25 November 2018

Watchful, Awake, and Alert in the Hour of Christ

The Word of our Lord this morning is a continuation of the Word we heard from Him last Sunday.  It follows His final departure from the Temple in Jerusalem, with His Cross and Passion right on the horizon.  It concludes His response to the disciples’ question concerning the destruction of the Temple: “When will these things be? And what will be the signs when they are being fulfilled?”

Understand that several significant events kaleidoscope together in these Words and warnings of the Lord Jesus.  He addresses not only the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple in particular, but also the final Judgment of the world and, above all, His own approaching sacrifice upon the Cross.  It is His Cross that really defines and governs those other events.  And it is solely by His Cross and Passion that you are prepared, made watchful, alert, and ready, for your own death and judgment.

It is the Crucifixion of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, which fulfills and supercedes and renders obsolete the Temple in Jerusalem.  And it is the rejection of that same Lord Jesus Christ and His Cross which brings the judgment of God upon that once holy City, put to the sword and leveled to the ground a few decades later.  For it is by the Cross of Christ that God has atoned for the sins of all people and reconciled the world to Himself; and it is thus by His Cross that all people are judged, either righteous by faith or condemned in their sinful unbelief.

By faith in Him, crucified and risen from the dead, you have nothing to fear in the Judgment, but only a glorious confidence and blessed hope, as sure and certain as Christ Himself.  Thus does He admonish you to watch and to wait upon His coming, whenever that Day and that Hour shall be.

To watch, to be alert, and to pray.  That is the Christian faith and life to which the Lord Jesus calls you this morning.  Not only for a season, but all year long, and really throughout your life.  For with this exhortation He summarizes and describes the keeping of the first Three Commandments.

To watch, to be alert, and to pray, is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Above your job and your income.  Above your house and home and all your stuff.  Above your own thoughts and feelings and opinions, and above your family and friends and what they would have you do.  And thus to worship and rely upon the Lord alone as your true and only God means that you call upon His Name at all times and in all circumstances, be they good or bad, with your prayers and petitions, your praise and thanksgiving.  And that means that you must give attention to His Word and the preaching of it, gladly hearing and learning all that He says to you.  For it is only by His Word and Spirt that you fear, love, and trust in God, and that you call upon His Name in faith.

To live in this way is to live as a Christian disciple of Christ Jesus, watchful and alert each day and hour of your life, hearing and heeding His Word; clinging to His Word — and so clinging to Him — with all that you are and have; confessing His Name and praying to Him by faith in His Word.

“Take heed,” therefore.  “Watch and pray!”  Thus says the Lord.  For you do not know when the Judgment will be, but He would have you number your days and know that your life is fleeting.

Remember that, when Jesus first spoke these Words, it was only a matter of days and hours before He would be handed over to His death.  It was so essential that His disciples be alert, and watch, and pray, that they should not fall into temptation in the face of His Cross and Passion.  It is no less essential for you, now, as you bear His Cross and follow after Him, lest you fall away and be lost.

Of course, if you consider those disciples in the days that followed, then you will know how badly they failed in every respect, and how they fell asleep on their watch at that most critical Hour.

The Master of the House had departed from His Temple in Jerusalem, and the disciples did not yet know when the Lord would raise up the Temple of His Body.  He would go away to the far country of death and the grave, and then He would come again, suddenly, in the power of His Resurrection.  They knew not when it would occur, and yet, they were surrounded on all sides by the signs of His coming: at evening, at midnight, at cockcrow, and in the morning.

It was “at evening” when Jesus first celebrated and instituted His Holy Supper, thereby replacing the Temple and the sacrifices of the Old Testament with Himself.  As He was handed over by His Father to His voluntary suffering and death upon the Cross, He handed over His Body and Blood to His disciples (and so through them to His Church of all times and places).  He thus made explicit the journey that He was undertaking, as well as the divine significance of His approaching Cross.  It should therefore have woken the disciples up to the utter seriousness of that Day and that Hour.  Instead, those who were closest to the Lord Jesus failed Him in every way, and He was left alone.

It was “at midnight” when Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane on that same night, and He asked His disciples, Peter, James, and John, in particular, to watch with Him and pray.  And you know what happened, how they fell asleep, not once, not twice, but three times over.  Their spirits were willing, but their flesh was weak, as your flesh also is weak.  Not only that, but it was in that very Hour when Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, betrayed His Friend and Master with a kiss.

It was “at cockcrow,” while Jesus was being falsely accused, derided, mocked, and beaten, that Simon Peter denied even knowing the Man, cursing and swearing to that effect in his fear.  And of course, by that point, everyone else but St. John had already run away and fled into the night.

And it was finally “in the morning” when Jesus was then handed over to the governor, Pontius Pilate, by the chief priests, scribes, and pharisees, who should have been the watchmen of Israel.

Now, then, it’s easy enough to point fingers and find fault, especially from our vantage point in retrospect.  But surely you know better than that.  As the Lord’s own Apostles were unable to stay awake, alert, and watchful in that day and at that hour, do not suppose that you would have done any better then; and do not imagine that you do any better, even now, by any power of your own.

The truth is that only the Lord Jesus has remained steadfast in His faithful vigil.  In the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow, and in the morning, He was always watching, always alert, always in prayer.  His submitted Himself at all times to the Will of His God and Father.  That is why even He, the incarnate Son, did not know the Day or the Hour.  He rather lived His life in the flesh, and He went to His death on the Cross, in the same way that you are called to live and die, that is, by faith alone, not trusting in Himself but in the Word and Spirit of God.  So, too, with His prayer in the Garden (while His disciples were resting and sleeping), the Lord Jesus entrusted Himself entirely to the purposes of God, willingly taking and drinking the Cup of wrath and Judgment.

And so it was that, when that Day and that Hour came, Jesus alone was watchful and alert, awake and ready.  Not by an exercise of His divine prerogatives, by His might and power and knowledge as the very Son of God in the flesh, but rather as the true and perfect Man, by faith in His Father.

It is in Him, therefore, that both the necessary watchfulness of faith and the final Judgment of God have already been fulfilled and satisfied for you and all people.  For He has given Himself to suffer the entire punishment of hell for the sins of the entire world, the sins of Adam and Eve and all their children down to the close of the age.  But notwithstanding all of that, He alone has lived perfectly the life that you could not — the life of holy faith, of fear, love, and trust in God above all things, of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and of constant attention to the Word and promises of God.

The watchfulness to which you are called by the Word and Spirit of God — the patient forbearance of the Cross in your body and life, from the waters of the font to the dust and the dirt of your grave — it is all made possible for you by Christ Jesus.  His watchfulness and His bearing of the Cross strengthen and sustain you in the Word and faith of God through His forgiveness of your sins.

It was “in the morning” that Jesus was handed over to Pilate on Good Friday; but then it was also “in the morning” that the women discovered His empty tomb on Easter Sunday.  And it is in the power and promise of His Resurrection that you are woken up and raised from the death of your sin to the morning of His Life.  It is likewise in the power and promise of His Resurrection that the Hour of His Cross is proclaimed as the judgment and defeat of sin, death, the devil, and hell, and so also as the Day of righteousness, life, and salvation for you and all who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is by His Cross and Resurrection that you and His entire Church on earth are made watchful, alert, and awake for His coming, now in the Ministry of His Word and Sacrament, and in His glory at the last, when He shall raise the dead and give life to all who are His own.

So were the Apostles prepared by their Lord, Jesus Christ, to be His faithful servants and the door-keepers of His new House, which is the holy Christian Church.  And those same holy Apostles, as well as the ministers of Christ to this day, prepare the entire Household of the Church by the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, by the speaking of His Word of Absolution, by the washing of the water with the Word in His Name, and by the feeding of His Christians with His Body and His Blood in remembrance of Him.  The administration of those various means of grace is the work and responsibility entrusted to the servants of Christ who are called to be pastors of His Church.

But the watchfulness to which Apostles and pastors are exhorted is a watchfulness also demanded of all disciples of Christ Jesus, each of you in your own place, your own office and station in life.

For each and every one of you, that watchfulness begins and continues in the faithful use of the Word and Sacraments of Christ, as those gifts are given and received in His Name in the Life and Liturgy of His Church.  For just as the Old Testament people of God were prepared for the coming of the Christ by the Temple and its sacrifices, so are you prepared for the coming of Christ Jesus by His coming to you now in those ways and means which have superceded and replaced the Temple in Jerusalem, namely, the Divine Service of preaching and the Holy Communion.  That is where and how the Holy Trinity makes His Name and His Glory available to you, where you are given to eat and to drink of the Sacrifice that Christ Jesus offered for you and for all on the Cross.

Thus are you exhorted, now more than ever, to watch, to be alert, and to pray, that you might cling to the sure and certain hope that is yours in Christ Jesus, and hear and receive His many good gifts of forgiveness and life and salvation, and rejoice all your days in His grace, mercy, and peace.

By the same token, as you are faithfully served by the Lord Jesus Christ in this way and through these means, so does He also serve others and prepare them for His final Judgment through you, through your words and actions in His Name and by His Spirit.  For just as you hear and receive the Word and Sacraments of Christ Jesus in the Liturgy of His Gospel, so do you become a kind of living Word and Sacrament of Christ for those who live outside of His Church.  The Lord thus comes to them through you, that He might bring them into His House, and there prepare them by the preaching of His Gospel and the nourishment of His Holy Supper for His coming in glory.

Of course, your watchfulness and your service to others are not what they should be.  Even at your best, you are doing nothing more than what is your duty.  And the fact of the matter is that, even as a Christian, you continue to sin every day in your thoughts, words, and deeds, falling far short of the glory of God in what you do and say, and in all that you fail to do in love for God and others.

But where your watchfulness and service are always so weak and pathetic, the Lord’s watchfulness and His Divine Service are always trustworthy and certain.  He continues to prepare you by His preaching of repentance unto faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  He has already satisfied the Judgment of God by His sacrifice upon the Cross, and in your Holy Baptism He has granted you eternal life with God by His Cross and Resurrection.  And now, again this morning, He feeds you with Himself in that great Feast which goes on forever in His Paradise; so that already here and now is that Day and that Hour in which you are called to share in His divine Life and Salvation.

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

21 November 2018

Give Thanks unto the Lord, for He Is Good

“O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.”

Indeed, the Lord is good.  And as the Catechism has taught you, He gives daily bread, even without your prayer, also to all the wicked — just as He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good.  But He would have you to pray to Him, that by His Word and Holy Spirit you would recognize His grace and mercy and receive His many good gifts with thanksgiving.

It is for this very purpose that we are here this evening, that we should be catechized by the Word of the Lord to know and believe and confess that every good and perfect gift is from above — all that you need for this body and life, and all that you need for the life and salvation to come; and that we, in return, should give to Him the only thing we have to offer: Thanksgiving for His gifts.

As we sing and confess with the entire Church in heaven and on earth in the celebration of the Holy Communion, “It is truly meet, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God, our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

It is for that reason that one common name for the Holy Communion, from very early on, has been the Eucharist, the Greek word for “thanksgiving,” as when the Lord Jesus Himself gave thanks at the Last Supper.  The fundamental pattern of the entire Christian faith and life is there rooted and expressed in the giving and receiving of the Lord’s Body and His Blood with thanksgiving.

As you have heard from St. Paul in his Epistle to St. Timothy, he urges “first of all” that prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all people, including rulers and authorities, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who by His Cross has reconciled the world to God the Father.  And so does the Apostle go on to write in the same Epistle, that everything created by God is good; it is all to be received with thanksgiving and sanctified to our use by the Word of God and prayer.

Thus are you catechized, not only in the celebration of the Sacrament but throughout your life, to recognize and give thanks for the gracious hand of God in the food that you eat, the clothes that you wear, the home that shelters you, and the family, friends, and neighbors who surround you.

The blessed truth is that, in the Lord’s Creation and Preservation of all things, including your body and soul, your eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, you experience and receive the same fatherly, divine goodness and mercy that you receive in His forgiveness of your sins.  Not that it is the same gift, but it is the same grace of the same God.  For just as the Lord feeds and clothes the earth and all its creatures, the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air, and just as He feeds and clothes you for this body and life on earth, so does He also feed and clothe you with His forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation here in His House, the holy Temple of His Church.

Unfortunately, as thanksgiving resides in the heart of faith and rises from it in gratitude and love, so it is that, from your heart of sin, you fail to acknowledge the constant grace and providence of the Holy Triune God.  You are rather prone to pride yourself in all the good that you enjoy, while blaming God and others for whatever bad that you suffer.  Perhaps it even takes a national holiday to remind you of your duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey the Lord your God for all His gifts and benefits.  God grant that you do so according to His Word, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a sinner, you are constantly in need of such reminders of God’s grace, for your fallen flesh is always inclined to turn away from the Lord while you vainly attempt to make and preserve a life for yourself.  Like Adam and Eve, instead of rejoicing in all that God has freely bestowed, you choose to live as a god unto yourself, despite the fact that every breath you take is from the Lord.

It is by His Word and Spirit that the Lord in His mercy turns you back around — by His Word and Spirit that He pulls you out of your own heart and head, and turns you away from sin and death — that you might receive the life that He bestows upon you in humble faith and with thanksgiving.

By His Word of the Law, on the one hand, the Spirit exposes the depths of your sin and the utter futility of trying to make it through life on your own.  He brings you to that sobering knowledge, not only by the preaching of the Scriptures, but also by confronting you with the challenges of mortal life in a perishing world, with poverty, hunger, sickness, and so many griefs and sorrows.

By the preaching of the Gospel, on the other hand, the Spirit presents you with the one and only solution to your otherwise hopeless condition.  For the Gospel conveys that Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the living God, has taken all the challenges of life and death upon Himself, bearing them all in His Body to the Cross.  And in His Resurrection, by the Word and Sacrament of His Gospel, He bestows upon your body and soul the free and full forgiveness of His Cross.

He gives it all to you by grace.  The Lord your God, the blessed Holy Trinity, cleanses you of sin and washes you like a newborn infant in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  He proclaims Himself, His love and mercy, through your ears and into your heart and life by the Word of Christ.  And He lays the life-giving treasures of His Cross upon your lips and tongue in the Holy Communion.

Thus, by way of the Law, the Lord is always driving you and forcing you back to the Cross of Christ; and by the Gospel of His Cross He raises you up to newness of life in His Resurrection.

Even so, the sad reality is that the vast majority of people do not receive their “daily bread” with thanksgiving.  As we have heard in the example of those ten lepers whom Jesus healed.  They all received that gracious gift of God in Christ Jesus, but only the one worshiped Him with thanks.

In much the same way, there is no one in this world who has not received everything he or she has from the gracious Maker and Preserver of all things.  And yet, how many refuse to acknowledge His grace and His gifts with thanksgiving?  And how often do you also fail to give Him thanks?

It remains the case, at all times and in all places, that only by the work of the Spirit through the Law and the Gospel are you delivered from your ingratitude and the hardness of your heart.  And that is true, not only for you, but likewise for your neighbors in the world.  The Law, to be sure, is already working on everyone in the challenges of this mortal life, but the saving promises of the Gospel remain hidden until they are confessed in the words and actions of Christians like yourself.

Indeed, you exercise your gratitude to the Lord your God in no better way than by demonstrating the forgiveness, love, and mercy of Christ Jesus in dealing with your neighbors.  And then, by the grace of God, perhaps your words and actions of love will lead your neighbors to the House of the Lord, that they also might receive His Gospel–Word and Sacraments with faith and thanksgiving.

Thus do we confess with the Psalmist: “Blessed are those whom the Lord so chooses and causes to approach; for they shall be satisfied with the goodness of His House and of His holy Temple.”

Bearing that blessing in mind, consider what you have heard from Deuteronomy tonight, in which the Lord instructs you in the Christian faith and life by the example of His dealings with Israel.  For it is a description of His Law and His Gospel actively at work in the history of His People.

During their forty years of wandering in the desert, following the Exodus from Egypt, He humbled them with His Law; He allowed them to go hungry, that they might feel their need for Him and for His providence.  Then He fed them with manna from heaven, a miraculous bread of life, given by His Word of promise, that they might learn to trust His grace and lean upon His Word at all times.

In this way, says the Lord, the people were disciplined to live as the children of God.  And having become His children by the grace of His Word and Spirit, they were given the Land of Promise, a Land flowing with milk and honey, in which they enjoyed the blessings of their heavenly Father.

In all of this, you are hearing not only the story of ancient Israel, but also a description of your own Christian life.  For you also are disciplined as a child of God by His Law, and fed by His Gospel.  You also are nourished with the Living Bread from Heaven, set before you by His gracious Word of Promise: “Take, eat, drink; this is My Body, this is My Blood, given and poured out for you.”

Having become His child by the washing of the water with His Word, you are on a pilgrimage with Christ Jesus, through the wilderness, into the Good Land of everlasting Milk and Honey.  And on the way, even now in the midst of sin and death, by faith you are able to see and acknowledge the hand of your dear God and Father in all the temporal blessings of this body and life, as well.

And as the Lord Himself has promised, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good Land He has given you,” here in time, and hereafter in eternity.

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

18 November 2018

The Lord Jesus Christ Endures to the End

The Temple in Jerusalem was a magnificent thing.  It’s no wonder the disciples were impressed.  The massive stones of the Temple buildings were beautiful white marble, adorned with gold and very strong.  Some of the stones were as large as semi trucks.  Certainly, the Temple was the match of any pyramid in Egypt, and it was rightly considered one of the great wonders of the world!

But out of this great Temple steps a Carpenter from Nazareth, days away from being crucified.  Earlier that week He threw the money changers out of the Temple courtyard; and now it sounds like He’s ready to tear the whole place down.  As Jesus leaves the Temple for the very last time, His final words are a cry of anguish: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.  Your beautiful house will be left a deserted place!”  Not one stone of this great building will be left upon another!

The words of Jesus must have stung the ears of those who heard them, not least of all His own disciples.  The Temple was the heart and center of the Jewish faith.  Not only were the buildings magnificent, but more important, the priests who served the Temple offered up the sacrifices that the Lord had commanded through Moses.  How and why would Jesus criticizes the Temple?

The thing is that God, the Lord, had commanded the sacrifice of lambs and sheep and goats and bulls to prepare His people for the Sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God, for the sins of the world.  The Temple priests came every day to offer up those sacrifices in the Name of the Lord, but none of those sacrifices could redeem the world from sin forever.  They were a shadow and a preview of the sacrificial Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the whole world in His Body on the Cross.

Sadly, when the Christ of God appeared in the flesh, the people of God were largely unwilling to receive Him.  The long-awaited Savior was rejected by the majority of His own nation.  After all those years, the Jewish people by and large missed the point of their own history and religion.

Instead of looking at the sacrifices in the Temple as a Gospel proclamation of the coming Savior, most of the people saw them as a way of buying God off.  Their whole point and purpose had been in preparation for the Christ, the Messiah.  Once He had come in the flesh and been rejected, all that remained of the sacrifices was an empty and pointless shell.  Those who persisted in relying on the Temple and its sacrifices were bastardizing the Gospel into a means of self-righteousness.

But how often aren’t you guilty of doing the very same thing?  How often do you come to Church, not to receive the blessings of God, but rather to appease Him (or impress others) by going through the motions?  How often do you come to the Lord’s Supper, not because you need the forgiveness of His Body and Blood, but instead because you wonder and worry what everyone will be thinking if you do not?  How often do you blasphemously treat your Holy Baptism as a license to continue in your sins, instead of exercising its real significance in repentance and confession of your sins?

Do not allow the shadows of the Temple to eclipse the Gospel of the Lord.  For you are a sinner, and what you need is His forgiveness.  As a son or daughter of Adam, you are born in bondage to sin and death, and only God can set you free.  There is nothing you can do or give to save yourself.  Christ alone has done it all.  Everything else, like the Temple, will be left deserted and torn down.

The sacrifices of the Temple were brought to an end in the Year of our Lord 70, when the Roman army destroyed the city of Jerusalem.  To this day, the Temple has not been rebuilt, the sacrifices have not been restored.  But even if men were to rebuild the Temple and attempted to offer the Old Testament sacrifices as before, it would all be for nothing and a sinful rejection of Christ Jesus, who has already offered Himself once-for-all upon the Cross.  There is no other sacrifice for sin.

Jesus Christ alone has stood the test of sin and death, and only those who endure steadfast in Him will survive until the end and be saved.  There is forgiveness and salvation nowhere else.  Not in the massive stones of magnificent Temple buildings.  Not in the good works that you or anyone else might do.  Not in the spiritual charade of a pietistic life.  But only in the Sacrifice of Christ.  By His voluntary suffering and death, He has made Atonement for the sins of the entire world.

God’s wrath and judgment against sin have thus been set aside forever, having been spent upon the Son in His Cross and Passion.  And yet, as the words of the Prophets and Christ Himself have warned, there will be a Day of Judgment for the living and the dead.  The destruction of Jerusalem is only the beginning, a miniature foretaste of that devastating final judgment at the end of days.

Christ has made Atonement for the sins of the world by His holy and precious Blood, and by His innocent suffering and death.  The final Judgment will thus turn on where you stand in relation to that same Lord Jesus Christ.  Jerusalem was destroyed because the majority of its inhabitants rejected Him and His Gospel.  So, too, those who will be condemned in the Day of Judgment are those who have persisted in their rejection of the very One who died to redeem and save them.

In the meantime, to be sure, your sin is still sin.  It offends the holy and righteous God, and He calls you to repentance for it by the preaching of His Word.  He also disciplines you, as a father disciplines his children, in love.  He punishes your sin in this body and life, not to the extent that you deserve, but that you might recognize its wrongness and its danger, and that you might turn away from your sins to the mercies of God in Christ, that you might live in faith and love.  For the fact is that persistence in your sins — in doing what you should not and failing to do what you should — is destructive of your faith and life and drives the Holy Spirit from your body and soul.

Those potential consequences of sin in your body and life are evident in the signs of the end that Jesus describes in His Word this morning.  It is a sinful world, and the consequences of sin are all around you: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines, hurricanes and devastating fires.  There are no lack of nations rising against nations, of kingdoms rising and falling.  Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed the Word of the Lord and fell into sin, the history of their children has been full of death and destruction.  And all who cling to this perishing world perish along with it.

Dr. Luther, considering the trials and tribulations of his tumultuous day and age, remarked that, “The world cannot stand long, perhaps a hundred years, at most.”  But really, truth be told, every Christian from the Twelve Apostles onward has looked for the Day of Judgment to come at any time.  The signs have certainly been there all along, and they continue going on even to this day.

Those signs of God’s judgment should keep you mindful of your sin, and of your need for the Lord Jesus Christ.  The tragedies of life call you to repentance and drive you to the Gospel of His Cross.  And all the sufferings of this body and life are reminders that this present evil age is coming to an end, and that salvation is on the horizon.  As labor pains alert a woman to the time of her delivery, so do the pains of this world remind you that God is giving birth to new heavens and a new earth.

Even common sense should therefore warn you not to place your confidence and hope in anything but Christ and His Word.  For just as the massive stones of the beautiful Temple were finally thrown down and wrecked, so are all things of this earth eventually thrown down and destroyed.  Kingdoms do rise and fall, nations come and go, buildings collapse, and even the most powerful of people die.  The good works of today give way to the wickedness of tomorrow.  Christ Jesus alone stands head and shoulders over everything, always the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Despite what such logic and sound theology should tell you, it is still too often the case that you end up drifting, taking your stand on shifting sands instead of resting yourself in Christ.  You rely on your own wisdom, reason, and strength to secure God’s favor and forgiveness, even as the Jews relied on the Temple and rejected the Messiah.  And you are too easily persuaded and led astray by the flash and fiction of those who reject the Gospel in favor of the monuments of this world.

How on earth shall you endure in Christ alone, and finish the race, and make it to the end?  How shall you resist the temptations of those who would lead you astray?  The answer is surprisingly simple.  It is by going to that place where Christ Himself has promised to protect you.  By hiding in the bosom of His Church, the House that He has established on the Rock of His own choosing, which He has promised to guard against even the powers and gates of hell itself.  That Rock is the Ministry of His Gospel-Word and Sacraments, by which He comes to you and deals with you in mercy, in order to grant you faith and forgiveness, to give you Life and Salvation in His Body.

Beginning with His Twelve Apostles, Christ Jesus has sent His preachers into all the world.  And what a joy it is to preach and minister in His Name, to bring His means of grace to those in need, to forgive sins in His Name and stead.  As you have heard this morning from the Prophet Daniel, those who thereby lead the many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever.

So it was that, already in your Baptism, you were crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, united with Him in His Cross and Sacrifice.  As the called and ordained servant of Christ administered the water in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, you entered the tomb on Good Friday and rose with Christ Jesus on Easter morning.  You emerged from the water, a member of Christ’s Church, a beloved child of His God and Father, and a partaker of His Spirit.

Likewise, in the Holy Absolution spoken by your pastor, it is the gentle voice of the Lord Jesus that you hear and receive, granting you the forgiveness of all your many sins, and sustaining you with His Peace and with the sure and certain promise of the Resurrection.  What greater comfort could there be for those seeking shelter from the storms of life?  For we believe, teach, and confess that, when the called ministers of Christ deal with you by His Word, it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ your dear Lord dealt with you in Person.  That is not “make believe” or “let’s pretend.”  It is in fact precisely Christ who is with you and gives you life in this way.

And in the Lord’s own Holy Supper, you receive again and again the very same Body and Blood that He sacrificed for you and all upon the Cross, here given and poured out for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Here you find and receive the Lord Jesus Himself, in the flesh, in the Breaking of the Bread.  Here at His Altar, with His own flesh and blood, He strengthens your faith to keep you standing steadfast in His Word until the end.  Your sin is covered by His Righteousness, and your guilt is washed away forever by the working of His Holy Spirit.  For here is your robe, your refuge, and your peace, the Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, which cleanses you of all your sins.

It is all quite steady and strong, because the Church of Christ does not stand on massive stones, she is not girded by concrete and steel.  She rests and remains upon the Ministry of Christ in His Gospel-Word and Sacrament.  There is no army that will ever penetrate that Mighty Fortress.

With what, then, has that magnificent Temple in Jerusalem been replaced?  With the Body of the Lord, crucified and risen from the dead.  And so also with you and all the people of God, who are collectively the Body and Bride of Christ Jesus, our Lord.  In the waters of Holy Baptism, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you have become one of those living stones which, by the Ministry of His Gospel, are being built into a spiritual Temple, with Jesus Christ Himself the Chief Cornerstone.

As you belong to the living Temple of the living Lord Jesus, you now live wherever God has put you on this earth, proclaiming the praises of Him who has called you out of the darkness of your sin and death into His marvelous Light; who has called you from the false hopes and misleading lies of the world to endure until the end in Christ. For He has endured in perfect faith and holy love, even unto death, and in His Resurrection He has entered the Holy of Holies on your behalf.  In His Body and His Blood, by faith in His Word, you now live and abide with God in heaven.

And so it is that the disciples of Christ Jesus, living by faith under His Cross in the hope of His Resurrection, now stand back in awe and admiration of the living stones and the spiritual Temple which are His Holy Christian Church, on earth as it is in heaven:  “Look, Teacher.  What massive stones!  What a magnificent building!”  Yes, indeed.  For these are they who have come out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.  And those who are righteous by faith shine like the Son in the Kingdom of His God and Father.

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

11 November 2018

One Gave All

When you consider the holy martyrs of Christ, or the veterans of our country who have died in battle, it does not matter at all how rich or poor they were, because they have given, not a gift or a token, but themselves, their very lives.  There is no more that anyone can give, than to lay down his life, and then it makes no difference whether he has got a million bucks or barely a few cents.

But even to make the ultimate sacrifice of one’s own life is not necessarily noble, just, or right.  It really depends upon the motive, the cause, and the purpose for which one dies.  Some causes are sinful, no matter how sincerely committed the one who serves them may be.  It can also happen that good and worthy causes are served by sinful hearts, for selfish and self-serving reasons.

Some give all in the worship of false gods.  Others do so in despair of any god, which is another kind of idolatry.  Some would go so far as to give their lives in the hopes of saving themselves, so to speak, by personal fame and glory — because they love the praises of men more than God — as though the memories of the mortals who come after them would preserve their life after death.

But now, what about these two widows whom the Lord has set before you from His Scriptures?  Neither of them loses her life, but each of them gives up all of her remaining possessions.  What is the heart of the matter in these two cases?  What motive, cause, and purpose are found in the widow of Zarephath, and in the poor widow who puts her last two coins into the Temple treasury?

The widow of Zarephath obeys the Word of the Lord, as it is spoken to her by the Prophet Elijah.  Her cupboard is almost bare, but she prepares the last of what she has to serve the man of God.  She evidently trusts the promise that her bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall her jar of oil be emptied, despite the drought and famine that persist.  Her faith is not misplaced, for the Lord provides all her needs, exactly as He promised.  Yet, the widow’s heart is divided between both faith and fear, as we discover in the story that follows.  For when her son becomes sick and dies, she rails at the Prophet that he has come to bring her iniquity to light and to put her son to death.  Only after he has raised the boy to life again does she confess that God’s Word is in his mouth.

As for the widow who puts her two small copper coins into the Temple treasury, we are not told her motivation, but only the extent of her gift.  It is extraordinary, that she would give up all that she has.  But is it out of faith, or out of fear, or out of fiercely competing attitudes inside of her?

The Law of the Lord forbids the affliction of widows and orphans.  But the scribes, or many of them anyway, “devour widows’ houses.”  How so?  With their culture of appearances, whereby they establish a climate of comparing and competing for the praise and honor of the people.

So, is this poor widow prompted by faith and trust in the providence of God, to give her last two cents?  Or is she driven by fear and desperation to keep up and compete with the religious elite?

And what about you?  What do you give and do to support the Church and Ministry, and to care for your neighbors?  And what do you hold back for yourself, for your own family and friends?

Whether you give big donations out of your surplus, or sacrifice what little you have to live on, what is your motivation, your purpose, and your cause?  Is it to be seen by other people, to position yourself among the pious or the prudent?  Or do you presume to impress the Lord God Himself?

That same Lord God already knows the answers to all of these questions.  He observes your giving, and not only what you give, but how.  That is to say, He sees and knows your heart.  But do you?

Examine yourself before the Lord your God, according to His Word, and do not pretend that you don’t care what anyone else thinks of you and your actions.  Whether you are bold and outgoing, or timid and withdrawn; whether you are self-assured and sophisticated, or shy and self-conscious; whether you love and seek the spotlight, or you prefer to be a wallflower and hide in the shadows, you also are concerned with appearances, and with your reputation in the opinion of others.

To have no care and concern for your neighbors would be inhuman, and to have no regard for your good name and reputation would surely be lawless and wild.  What a frightening psycho maniac you would be, if you really didn’t care about anyone else or their opinions of you!  But neither is your care for others purely that of love.  Instead, your prideful ego competes for the affections and the accolades of the whole wide world around you.  You long to be admired and applauded, if not for your loud extravagance and flare, then for your simplicity and quiet modesty.  Either way, you do hope to be awarded some kind of prize and recognition for your efforts and accomplishments.

Here’s the rub: All men die, including you, and then comes the judgment.  There are no second chances.  And where you stand in the public eye, in the popular opinion of the world, won’t make any difference.  Whether you die a hero or a bum will be irrelevant when you stand before God.

Already now you live before Him.  Whatever you do in this body and life is done in His presence.  Whatever you give, it is given unto Him.  And whatever you withhold, it is withheld from Him.

How then shall you live (and die) before the Lord your God?  That should be your chief concern, at all times and in all places.  Not simply out of self-concern and self-preservation, though your life really does depend on Him, on where you stand in His judgment.  But you should chiefly be concerned with where you stand before Him, because He is the Lord, the true and only God.

Now, precisely because He is God, and you are not, the question is not, How shall you go to Him?  Nor, What shall you give to Him or do for Him?  You cannot save yourself, nor are you able to set yourself right before the Lord your God.  You cannot find Him on your own.  You cannot reach Him by your own power.  You cannot give Him anything that is not already His in the first place!

The question, rather, is this: How shall you wait upon the Lord?  And again: How shall you receive the Lord who comes to you in peace and freely gives Himself and all His gifts to you by grace?

For this, indeed, is what God does for you and gives to you in Christ Jesus.  It is His true character, His great strength, His glory, and His grace to do so.  He is under no compulsion, nor under any delusions, but He acts freely in divine and holy love, in order to give you Life with Himself.

It is not cheap or easy for Him.  Though He was rich, yet for your sake He made Himself poor, so that you, by His poverty, are now made rich with all the treasures of His Kingdom.  This is the divine Charity of God Himself, who became man and suffered death that you might rise and live with Him in His Resurrection from the dead, and thereby share His divine Life forever and ever.  He is the Veteran of that one decisive battle between life and death, and it is by the Victory of His Sacrifice that you are rescued from sin, death, and hell, and brought into the presence of God for everlasting life and perfect health in body and soul, for true and lasting Peace and Sabbath Rest.

Consequently, before God, there is nothing for you to give but thanks.  For all things come from Him by grace, and He needs nothing at all from anyone.  But the sacrifice of thanksgiving is truly meet, right, and salutary, by which you honor and confess His holy Name and His glorious grace.

The sacrifice of thanksgiving is offered to God in repentant faith.  That is to fear, love, and trust in Him, which is the right attitude and posture of your heart and mind, body and soul, before Him.

At the same time, you also give thanks to God by loving your neighbor in His Name and for His sake, with your words, and with your actions, and with your alms, which are your gifts of charity.  Not as though placing yourself above your neighbor, but as living under the Lord alongside your neighbor in humility and peace.  That is to live for your neighbor as Christ Jesus lives for you.

You bear the Cross for your neighbor by using your strength to serve him, and by forgiving him his trespasses against you.  You are ready, willing, and able to die for your neighbor, because God, who has given Himself for you and died for you, is your life and your salvation forever and ever.

Truly, you have much to give and share, because of what the Lord your God has done for you and given to you.  Your sacrifice of love for your neighbor is made possible, and it means something, it makes a difference, because of the sacrifice of Christ for you, and because you are raised up with Him in His Resurrection from the dead.  So it is that, whenever Christians lay down their lives in love for others, whether as martyrs or as soldiers, or in whatever capacity they are called to serve, it is in Christ Jesus that they do so — not unto eternal death, but unto the Life everlasting in Him.

So, how do you know what you should do and give?  Given your finitude and frailty, your limited capacities and resources, how shall you set your priorities and make good choices and decisions?

You have but one life to live, one life to give — whether for your country, or for what, for whom?

Shall you put your last two cents in the offering plate?  Or cash in your savings and give it as alms for the poor and needy, in order to follow Christ?  But how shall you serve some neighbors at the expense of all the others?  Is it really down to “random acts of kindness,” or what is your plan?

As a Christian, act according to the Word of the Lord, your God.  That is the answer to these good questions.  Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments, and then you will know what God would have you do and give, and where and how He would have you serve and sacrifice.  Realize that He speaks to you through your pastors and teachers, your parents and other authorities, whom He places over you in love.  Honor your father and your mother, therefore, and sanctify unto yourself the preaching of God’s Word by gladly hearing it and learning from it.

The key remains that, even in love for your neighbor, you live your life at all times before God.  Serve and support the Prophet of the Lord, therefore, that he may continue to preach and teach the Word of God to you and to your neighbor.  Contribute to the Church and Ministry, and do your part, that this, your congregation, may be a place of peace and hope in the preaching of the Gospel and in the Sacraments of Christ Jesus.  Then also serve and care for your own home and family with whatever the Lord daily and richly provides for you, be it bread and water or meat and mead.

Do not be afraid to do what the Lord has commanded you to do, and do not worry and fret about where you stand, whether you are giving too much or too little.  Have no fear of sin or death!  For though you fall far short, and you are frequently more fearful than faithful; and though you have not laid down your life, but are too often absent without leave from where the Lord has stationed you; and even though all men hate you, criticize and despise you, not only for your many faults, but also for your limited faithfulness — even so, the dear Lord Jesus has given Himself for you.

Consider how He greets you in grace and mercy and forgiveness with His Gospel.  See how He clothes you with Himself, in the long white robes of His Righteousness.  He covers your nakedness and shame with His purity and peace, and He adorns you in real beauty as His holy and beloved Bride.  For you are no longer a poor widow, but Christ is your Bridegroom.  And you are not an orphan, an alien or outcast, but God is your own dear Father in Christ Jesus, and you belong to His household and family forever, wherein the flour is not spent, and the jar of oil does not run dry.

He sets you in the place of honor in His Synagogue, that is to say, in the great congregation of His Holy Church, so that you may hear His Word and live by the preaching of His free forgiveness.  And He seats you in the place of honor at His Table, while He, who is the first and the best, girds Himself to serve you.  He removes His royal robes for this good work of His, in order to cleanse you, to wash your dirty feet with Holy Absolution.  And then He also waits on you and feeds you, not with simple bread and water only, nor even with perishing delicacies of cake and champagne, but with the choicest Meat and finest Wine of His own holy Body and precious Blood.  Here, then, with all the riches of heaven, with His own Body and Life, He makes you wealthy by His grace.

And as He comes and gives Himself to you here and now, He also appears, both now and forever, in the presence of God for you.  He lives before God as your great High Priest.  So that is where you and your life are now, and where you shall abide forever.  Even now, in the midst of the great tribulation, your life is already hidden with Christ in God.  And when He appears at the last, in Glory, He will bring you without sin, body and soul, into the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.

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

09 November 2018

Let Solemn Awe Possess Us

To Know Christ, and the Glory of His Cross, and the Power of His Resurrection

At the center is the Lamb upon His throne; Who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives.

He is the King of Glory, the one true God in the Flesh.  He is the almighty and eternal Son, begotten of the Father from eternity, but now also true Man, conceived and born of the Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified for our transgressions.  But His Father also raised Him from the dead for our justification, and seated Him at His right hand.  He lives and reigns to all eternity in His own glorious Body of flesh and blood.  In Him, the fullness of God is embodied: His two natures, divine and human, are perfectly and permanently united in His one indivisible Person.

God and Man are perfectly reconciled and permanently united in Him, the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah in One: He is the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David.  In this one Lord Jesus Christ, in His Person and His work, the Lion and the Lamb lie down and rise up together, unto everlasting life.

The transcendence and immanence of God are thus resolved and held together in His one Body, crucified and risen.  For He is true God, exalted and glorified, and all things are put beneath His feet.  But He is also Immanuel, the God who is with us, who is the true Man, who lives and abides in the flesh forever, closer than a brother.  For He is not only like us, but He has drawn near to us, and given Himself for us, in order to save us, to make us His own Bride, to wed us to Himself as one flesh and bone, and of one blood, in such a profound and intimate way that even death shall never part us.

He is the New Adam, and we are His New Eve, given life from His wounded side, and given to Him by the Father in peace and love.  He is the Husband of one Wife, His Holy Church; and He is the Head of His Body, the household and family of God, in heaven and on earth.  He is our Strength and our Song, for He is our Life and Salvation.  In Him, the true and only God is very present and at work, revealing and giving Himself to us: in, with, and through His own human nature, His flesh and blood.

Our foremost interest, emphasis, and concern, therefore, in approaching the Divine Liturgy and true spiritual worship, is the Person and work of Christ Jesus.  Not only historically, but here and now in the Life of His Church.  For He is both the Subject and the Object of the Liturgy and of worship.

That is to say, not only is He what the Liturgy and worship are about; and not only is He the Content of the Divine Liturgy and of Christian worship; but He Himself is the Liturgist (the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament Priesthood with its liturgy), and He is the first and foremost Worshiper of the Father (the true Man, who is the very Image and Likeness of God, who lives in perfect faith and love).

Having come down from the Father in love, He is lifted up and returns to the Father in peace.  He has descended from heaven, even into the depths of our sin and death, in order to ascend with us in tow.  He is the Apostle of the Father, who is sent to us from the bosom of the Father, in order to make God known to us.  And He is the Author, Perfecter, and High Priest of the Christian faith, who has been sacrificed and slain for us, who ever lives to intercede for us before the Throne of God.  He is the one Mediator between God and Man, in whom the Father comes to us and we are brought to the Father.

Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the finish, and He loves them forever.  What He has accomplished and completed by His Cross, and manifested in His Resurrection from the dead, He now distributes and bestows by His Gospel: to the ends of the earth, even to the close of the age.  His High Priesthood and His Liturgy continue forever.  Not only before the Father in heaven, but also in His Church, wherein He is the One who speaks and acts, who does and gives all good things.

Therefore, Let Us Celebrate the Feast, for Christ our Passover Has Been Sacrificed for Us

The Lord Jesus is exceedingly rich in His grace toward us, in coming to us and giving His Gospel to us in multiple ways and means.  And He is the One who is speaking and doing and giving all of this:

He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He baptizes, also, for the forgiveness of sins.  He absolves sinners, in order to fulfill His good and gracious will for their salvation.  He gathers nations to Himself, by His Word and Holy Spirit, in order to name them with His Name and make them His own people.  So does He establish and build His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.  And there within His House, at His own Table, He gives His Body and pours out His Blood: for the forgiveness of sins.

Everything within His Church is so arranged for the forgiving of sins and the saving of sinners.  That is the Gospel, on which everything depends, as upon the sure and certain Foundation of Christ Jesus.  His Gospel of forgiveness is the Life-Breath of His Church, which He breathes into her through all His means of grace.  And as she breathes this Holy Gospel, breathing in and breathing out His Peace, she worships Him in Spirit and in Truth by faith in His forgiveness.

As the Gospel is the breath that fills her lungs and gives her life, the Holy Communion is the beating heart of the Church, which enlivens the flesh and blood of all her members with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, her Lord.  For the disciples who are called and gathered from all the nations by His Gospel, are given to eat and to drink the Passover Lamb in this Meal, and so to become His Israel.  Here, then, is the high point and the center of the Divine Liturgy, and of true spiritual worship.

For the Word of God has become Flesh and tabernacles among us.  Lo, He is with us always!  And the Body of this true Lamb is the Temple of God among men: His Body, crucified and risen, and now given to His people in His Supper, is the Ark of the New Covenant, and the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.  He is our Anchor behind the Veil, and His Chalice, now poured out for us in the Holy Communion, is the New Testament in His Blood.

The Body and Blood of Christ Jesus — on the Cross and in the Sacrament — are the pattern of the heavenly sanctuary, which God showed to Moses on the Mountain, and which served as the model for the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and so also for the Temple in Jerusalem.  No longer the type or the shadow, but now, in Christ Jesus, the reality and the substance have been established.  God abides with us in Him, not for condemnation, but for mercy, forgiveness, and life; and so do we dwell with God.

“Do This in Remembrance of Me”

It is with His own Institution of the Holy Supper that our Lord Jesus Christ establishes the Ministry of this Sacrament for the Life of His Church.  His divine command, “Do This in remembrance of Me,” is the power and authority by which the pastor acts in the place of Christ; so that each celebration of the Holy Communion, even to the close of the age, is not the pastor’s supper, but the Lord’s Supper.

Therefore, the “remembrance” of Jesus, here, is not simply (nor primarily) our recalling of the past, but it is first of all His own active remembering of us in love, and so also the Father’s remembering of Him on our behalf.  And then, for us, it is not only an intellectual and emotional “remembering,” but a bodily receiving and trusting of Christ, who gives Himself bodily to us, by and with His Word.

There, on the Altar, is the Lamb upon His Throne in the midst of His Church on earth.  And where He is, there is heaven, and all the company of heaven: The angels and archangels, the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures, the saints and martyrs of all the ages, are gathered together around Him at the Altar of His Church on earth.  For it is there that the crucified and risen Lord Jesus reveals and gives Himself to His disciples in the Breaking of the Bread.  Right there is the Gospel: in the Flesh.

So it is that everything else — in the Liturgy, in the Church’s worship, and throughout the Christian faith and life — everything else leads to and from this central high point, that is, to Christ Jesus at His Altar, to His Body and His Blood, which are given and poured out for us Christians to eat and to drink.

Catechesis aims, not only at making disciples of Jesus, but at bringing them to His Holy Sacrament, to eat and to drink His Body and His Blood in repentant faith.  It brings them to and from the waters of Holy Baptism, to the Altar of the Holy Communion.  Not only to begin with, to get them going on the way, but catechesis continues in pastoral care, whereby the Lord our Shepherd leads His lambs and sheep beside the still waters, and through the green pastures, to the Feast at His Table in His House.

The pastoral care of ongoing catechesis and discipleship, which is rooted in the ongoing significance of Holy Baptism, is also continued in the regular practice of Individual Confession and Absolution; so that the baptized faithful are regularly brought to the Holy Communion, by the Spirit through the Gospel, in the holiness, righteousness, and worthiness of faith in the forgiveness of Christ Jesus.

It ought to be noted that pastoral care is the context in which the Sacrament is administered; and that the administration of the Sacrament, itself, is a fundamental aspect and exercise of pastoral care for the Church.  The catholic practice of closed Communion also belongs to this context of pastoral care.

Preaching, likewise, always aims at bringing the disciples of Christ Jesus to and from His Supper.  Liturgically speaking, the Sermon has for its primary task the bringing of the people from the Lectern to the Altar, from the Word to the Word-made-Flesh, by proclaiming His death “until He comes.”  By the same token, the right administration of this Holy Sacrament, in accordance with the Gospel, includes and requires ongoing catechesis and the preaching of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ (which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name).  To be specific, the pastoral care that brings people to the Supper, also belongs to the right administration of the Supper.
“Word and Sacrament” is not simply a cliché, nor a “short list” of necessary parts to be performed. Indeed, the means of grace are not “parts” and “pieces” for us to put together like some kind of puzzle, but they are the means by which the Lord Himself lays hold of us in love, and puts us back together.  His Word and Sacrament are the heart and soul of the Liturgy, as well as its flesh and blood.  For these are His good gifts, and His good works, which He gives and does for us by the Ministry of the Gospel.

As we then live and worship the Lord by faith in His Ministry of the Gospel, by receiving His good gifts at His Altar, our Christian faith and life is characterized by thanksgiving (eucharistia), which culminates in the celebration of the Holy Communion: as Christ Himself gave thanks at His Supper.  From there, His Cup of Thanksgiving “runneth over” into the Christian life of love within the world.

Love for the neighbor is the fruit of Christ’s Love for the Christian in the Holy Communion.  That is the priestly vocation of all the baptized faithful, as they live to and from the Lord’s Altar, into the world wherever God has stationed them.  In the Divine Service, they stand in faith before the Father in Christ, hearing His Word and receiving His Gifts with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  So do they offer up themselves, their bodies and their lives, to serve their neighbors as Christ has served them.

This Divine Service is the sacred Tradition of the Church — the seat of true catholicity — namely, Christ in His “Word and Sacrament,” as the Lord’s Supper and its administration are handed over.  For Christ is the Head of His Church, and He is actively present with all of His speaking and doing and giving, within each congregation, wherever He gathers disciples, “in His Name,” by and for the preaching of His Gospel and the administration of His Sacraments in accordance with His Gospel.

It is the Tradition that begins on the night when He is “betrayed,” or, better to say, “handed over.”  Judas betrays Him, that is true, but it is the Father, first of all, who hands over His Son to the Cross. And the Son of God hands Himself over: To His voluntary suffering and death, yes, but so also to His Church, to His disciples as the first communicants, and to His Apostles as the first ministers of His Gospel.  The Apostles, in turn, hand over the same Lord Jesus Christ to the Church that comes after them, in the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, and in the distribution of His Body and Blood.

The Divine Service is not a malleable tool in our hands, to be “used” by us to achieve some purpose (no matter how noble, sincere, or well-intentioned the purpose may be).  It is, rather, a sacred Tradition of the Lord, to be received from Him, and to be handed over faithfully to His Church, by His grace.

That Which I Received from the Lord, I Also Handed Over to You

In harmony with the handing over of Christ in the Divine Service, there is an associated “culture” of the Church’s other traditions, many of which are truly evangelical and catholic in their character and quality.  It is not the case that “anything goes,” nor that everything which has happened in the history of the Church should continue henceforth.  Nevertheless, there are those customs, confessions, and ceremonies which have developed in connection with the administration of the Divine Service, and which have arisen in thankful response to the Gospel of Christ, which do in fact continue to serve the Church in subsequent generations, as a common heritage of faith and love, of peace and joy in Christ.

Okay, but, wait.  Since Christ is at the center doing everything, What does it matter what we do?  That is a good and compelling question.  For us Lutherans, it is perhaps the practical question.  We know that good works are necessary, and that sin is still sin, which is contrary to the Word and will of God.  But what about that which is free, which God has neither commanded nor forbidden (adiaphora)?  Does it matter, or make any difference at all, whether we do those things or not?

The truth is that we are gathered together into Christ, by the Spirit through the Gospel, to stand before God in peace: to be and to live in the presence of the Father in the righteousness and purity of His beloved Son.  In that Holy Sabbath of Christ Jesus, we are not to be “busy” with any “doing” of our own, but we are given to receive what He is doing: to hear what God the Lord is speaking, to eat and drink what He is feeding us, to rest in His forgiveness, and to bask in the presence of the Holy Triune God.  It is an active passivity, this true spiritual worship of God, which is faith in the Gospel of Christ.

By contrast, it is the religion of the Law, of fallen natural reason, and of the old man, to suppose that we will somehow worship God with our own doing and giving and sacrificing.  It’s not only that we can’t manage it, but that the one true God does not want to be worshiped in that way: He wants to be worshiped by faith in Christ Jesus, which is to say, by the Holy Spirit, in the truth of the Holy Gospel.  For the Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies us through faith in Christ, and also keeps us in Christ Jesus, in union with Him as members of His Body and Bride, the Church.  So does our Bridegroom delight in us, and He adorns us, and in this He is glorified!  And so it is that, by the Holy Spirit, we worship God the Father in the beautiful righteousness and holiness of the Son.

By the Gospel, our Lord has taken us up into His worship of the Father.  That is to say, He takes us up into His own doing, as our merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  Not into His Sacrifice for sin, which is finished and complete, once for all, by which He has reconciled the world to God in Himself.  It is a grievous error to suppose that we must take part in that sacrifice, which belongs solely to the God-Man, Jesus Christ.  Not only because it is already accomplished, never to be repeated; but especially because only God, the Lord, could remove our sin and reconcile us to Himself.  It is His divine prerogative, and His divine glory, that He has redeemed and rescued us, and saved us for Himself, by His grace.  So we do not participate in His sacrifice for sin, except by receiving and benefitting from the fruits of His Cross and Passion.  That does indeed involve the suffering of repentance, whereby the Lord, by His Word and Spirit, crucifies the old man in us, in order to raise us up with Himself in His Resurrection; and so do we begin to live a new life in Him.

It is thus, by repentant faith in this Gospel of Christ Jesus, that we are taken up into His piety, into His priestly intercessions for the Church and for the world, and into His ongoing sacrifice of thanksgiving.  In all of this, we are received by the Father as a sweet-smelling incense, pleasing to God in Christ.  “We are caught up in the rapture of Him,” if I may risk such turn of phrase.  It is in Christ Jesus that true Man, now also with His holy Bride, really lives in the presence of God, in peace and joy forever.  Our Sabbath Rest is not one of inactivity, but an active resting of our hearts and minds, of our bodies and our souls, in the Love of God, which is the very Being of the Holy Trinity: We live and abide in the Spirit of the Father, in His Love for the Son, and in the Love of the Son for His God and Father.

In Christ Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, we worship and adore the Father: with hearts and hands and voices, with our minds, and with our bodies.  We “take up the Cup of Salvation and call on the Name of the Lord,” which is to receive and rely upon His good gifts of the Gospel, and to do so with thanksgiving.  We pray, praise, and give thanks, by confessing and proclaiming who God is, and what He has said and done.  We speak and we sing, in His presence, not only to Him, but also to one another in His Name.  We do all of these things in the joyful confidence of Christ, the beloved and well-pleasing Son, in whom we now stand: in whom we have already died by our Baptism into His Cross, and by whose Resurrection we are raised, and our lives are hidden with Him in God.  For He remains our merciful and great High Priest, by whose ongoing priestly service we are pleasing and acceptable to God.

Now, then, as members of His Body and His Bride, we love and serve each other, and our neighbors in the world, with the gifts that we have from Him.  We forgive, as we are forgiven.  We speak and we sing, as our Lord speaks and sings to us by His Spirit through the Gospel.  We hand over the faith.

Which brings us back to what we do with the freedom God has given us, in our relationships with one another, not only as individual Christians within our own stations in life, but also as congregations of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  Here, for the sake of mutual love and respect, and for the sake of practical logistics, we limit our freedom in order to live and work together in common cause.

So, too, in order to worship together in the faith of the Gospel, in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, we make use of Rubrics, Rites, and Ceremonies, of some kind or another.  “Rubrics” are the agreed-upon “rules of conduct,” which are necessary to corporate activity, so that everyone knows what is going on, and everyone knows what to do.  “Rites” are the words that are prayed and confessed, whether spoken, chanted, or sung, by the pastor or the congregation, by the choir or the assisting minister.  And “Ceremonies” are the movements that are made, the actions that are carried out, the postures that are taken, and the positions that are held, in the course of the Liturgy.  Collectively, such Rubrics, Rites, and Ceremonies guide the Church in her coming together before the Lord to worship Him by faith.

We don’t start from scratch, nor operate with a blank slate, nor proceed in a vacuum, with respect to Rubrics, Rites, and Ceremonies.  There is no need, nor should we desire, to reinvent the “alphabet” and “language,” the “grammar” and “vocabulary” of the Liturgy.  We speak with the pattern of sound words, and we follow the patterns of sound practice, which we have heard and received, observed and learned, from our fathers and mothers in the household and family of faith.  We practice the traditions of the churches, since the Gospel did not originate with us.

Some broad and basic examples would include the gathering of the Church on Sunday; the use of a common lectionary; and the following of the Church Year with its Sundays and Seasons, its Festivals and Feasts of Christ.  Martin Chemnitz likewise cites the customary ceremonies of Holy Baptism.

Regarding these and other evangelical traditions, which Lutherans have historically retained and practiced, it has sometimes been argued that our Confessions identify these things only as descriptions of what they were doing then, but not as prescriptions for what we Lutherans should be doing now. There is obviously some truth in that observation, as the Confessions specifically state that human rites and ceremonies do not have to be the same in all times and places; and, in fact, the Lutheran practice was not identical from one territory to the next, although there was much that was held in common, even across territories, and neighboring territories did make an effort to be in harmony with each other. In any case, what our Confessions describe as the practice of “our churches” belongs to our family heritage and culture, which should not be despised, nor lightly cast aside; just as those same godly Christian customs were not despised or cast aside by our Lutheran fathers and mothers, but were in fact gladly received from the Church catholic, and continued in their day, and handed over to us.  It is generally more in keeping with the nature of the Gospel to receive what has been handed over in this way, than to invent and perform some brand new thing for ourselves.  Not always, but generally.

I’ve already mentioned Martin Chemnitz, the great “Second Martin” of the Lutheran Reformation, who deals with the question of traditional rites and ceremonies in several different places, especially within his magisterial Examination of the Council of Trent.  It is instructive to consider his points.

Against the abuses of Rome, Chemnitz certainly insists that adiaphorous traditions are free, and not to be imposed upon anyone’s conscience, since they are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.  Such things have no absolute or necessary value.  They may be modified, or set aside; though they should not be despised or manipulated by individuals in isolation from the fellowship of the Church.  Positively, they may be received and used to reinforce teaching, and as a confession of divine gifts.

Like Luther before him, Chemnitz notes the dangers and temptations involved in the use of impressive traditions, because people are so easily led astray from the Gospel and attracted to their own works.  Nevertheless, the dangers of idolatry, legalism, and works righteousness are not to be found in that which is free, but in the sinful heart of fallen man, which tends either to idolize or to demonize God’s good gifts of creation: Addressing that sinful heart is where care and correction must be focused.

The temptations and the dangers involved in the use of ceremonies are therefore to be guarded against and resisted and avoided, not by a disavowal of ceremonies (as Zwingli and other radicals had done), but by the preaching and teaching and catechesis of the Word of Christ.  Once it is clearly expressed and established that human works and ceremonies do not justify before God, they can be used freely in good and positive ways: to confess the faith, to praise God, and to love the neighbor in the world.

Chemnitz notes, in particular, that, within a context of catechesis and pastoral care, traditional rites and ceremonies may also be a kind of catechesis and confession, which honor and highlight the means of grace, and call attention to the gifts of the Gospel.  Ceremonies may thus be used for the edification of the Church, by expressing that serious and weighty matters are under way, and that God the Lord is present and active.  In this way, Chemnitz summarizes, these adiaphorous traditions can actually help to encourage piety and reverence, decorum and devotion, in the people of God.

For Freedom Christ Has Set You Free: Therefore, Stand Fast in Your Freedom

The right understanding and use of “adiaphora” goes hand-in-hand with the orthodox teaching and confession of the Gospel.  That which God has not commanded cannot be required, nor should it be recommended for righteousness before Him.  Neither should that which God has not forbidden be decried or rejected, as though it were sinful or contrary to the righteousness of faith in Christ.  One sins against this glorious freedom of the children of God, as Luther writes against Karlstadt, either by demanding what God has not demanded, or else by denying and destroying what God has graciously provided and permitted to faith and love.  Either way, legalism violates the liberty of the Gospel.

Luther writes eloquently, and from early on, about the correct use of freedom in love for the “weak” and unlearned, also with specific reference to the use of rites and ceremonies.  By the “weak,” he has in mind those who are accustomed to think of such outward rites and ceremonies as necessary.  They should be accommodated and dealt with gently, and outward things not abruptly changed on them.

The recognition of freedom is not a flattening of all adiaphora into an undifferentiated mess of neither here nor there.  It is broad and evangelically gentle, because it affirms two clearly defined parameters on the basis of the Holy Scriptures: On the one side, what God has commanded, and on the other side, what God has forbidden.  Everything in between is “free,” in itself, with respect to God the Lord.  That does not make adiaphora suspect, but ordinary, belonging not to the Law but to the grace and mercy of God.  Across that broad terrain, there are hills and valleys, deserts and gardens, sunshine and rain, evenings and mornings.  To everything there is its own season.  Context and occasion call for different sorts of behavior and discourse, and freedom allows such “life and conversation” to follow pace.

In faith before God, all things are free, and all things are lawful, for Christ is our righteousness and peace.  To deny that freedom is demonic.  However, in the world, in relation to the neighbor, all things are not equally beneficial, edifying, or salutary to all times, places, and situations.  So, for example, when it comes to the Liturgy, it is not the case that anything goes, even aside from explicit prohibitions in the Holy Scriptures.  Excluded from liturgical “adiaphora” are irreverent and frivolous practices.

Various rites and ceremonies may contribute to the catechesis and confession of Christ, when they are received and practiced in continuity with the catholic consensus of the Church, and when they are exercised with care and concern for the contemporary context, conditions, and circumstances.  Other practices may distract from and deny the chief and central thing.  Freedom thus requires pastoral discernment, discretion, and care.  The same freedom likewise allows for and facilitates such care.

Adiaphora ought to be received and used in faith and love, in the confession of Christ and His Gospel, in the service and support of continuity with the past and consistency from one week to the next.  For the entire life of the Church, also in the Divine Liturgy, is lived in the faith and love of Christ Jesus.

Above all, faith in Christ will adhere to, and insist upon, that which the Lord has commanded and given by His Word: both the Law and the Gospel, but with the Gospel predominating.

Faith will also rejoice and give thanks for those things which the Lord has given and allowed to His people in the freedom of His good creation.  For we proceed with confidence in the authority, power, and sufficiency of Christ and His Gospel; and His Gospel does not confine or restrain us, but sets us free to live before the Lord our God in peace, and to love both God and our neighbor without fear.

It should perhaps be noted, in this connection, that love for the neighbor is especially concerned with the gift of the Gospel for the neighbor.  It is in continuity with the grace, mercy, and peace of the Gospel, that Christians also love and serve the neighbor in the needs of this body and life: feeding, clothing, sheltering, and visiting, as opportunity arises.  Again, freedom allows room for a lively faith in Christ to express itself, to be embodied and exercised, in love for God and for the neighbor, through the numerous abilities and gifts, time, treasures, and talents, that He has generously distributed among His people in a wide variety of ways.  For all the gifts of God’s creation are good, and they are not to be despised or demonized, but received with thanksgiving, and sanctified by His Word and prayer.

Let Us Offer the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving: The Fruit of Lips that Praise His Holy Name

At this point, in speaking of love, we have moved from the sacramental to the sacrificial aspect of Christian worship, which is offered in the Spirit and in Truth, inasmuch it is offered by faith in Christ.

Christian sacrifice rises up in repentance and culminates in thanksgiving (eucharistia), as previously mentioned; because, when everything is done for us and given to us, by the Lord, as a free gift of His grace, there is nothing else for us to do for Him, or give to Him, but to return thanks.  So, too, it is with thanks to God that we love and serve our neighbor in His Name, with His Word, and with good works.

The meet, right, and salutary eucharistic sacrifice comprises faith itself, and the fruits of faith, which is collectively the true spiritual worship of the Holy Triune God.  For the worship of faith in the heart is also confessed with the lips, and it is shown forth in our lives.  With words and signs and actions, thus, we show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous Light.

Indeed, the true worship of God by faith in the Gospel will necessarily manifest itself in Christian conduct and conversation.  By faith, we offer up ourselves in heart and mind, in spirit, soul, and body, as a living sacrifice, to the glory of God in Christ.

Though the words and actions will obviously differ, to varying degrees, from one person, pastor, and place, to others, there will also be commonalities rooted in the common “pool” of the Gospel itself.  We all drink from the same spiritual Rock, and so it is that the same River of living water that flows from His innermost being also springs up in us, and pours forth the same Spirit in what we say and do.

As we are catechized by Christ, by the preaching and teaching of His Word, so do we pray and confess His Word, speaking back to God, and speaking to each other, as God has spoken to us.  In confessing what the Father has spoken to us by His Son, therefore, we call upon His Name with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  This confession of Christ, the fruit of lips that praise His Name, is the foremost fruit of faith, which worships and adores the Father with His own Word, by His own Holy Spirit.

Yet, again, faith and love and thanksgiving are expressed and exercised, not only with holy words, but also with holy bodies.  In this paper we are especially concerned with the ways that we comport and move our bodies in the Liturgy, in the presence of God and our neighbor, by which we honor and adore, worship and glorify Christ, and, in so doing, we confess Him to our neighbor.  What we do with our bodies belongs to the witness of faith that shows forth His praise.  Even the fact that we go up to the House of the Lord, to seek Him in the Temple of His Church, testifies to our faith in Christ Jesus.

Good works of love and the fruits of faith do belong to life in the body.  For you are a new creation in Christ Jesus, recreated in the Image of God, and your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.  To affirm that newness, that righteousness and holiness, is not to deny the fallenness and frailties of your flesh, but it is to confess that your body has been redeemed and sanctified by the Lord.

As your body has been baptized; and as your ears have heard the Gospel; and as your lips confess the Gospel; and as you eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus with your mouth, and so receive Him into your body of flesh and blood; so does your body participate in your Christian faith and life, even as it shall be raised up in the glory of Christ in the Resurrection of all flesh.  In each and all of these means of grace, your body receives and rejoices in the good gifts of the Gospel, and therefore responds in thanksgiving and praise, in faith and love, in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

In the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus, all things are made brand new, including your body and all of creation.  For the curse of sin and death has been defeated by His sacrifice upon the Cross, and His own resurrected Body is the Firstfruits of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Everything has already been accomplished, completed, and established forever in Christ Jesus, and it is already given and pledged to you in the Gospel–Word and Sacraments.  But, of course, it is not yet seen, nor fully sensed and experienced in this fallen world.  Here you bear the Cross, and you live under the Cross.  Nevertheless, although it seems to stand in utter contradiction of the Resurrection, and it appears to be the very opposite of who and what God is, yet, the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the mysterious revealing of the hidden Glory of God.  We have this treasure in earthen vessels.

When it comes to the Liturgy, outward adornment does not save anyone, nor does it constitute divine glory or life.  Even so, it is able to acknowledge, confess, and give thanks for what is hidden from the eyes under the humility of the Cross.  So do we craft beautiful crosses, and we make chalices a work of art.  I have noticed that a crucifix, in particular, holds a powerful attraction for young children.

What you see is not all that you get, but what you see may speak more than a thousand words could say or express.  In other words, there is a place for “the Mystery of the faith,” for the great “Mystery of godliness,” in the celebration of the sacred “Mysteries of God.”  Not “mysticism,” mind you, but the genuine Mystery of the Incarnate God, the Crucified and Risen God, who reveals and gives Himself to His people, both body and soul, by the external ways and means of His Cross.  This Mystery of Christ is humble and hidden, and yet, it is truly divine and life-giving.

That which Christ our Lord did not assume, He did not redeem.  So said the early fathers in confessing the Incarnation of the Son of God.  But, in point of fact, the same fathers rightly insisted, the Lord our God has become one with us, of one blood and flesh with us, of the same human nature as we are, with both body and soul.  Not only that, but He has also lived through all the stages of human life, from conception in the womb, even to His death upon the Cross.  For He became, not simply human, but mortal: He came in the likeness of our fallen flesh, although He had no sins of His own.  He was also tempted in every way that we are tempted, save only without sin.  Though He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.  He grew up as true Man.

Therefore, having assumed the entirety of human nature, human flesh, and human life in both body and soul, and having redeemed humanity in Himself, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, He also fully engages all of the senses of man, and the body and emotions, as well as the mind and intellect.  So it is that, in the celebration of the “Mysteries of God” in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, there is also an ambiance, if you will, an almost intuitive interaction with the means of grace.  By that I mean to say that, along with the preaching and hearing of the Lord’s Word, there is also a non-verbal, non-academic, bodily and emotional participation in the holistic and comprehensive scope of the Gospel of Christ.  Not as the source of faith and life, but as an aspect of the faith and life that derive from the Spiritual Food and Drink of Christ, who embraces us in full.

The Place on Which You Stand Is Holy Ground

The Mystery of the Incarnation is the point at which ceremonies are taken up in faith and love, in the freedom of the Gospel, but also with humility in the presence of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  For ceremonies, too, are integral to human life in the body, located in (and moving through) time and space, in relation to other bodies in the world around you.

It is not only the “weak” who live and worship in the body with ceremonies.  As human beings, of body and soul, redeemed and sanctified by the Body of Christ, by the external Word and Sacraments, Christians live before God and engage one another with ceremonies.  To expand upon the simple definition previously given, “Ceremonies” here include the postures and movements of the body, as well as furnishings and vessels, architecture, artwork, and other outward adornments, paraments and vestments, music of all sorts, candles, and all such tangible accouterments.

To begin with, the Lord has commanded a few simple ceremonies that are constitutive of the Divine Service: These divine ceremonies are the gathering of the Church in the Name of Jesus, by and for the preaching of the Gospel; as well as the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism; and of course, the celebration of the Holy Communion, which includes the setting apart of bread and wine, blessing and consecrating these elements with the Word of Christ, distributing the same, the Body and Blood of Christ, to His disciples, and the actual eating and drinking of this Meat and Drink indeed.

This handful of ceremonies instituted by God are the requisite givens of the Liturgy.  Beyond these, other ceremonies are needed, already from a practical standpoint, simply because it is not possible to do what the Lord has commanded without determining other specifics, such as the particular place and time of the Divine Service, and so on and so forth.  Although such matters are incidental to the Gospel itself, they do point to the intersection of the Gospel with bodily human life in the world.

In addition to such housekeeping practicalities, the freedom of the Gospel allows for other ceremonies to be used in thanksgiving to God and in caring for His Church.  These human ceremonies have no part in justification; they neither constitute nor contribute to righteousness and holiness with God.  They may, however, be taken up into the life and love of the redeemed and sanctified body of the Christian, in order to serve the confession and piety of a strong and steadfast faith in the Gospel.

We have similar freedom in all of our human relationships and interactions, as within marriage and family.  In these contexts, we use a wide variety of ceremonies, some for very practical and pragmatic reasons, and others for the sake of affection and celebration, as ways of rejoicing together in God’s good gifts.  Marriage itself is established by and depends upon God’s Word.  And in the confidence of that strong foundation, a husband loves and serves his wife, not only in his heart, but with his words and actions, with big and little gifts and other signs of affection.  Customary ceremonies are likewise involved in the celebration of anniversaries and birthdays.  Such adiaphora do not make the marriage, but they do contribute to it.  So, too, a father doesn’t have to hold his babies or hug his older children, but he does so because he loves them, and it means something and makes a difference when he does.

Because ceremonies are integral to human life, and because they are so powerful in their appearance and affect (even if quite simple in themselves), they have often been a point of controversy within the life of the Church on earth.  It is nothing new that such things are difficult to discuss dispassionately.  Contending over the place and purpose of ceremonies was part of the Reformation from the beginning, vis-á-vis the legalism of Rome on the right and of the Reformed on the left.  While Lutherans taught evangelical freedom in human ceremonies, they also recognized the significance of adiaphora, not only for personal piety, but also for public confession.  When the fanatics resorted to iconoclasm, Lutherans deliberately chose to preserve the catholic traditions in the freedom of the Gospel.  When the papists insisted on the use of certain ceremonies, the Lutherans refused to comply, as a matter of conscience.

At stake in these matters was the Gospel itself, and the freedom of faith in the Gospel, by which alone we are righteous and holy before God.  Therefore, Luther’s warnings against any reliance on human works and ceremonies must ever be taken seriously.  That is the case, in fact, irrespective of which or what kind of ceremonies are used.  “High church,” “low church,” “traditional,” or “contemporary,” none of us is justified or saved by our particular brand or style of ceremony.  Period.

There is more to be said, however, than simply, “Be careful and cautious, and don’t attempt to stand before God on ceremony.”  One can also move beyond the historic context of past controversies, in order to consider the goodness and benefit of ceremonies where consciences are not being bound or twisted about.  A case in point is found in Luther’s theology of music, which he recognized and received as a good gift of God, as a most excellent part of the Lord’s good creation.

Luther’s frequent laudatory comments on the beauty and benefits of music provide a fruitful paradigm for a positive use and value of free outward ceremonies.  As he wrote, for example, in his preface to the Wittenberg hymnal of 1524, that he “would like to see all the arts, especially music, used in the service of Him who gave and made them” (LW 53:316).  Elsewhere, referring to the Renaissance composer, Josquin des Prez (who died in 1521), Luther asserted that “God has preached the Gospel through music, too, as may be seen in Josquin, all of whose compositions flow freely, gently, and cheerfully, are not cramped by rules, and are like the song of the finch” (LW 54:129).

Significantly, Luther embraced music as a blessing in itself, because it belongs to and exemplifies the divine grace and godly good order of Creation, especially in contrast to the chaos and confusion of the devil, sin, and death.  From this perspective, Luther perceived that music itself, even apart from any particular text, is able to convey the Gospel, to chase away the devil, and to lift the sorrowing spirit.  These are rather remarkable claims, but they are consistent in Luther’s writings, and they were put into practice in the way that his followers approached the making and enjoyment of music in the Church.

As Luther appreciated and encouraged artistic excellence in musical composition and performance, he also knew, and took advantage of the fact, that music offers a tremendous benefit to the Christian faith and life, and to theology.  For when it is coupled with the Word of the Gospel, it is a handmaid to the Word, which serves the Word, and supports its proclamation, and carries it to the people, into their hearts and minds.  Luther’s own German Mass (Deutsche Messe) is an especially good example, in which he went to great lengths to match the music to the texts, and to emphasize and underscore the meaning and significance of the texts via the musical intonation.  His friend and collaborator, the great Lutheran Kantor, Johann Walter, attests to the great care that Luther took with these matters.

Music not only catechizes Christians with the Word that it bears; it also gives them a vehicle for confessing the Word of the Gospel, to and for each other in the Church, and to and for their neighbors in the world.  Parents and children, spouses and siblings, also serve and strengthen one another with the Holy Spirit, by the singing of the Gospel in “Psalms, hymns, and Spiritual songs.”

In contrast to Calvin and his followers, who allowed only for the singing of the Scriptures verbatim, Luther advocated the writing of hymns that confess the Holy Scriptures homiletically, that is, in much the same way that a sermon proclaims a text by unfolding it for the congregation.  He and others also wrote hymns that carefully set forth and explain the chief parts of the Catechism.  Lutheran hymnody is therefore kerygmatic and catechetical: It preaches and teaches the Word of the Lord to the people.

Along with its similarities to preaching, Lutheran hymnody is closely connected to the Liturgy in a numerous variety of ways.  It serves and contributes to the ritual and ceremony of the Divine Service, and it is also liturgical in its own character and quality.  Precisely in its confession and proclamation of the Word and work of God, it not only serves the people, but it praises and worships the Lord.   For Luther, hymnody in particular, and music in general, is chiefly doxological: It glorifies its Maker.

Every Knee Shall Bow, and Every Tongue Confess, that Jesus Christ Is Lord

Similar to music, other ceremonies may also be employed to praise and glorify God, to affirm His grace and goodness, to confess Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, and to give thanks for His Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Ceremonies are capable of doxology, not because we make them so by our own works or good intentions, but because they belong to the Lord’s creation and redemption of our bodies.  The very fact that ceremonies, including music, can be used hypocritically — as words, too, can be spoken disingenuously — demonstrates the objective meaning and significance of these external expressions.  For there is no hypocrisy or falsehood to be found in doing or saying things that mean nothing, but hypocrisy is present when outwards actions express something contrary to what lies hidden within the heart and mind.  The goal, of course, is that we should believe the Word of God with heart and mind, sincerely, and that we should then confess the same in our speaking and ceremonials.

So, then, on the premise that ceremonies do convey meaning and have something to say, let me offer a few basic examples:

To begin with, the Sign of the Cross is a very ancient Christian ceremony, which is also quite simple and straightforward.  It was in use as far back as the first century, and it is commended by Luther in both of his Catechisms.  It is easily understood, and easily practiced, even by very young children.  The Cross, as always, is readily identified with Jesus and His saving work; and the Sign of the Cross is especially connected to Holy Baptism, whereby the Christian has been crucified with Christ.

To make the Sign of the Cross is to call upon the Lord with a silent prayer and confession of the faith.  The fact that it is traced upon the body, from the head to the heart, and from side to side, helpfully affirms the Lord’s rescue and salvation of the Christian’s entire body.  It also serves notice to Satan that the baptized child of God belongs to the Seed of the Woman, who by His Cross has crushed the ancient serpent’s head.  It, too, belongs to that “one little Word” which fells the devil and his minions.

Another very basic, very simple and straightforward ceremony, mentioned throughout Holy Scripture, is bowing, bending the knee, or full bodily prostration.  In fact, the very terminology that is taken up and used for “worship,” in both Hebrew and Greek, refers to the bending and lowering of the body before the Lord.  Thus, for example, when Satan tempts Jesus to bow down and worship him, the Lord Jesus replies with reference to the First Commandment: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”  Frequently, several of these terms are combined, thereby emphasizing the point: “Let us worship and bow down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker.”  Such admonitions are strikingly similar to those that call upon God’s people to sing and make music to the Lord.

To bow down and kneel, or to prostrate oneself, is not only the common practice of worshipers on earth, but is the posture of worship in heaven, such as St. John describes in the Book of the Revelation.  And, as St. Paul records in his Epistle to the Philippians, so shall every knee in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, bow before the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is what worship looks like outwardly, in the body; and that is how the Holy Scriptures depict and describe the inward attitude of fear, love, and trust in the one true God.

Not only in the Bible, but all across the cultures of the world, bowing, kneeling, and prostration are recognized and practiced as significant indications of humility, of honor for a superior, of supplication for mercy, and of adoration, especially for the divine.  So it was that Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den for kneeling in prayer to the Lord three times a day, whereas Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the blazing fiery furnace for refusing to bow down and worship the golden image.  Many of the early Christians, too, were martyred for their similar refusal to bow down and worship, or to offer incense, before the images of Caesar and the gods of Rome.

The First Commandment remains, which permits no other gods before the Lord.  He alone is to be worshiped and adored, with all the heart, all the soul, all the mind, and all the strength of man.  What, then, of the body?  Granted that bowing, kneeling, and prostration are not specifically commanded of the Christian — there is genuine freedom here.  Yet, in view of the pervasiveness with which this sort of posture and ceremony is set forth in the Holy Scriptures, one might be inclined to ask: Where is the Word of God to suggest that we should not worship and bow down, and kneel before the Lord?

Moving in the other direction, so to speak, there is the lifting up of the heart, the head, and the hands, unto Christ our Savior, as in the ancient “orans” position (which is the historic posture of prayer).  So, for example, the eucharistic rite exhorts you to “lift up your hearts” (Sursum Corda).  The Lord Jesus bids you to “lift up your heads,” as your Redemption is drawing near.  And St. Paul calls upon the men in every place to “lift up holy hands” in prayer.  In each of these ways, we look up to Christ Jesus in faith and hope, especially as we look to Him for mercy and forgiveness in His means of grace.

It is also to be noted that this ancient posture of prayer, with hands uplifted to either side, is not only a bodily indication of petition, receptivity, and hopeful expectation; it is also a form of the Cross, in which the one who prays identifies himself with the great High Priest, who was crucified for us, and yes, who was raised up by God to life again, who ever lives to make intercession for us.

There are also those ceremonies by which the Church and Ministry seek to lift up Christ the Crucified in His means of grace, in the administration of His Gospel.  In this, doxology and proclamation again belong together, as we glorify Christ Jesus by setting Him before the world, calling attention to Him, and commending Him to all the nations.  Here a high Christology goes hand in hand with a theology of the Cross, as we acknowledge and adore the Son of the Living God, who is hidden in humility.

Broadly speaking, what we have in view in this case are pastoral vestments, church paraments and furnishings, sacred art and iconography, fine vessels of crafted metal for the Holy Communion, altar candles and chancel flowers, bells and choirs and other musical adornments, and also incense.  Almost all of these ceremonies are exemplified in Exodus, in the instructions for the Tabernacle, which God revealed to Moses on the holy mountain.  They are also referenced, either specifically or in general, among the traditional ceremonies that our Lutheran churches have retained in the Divine Service.

We gladly receive and make use of these customary practices, because they are meet, right, and salutary ways of demonstrating and encouraging reverence and awe in the presence of God.  To be sure, the Tabernacle with all of its furnishings, rites, and ceremonies, the priesthood and all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, are now fulfilled in Christ Jesus: The substance has come!  But precisely because these things faithfully pointed to Him, and depicted what He would be like, and foretold what He would do and accomplish for the salvation of the world, by grace, so do they helpfully inform the theology and practice of Christian worship.  They are appropriate examples, by which the Lord  prepared His people in the past to receive the Christ who was to come.  Now that He has come, and all things are made brand new, the spiritual life of His Church is not “less” but “more.”  Not as the Law, yet to be fulfilled, but as the Gospel already accomplished, for us and for all people, in His own Body of flesh and blood.

There is an edifying place for aesthetics of this kind, and for beauty, not “for its own sake,” but in the joy of faith in God, the Maker and Redeemer of Creation, and in the hope and gladness of His Resurrection from the dead.  Not everything has to be practical, pragmatic, productive, or pedagogical, but may simply adorn the good things of God with loveliness.  The Lord Himself arrays the flowers of the field with great beauty, though they are here today and gone tomorrow.  Like music, the flowers also glorify God and praise their Maker with the beauty that He has given them.  So, too, within His Holy Church, beauty and adornment are appropriate; not for the sake of achieving or accomplishing some purpose or some work, but for the sake of honoring God and His gifts and rejoicing in them.

The place where you are standing in the Divine Service is holy ground, because it is sanctified by the preaching and administration of Christ Jesus.  Therefore, let His priests be clothed with righteousness, and let His saints sing for joy; even as His saints and martyrs have washed their robes and made them white in His holy and precious Blood.  By the washing of water with His Word, He adorns His Bride with Himself and His own holy vesture, as He is vested in the garments of His great High Priesthood.  Likewise, similar vestments cover the men who preach His Word and administer His good gifts of the Gospel, while at the same time adorning the Office which they serve (which is the Office of Christ).

The same rationale can also be applied to each and all of these ceremonies, without denying that all of them are free (adiaphora), and that none of them are necessary to faith and life, to righteousness or worship.  They are simply good examples of fine practices, which, in many cases, may yet be helpful to our confession of the Gospel, by acknowledging and honoring Christ in His means of grace.  Some of these have been too lightly let go or laid aside without ample consideration.  Whereas others, such as incense (which is so deeply biblical), have frankly not been given adequate attention among us.

None of these adiaphorous human ceremonies are of chief importance or concern.  They are neither the foundation, nor the heart and center of the Liturgy.  They are not decisive, nor are they a goal unto themselves.  They do not make us “better Christians.”  They rather emerge in glad response to what the Lord is doing and giving by His Ministry of the Gospel.  They cast no doubt upon the Gospel, but they delight with joyful confidence in the complete sufficiency and absolute certainty of the Gospel.

The Word of Christ has its own autonomous authority.  We add nothing to it, nor can we; neither is it contingent upon us.  The Word of Christ does not depend upon our faith and love, but we depend on it.  We rely upon the Word, and so we honor it in all that we say and do.  By the way that we speak and handle it, by the way that we make use of it, and by the way we act in the presence of the Word, we confess what we believe and thereby catechize the Church with Christ, the Word-made-Flesh.

As Moses Lifted Up the Serpent in the Wilderness, So Must the Son of Man Be Lifted Up

One more particular ceremony, or pair of ceremonies, needs to be considered, because it touches upon a decisive theological point.  Here I refer to the Elevation and the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Actually, more time and attention should be given to this topic than this paper can afford, but for now, if nothing else, let us have it on the table for discussion.

The Elevation of the Sacrament occurs after each of the elements is consecrated with the Word of the Lord.  Thus, after Christ has spoken, “This Is My Body,” His Body is lifted up by the celebrant at the Altar, in and with the consecrated Bread, in order that all may see it; and all are thus invited to adore the Lord in His Body.  In the same way also, after Christ has spoken, “This Is the New Testament in My Blood,” the Chalice is lifted up for all to see, that all may adore the Lord in His Blood.

Luther dealt with questions concerning the Elevation and the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament throughout his lifetime as a reformer.  His attitude and criteria remained consistent, but were applied somewhat differently in the advice that he gave, depending on the particulars of each situation and its immediate context.  Bear in mind that he had to confront competing challenges on either side: Roman sacrificial notions, and the adoration of the Host apart from the Holy Communion, on the one hand; and Zwinglian denials of the Sacrament altogether, on the other hand.

Because of its associations with the Roman sacrificial Mass, Luther was at first inclined to do away with the Elevation.  However, several considerations led him to preserve the practice, and to defend it against critics and detractors: First, he wanted to exercise patience and care for the piety of the people, lest they be scandalized by such a dramatic change at the highest point of the Divine Service.  Second, he recognized that the Elevation could be understood evangelically, as a commending of the Body of the Christ to the communicants.  For this very reason, Luther notably retained the Elevation in both his Latin and German Masses, describing it as a proclamation of Christ in the Sacrament, and as a gracious invitation to eat and to drink His Body and His Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

As a third and final reason for retaining the Elevation, Luther set himself in opposition to Karlstadt and others, who insisted that the practice was contrary to the Gospel and to the Holy Scriptures, and that it therefore had to be abolished.  Here, as previously mentioned, Luther insisted on its freedom.

It was not Luther, but his own pastor, Johnannes Bugenhagen, who finally did away with the Elevation in Wittenberg (in the late 1530s).  He did so while Luther was away, and there are some indications that Luther was unhappy with this change in practice, especially because there were many people who then perceived it to be a capitulation to Zwinglianism.  In any case, Luther consistently supported Pastor Bugenhagen, and he did not publicly object to the change in ceremony.  Although he mentioned on occasion the possibility of restoring the Elevation to the Liturgy in Wittenberg, that did not happen.

Toward the end of his life, Luther indicated that it would be just as well for the Elevation to be let go from the practice of the churches; not because he was opposed to it, but for the sake of unity among the Lutheran territories, since many of them had already done away with this ceremonial practice.

In considering the Elevation of the Sacrament, it has to be taken into account what a prominent and visible part of the Roman Mass this practice was, and what a volatile issue it became in the context of the Reformation.  In that light, it is actually remarkable that the Lutherans kept it at all, and for so long.  That this continuation of the practice was not solely as a consolation for the weak, nor simply a matter of polemics against the Zwinglians, is demonstrated by a similar but slightly different practice that developed in some of the Lutheran territories of the Sixteenth Century.  In those places, the Body and Blood of Christ were elevated before the people at the Pax Domini, the pastor facing the people with the Host and the Chalice in his hands.  Evidently there was also a rite that would sometimes accompany this new ceremony, drawing upon the words of Luther from one of his writings against Karlstadt: “Look, dear Christian, here are the Body and Blood of your Lord Jesus, which He gives to you for the forgiveness of sins.”  In some cases, this new ceremony was used in addition to the historic Elevation.  Both practices were understood as a strong confession of the Body and Blood of Christ.

With or without the Elevation, as far as Luther himself was concerned, and for other Lutherans after him, there still remained the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament; although this practice became controversial among the Lutherans, mainly after Luther’s death, in connection with a receptionist trend in Melanchthon and his followers.

The “Adoration,” here, refers specifically to bending the knee (or genuflecting) at the consecration of the Sacrament.  That is to say, it is the bodily worship of Christ, the Lord our God, in His Sacrament.

“Receptionism” is the view that Christ is not present in the bread and wine, except in the actual eating and drinking of the elements.  This view developed with Melanchthon, and continued after him, on the basis of Aristotelian philosophy (or, rather, on a misunderstanding of Aristotle’s “four cause”).  Especially as Melanchthon grew closer to John Calvin, in the years after Luther had died, he and others would make disparaging remarks about “bread worshipers,” referring to those (such as Luther!) who adored the Lord Jesus Christ in His Sacrament.

Luther, in his lifetime, explicitly answered the receptionist position, along with its implications for the celebration of the Sacrament, especially in a couple of letters that he wrote to a Pastor Wolferinus.  Therein he indicated that the proper “use” of the Sacrament, in accordance with the Lord’s Institution, begins with the consecration of the elements (with the Verba Domini) and continues until everything has been consumed.  Within that breadth of “use,” as Luther describes, the bread is the Body of Christ Jesus, and the wine is the Blood of Christ Jesus, exactly as the same Lord Jesus Christ has spoken in the consecration: “This Is My Body,” and “This Is My Blood.”  Therefore, we eat and drink because the Holy Supper is the Body given and the Blood poured out for us.  Likewise, everything is consumed, in keeping with the Word of Christ: “Eat,” and “Drink.”  None of the elements that He has consecrated with His Word should be returned to common usage, nor simply “disposed of.”

The Lutherans of the Sixteenth Century (and well beyond) followed Luther’s lead in this regard, and took these matters quite seriously, as the various Lutheran Church Orders (and several controversies) make plain.  In fact, church practices emulated Luther’s “consecrationist” position, in spite of the growing entrenchment of Melanchthon’s “receptionism” in subsequent generations.  Regrettably, the Formula of Concord, in its article on the Lord’s Supper, has frequently been interpreted through the filters of those later developments, and has therefore been misunderstood in a “receptionist” manner.

As regards the Adoration, in particular, the Formula of Concord has likewise been misunderstood.  On the surface, it would seem as though the Formula rejects this ceremony, when it explicitly disavows the adoration of the bread and wine.  However, that particular “antithesis” is actually confessed in response to those (including Melanchthon) who had accused the Lutherans of “bread worship,” as mentioned earlier.  The point is made, precisely because Luther himself, and many others, did adore the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament, while yet distinguishing His sacred flesh and blood from the creaturely elements of bread and wine, which do of course remain in the Holy Communion.

It is especially clear that the Adoration is actually defended and affirmed, when one compares the Formula of Concord on this point with the corresponding section of the Examination of the Council of Trent, by Martin Chemnitz (a primary author of the Formula).  For “no one except an Arian heretic can or will deny that Christ Himself, true God and Man, who is truly and essentially present in the Supper when it is rightly used, should be adored in Spirit and in Truth in all places but especially where His community is assembled” (FC/SD VII.126).  As Luther had also written in 1544: “In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which is deserving of honor and adoration, the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present, proffered, and received both by the worthy and by the unworthy” (LW 34: 355).

When the Son of Man Is Lifted Up, He Will Draw All People to Himself

Now, then, what does this mean for us?  Since the Sixteenth Century, “Receptionism” has become an entrenched problem, and a kind of “commonplace” among many Lutherans, including the Missouri Synod to a large degree; whereas the temptations of the Roman sacrificial Mass are hardly a prevalent danger in modern Lutheran circles.  Consequently, not the sacrifice of the Mass, nor Corpus Christi processions, but “Consecrationism” vs. “Receptionism” is a defining issue in our own day.  And it is a deeper crisis than one might realize or even imagine.  Consecrationism is chiefly a case of reliance on the Word of Christ, whereas Receptionism introduces a human synergism into the Sacrament, and calls into question the objective integrity of the Sacrament prior to and apart from the faith and activity of the recipient.  In doing so, Receptionism dethrones the Lord and undermines His Gospel.

Against these developments, as against the Karlstadts and Zwinglians of Luther’s day, the Elevation and the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament offer a strong affirmation of Christ and His Word: That, when Christ says, “This Is My Body,” and “This Is My Blood,” it is actually so.

The Elevation marks and identifies the high point of the Divine Service, and visually lifts up Christ before the people; whereas the Adoration confesses Him to be the Lord our God.  Taken together, these two ceremonies express with the body what St. John the Baptist declared: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  Beloved, “He must increase,” and “we must decrease.”

Lutherans gladly “Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim.”  Why should they hesitate to lift high the Christ in His Body and His Blood, to the praise and glory of His holy Name?  They know of kneeling for confession and for prayer, and for the distribution of the Holy Communion.  Why then  balk at the Adoration of Christ in the Consecration of His Sacrament?  Acolytes “reverence the Altar,” which is meet, right, and salutary, since it is from the Altar that Christ, the Son of God, gives to us His Body and His Blood.  So, why not “reverence” the Body and Blood by which the Altar is sanctified?

Aside from the Elevation and the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament, in any case, it is even more basic to the faithful confession of Christ and His Word, that the elements be handled appropriately, before, during, and after the Consecration.  The Lutheran Church Orders of the Sixteenth Century are practically unanimous in specifying these several practices, in particular: Only as many elements should be prepared and set upon the Altar as are reasonably expected to be needed for the distribution.  From the Consecration onward, and throughout the distribution, the elements should be handled with utmost care, and the ministers should conduct themselves with devout reverence in the presence of the Lord.  If additional elements are required to complete the distribution, they must first be consecrated by the Words of the Lord (Verba Domini).  And, finally, everything that has been consecrated should also be consumed; or, at the very least, it should reverently be set apart until the next Holy Communion.

All Who Believed Were Together and Had All Things in Common

The Lutherans of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries regulated the practices of the churches within each territory, in the interest of a unified confession of the faith they held in common.  We in our day could, and should, learn something from them.

There does not need to be, nor could there be, a “lock-step uniformity” in all ceremonies.  However, a unity and harmony and consistency of practice, as belonging to our confession of fellowship in the Gospel, is desirable and would be edifying.  That was true at the time of the Reformation, and it is not less so in this modern age of internet communications and rapid mobility!

As Luther and others often cited, it is appropriate that we Christians should have common rites and ceremonies for the administration of the Sacraments, since we have the Sacraments themselves in common.  Indeed, we have one Lord, one faith, one Holy Baptism, one God and Father of all.  We are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by one and the same Holy Spirit, and we all partake of one Holy Communion.  We are all one Body in Christ Jesus, because we all eat of the one Bread, which is His Body; so do we all drink of the one Cup, which is the New Testament in His Blood.  As our fellowship is found in the Sacrament, it is appropriate that our celebration of the Supper be similar.

The regulating of adiaphorous rubrics, rites, and ceremonies within the good order of the Church’s fellowship, within a particular jurisdiction of the Church’s life on earth, is not contrary to the Gospel, but serves the confession and catechesis of the Gospel within the Church’s catholicity of faith and love.  Such commonly agreed-upon rubrics, coupled with the supervision of an overseer, or “bishop,” provides for a common practice from place to place, and from week to week, while it also allows room for genuine pastoral care of the Church in each time and place.

This approach to the life of the Church, as a fellowship of congregations in the unity of the faith, is beneficial, not only to the mutual relationships of the congregations with one another, but also to the life of each congregation, and to the relationship of pastors and people within each congregation.

Pastors benefit from the use of what has been received and adopted in common.  Especially because  it is the case that pastoral piety, in both large and small ways, is never simply personal or private, but is public, “political,” and pedagogical.  The people learn from their pastor’s practice.  They also pick up on discrepancies between his preaching and his practice (as in his handling of the Sacrament).

Parishioners benefit, too, when pastors use the common rites and ceremonies of the Church, rather than inventing their own practices, or else importing practices from outside of the Lutheran Church.  Wilhelm Löhe advised, for example, that a layperson should be able to discern where there is Lutheran doctrine and Lutheran worship, by comparing what the pastor preaches and teaches with the Small Catechism, and by comparing what the pastor says and does in the Divine Service with the rubrics, rites, and ceremonies of the Lutheran Liturgy.  In any event, the people of God should not be asked or expected to pray and confess words which they have never seen before, and which they will most likely never see again.  How shall they give their “Amen” to such things, without even knowing where they came from?  Of course, they listen attentively to the sermon, which they haven’t heard ahead of time; but they are not asked to pray and confess the sermon, nor to give their “Amen” to it, without first being given an adequate opportunity to follow it through and to consider it against the Scriptures.

Worthy is Christ, the Lamb Who Was Slain, to Receive All the Worship and Honor and Glory

In dealing with each other, among and within our congregations, and in approaching the Liturgy, we get our bearings, and chart our course, and take our cues from Christ at the Center: He is the Lamb upon His Throne, the One who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives; Who calls and gathers us to Himself, by the Spirit through the Gospel, in order to make us His own priestly people, and to share with us His own divine, eternal Life in body and in soul.  He is the Preacher, the Celebrant, and the Liturgist of the Divine Service; and He is the Husband and Head of His Body and Bride, the Church

As we think very highly of Him, our Savior, so do we think highly of His Church and honor her in word and deed.  She is, after all, the Bride of Christ, and she ought to be treated like a Lady.  Not only that, but we (especially we pastors) should not take liberties with her, but ought to conduct ourselves with the Church in a manner becoming of gentleman with another Man’s Wife.

Make no mistake, the King’s royal Bride is truly a Queen, even when she may be outwardly dressed in beggar’s rags.  But for that very reason, as we are so given the privilege and the opportunity to care for her, to wait upon her needs in this life under the Cross, and to serve and honor her dignity, we shall not deliberately clothe her in rags, but would surely delight to adorn her as the royal Bride that she is.

If we are thus restrained by appropriate decorum and propriety, it is for the sake of the Gospel, which retains its pre-eminence, priority, and predominance.  It is for us a matter of self-discipline, in order to give pride of place to the Gospel.  It is the Gospel that does and gives everything; because it is the Word and work of Christ, who freely and fully forgives the sins of the world, and who reconciles sinners to the Father.  Therefore, the Gospel does not bind or constrain us, but glorifies Christ as our Savior and our God, and comforts terrified consciences with the gift of His Righteousness and Peace.

This Gospel is, and ever shall be, the true adornment and the real beauty of the Church, with which our dear Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly Bridegroom, graciously covers and clothes us, day by day: within and without, in heart and mind, in spirit, soul, and body.

It is by this grace of God in Christ, by the life that is given to us freely in the Gospel, that we in turn adore Him, confess Him, rejoice in Him, give thanks to Him, and worship Him in faith and love.

As we are called and gathered by the Gospel unto Christ, unto the Lamb upon His Throne, “Let Solemn Awe Possess Us.”  For we are brought into His presence in the humility of repentance, but so also do we enter His courts with praise, in the joyful confidence of faith.  We kneel in awe of His Majesty, and yet, we find that His almighty power is chiefly shown in His tender compassion toward us poor sinners: “The Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious, patient and long-suffering, abounding in steadfast love, forgiving sin, and not counting trespasses.”

Here He has come to us: to open our ears, our hearts and our minds, our eyes by faith, and finally our mouths; to reveal Himself in the Breaking of the Bread, to feed us with Himself, His Body and His Blood, and to abide in us forever and ever.  So do we abide in Him, and with the Father and the Spirit in His Flesh, in that Peace of the Lord which the world cannot give, and we could never have imagined, but He bestows by His Gospel.  To Him who loves us, who has freed us from our sins by His Blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to His God and Father: to Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

(Paper presented at the ACELC Conference, Austin, Texas, April 2013)