Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
It was a 40-day period that the world had not seen before and has not seen since. What happened then changed the world forever, for the Word became flesh, dwelt among us, died for us, and rose to give us the promise and the hope of eternal life, restoring order to a world beset with chaos brought on by sin, a task so monumental that it could only be accomplished by one Man, the God-man Christ Jesus. He alone could exchange His sinlessness for the world's sinfulness, and our death for His life. His mission completed to reconcile the world unto Himself, the time had come for the risen Lord to prepare a place for His people, to ascend to His Father's heavenly mansion of many rooms, and to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
So that we would be prepared to be brought into the heavens, the Lord made apostles of His disciples, sending them, having opened their minds to the Scriptures and having charged them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them at Pentecost, that they, as His undershepherds, would be bold to carry out the commission the Lord gave them before He ascended. The Lord ordained them to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all things He has commanded, namely, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name. The Lord of the Church gave this same charge to Matthias, who became numbered with the eleven apostles, for he accompanied the Twelve (including Judas, whom he succeeded) during the time the Lord Jesus went in and out among them, beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from them—becoming with them a witness of the Resurrection. Matthias was charged by the same Lord and empowered by the same Holy Spirit as were the Eleven to preach the Word in season and out of season, unto the ends of the earth. The Lord sent His apostles—for apostle means "sent"—far so that He would be near His people. He has to this day sent their successors—pastors—to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments so that He would be near us, that we would be drawn nearer to Him.
We need to be drawn near to our Lord because our hearts are far from Him, for we are by nature sinful and unclean. We do not want the uncleanliness of our sinful hearts exposed in the light of God's Law. Just as mice scatter when someone switches on a light, so also we scatter from the Word that is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. We would rather hide the light under a bushel than to have our thoughts, words, and deeds known by men, let alone the Lord, who knows and sees all things. We have imprisoned ourselves into our own condemnation. We are slaves to sin and cannot free ourselves, and the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, seeking to keep us captive by driving us further into despair and farther away from God, for the devil is the prince of darkness.
Yet the risen and ascended Lord continues to come to us as His ministers—His pastors—read and proclaim His Word, the Law and the Gospel, for He desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But the sinful pride continues to shun the light of the Gospel, focusing on the self for one's salvation. And on the Last Day, when Christ shall come to be our Judge, He will cast the proud, unrepentant sinner farther from Him than are the poles of the earth from each other, cast into eternal hellfire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is no place so far away as to be eternally separated from the Lord.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined" (Is. 9:2). "And," as the blessed Apostle and Evangelist St. John writes, "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world" (Jn. 1:5, 9). The Light is Christ. The Light shines here in His house, for He Himself is present here. He is here sacramentally and physically in His Means of Grace. You see, the risen Lord is seated at His Father's right hand, and the Father is present where His Word is preached in its purity and His Sacraments administered in accordance with His Gospel. The Lutheran Confessions rightly state
The right hand of God is precisely the almighty power of God which fills heaven and earth, in which Christ has been installed according to His humanity in deed and in truth without any blending or equalization of the two natures in their essence and essential properties. Because of this communicated power He can be and is truly present with His body and blood in the Holy Supper according to the words of His covenant, to which He has directed us through His Word. No other human being can do this since no human being is united in this manner with the divine nature... [FC SD VIII, 28-29];
and again, "Christ can be present with His body, which He has placed at the right hand of majesty and power of God, wherever He desires and especially where He has promised His presence in His Word, as in the Holy Communion" (FC SD VIII, 92).
The Lord who gave His body and shed His blood, died on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven is here now, as He has brought heaven down to earth with Him—heaven and earth are full of His glory—as He comes to us in His Word and in His body and blood. He is, as we heard earlier, physically and sacramentally present in His Supper, for you will soon eat of His true body and drink of His very blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. His presence is real. His Word is real. His body is real. His blood is real. His gifts bestowed on us are real. His absolution, forgiveness, given through His pastors, is real, for He has conquered sin and taken captivity captive, nailing it to the cross with Him. By His bloody death on the cross, our Lord pours into us in His Supper the forgiveness He won for us on Calvary, setting us free from the darkness of sin. As Luther so eloquently said in a sermon on the Ascension, "While [Christ] was on earth, He was far away from us; now He is very near" (1523).
The risen and ascended Lord is very near to us now—He is here!—coming to us through the read and proclaimed Word, even as He came through His apostles, including Matthias, read and proclaimed to the ends of the earth as the Holy Spirit enabled them at Pentecost and as He calls men today in the apostolic succession of the pastoral office; that is to say, the preaching today is drawn from the teaching of the Apostles, to whose minds the Lord opened the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit opens our minds and hearts to draw near to God, receive His forgiveness, hear His Word, and partake of His Sacraments. What is happening here today, as the Lord comes to us, the world sees but does not understand. We, who walk by faith and not by sight, give thanks to God, and to Him alone be the glory!
Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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