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.