Peace to you, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We wish you God’s blessings and congratulate you on the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul!
I would like to remind you of two stories from the Book of Acts, both from the church calendar this coming week. The first is from the tenth chapter, it is about a Roman officer named Cornelius who was constantly thinking about religion. And one day an angel appeared to him and said,
Cornelius! your prayers and your alms have come to remembrance before God. So send people to Joppa and call Simon, who is called Peter. He <…> will tell you the words by which you and your whole house will be saved.Acts 10:3b, 4b-6
I was not too lazy to count how many words the angel said; there are 43 of them (this is if we count the words in our Russian translation), or 44 (if the angel spoke Greek), or 42 (if the angel spoke Latin).
Such a number of words would be quite enough to tell Cornelius about Christ, right? You can try to compose a short sermon of 43 words yourself, I am sure that you will succeed.
But the angel did not preach anything about Christ to Cornelius, but instead announced that he could be saved only when Apostle Peter spoke to him with salvific words. Why is that? Because salvation is impossible outside the Church, that is, outside the apostles and their successors.
It was the story of the apostle Peter, and the chapter earlier in the Book of Acts there is the story of the conversion of Saul, the future apostle Paul. Do you remember? There Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and said, “Saul! Saul! why are you persecuting Me?” [Acts 9:4]. Nothing seems strange to you? How could Saul persecute Jesus? After all, he had not even met Him until now, and did not believe in Him, considering Him to be just an impostor, a carpenter from Nazareth. But Saul persecuted the Church, and went to Damascus precisely in order to arrest Christians.
But this is written so that we can see that the Lord clearly identifies Himself with the Church. And it is so: the Church is Christ. The Church is not a gathering of humans, but the Church is the continuing presence of Christ on earth, the Church is the continuing incarnation of Christ. It is impossible to find Christ without the Church. Only in here you will be told those words, “by which you and your whole house will be saved” [from Acts 10: 6], the salvific words connected with water. And then you will hear the words spoken over bread and wine, turning them into the Body and Blood of Christ. And with all these words you and your children will be saved.
For us and for our salvation, Jesus called both apostles, Peter and Paul. He sent them both to proclaim the Good News and to establish Christian parishes, and they went – each in his own direction. And then they met in the Kingdom of God, because everyone who believes in Christ meets there. Because there is no death. There is no death for those in the Church; but as soon as we close our eyes on this earth, we open them that moment in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Please pray for the Lutheran priests and parishioners in Siberia.