understanding, but by the Self-revelation and calling of the Lord, the one true God, in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus.

The One who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do all that He has spoken.  You shall by no means be cast out.  The Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise is not barred to you.  The Fruits of that Tree are given and poured out for you to eat and drink, that you should not hunger or thirst, nor lack any good thing.  You shall not perish but live.  For Christ the Lord, to whom the Father has given you in love, as a Bride to her Bridegroom, will surely raise you up on the Last Day.

But for now, from the waters of your Holy Baptism you have come to Him in the wilderness.  And here, it would seem, there is rather a lot of hunger and thirst.  Indeed, you are hungry and thirsty, not only in your body, but also in your heart and mind.  So many wants and needs, so many hurts and sorrows, in yourself and in your neighbors, all of them gnawing away at your confidence.

There are ways in which you suffer precisely because of your faithfulness.  You suffer hardship and contempt on account of the Name of Christ which you bear.  You suffer because you are a Christian.  And in the face of that kind of treatment, because your flesh is so weary and so weak, there are those times in this body and life when you would just as soon give up, give in, and die.

At those times, to be sure, but even at the best of times, you are not so faithful as you ought to be.  Instead of steadfast faith and confident trust in the Lord, you harbor doubts and fears, frustrations and disappointments, discouragements, and threats of dark despair.  Against those who have failed you or hurt you in various ways, you harbor anger, resentment, and bitterness.  Instead of speaking with grace, forgiveness, and peace, you grumble and complain and utter harsh and spiteful words.  You harden your heart against your neighbors in the world, though you are called and taught to love them for the sake of Christ Jesus; and you thereby harden your heart against the Lord your God, the very Father of all mercies and God of all comfort.

You do not yet see, therefore, what your eyes long to see, neither in yourself nor in your life, nor in the world around you.  And it is so very hard to wait patiently and peacefully upon the Lord.

Your belly may be momentarily filled and satisfied from time to time, or painfully stuffed to the point that you can’t imagine another bite.  But it isn’t long before it starts growling and rumbling once again.  And even when your body is full, your heart and mind still hunger for peace and rest.

Why should you not just give up and die?  That is the question of your old Adam, at least at those times when you are not striving to make a god out of yourself.  From towering pride to the pits of despair in barely a heartbeat.  But what is the use, after all?  What point is there in trying?

Your fathers ate their daily bread.  Whether they prayed or not, whether they were evil or good, God the Father in heaven, the Creator and Preserver of all things, opened His hand to feed them, to shower them with sunshine and rain, to give them everything they needed for this body and life.  Yes, indeed.  Your fathers ate their daily bread — and they still died, just as you are in the process of dying, fast or slow, no matter what you do, regardless of your diet, exercise, or health plan.

How in the world are you supposed to survive and live?  Eat, drink, and be merry, and tomorrow you still die.  Or stop eating altogether and starve yourself to death.  What difference does it make?

Even though Jesus says and promises that those who come to Him and eat this Bread, which is His Flesh, shall not die but live forever, you know that Christians also suffer and die, they get sick and return to the dust of the earth.  So, it seems on the surface to make no difference at all, what you think or say or do, what you believe or receive.

But now, come and take your rest under the Tree of the Cross.  For that is where you live, and that is where you die, and by that Tree you shall rise again.  Even now, it shelters you and shades you, even when you are at your lowest and your worst, ready to give up and die in disgust.

By its abundant Fruit, by the Bread of this Tree, by the Blood of this true Vine, you are nourished in body and soul, not only for the here and now, but unto the resurrection and life everlasting.  For the Son of God shall raise you up on the Last Day, even forevermore.  So, even though you die, yet shall you live.  Death will not have the last word concerning you.  Christ is God’s Word to you and concerning you, and His Flesh and Blood are the surety and down payment on that Word and promise.  He is your daily Bread, your Meat and Drink indeed, by which you have life with God.

Consider that this same Lord Jesus Christ has suffered and died for you in tender-hearted kindness, in mercy and compassion, with great love for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

His Cross and Passion, His suffering and death were not meaningless or pointless, nor without hope.  These were, instead, a sweet-smelling sacrifice and offering, by which you are beloved and well-pleasing to His God and Father.  You know that is true, because God has raised this same Jesus from the dead, never to die again.  This same Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came down from heaven and became flesh, who took your sins upon Himself and died in your place — He has risen from the dead.  Therefore, you also rise from the death of your sin to live with God in Him.

As you are baptized into Christ Jesus, into His Cross and Resurrection, lay aside what is past and perishing.  Die to yourself, to the desires of your fallen flesh, to your sins, and to the habits and vices of this world.  And live unto God in Christ, in the righteousness of faith, in self-sacrificing love, in accordance with your calling as a Christian, as a disciple of Christ Jesus.  Bear the Cross in the hope and promise of the Resurrection, and be at peace with your neighbors.  Do not give yourself over to anger or despair, but speak the Word that gives life in the holiness of the Truth.

Your life is not your own (thank God!), but you are the Lord’s.  Whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.  And He has called you to live in peace, in faith, hope, and love, in Christ Jesus.  To suffer and even to die, in and with Him, that you might be glorified in Him and live in Him, not only some day, faraway in the sweet by and by, but here and now, under the Cross, by faith in Him.

The truth is that you are not cast aside or left alone in what you suffer.  You are not abandoned.  You are not forgotten.  What you may suffer as a consequence of your sins is a discipline for your good, unto repentance and new life in the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  And what you suffer in faith and love, as a Christian, is for the glory of God and for the good of your neighbor.

In any event, you do not suffer for yourself, nor by yourself, and you do not die alone.  As you have been crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ by your Baptism in His Name, so is your life now hidden with Christ in God forever.  It is not death but life that endures for you in Christ.

He who for your sake died and was raised strengthens and sustains you here under the Tree of His Cross, even here in the wilderness of this world, in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Lord Jesus loves you.  He is kind and merciful.  He does forgive you all your sins.  He is and does all the things for you that you have failed to be and do for your family, friends, and neighbors.  And as He suffered and died for your sins, and for the sins of the whole world, in His faithfulness and righteousness, so has He risen from the dead for your justification in the presence of God.

The Father has given Him from heaven for you, in the flesh, in order to save you.  To give you life.  For that is His good and gracious will!  That is the very thing that God most desires to do.  And He does it, at the cost of His own dear Son, His most priceless Treasure.

He stretches out His hand to you in Christ, in order to lay hold of you in love.  To raise you up.  To strengthen you in both body and soul, for this life and for the life everlasting.

And see here, Christ Jesus feeds you with His own flesh and blood, which He has given once for all upon the Cross, and which He still gives within His Church on earth, that all might live in Him.

Arise, therefore, and eat!  And drink from His hand, from His overflowing Chalice of Salvation.  Take your rest here at His Altar, under the Tree of His Cross, that He should give you His own life and sustain you on the way that He has set before you within your callings and stations on earth.

The journey through the wilderness is too much for you to travel by yourself.  But with this Food and Drink, the Lord Jesus travels with you every step of the way.  He bestows His Spirit upon you by His Word and with His Flesh, and He thereby keeps you steadfast and upholds you in the one true faith.  He will not let go of you, but He shall raise you up in glory like unto His own.

On the way, then, be imitators of God, as the Lord has admonished you this morning through His servant, St. Paul.  Not by your own wisdom, reason, and strength, which cannot help but fail you, but by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ — nourished and sustained by His Word of the Gospel, by His forgiveness of all your sins, by His Life-giving Holy Spirit, and by His Flesh and Blood.

Live in your body, here and now, as the Son of God lives in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, that is, by faith in the Father, and in love for the Father and for all His children in the world, and for all those whom He would yet call to be His own.

Live as Christ has lived for you, has died for you, and has risen from the dead to live in love for you forevermore.  And as you live in Him, know that even death shall never be able to separate you from God’s Love for you in Him.  That is your perfect peace and confidence, throughout your life, and even in the face of death.  For though you die, yet shall you live.  In Christ you shall not die.

Awake and arise, eat and drink, rejoice, give thanks, and sing.  And live in the way of the Lord, according to His Word and Promise.  For with this Living and Life-giving Bread of Christ Jesus, with which the Father feeds you from heaven, you come to the Mountain of God, to share in the great Feast that He has prepared for you and all the nations in the Body and Blood of His Son.

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

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