The most profound things that mark our lives belong to the gifts and works of God in us, among us, and through us. Think here of baptism. We come with nothing and we leave with everything. We have nothing to give and everything to receive. It is pure grace. But in this grace our old lives end and a new life begins. With it comes a new identity -- still in competition with the old Adam that is, as Luther put it, still a good swimmer. The tension between old and new, while troublesome and difficult, is a good tension and one that marks us as citizens of heaven and a people made new for eternal life. Do we recall this baptism not as memory but as that profound new birth? Do we esteem this new life as the true and most real life of all? Do we rejoice to wear the name of Jesus, indeed the name of the Trinity? Do we acknowledge that baptism does not save us?
With baptism, comes the voice of absolution. It is not without significance that Jesus act in His first official meeting with the apostles after the Resurrection was to ordain them as pastors, set them apart for His work, and endow them with the authority of the Word precisely to forgive and retain sins. How is it then that we so easily reduce forgiveness to a good feeling that comes mostly from us and not from the objective Word of God applied to us by name and individually? The most profound things that mark our lives have to do with the forgiveness of sins and absolution is the sacramental grace and power and authority to act in the name of our Lord to dispense the grace and gift He won by His own one, all sufficient sacrifice upon the cross. Do we esteem this sacramental grace with the prominent place our Lord gives it? Do we rejoice to confess because we know the Lord will be merciful? Do we rejoice to hear personally the voice of Christ in the mouth of the pastor forgiving our sins, moving them as far from us as the East is from the West, and turning the scarlet into purest white?
To the baptized comes the gift of Holy Communion. Here again we are confronted with grace that forgives the sinner as well as feeding him body and soul. It is the most profound moment of our common life together, around the Table of the Lord, given privileged place we do not deserve, and being fed the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. Holy Communion is not a casual activity but worth of the most profound reverence and awe to those who hear and trust the promise of Christ -- this is My body and this is My blood. Do we see this Holy Supper as source and summit of our daily lives as Christians? Do we come to the rail with sincere and humble awe that God is here -- the symbols that convey what they symbolize and the signs that deliver that which they sign? Do we prepare to receive this Eucharist because we know and tremble with holy awe and joy at what happens here? The most profound things of God are when God gives Himself to us and this He does in this bread He makes to be His body and this wine He makes to be His blood -- all without destroying the bread or the wine but adding to its reality His flesh and blood?
And under it all is the Word. Yes, it is infallible and without error. God does not lie to us or deceive us or tempt us with His Word but just the opposite -- He speaks that which is most true to us in order to enlighten us by the Spirit and secure us into the arms of His grace. Do we esteem that Word as highly as we ought or do we treat it as simply a word or perhaps even a true word but not one that actually can or will do something? I fear that in our age we have re-established the conviction that the Word of the Lord is infallible and without error in theory but in fact we treat it as something less than the efficacious voice of God still doing among us, in us, and through us that which He speaks. Do we see this Word as the most important Word of the day as well as the Word that endures forever? Do we pass it down as the holy and sacred deposit of the fathers to their spiritual children that we might be called by it to faith, gathered by it as His Church, enlightened from darkness to His light, and sanctified to be His holy bride?
The most profound things that mark our lives are not the usual suspects but the things of God that are ordinary in the Divine Service and in our piety and practice but not ordinary at all! Until we get this, it will remain too easy to surrender the eternal to the moment and then come back to be assured it does not matter -- all so that we can return to our first love -- ourselves, our things, and this moment of our lives. Until we acknowledge these as the most profound things that mark our identities and lives, it will always be easy to surrender them to other churches who do not teach as Scripture teaches or to give them up in favor of something else that satisfies our spiritual but not religious longings.