21 December 2018

The Peace of Christ in the Ministry of His Gospel

The Peace of the Lord is with you in body and soul, in heart, mind, and spirit, because the Lord Jesus Christ is with you in this place, in this preaching, and at this Altar in His flesh and blood.

He is with you in peace, with mercy and compassion, because He has reconciled you to Himself and to God the Father by His voluntary suffering and death, by His self-sacrifice upon the Cross.

He is Himself the true and only God from all eternity, the almighty and eternal Son of the Father.  But for you and your salvation He has become true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And in His own human body of flesh and blood like yours He has borne your sins away, and all your griefs and sorrows, to the Cross.  All of those burdens He has put to death and buried with Himself, to do away with them once and for all, and to leave them forever in the tomb.

Having thus atoned for the sins of the world with His own holy and precious blood, He has also risen from the dead in the very body with which He shares your humanity and in which He has carried all the crushing weight of your sin and death and condemnation.  Thus, in His Resurrection you also are set free, justified and righteous in the presence of God.  For by His death Christ has redeemed you for Himself, for everlasting Life with Him and with His Father in His Holy Spirit.

All of this He has done, whether you believe it or not.  And He is here for you with all of this grace and every blessing, whether you believe it or not — and whether you are here to receive it or not.

You have the testimony of His servants, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, St. Paul, and all the holy Apostles.  And you have heard again this evening the confession of St. Thomas, that this Jesus who was crucified is the Lord your God.  The confession of the entire Christian Church is that He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.  So shall He also raise you from the dead and give eternal life to you and to all who believe in Him, for His own Name’s sake.

Be at peace, therefore.  God and man are reconciled in the Body of Christ Jesus.  Death has been defeated, because sin is forgiven.  Your sin is forgiven.  The devil has no real power over you.  The grave shall not be able to contain you.  Christ has arisen, and you too shall rise and live in Him.

Do not be afraid.  Do not fret or fuss or fight.  Do not be faithless but believing and faithful.  Love and trust the Lord Jesus.  Abide in peace with your neighbor, as God the Father is at peace with you in His beloved Son.  And be gathered together with the disciples of the Lord, in order to be with Him where He is, also.  Do not rely upon yourself.  Do not attempt to go it alone; it is not good for you to be alone.  Do not lean upon your own understanding, nor trust your own wisdom, reason, experience, or strength.  Do not suppose that what you see and feel is truer than the Word of the Gospel that is preached to you.  And do not succumb to skeptical doubt or cynical despair.

Be where Christ is with you, here within His Church on earth.  And so living by faith in Him, live for your neighbor in love.  Live and abide with your fellow disciples in the Liturgy of the Gospel; and as you also belong to the Body of Christ, live for your neighbors in the world round about.  With the hands of Christ, reach out to those whom the Lord your God has set alongside of you.

Speak the Word that is spoken to you.  Confess the Word of the Gospel, which is Spirit, Truth, and Life.  You have nothing else worth saying.  You have nothing else to give but what you are given.

In considering yourself, you are right to conclude that you are not up to the task that you are given.  You are wounded in body and soul by your sins and pierced through the heart with guilt over what you have and have not done.  You are riddled with doubts and fears, surrounded by dangers and death on all sides, within and without.  Your strength wavers, and your body is wearing out; your mind falters, and your spirit faints.  Battered about by winds and waves of strife and temptation, you cannot help but fall and sink.  You are threatened with oblivion on every hand, at every turn.

What you can see and feel and experience is no help at all, and there does not seem to be any hope.  The good that you would do, you do not.  The evil that you should not do, you persist in pursuing.  Death stalks you like a nightmare; it pursues you day and night, and it will eventually catch you.  And so far as you have ever been able to tell, those who die remain dead and buried in the dirt.

Among your family and friends, in your own health and strength, and in all your thoughts, words, and actions, there is nothing at all that would ever be able to save you or anyone else from death.

So, how are you supposed to reach out in love to your neighbors, even to your enemies, when you have no strength with which to lift a finger or even to grasp at straws?  How shall you strengthen anyone else when you are so decrepit and fragile yourself?  How can you encourage your brothers and sisters in the faith when you are so discouraged and doubtful and down?  And how are you to think about your neighbor and his needs when you are so consumed by worries and suspicions?

See here, now, the Lord Jesus Christ reaches out His hand to lay hold of you and help you.  Yet, even this seems a dismal sort of rescue!  If you consider the men He calls and sends to serve His people — with nothing but the Gospel to do it! — you are sorely tempted to despise His gifts.  Cowardly Gideon?  Playboy Samson?  Peter the denier?  Paul the persecutor?  Doubting Thomas?

What are these men but mortal flesh and blood, wounded and weak, sinners no less than yourself?  They stumble and fall badly.  They are put to death and buried.  They have no power in the eyes of the world, no fame or fortune, and no glory but the Cross of Christ and His Word of the Gospel.

Look at these hands of mine.  They have no great strength.  They could not pull you from the fire, nor snatch you back from the precipice.  What good are they?  They have nothing more nor less than what the Lord has put into them.  And what is that?  The pouring of water in His Name?  The blessing of His Absolution?  A bit of bread and a little wine, here served in remembrance of Him?

The entire life of the Church is like this.  It is a minority in the world, make no mistake about it.  Huddled together as a tiny band against the masses, pastors and people alike are frail and always under the weight of more burdens than resources.  If they are not being put to death, they are dying nonetheless.  There’s always far more to be done than time, money, or people to accomplish it.

So it is hardly surprising that you are often tempted to become cynical and sarcastic, skeptical and incredulous.  You want something to believe in, something tangible and solid, something sure and certain, something you can see and feel and touch and handle and rely on with confidence.

Dear child of God, be at peace.  The Lord is with you.  He is here for you.  These poor hands of mine are His own hands for your benefit.  Though they are wounded and scarred in more ways than one — as you and yours are wounded and scarred — know that He has been wounded for your transgressions and pierced for your iniquities, in order that you should be healed by His scars.

Your doubts and fears are faithless unbelief, for which you are called to repentance.  But for all of that, He is and remains always faithful, and by His grace you are forgiven.  Your demands are selfish and impertinent, but He does not hold them against you; He is merciful and comes to serve you with care.  He puts Himself at your disposal.  He places Himself into your hands.  He entrusts Himself to you — as He who rules the cosmic deep entrusted Himself to the arms of His Mother.

Witness His love for you.  His humility is not weakness but the exercise of His strength for your salvation.  His Cross and Passion, suffering and death, are not His defeat but His victory on your behalf.  His Body and Blood are not impotent but salutary gifts and life-giving benefits for you.

His hands and side and feet are pierced and wounded; they bear the marks of His scourging, His crucifixion, His execution, the marks of the nails and the spear.  But Christ the Crucified, the One who was dead and buried, He has risen from the dead, and with compassion He gives life to you.

There is no human logic here, but divine Wisdom.  His Cross is foolishness and weakness in the eyes of the world and in the perception of your flesh, but it is the power of God unto salvation.  His Cross has not defeated Him, but it has conquered death and crushed the devil’s head.  And it is this Cross that saves you and gives you everlasting Life through the forgiveness of your sins.

From the Sacrifice of His Cross, from His crucified and risen Body, the Lord Jesus breathes His life-giving Holy Spirit into your body and soul with His Word of Absolution.  You are forgiven.  Thus do you live, even though you die.  For those who live and believe in Christ will never die.

From His pierced and wounded side is delivered His Eve, His glorious Bride, the Holy Church.  You belong to her, and so to Him, not by your own wisdom, reason, or strength, not by any choice or decision of your own, but solely by His grace.  He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies you with His Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.  He removes your guilt and shame and replaces your doubts and fears with His peace.  He heals you of unbelief and raises you up in holy faith.

His wounded hands pour out His Blood of the New Testament, which permeates the waters of your Holy Baptism and cleanses you, even as it now also continues to fill and overflow the Chalice of His Holy Communion, poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

So do His wounded hands extend to serve you and reach out to feed you with His Body, given for you, that you should remain a member of His Body.  So hide yourself in Him, here at His Altar.

Reach here your hand.  Take and eat.  Drink from His Cup, the New Testament in His Blood.  Open your mouth and be fed from His wounds.  Do not be unbelieving but believing.  And be at peace.  The Lord is with you, and His Peace is with you always.  The One who died for you has risen, so you also shall live, because He forgives your trespasses and remembers your sins no more.

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

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