27 November 2019

Returning Thanks through Jesus Christ Our Lord

Thanksgiving is fundamental to and distinctive of the Christian faith and life.  It is of the first priority, in so far as your words and actions are concerned as a child of God in Christ.  For it is with thanksgiving to God that you confess the faith, and pray, and live in love for your neighbor.

Such thanksgiving on your part corresponds to the gracious providence and good gifts of God.  You return thanks and praise to Him for what He has already done and given to you; for all that He has promised to do and give, which is already sure and certain in His Word; for His loving discipline, as a father for his son; for His call to repentance and His forgiveness of all your sins.

In mercy and in love for you, He catechizes you to live by faith in His Word, to live by everything that proceeds from His mouth, as the Father speaks to you by His Son, and as the Son breathes His Life-giving Holy Spirit upon you by His Gospel.  He teaches you and trains you to recognize and receive His gifts with thanksgiving, and so also to call upon His Name and to wait upon Him in hope, looking to Him in expectation of good things.  He calls you and guides you to walk in His ways, to keep His commandments, and to give yourself in love to and for your neighbor.  This is how you live and multiply and possess the good Land which the Lord has pledged and provided.

At the same time, there is a leprosy (of body and soul) which cuts you off and shuts you out, which reduces you and renders you impotent, and which finally puts you to death.  It separates you from God and man, from Church and state, from house and home, from family, friends, and neighbors.

It is the leprosy of sin, which not only lacks but actively opposes faith and love and thanksgiving.  It brings about doubt and despair, on the one hand, and yet promotes prideful arrogance on the other hand.  It both drives and is driven by selfishness, self-reliance, and self-righteousness; all of which is worse than futile, because it accomplishes nothing but anger, anxiety, and further alienation, not only from those whom you are called to love and serve, but likewise from everyone who would love and care for you.  That is what the leprosy of sin achieves.  It does not rise up in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving; it rather erupts in outbursts of rage, either verbally or bodily violent, and it vents itself in terrible temper tantrums, in cursing, swearing, lying, and deceiving.

There is no happiness, peace, or rest in your leprosy of sin.  There is only a nagging, gnawing, desperate want, dreadful sadness, bitter loneliness, and relentless death.  You exist and function outwardly, but you’re as good as dead on the inside, and you are always dying (inside and out).

That is the situation in which you find yourself, and from which you cannot and will not escape, until the Lord Jesus enters in to save you, to rescue and redeem you, to cleanse and sanctify you.

Christ Jesus comes to you, makes His way to you, and addresses your deep and desperate need.  He confronts you with His Word and Flesh, and you are met with His holiness in response to your uncleanness.  And, to be sure, He disciplines you, humbles you, and calls you to repentance.  But He does so, not to shame you, discourage you, or punish you, but to catechize you and to bring you from death to life, from the desert wasteland into Paradise, and from the outskirts into His House.

He approaches and draws near, this Lord Jesus, not only to expose and reveal your need, but also to provide what you need.  He draws near to you, that you might draw near to Him.  He has gone outside the wall and gate in order to find you, the outcast, and to gather you back into His Holy City, the place where His Name and His Glory dwell, and really to enfold you to Himself.  He does not recoil in fear and loathing from your unclean flesh.  He does not retreat and run away from your blemished body of sin and death.  He embraces you in love with His own Flesh and Blood.

He does break your heart of stone, that is true — that you might recognize and receive Him as your God in the Flesh.  So does He speak to you in love, and by His Word He opens your lips to call on His Name and show forth His praise; to confess what He has spoken to you; to worship and glorify Him by faith in His Word; and to give Him thanks for all His tender mercies and great salvation.

For all that, He is and does far more.  He is your merciful and great High Priest.  And as such, it is not that He ignores your leprosy, nor does He merely remove its outward symptoms, but He actually takes your leprosy of heart, mind, body, and soul upon Himself, into His own skin, into His own flesh and blood; and with His own Body and Life He cleanses you of all unrighteousness.

He sacrifices Himself to atone for all your sins, and He reconciles you to His God and Father in Himself.  He establishes the way of real life and true righteousness in His Body and Life as the true and perfect Man.  He lives and dies for you in the way of faith and love, which He in turn gives to you and makes your own by His Word of the Gospel, by His Word of forgiveness and peace.

He continues to give Himself to you, as He has given Himself for you in His death upon the Cross.  So does He also bring you out of death into life, and to the Father, in and with His Body of flesh and blood.  Which is to say that He is not only the Priest and the Sacrifice, but His Body is the true and eternal Temple of God, wherein God abides with you — and you abide with God in Him.

So, then, here is what that looks like and what it means for you.  Your worship and prayer, your praise and thanksgiving are focused and centered in Christ Jesus.  Not abstractly or randomly, but in the hearing of His Word to you, in the receiving of His Body given and His Blood poured out.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the primary Liturgist, the true Preacher and Celebrant of the Divine Service.  He is the One who worships the Father in Spirit and Truth, that you might worship in Him.  He is your prayer, your thanksgiving, your living sacrifice, and your sweet-smelling incense, who offers and gives Himself to God for you, and who is received by the Father on your behalf.

He is your faith and love, your righteousness and holiness, your peace and hope, your joy and happiness, your confidence and courage, your compassion and charity.  Which is both why and how you now live in love for your neighbor; especially for your fellow Christians, your brothers and sisters in Christ, but also for those who are estranged, who are still wandering on the outside.

You are set free from the shackles of your leprosy.  You are no longer shut out and barred from the House, from the City, from the good Land of the Lord your God, but you are at home with Him in His Church, within the Body of Christ, your Savior.  You belong to the household and family of God.  You are a citizen of His Kingdom, and you are safe and secure in the Mighty Fortress of His beloved Son.  Here you are well-fed and well-provided.  You lack no good thing, nor shall you ever.  No matter what you suffer in the wilderness, you shall not die, but you shall live with God.

Therefore, as your dear God and Father in Christ Jesus has given you this body and life on earth, you are free and able to give this body and life to and for others, in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting of both body and soul.  You already know the good Land which the Lord has sworn by His own Name to give you, and He will surely bring you into it.

In truth, in the Body of Christ you have already entered into that good Land, and you live and abide in it by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  For Christ is yours, and He is here with you, with the same crucified and risen Body that makes heaven the Paradise it is.  His Church on earth flows with milk and honey from the Cross, the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden; and she is wealthy with the jewels and precious gems of His Passion, the treasures of His Gospel, the water from His side, His Body and His Blood, the outpouring of His Spirit, and His Holy Absolution.

The beauty and the glory of it all, for now, is hidden and mysterious in, with, and under the Cross.  And it so often seems elusive, as though you never will be able to find it or reach it or have it.

But, now, wait upon the Lord.  He shall open His hand to satisfy all of your needs and desires, and He shall give you the true Meat and Drink indeed in due season.  Even now He gives to you this sacred Manna and spiritual Drink, which are His own true Body and His holy, precious Blood.

By this Food, by this Meal, this Feast, you lack nothing at all, but Christ feeds you with Himself — yes, even here and now — that you might also abide with Him, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.  For as surely as you eat this Body and Blood of the One who sacrificed Himself for you, who died and rose again, who ascended to the Right Hand of the Father and ever lives to pray and intercede for you, so do you dwell in the Lord’s House, in His good Land, forever and ever.

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

24 November 2019

Today You Are with Christ Jesus in Paradise

Jesus remembers you today, and you are with Him in Paradise, because He is here with you in the midst of the great tribulation.  His Tree of the Cross is not only green, even as winter approaches, but it is fruitful and life-giving; not “in spite” of His suffering, but precisely by and from His innocent suffering and death.  His Body and His Blood are the First Fruits of the New Creation.  And as the Church Year begins with the coming of Jesus into His Holy City on Palm Sunday, so does it conclude with His Holy Cross and Passion, which are the heart and center of all things.

Therefore, daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Him; sons of Israel, do not mourn His death.  Rather, weep and mourn for your sins, for which the Lord Jesus willingly suffers, sheds His blood, and dies.  And sorrow for your children, who have inherited your sins and your mortality.

Sons and daughters of Adam & Eve, weep and mourn over your fall into sin, over your disbelief and disobedience, and over your departure from the Lord your God and from His Garden.  Weep and mourn over the death and decay of God’s good creation, which bears the burden of your fault and suffers the sorrow of your trespasses and sins, the stain of your iniquity and disobedience.

And yet, do not succumb to despair and hopelessness, despite the attitude and actions of this fallen and perishing world.  The days have long since come when they say that the barren are blessed to have no children, and many now choose to make themselves barren on purpose.  The wombs that do not bear and the breasts that do not nurse are considered fortunate and free.  What a sad and striking contrast to the joys that we cherish and celebrate here at Emmaus, as we pray and give thanks for the children who are born among us, baptized, and brought up in the faith of Christ.

But it’s not as though we are naive to the challenges and difficulties that face mothers and fathers, marriages and families, in the bearing and rearing of children in this body and life.  Indeed, there are sacrifices at every stage, and we are bombarded with the contrary rhetoric of the world with its criticisms and complaints.  Surely it is tempting to wonder whether it is all worthwhile.

You bear your burdens and struggle to do your part, but in the meantime you cannot see whether it matters one way or another.  Whether you pray or not seems to make no difference.  Whether you are righteous or wicked is of no obvious or immediate consequence, unless it be that the righteous suffer want while the wicked appear to flourish and prosper at the expense of the righteous.

Satan taunts you, and he tempts you, as he dared to tempt Christ Jesus: If you are a dear child of God, then why this, and why that?  Why do you go hungry?  Why are you so poor and so alone?  Why must you suffer?  Why must your job be such a pain?  Why is your marriage so stressful, and why are your children ill-mannered and disobedient?  Or, why do you have no spouse or child?

The devil hurls these assaults and accusations against you, against the Words and promises of your Holy Baptism, and against the forgiveness of the Gospel.  After everything that God has said, the devil puts a big question mark: “Really?”  “Did God really say that?”  And with that he drives you to doubt and despair concerning both the Lord your God and yourself.  Perhaps God is deceiving you, or else unable to help you; or you’ve not done enough or done it right, so why should God even bother with you, unless it be to punish you severely for your depravity and failure?

Thus are you caught in this great tribulation, which rages all around you, and roars in your ears, and batters your heart, and confuses your head, and wearies your soul.  The choices set before you seem utterly bleak and futile.  Either God is not good enough, or you are not good enough.

If God is not good enough, or if He isn’t even real, then why bother with anything in particular?  You might as well do whatever you want, and it won’t matter, anyway.

But you know that’s not true.  God forbid that you should fall into such perdition.  God forbid it, and God forgive you for all such doubts and fears wherever you have entertained them.

But what about yourself?  Are you good enough?  Have you done enough?  Have you done it all just right?  Have you kept your nose clean?  Have you given enough?  Have you prayed enough?  Have you loved enough?  Have you believed enough?  And do you believe all the right things?

These are impossible questions, but the answer to each and all of them is, “No, you have not.”

You are a sinner, first of all, from the inside-out, before you have done anything.  And as a sinner, all your thoughts, words, and deeds are sinful.  Even the best of what you manage to do is filthy with your sin.  And the harder you try to make yourself righteous, the more sinful you become.

The root of the problem is not your bad behavior but your faithless heart.  You do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  You do not rely on Him and look to Him in faith for all that you need, expecting only good things from Him.  Instead, you bargain and maneuver and negotiate, you plot and you strive to make some kind of compromise or cut some kind of deal with Him.

And there is always this hesitancy and reservation in the way you approach and relate to God.  You do not entrust yourself to Him, but you offer what you think you can afford, what you figure you can live without, as much as you think it will take, but as little as you think you can get away with.

Why do you not tithe?  Is it because there is no Law that says you must?  Because you don’t think you can afford it?  Because you are not thankful for what you have?  Because you do not trust the Lord to provide all that you need for both body and soul, for this life and the Life everlasting?

Why do you not bring the whole tithe into the stores of the Lord’s House, in order to support His Church and Ministry?  Why do you not give the first fruits of your labor and your income to the Lord your God, in order that His House should be well-supplied with food and drink?

Instead of trusting and relying on the Lord to forgive your sins and save your life, you imagine that you must save yourself — as if you ever could!  That is the devil’s satanic seduction, which he throws into your face and whispers into your ear, as he did with Christ Jesus in the wilderness, at Caesarea Philippi, on the Cross, and at all the opportune times and places in between.

Unlike the Lord Jesus, you listen to the devil’s lies and temptations instead of to the Words and promises of God.  You rehearse the devil’s thoughts, instead of God’s.  You confess his lies to yourself and to others.  And you act as Satan urges, instead of living as the Lord has commanded.

Is it not robbery and theft to live your life as though it were your own possession, when it is the Lord who made you, and not you yourself?  Is it not criminal to horde those things which God has entrusted to your stewardship, and to use them as though they were your own by right, instead of using those treasures and talents to serve your neighbor and to support the Lord’s Church?

Daughter of Jerusalem, son of Israel, child of Adam & Eve, repent of this robbery and theft.  Own that you are a criminal, deserving of nothing but punishment, and be crucified with Christ, who numbers Himself with such transgressors.  For so has He numbered Himself also with you.

Fear the Lord your God, your Maker and Redeemer.  Fear the Lord, who willingly suffers the punishment that you justly deserve.  See in His Body crucified the wages of your sin and the price of your Redemption.  And hear His Word to you, His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Despair of yourself, to be sure, but do not despair of Him.  Rather, hope in Him, in His Cross, in His Body and His Blood, in His Church and Ministry, His Gospel and His Spirit.

Do not suppose that the wicked will always prevail, nor that the righteous are forgotten.  For the Lord Jesus remembers you, even in death.  And this same Jesus is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in His eternal Kingdom.  He lives and reigns forevermore.  And all this He accomplishes for you and your salvation, in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours.

He is the true and perfect Man, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, in order that you should live and abide with God the Father in Christ, the incarnate Son, as He abides with you.

He surely does save others.  He is the Savior of the world, and He is your Savior.  But He does not save Himself.  Instead, He lives by perfect faith in His God and Father.  He loves Him and trusts in Him, and He prays to Him in confidence, even in the face of death and the grave.

He brings the whole Tithe into the Lord’s House, and far more than 10%.  He offers up Himself, His whole life, His Body and soul, His flesh and blood.  He is the spotless Lamb who suffers and dies in the place of His people, and who by His sacrificial death atones for all their sins, including all of yours.  He is the sweet-smelling Incense that fills the Temple with the very Peace of God.

And He is the Food, the Meat and Drink indeed, which fills the Lord’s storehouse and feeds His entire Church in every time and place, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.

His faith was not misplaced, His faithfulness was not in vain.  Though He was numbered with transgressors and crucified as a criminal, cursed upon the Tree between two guilty robbers, His righteousness is vindicated and openly declared when God the Father raises Him from the dead.

And because He is your King, your Savior, and your Head, His Resurrection from the dead is also your resurrection, your vindication, and your righteousness.

That is your sure and certain hope as you bear the Cross and suffer and die.  That is your sure and certain hope, your righteousness and peace, although you are a sinner, a robber, and a thief.

But do not for that reason continue in your sins.  Rather, in the hope of the Resurrection, repent, trust Christ, and live.  Be crucified, dead, and buried with Him, in order to live with Him in His Kingdom, here and now by faith within His Church, and hereafter in His Paradise forever.

Trust Him by hearing His Word and calling upon His Name in prayer.  Trust Him by doing the work that He has given you to do, bearing your burdens in love, patiently and without grumbling.

Trust Him by forgiving those who sin against you, by loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, by turning the other cheek and gladly doing good to those who hurt you.

Trust the Lord to vindicate you, to defend you and speak well of you, just as He has declared you to be righteous by His Gospel.  Trust Him to uphold the good Name with which He has named you.

Whatever your circumstances here and now may be, trust that He will surely save your life from death, and feed and clothe your body, and shelter and protect you.  For He has given Himself for you, and in His Church He freely provides you with all of the best and most permanent things.

Here He clothes you with His righteousness and covers you with Himself.  For He was stripped naked, and His garments were divided, that you might be dressed with that which is His.  Here He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of the same Blood with which He has redeemed you and reconciled you to His God and Father forever.  So has He made His House your home.

Here, indeed, you are with Him in Paradise, because the Fruits of the Tree of Life are freely given without cost, and the Waters of Life are generously poured out for your cleansing and refreshment.

Here the Lord Jesus remembers you by coming to you in and with His Kingdom.  He remembers you with His Word of Peace, His Gospel of forgiveness.  He remembers you with His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink, unto eternal Life and Salvation.

By these Fruits of His green Tree, you are with Him in Paradise.  And as surely as you are crucified and die with Him by your Baptism in His Name, so surely do you rise and live with Him forever.

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

03 November 2019

Sons of Abraham by Faith in Christ Jesus

In His Parable last Sunday, the Lord Jesus depicted a tax collector who confessed his sins, prayed for mercy, and went home from the Temple justified.  And now, in this morning’s Holy Gospel, we hear of the tax collector, Zaccheus, who is forgiven and justified by the same Lord Jesus Christ.  Thus are you catechized by the example of his repentance and faith, and you are strengthened in your own faith and life by the demonstration of the Lord’s mercy toward him.  He is more than just a character in a story or a parable.  As Jesus declares, this wee little man is also a son of Abraham.

That is not simply an affirmation of his genealogy; no one could dispute that, although Zaccheus (as a tax collector) would surely have been regarded as a traitor to his native people.  But, no, as St. Paul indicates in several of his Epistles, the true children of Abraham are those who share the faith of Abraham — faith in the promise of the Christ who was coming — now faith in the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ who has come.  Zaccheus was granted such faith, and by such faith he is a son of Abraham.  Indeed, by such faith he is a son of God, and so is he your brother in Christ.

This story of Zaccheus, like so many of the stories of Holy Scripture, is the story of real life in Christ — the story that you also share with those who have gone before you in the confession of His Name.  In this respect, the Holy Gospels are not only the revelation of God in Christ, but also a revelation of Christ in His saints, a commemoration of those who lived and died by faith in Him, who now live forever in His crucified and risen Body.  So shall He be glorified in all His saints on the Day of His appearing; and then you shall see Him as He is, and you also shall be like Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the Right Hand of the Throne of God.

So does the Epistle to the Hebrews conclude its lengthy commemoration of the Old Testament saints who lived and died by faith in the promised Seed of the Woman who would come in the fullness of time and crush the serpent’s head.  And so do we also remember with thanksgiving the faithful departed on this Sunday of All Saints.  As one Body in Christ, we rejoice in our fellowship with those who have fought the good fight and finished the race, who now rest from their labors.

To avoid misunderstanding and superstition, let us be clear about our relationship with those dear saints who have gone before us.  We do not worship the saints or pray to them for help in this body and life on earth, but together with them we worship and pray to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We do not remember them or pray for them with doubt and fear, but we give thanks in the confidence of faith for the life that is theirs in Christ, our Savior.  Though we love them as fellow sons and daughters of Abraham, we trust not in the saints but solely in the Son of God.

How is it, then, that we commemorate the faithful departed in accordance with Holy Scripture?

If not for abuses that have at times developed in the history of the Church, this would be a fairly simple question.  For though we do not pray to the saints for their help, we do look to their faithful example for encouragement in our faith and life on earth.  And though we do not worship them, we do remember the saints with thanksgiving toward God, who has done such marvelous things for them and us.  And again, we rejoice in the fellowship that we share with them in Christ Jesus.

Our Lutheran Confessions likewise describe a threefold honor that is rightly given to the saints:

First, we should give thanks to God for showing examples of His mercy in the lives of the faithful departed, thereby revealing His will to save both them and us, and at the same time giving these saints to be our teachers and fellow Christians in His Church.  We praise God for giving these gifts to His people; and we praise the saints themselves for their faithful stewardship of His gifts.

Second, we honor the saints by the strengthening of our faith and confession with the witness of their repentance and forgiveness — as in the case of St. Peter following his denials of Christ.

Third, we rightly honor the saints by imitating their Christian faith and life within their callings: first of all their faith in Christ, and then also the good works that flowed out of their faith in Him.

In all of these things, our focus is fixed on Christ Jesus, who alone is All in All.  Just as St. John sees in the Book of the Revelation, the entire host of heaven is circled and crowded around the Lamb upon His Throne, all eyes riveted on Him.  The saints are rightly honored, then, when we consider them as living “stained-glass windows” through whom the Light of Christ is reflected and shines on us.  They all have their own unique colors and patterns within their particular callings and stations in life; but all the while, Christ is the Sun who shines upon them all, thereby casting their colors and patterns upon us.  For their steadfast faith and their good works are not a product of their own reason or strength but exhibit the presence of Christ and the work of His Holy Spirit.

Certainly Zaccheus is a good example of these things, first of all in his desire to see and hear Jesus, no doubt because he has already heard the word concerning this Man from Nazareth; then, also, in his receiving of Jesus into his home; in his repentance and faith; in the forgiveness of his sins; in his reparations for the wrongs that he has done against others; and especially in the declaration of Jesus that he, too, is a son of Abraham by faith.

It is that very same life as a “son of Abraham” that you also have received by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.  And the same thing is true of those whom we remember today, who departed this life in the faith of Christ over the course of this past year.  You will not recognize the names of all these people; probably there are many of them you never knew in this body and life.  But these, too, are the sons of Abraham, as are you.  And together as one body in Christ, as the family of God, we have one-and-all received the inheritance of faith, in which we live and die and live forever.

For the time being, of course, the blessed life that you live by faith in Christ includes the Cross and suffering, just as it did for those who have gone before us in the confession of our crucified and risen Lord.  But you may greatly rejoice even in this, precisely because it is a share in the Cross and Suffering of Christ Jesus.  If you have died with Him, you know that you also live with Him.

As you struggle though this life under the Cross on your pilgrimage to heaven, you are able to find comfort and take strength from the witness and example of the faithful departed, the saints of old as well as those who have been near and dear to you in this body and life on earth.  Not only are their lives a reflection of the Christian faith, but even more, their victory in Christ over death and the grave is a powerful witness and encouragement as you struggle feebly on.

Thus, as in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we remember and give thanks for the saints who have gone before us, that we might see in them a demonstration of the Christian faith and life.  And by the testimony of so great cloud of witnesses, you are indeed encouraged to fix your eyes on Jesus.

The confession and faithfulness of the faithful departed, in life and death, are set before you as the evidence of our dear Lord’s faithfulness toward them — and so also toward you and all of God’s people.  That is what the Greek word for “witness” really implies.  It is a legal term, not only for a person who gives testimony, but for the evidence that is brought forward and placed on exhibit.

The saints who have gone before us have thus become the living “exhibits” of the Lord’s great Salvation — accomplished and fulfilled in Christ, and so also manifested in the bodies and lives of His Christians.  Their repentance and faith, their confession and absolution, their words and works of love within their callings, and their persistent prayer and worship in the Name of the Lord Jesus, are the evidence that the Kingdom of God has come and is at hand in the Body of Christ.

What is more, you already share a blessed “communion” with that great cloud of witnesses — a common unity in the one Lord, Jesus Christ — especially as you are gathered here at His Altar for the Lord’s Supper.  In the words of one familiar hymn, “The saints on earth and those above but one communion make; joined to their Lord in bonds of love, all of His grace partake.”  For the “communion of saints” is not some “pie in the sky,” but a Banquet set before you here and now.

It is, indeed, the ongoing, neverending Feast of Christ, which you are given to share with Christ — already here on earth — in the company of angels and archangels and all the host of heaven.

Certainly, it is no coincidence that we are given to sing of this heavenly reality in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Nor is it merely poetry when we join with all the saints and angels in singing the “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  For here in this place the Lord Himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is present in the utter reality of His human flesh and blood.  He is here to feed you with Himself, to join you to Himself — not only in some sort of abstract “spiritual” sense, but in the truly spiritual fact of His sacrificial Body and Blood.  Nothing else would be enough, since you also are of flesh and blood, and His salvation is for you, for both your body and your soul.

So Christ is present here with you and for you; and wherever Christ is, there is the greatest glory and blessing of heaven itself.  Indeed, in the words of another beautiful hymn, heaven itself would be void and bare if the Lord Jesus were not present.  But He is here with you in His Body given and His Blood poured out for you to eat and drink, granting you forgiveness for all your sins, and bestowing on you His Life and Salvation.  And because those who have departed in Christ are with Him forever, you can rejoice in their presence here with you, as well — closer now than ever.

It is, therefore, truly meet, right, and salutary, that our worship here on earth should blend with theirs in heaven, as we are gathered around the Lamb upon His Throne.  He feeds us here at His Altar with a gracious preview and a foretaste of that very same Feast which they enjoy throughout eternity in His Kingdom.  And in our grateful response, we sing with All Saints the majestic hymn that is chanted forever in heaven: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.  Blessed forever is the Lamb of God.  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”

All glory, honor, thanks, and praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.