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Resurrection Life for Resurrection People Part 4: Resurrection Mysteries

Reading Time: 7 mins

God comes to us through the flesh and blood and spirit of Christ precisely where he promised to be manifest to us and for us.

Jesus is Immanuel — “God with us” (Isa. 7:14). For “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who where under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). God becomes immanent in a startling way: “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” God in human flesh or, as St. John stated it: “And the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). But his being with humanity purposed him to a singular event, namely the crucifixion of the Son of God (Mark 8:31). Yet, his victory on Golgotha — within a garden scene evocative of Eden when God walked with man — set the stage for perpetual divine immanence through the transformed humanity of Christ Jesus. 

With the resurrection and ascension of Christ, a new way for God to be immanently present dawned: sacramental presence. God comes to us through the flesh and blood and spirit of Christ precisely where he promised to be manifest to us and for us.

“Manifestation” is such an important word in this regard. It’s the word that St John uses in his first epistle to harken back to the Incarnation, but also to set the interpretive horizon for understanding Christ’s immanent presence in Holy Communion. In 1 John 1:1-4 he writes:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 

Graphic, tactile, corporeal, here. John repeatedly says the Eternal Logos was manifest. Manifestation does not require transportation. The Son of God did not travel great distances to get to Earth. Since heaven suffuses our reality (Matt. 3:2), he was simply made manifest, beginning with the flesh of Mary, being “the seed of the woman” in her womb (Gen. 3:15). We confess that moment of manifestation with the words of the Creed, “Conceived of the Holy Spirit.” John says that which was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary was manifest to them in ways confirmed by a battery of their senses — hearing, seeing, touching, handling. The Incarnate One, however, did not cease to be manifest following his crucifixion. Instead, the mystery of incarnational manifestation continues, just as John writes in 2 John 7:

"For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist."

Whereas in his first epistle, St John refutes those gainsaying the Incarnation, in his second epistle he rebuts those deceivers who confess not that Jesus Christ (as it is in the Greek) “comes” or, better, “continually comes in the flesh.” Instead, these deceivers say, yes, Jesus may come but only as a disembodied spirit, since he has shaken off the flesh of humanity. The Beloved Apostle forcefully testifies to the opposite: the resurrected Christ continually comes in the flesh — not past tense, but present. The point of contact for such manifestation is Holy Communion. Jesus is the Eucharist. The transformed flesh of Christ immanently and continually present in the sacraments is a mystery of the resurrection.

Pivotal, then, to the ongoing immanence of God is the resurrection of Christ Jesus. The resurrection leads to his ascension and, so, facilitates his ability to be present in the pure preaching of the gospel and administration of his gospel sacraments. [1] David Scaer states: “The incarnation means that God is active in human history in one particular historical person—Jesus of Nazareth. The past continues to live in the present and determines the future.” [2] “The past” refers to the incarnation of the Son of God. That he “[c]ontinues to live in the present” happens because of the bodily resurrection of that once-crucified, dead, and buried Jesus, so that he lives for us and with us through sacramental self-giving. His sacramental self-giving determines the future for us because he is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30) and “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2). Indeed, the resurrected Jesus ever abides as the paradigm for our own future embodied state, since “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2-3), that is, like unto his resurrected and glorified state. The resurrection is so unlike what we bodily experience in this terrestrial life that, despite St Paul and St John’s best efforts to describe it, it remains mysterious yet certain.

The mystery of resurrection life manifests as Christ’s present life given for us and to us in the sacraments.

And this is what makes the sacraments so satisfying to the soul that longs to be with the Lord, to be aided by the Lord, to be healed and helped and held by the Lord. The mystery of resurrection life manifests as Christ’s present life given for us and to us in the sacraments. Through them Christ conveys to us this one reality — we are not alone in this life of sorrows and joys. He is with us and, in and through these meaning laden sacraments, and he purposes to transform us into his likeness in this life (spiritual sanctification) and hereafter (bodily resurrection).

Jesus Christ is immanently present in each of the sacraments: he is present to help you in Holy Baptism, since we need to be reborn and have his perfect righteousness imputed to us and our sins washed away on account of his blood atonement. In the sacrament of Holy Baptism, the perfection before the law that we need but altogether lack is provided by the Perfect One. The resurrected Christ is present to help you in Holy Absolution assuaging your guilt and releasing you from the lingering power and deceitfulness of sin. Christ, present in the Word of Absolution, in the Office of Holy Ministry, and through the touch of his priest, pardons sin and assuages guilt. The Small Catechism says concerning Holy Absolution: 

We receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven…. I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly repentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord deal with us Himself.

Christ is present to help you in Holy Communion since in this life we need the Bread of Life and the Blood of the Atonement to abide in faith; to be brought from grace to grace, and to be evermore transformed into his likeness. Here’s Martin Luther once again in the Small Catechism:

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?

These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Christ is for us the forgiveness of sins; he is the life; and as Simeon said looking into Jesus’ infant face, he is our salvation (Luke 2:30).

It is no wonder, then, that while preaching at a funeral, Luther pinned all assurances of the believer’s resurrection on the fact of Christ’s resurrection and our present participation in the resurrection through the Word and the Sacraments. Being self-referential by way of pedagogical device, Luther said that he’ll be transformed on the Last Day because the Word of God says it and the promises of God cannot be broken. Luther said that he’ll be raised because through baptism he was plunged into the life of the Resurrected One. And what cinches it all was Holy Communion. Through the Sacrament of the Altar union with the resurrected-present Christ happened each time he, Luther, consumed the flesh and blood of Jesus. And because Christ is raised from the dead, so will Luther and all who abide in the faith of Christ likewise be raised and transformed. This is the Christian hope: the resurrection of our bodies, which is why “we do not mourn like those who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). The sacraments (also called mysteries) ensure resurrection life for resurrection people.

Only this kind of resurrection presence does justice to Jesus’ many promises to “never leave us nor forsake us” (Heb. 13:5); “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14.18); “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). And he is so in the sacraments, engaging in extraordinarily helpful, sanctifying, saving acts of self-giving. He does not give us particulate things, like a sprinkling of grace or a tinge of peace. He gives us himself; for he, along with the Holy Spirit, is the sum of all the Father’s perfections and all that God desires to give us. There can be no greater need, matched by no greater gift. 

There are spiritual sources of strength and intimacy with Jesus in his sacraments because they are not common bread and wine or water, but points of manifestation by which Christ conveys himself to us personally and intimately. Luther gets at this when reflecting on not merely the presence of God’s Word in Holy Baptism but the presence of the Incarnate-Resurrected One:

Who, then, would despise the fact that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are present in Holy Baptism? Who would call such water simply water only?  Do we not see what sort of spice God casts into this water?  If you cast sugar into water it is no longer water but delicious claret or something else.  Why, then, do we want to separate the Word from the water so entirely in this case and say that the water is simple water only, just as if God’s Word, nay, God Himself, were not present with and in this water, as they were there on the banks of the Jordan when Christ stood in the water, the Holy Spirit hovered over it, and God the Father spoke.  This is why Baptism is a water that takes away sin, death, and every evil and helps us to enter heaven and eternal life.  Such a delicious sugar water, aromatic, and specific it has become because God Himself has entered into it. [3]

When you participate or partake of any of these Christ-instituted sacraments, you begin to dwell in that overlap of heaven and earth, grace and nature, time and eternity. And there are times, many times, indeed weekly and even daily when we need to resort to heaven on earth because we’re experiencing the hellishness of this life — illness, suffering, persecution, hardship, abandonment, broken promises, guilt, and dying itself. And so far from being abandoned and alone, we have help, not merely from the Paraclete but from Jesus Christ himself and it is something he delights to do. Indeed, it is one of his three primary responsibilities as the world’s rightful King: to protect, provide, and pardon. He delights to do these things for you. He delights to bring resurrection life to his resurrection people.

There need be no category of spiritual loneliness for the Christian. There’s no need for a spiritual quest for God, a searching for Jesus Christ. No looking inward nor searching throughout nature which only reveals to us his invisible attributes, namely “his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20). Instead, he helps us in the sacraments. And with this help, he leads us to live here and now as if heaven were already manifest fully on earth. With his resurrection life in us, we can practice living like the resurrection people we were made to be in baptism: 

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself (2 Cor. 5:14-18).

Get on then with resurrection living so that this dying world may see that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

[1] In this sense, the pure preaching of the gospel may also be understood as the sacramental presence of Christ. See John J. Bombaro, “When Sermon Meets Sacrament
[2] David Scaer, Christology, Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. VI (Northville, SD: The Luther Academy, 1989), 18.
[3]  Martin Luther, Luther’s Works (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007), 12:142f.