Frederick the Wise collected many relics in his castle church; his inventory of 1518 listed 17,443 items, including a thumb from St. Anne, a twig from Moses' burning bush, hay of the holy manger, and milk from the Virgin Mary. Money was paid in order to venerate these relics and thus escape years in purgatory. A diligent and pious person who rendered appropriate devotion to each of these relics could merit 1,902,202 years’ worth of penance (an earthly equivalent of time otherwise spent in Purgatory, removed by indulgences).
Today modern Westerners laugh at the idea of relics possessing some sort of power. How foolish right? Yet these things were what the church pointed to for assurance. Scared and sorrowful people were directed to relics, the purchase of indulgences, attending mass, or going on a pilgrimage, for comfort.
The devil tempts us to hope in things that we can do.
We laugh at those primitive peasants and manipulators of the church, but let’s be honest. Do you have any relics to which you cling for comfort? When you are frightened at night about the prospects of death or losing your kids, what gives you confidence that you will be ok? When you can’t stop thinking about that abortion, that divorce, that affair at the office, those sins that seems unforgivable, what do you hold on to that erases those fears?
Do you cling to how you have changed since then? Do you trust in how many times you have cried, “I’m sorry!” into the air? Do you think your pilgrimage to St. So-and-So Christian Church will satisfy an angry God? Or do you hope your tithing proves to God your repentance?
Nothing has changed since ancient times. The devil tempts us to hope in things that we can do. We can collect relics. We can go to church. We can give money to the poor and into the offering plate. Yet chasing after these activities and things ultimately give us no certain end, no satisfaction, and leaves us empty.
God has given us something for our troubled consciences and our guilty souls. He has given to us His own Son as the angels announced to the shepherds that first Christmas morn, that first Reformation day. This one and only begotten Son became the only relic worth venerating, the only saint worth adoring, the only bones that save, the only blood that heals.
The Reformation definitely relocated man’s hope onto Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Gospel of complete salvation by grace through faith was restored. But the Reformers also highlighted the clear things Jesus has given us for our confidence and certainty. The Reformation restored the Word and Sacraments to their rightful place as signs of God’s favor, forgiveness and promise of eternal life.
Many today within the Christian Church still chase after fleeting and unsure signs of God’s grace instead of relishing the clearly-given gifts commanded by our Lord.
Sorrowful, scared, guilty? Take and eat, this is my body, take and drink this is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. No need to travel to Jerusalem, spend money on the church building, or pray really, really hard. Christ’s body and blood assure us of forgiveness and eternal life! They bring certainty to the doubtful that God is for them. These are the relics not meant to be worshiped but consumed. These are the holy things to which we can go to have our troubled consciences healed.