Healing on the Sabbath
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Why can’t just anyone commune in our churches? Why must they be baptized and learn the Scriptures and the Catechism and be confirmed? Why must they be examined and absolved by the pastor before being given Christ's body and blood? The answer to all this is given in the Gospel: You don't just come in and go straight to the head of the table as if you belong there! Rather it is Christ who invites you to His altar and supper. Jesus uses the example of the Pharisees and experts in the Law who would throw a dinner and then they would all scramble to sit up near the host instead of farther away. The closer you sat to the guy throwing the party, the higher your social status. For the Pharisees, a dinner was a chance to show off how important you were. For the Pharisees, the Sabbath was a chance to show off how religious you were. For many people, going to church and receiving the Sacrament is the same thing: it's a chance to prove to others how pious you are. It's an opportunity to remind God how lucky He is to have you show up for church! But that's not what the Sabbath is all about.
The Sabbath is the day for hearing God's Word and being healed from our sins. For the Pharisees, the Sabbath is a day to act religious and holy. For Jesus, the Sabbath, like any other day, is an opportunity to speak God's Word and heal those who are sick and hurt by their sins. The reason to come to church is not to impress God, but to receive from the Lord the forgiveness we need—without which we will perish eternally. The Sabbath is all about Christ healing people. The Sabbath is all about the Lord taking the broken and the humble and bringing them to the place of honor while taking those who are proud and religious and haughty and knocking them down. For those who are humbled by the preaching of repentance, the Lord brings healing and an exalted spot at the table. Those who in their pride need no repentance, the Lord casts aside. In short, the Sabbath, our Sunday liturgy, is not about us telling God what we're owed. It's about the Lord telling us what He has given us in Christ.
That's the problem with sinners. We like to make going to church a work that we do to show we're religious—just as the Pharisees would never think of the Sabbath as a day for healing. We figure we had better show up because that's what's expected of us. Worse, we think that because our name is on some membership list somewhere or because we call ourselves Christians, that we are entitled to just walk into God's presence and expect Him to acknowledge us. That is not repentance and faith. That is pride and arrogance. But in truth, you have no worthiness. Learn the repentance that brings you to the foot of the table, the worst place, the place you deserve. Leave it to Christ to lift you up and bring you higher.
You see, Christ is the very person of whom He speaks. The Father prepares a wedding feast. Does Christ jump to the head of the line? Does our Lord shove everyone else out of the way and put Himself first? Does Jesus come into this world to dethrone kings and emperors and take their place, lording it over the world? “I'm Jesus! I'm the Son of God. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” No. Jesus comes and takes the lowest place. Born in a barn, raised in the backwater of Galilee, He never has power or money or any of those things the world prizes. But then He goes to the cross. There, on the cross, He is condemned as a common criminal and judged by His Father as the worst and only sinner. There, on the cross of Calvary, Jesus is the lowest, the most despised, the most humble, the worst, the weakest, the least. There, He has the lowest place of all. By taking that place, He takes our sins on Himself and takes them away by His bloody death. Then what? Jesus says, “Take the lowest place and then you will be asked to come up higher.” So Jesus defeats sin, death and the devil. He rises from the dead. He ascends and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Christ has been brought up from the lowest place—suffering for our sins—to the highest place: the right hand of the Father. He has been crowned with all glory and majesty and honor. As Saint Paul writes, “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So He lords it over us now, right? Not at all! He is lifted up so that we are lifted up with Him!
Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles Himself will be exalted.” We who have been humbled in our sin are now with Christ who is seated at the right hand of God! If the Sabbath for you is nothing more than showing off your religion, then repent! If you expect you are owed the Sacrament but don't want to learn Christ's Word and Catechism, then repent! Be humbled. If, on the other hand, you are humbled by your sins and recognize your unworthiness, then rejoice! For Christ has lifted you up. Having been brought from your sins in humble repentance, hear again the Lord's invitation to come up higher. Come now to the feast, be welcomed as Christ's holy guests and be given the gift once more of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.