“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of The Word.” These words from St. Peter which began today’s Liturgy don’t make sense to us at first. Who are the newborn babes? Many of us have been Christians for years! Why does The Liturgy begin with those words today, a Sunday after Easter?
Long ago, when Christianity was overcoming paganism, converts were instructed in The Faith during Lent. They were baptized during the night of Easter. They wore their white baptismal robes, the origin of the white dresses our children wear at the font, for a whole week; during that time the bishop reflected with them on the Sacraments they had received on Easter. Today they took off those robes. St. Peter is reminding these new Christians that they shouldn’t change. They should keep on desiring God’s Word, like a baby desires mommy’s milk day and night.
What about you? Does The Apostle’s admonition apply to you? It most certainly does! How easy it is for us to forget the zeal and fervor and joy Easter gave. How easy it is for us to show in our lives that Jesus’ Resurrection means nothing to us even though we give it lip service. How often have we said we believe, yet our actions showed the opposite, whether to our children, our neighbors, or our friends or coworkers? Today The Apostle says to you, be like a newborn baby again! Desire God’s Word!
Why should you desire God’s Word all the time? What happened to Thomas when he was earning the moniker “Doubting Thomas”? What was his problem? Like all the others, he didn’t believe Jesus when He said He’d rise again. But unlike the others, he strayed from the gathering of the Faithful. They stayed together in anticipation while he went out to do whatever he wanted. So when he heard The Word of The Resurrection, he denied it and made demands of God. He would believe on his own terms, not on God’s terms.
Do we treat God that way? Perhaps we think, “I’ll read my Bible today if I get a moment.” “I’ll pray when I’m ready.” “I just don’t have time.” “I don’t feel up to it today.” But when you don’t have time or don’t feel up to it, that’s when you need it most! That’s when you most need to hear you are a sinner worthy of eternal death but Christ suffered for you. That’s when you most need to see His pierced hands extended out to you, His pierced side reaching out to you with His love!
How does He do it? Well, what happened with Thomas? When did he believe? It wasn’t when he put his hand in Jesus’ wounds. In fact, St. John never tells us if he did. Yes, Jesus told him to, after all, that’s what Thomas claimed he needed. But Thomas just exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” He believed, and he believed because he heard the Word Jesus spoke to him. Thomas could tell from Jesus’ words that He knew what he’d said that week even though nobody told Him. He could also tell that no body double talking to him. The Crucified One was talking to him. The words that Crucified One spoke worked.
What’s more, Jesus says it’s His Word that creates and strengthens faith. He says blessed are those who have not seen, unlike Thomas, and yet still believe. You believe because you hear His voice. You hear His Word, The Sacred Scriptures, and you believe. You don’t hear His Word and you won’t believe. That’s the way it works. The Word, and The Word alone, saves and keeps you with Jesus in the one true Faith. That’s how The Spirit works. He speaks to us in no other way. He doesn’t speak directly to our hearts. He doesn’t speak to us new teaching either. He speaks to us through The Holy Bible and He calls on us to teach and believe exactly what it says and nothing else. He calls on us to hear and believe it.
Why is this so important? Because Scripture is all about the forgiveness of sins. Jesus wants you to desire His Word like a baby desiring mommy’s milk because He wants to forgive your sins. The message of the Bible is you are a poor, miserable sinner, but Jesus has won forgiveness for you with His Death and Resurrection. Believe it, trust Him, and it’s yours, free of charge!
That’s what He sent out His Apostles to preach. That’s what He sends all His Faithful out to confess before all the world. We confess Christ is risen. We did not witness His Resurrection or His resurrected Body. But we do believe His Word; so we confess His Word. You confess it by being here. You confess it by saying The Creed. You confess it by giving your offerings. Confess it at home, at work, at play. You confess it when you forgive the sins of others.
Forgiveness: that’s the mission and the message of Christianity. Growth isn’t our mission; neither is self-help. We’re not out to be popular; we can’t expect to get rich. Christ has called us to forgive sins, even as He has forgiven us. That forgiveness takes away from us the garments of sin, washes us in His Blood, and dresses us in the white of eternal life. He desires you to have and keep this forgiveness. He wants all people to have that forgiveness! And He wants all people to show the fruits of that forgiveness in their lives and conversations.
“I forgive you” is not a feel-good thing we just say when it feels right. It’s firmly grounded in something that can never be overturned: Jesus’ Blood, His Death and Resurrection. Were it not for that, forgiveness wouldn’t exist. Jesus was punished for all our sins. He died and suffered hell because sin earned for us death and eternity in hell. Because He suffered, He won complete pardon for us. If you doubt that, see His Resurrection. That’s God pardoning Him of all sin, and if God has pardoned Him Who pardoned us with His Death, then sin must be forgotten and forgiven.
That forgiveness has been given you. You received it when He baptized you. He washed you clean of sin because He was burying you in the waters with Him in His Death and bringing you up out of the waters to new life with Him in His Resurrection. You receive it every time you confess your sins and are absolved. You receive it every time you eat His Body and drink His Blood. For then you receive The Sacrifice that forgives you.
Jesus appeared to His Apostles in the upper room that Easter night, and again the following week. He told them to forgive sins and says we should hear His Word and believe it; thus we receive eternal life and forgiveness of sins. That’s why He wants us here all the time to hear His Word. That’s why He wants us to keep His Word close to us, in reading and in memory, at home and away. He wants to keep forgiving our sins and keep us close to Him, all the way to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. He wants you to wear the white garments of salvation to the wedding feast, the eternal wedding feast of The Lamb and His Bride.