[From: Magizin fuer Ev.—luth. Homiletik und Pastoraltheologie, vol. 23, 1899, pg. 377]
Prayer: We thank You, Lord Jesus Christ, that You instituted the Sacrament of the Altar for the good and comfort of us poor sinners, and have now invited us all to come to You to eat sacramentally Your true Body and Blood so that we share in and are assured of the complete forgiveness of our sins. Let us see how weary and heavy laden we are so that we willingly and with joy hurry to You and are refreshed. To this end graciously bless this first earnest confessional meditation in our new Church Year. Amen.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11.28
In the Lord Jesus dearly beloved penitents!
The Holy Spirit says through St. David in Psalm 103.8: “The Lord is merciful and gracious”. The Lord has always shown His grace and mercy, even in the OT times. For 4000 years, before He gave His only-begotten Son in the flesh, God had His saving word proclaimed and allured and enticed people through prophets and other saints: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy without money and without price wine and milk” [Is. 55.1], namely the sweet, saving Gospel of Christ. But to show His grace and mercy even more gloriously, God not only gave the Old Testament covenant people the Sacrament of circumcision through which the eight day old baby boy was received into God’s kingdom of grace, but also the Sacrament of the Passover Lamb, through which all who participated in it in faith were assured of the complete forgiveness of their sins. What great cause faithful David had for the jubilant word of thanks: “The Lord is merciful and gracious”!
But much more than even in the Old Testament, God showed His grace and mercy after the birth of Christ, which marked the end of the long Advent or waiting time. Now in the New Testament the word of the Lord is fulfilled [Mk. 16.15; John 3.16]: Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. As proof of His grace and mercy God also ordained, even in the New Testament, special means and seals: the Sacrament of holy Baptism through which a person is born anew and receives the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, life and salvation; and the Sacrament of the Altar in which God’s Son Jesus Christ offers to each one who eats and drinks His body and His blood for the sealing of the forgiveness of all sins. We have gathered here today in our new Church Year for this celebration of it. Let us therefore now consider the question:
Why should we be diligent in going to the Holy Supper in this Church Year?
According to our text:
because Lord has so kindly invited us to Himself
because without Him we are weary and heavy laden
because by His gracious meal He gladly refreshes us.
You have all certainly long known from the Scriptures the truth that a Christian should go to the Holy Supper, not only just once or once a year but rather often and faithfully. By the Holy Spirit St. Paul says to the Corinthians and all Christians [1Cor. 11.26]: For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Often, yes, often we are to enjoy the body and blood of the Lord under blessed bread and cup. This is what the first Christians of the congregation in Jerusalem did. They remained constant in the breaking of bread and in prayer.
Why, beloved, can’t this also be the case among us? Hear how the Lord so kindly invites us: Come to me. This certainly does not mean that we should travel from here to Palestine or organize some sort of pilgrimage because since His ascension the Lord no longer walks visibly on earth. Rather we should come to Him in faith, hear and learn His word and diligently and earnestly use His holy Sacraments.
And precisely in the holy Sacrament the Lord truly makes Himself near to us like in no other Sacrament, either in the Old or New Testament. Here He gives us the Body and Blood with which He obtained forgiveness of sins on the cross, as He Himself says: “Take and eat. This is My body which is given for you. Take and drink of it all of you. This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Who among us can still doubt whether the Lord also kindly invites him: Come to me?
“To me, to me”, He says as if He wanted to say: Keep yourselves from those who would want to lead you to a false Christ; keep yourselves from those who would minimize, gloss over your sins and present them as something not damnable; keep yourselves from those who point you to your works as if they could completely or in part save you; no, come immediately and only to Me, the true, all wise and almighty God, and receive my flesh and blood with a believing heart: in this way you will find rest for your souls. –Shouldn’t such a friendly invitation awaken us to diligent use of the Holy Supper?
Perhaps, though, someone may think: O, how gladly I would truly diligently go in our new Church Year, but I am too sinful; I would only offend the dear Savior with my many trespasses. I have to first wait until I have become more worthy and not so much burdened in conscience with sins.—But, dear one who thinks that, tell me, where is it written that you are too sinful for your Savior? Where is it written that your repentance must be so deep, like the repentance of David or of Peter? Where is it written that a sinner burdened in conscience and therefore fearful cannot come to the Savior? Oh, thank God, that today you can hear and learn how wrong your present opinion was! For the Lord says: “all who labor and are heavy laden, come to me”.
“All who labor and are heavy laden,” what do these words say? We have all, more or less, experienced what toil is. Even according to God’s wise counsel there is no other way than that through many tribulations we enter the kingdom of God [Acts 14.22]. Most Christians are not spared sickness, invalidism, poverty, weakness, sorrow and many other miseries and troubles of heart. When the distress of sin is added to such bodily distresses, and the weight of sin presses upon us in conscience the toil becomes an oppressive weight to the one who is truly burdened. Whoever vividly recognizes how weak and poor his love is toward God, and how often he is lacking love toward neighbor, especially in love toward those offensive to him and opponents, precisely he is the one who is laboring and heavy laden, and to him the Lord says: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden.
Without Christ, it is of course a terrible thing to be laboring and heavy laden. Then rod and staff, nourishment and provisions are lacking along the pilgrim way. Then the bread of life and the water which flows into eternal life are lacking. Then the guiding star through this uncertain earthly vale is missing. Where Christ is not, there is no faith, no love, and no hope; there one lives without purpose and dies condemned. With Christ every labor and burden becomes light. Who has Christ, having confidently grasped Him full of heartfelt trust, knows that all things serve to the best of those who love God. Whoever stands in faith in Christ, all sins are completely forgiven out of grace for Christ’s sake. And although, according to his old self, he always feels how weary and burdened he is, he still comforts himself that the Lord invites to Himself precisely those people who labor and are heavy laden.
Far be it, then, that your sins, o believing Christian, should keep you from going to the Holy Supper, or that you should wait until your sorrow is deep enough, or until you no longer feel your burden of sin. Away with such thoughts! Rather precisely when you regard yourself as too unworthy to draw near to the Lord, come to the Table of the Lord. The Lord longs for sinners not for the righteous who do not need repentance. Thus the Lord says here: who labor and are heavy laden.
“And I will give you rest,” says the Savior of sinners at the end of the verse. What a precious promise for every weary and burdened heart comes here from the mouth of the true God! He will give them rest. Rest? What is that? He Himself wants to help them out of their anguish of conscience and rescue them out of every distress of sin. He forgives them every iniquity, wrong and trespass. Yes, even if your sins are as scarlet, He will still wash them as white as snow, and though they are red like crimson, they shall still become like beautiful white wool by the blood of the pure Lamb. The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, makes us pure from all sin. But if your burdened heart is relieved from the burden of sin, the faithful Savior also wants to make your other burden into a light load for you—either He relieves the burden itself from you or He gives you the power and joy to endure it willingly. Whoever experiences that may always exult: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” [Ps. 34.8].
The Lord uses His holy Supper as a means to give rest to His own. This is shown us by the words: “Given for you and shed for the forgiveness of sins.” From this it is clear that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are given by such words, for where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation. If your trespasses then torment you and you desire forgiveness; if you doubt whether you are still a child of God and an heir of eternal life, as you carry a hearty longing for it; if you fear temporal death and the thought of the judgment troubles you: just come here, my brother and sister! Here in the Sacrament of the Altar your Savior fulfills His promise: “And I will give you rest.”
So, my beloved penitents, let it be said to you today why we should most diligently go to the Holy Supper in this our new Church Year: because the Lord so kindly invites us to Himself, because without Him we are weary and burdened and because He gladly gives us rest by His Supper of grace. Let us do this and let us encourage all other members of this congregation to do so as well. Then God’s grace and blessing will reign over us and our entire congregation. And we will all the more understand and experience this most glorious word of our Savior: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Amen.