The Body of Christ Given For You - 22nd Sunday after Trinity
October 23, 2016
With what shall I come into the LORD's presence; and bow myself down before God Most High? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you O Man what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:6-8
Today Micah asks the question people don't ask much anymore. We live in an evil day. A time when few people want to know God, or even think about him. To be sure many admit to a higher power or call themselves spiritual, but it's not the same thing. And no one asks Micah's question anymore!
Not even the tiny remnant that still comes to his house each week. Even we take it for granted, and think we are entitled to enter this sacred space, to partake in holy communion with the Living God. And we're not wrong, except that it's not an entitlement, but a gift of God's grace, given in baptism and received by faith alone. For it is there, in the cleansing flood, that we obtain the all the benefits of our Lord's "holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death". There, we are "delivered from death and the devil". There, we are given the gift of eternal life … the very life that God himself lives!!! A thing we hardly know how to talk about, because words fail us. Or even to think about for long, because it's like trying to look at the sun. We are always aware of its presence, we bask in its glow, and soak up its life-giving rays. But we can't stare it for long or it will blind us, or stand in its presence without protection, lest it burn us to a crisp.
So how do we safely come into the presence of the One to whom the church, and all the company of heaven sing Holy, Holy, Holy? There's only one way, dear Christians, with an Offering!
But what kind of Offering will do???
What can be bring to gain admittance to such a God as this???
In the Old Testament he commanded the blood of animals and other gifts. But here, with a few inspired words, Micah sweeps away the entire Old Testament sacrificial system. Not because he was a rebel, but because he was a prophet. A visionary who was given the eyes of faith to see 750 years into the future. To see the Reality that every Old Testament sacrifice symbolized. To see Jesus on the cross lifting away, and removing the burden of sin the from of the world; giving relief to the oppressed, and life to the dead!
The Old Testament sacrificial system, as such, could not forgive a single transgression. But still the rituals were indispensible because every sacrifice ever made pointed to the crucified and risen Lord we worship. For every Old Testament sacrifice, ten thousand though they may be, the voice of faith proclaimed aloud: the body of Christ, the body of Christ, the body of Christ, just like we do at the altar today!
With what shall we come before the Lord our God? With Christ as our Savior, and Christ as our Shield. But there is a process, and we are engaged in it now.
We come with humility, confessing our sins, and gaining remission for them. The very thing every cancer patient hopes for, prays for, pays for, and suffers for we get instantly, painlessly and without money or cost. Remission of our sin which is cancer of the soul! Self-inflicted. Not by smoking, or by eating red meat. But by our idolatry, anger, greed, lust, self-worship and the refusal to forgive our brother from the heart. These are tumors that consume our soul with sickness, and grow larger and larger, until finally there is nothing left. Till finally they bring us to the Pit!
We come, too, with our gifts of bread and wine which God graciously receives, and returns to us infinitely multiplied. Not in quantity, but in quality! For the bread and cup are no longer mere bread and wine, but now they are "the body and blood of Christ given for us Christians to eat and to drink, for the remission of sins, life and salvation."
This is why the church elevates the elements. To do the very thing we sing in the hymn. To Lift High the Cross, and proclaim the love of Christ for all. Here in the happiest procession ever to set boots on the ground we come into the presence of our God. With "Christ the Royal Master" in the Bread and the Cup leading the way against the foe of death and sin, and straight to the presence of God Most High!
Look carefully, then, and look well dear Christians! Burn this picture into your minds, because what you see here: God's redeemed processing towards the altar; that is the very thing you will see on the Last Day. The Festal Procession into the Festal Gathering with the cross of Jesus going on before! For all the world, don't miss it now, and don't miss it then.
Yes, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is the divine Gift and divine Offering by which we happily come into the gracious presence of our God, and share holy communion with the all-glorious Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
But there's more, because in holy communion not only are our sins remitted, but our minds are transformed, our bodies made into living sacrifices, and we become "imitators of God."
As God is just, even so we live just lives. That is to say lives that are in line with, and in keeping with God. As he is graciously disposed to all people, and all creation, so are we. As he loves to shower the world with senseless acts of mercy, even so Christians. As Christ "humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," so we, too, walk humbly with our God: taking up our cross each day; forgiving those who trespass against us; and ascribing to our God all glory, laud, honor, praise and thanksgiving, now and unto the ages of ages! Amen.