Sunday, April 30, 2006
Now what can this number mean? The number of all the elect is surely signified well by the number of twelve (Old Testament tribes) times twelve (New Testament apostles at the heads of the new tribes), which totals 144. Is not this number also spoken of in the Apocalypse, for the same reason? And in all of these elect, the almighty Triune God is active, both of old and in the times of the Church. Thus we signify God's presence throughout all of history by 3 x 3, which equals 9. So all of the elect, who have ever been with the thrice holy One, are signified by 144 + 9, which equals 153.
God be praised, who hides His secrets so well, and then so graciously opens them up for us, in our holy musings on Sacred Scripture.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
St. Mark's Day has me thinking about St. Peter again, something Lutherans are customarily loath to do. I think it's Clement of Alexandria, or perhaps Eusebius, or Papias, or a few of these, who made the claim that St. Mark was the writer for St. Peter. It's pretty much accepted, I believe. That makes the second Gospel in effect Peter's Gospel. But why, we must ask, did not Peter write it himself? Who knows, but maybe it's because the Apostolic Band deemed that he, as the primus inter pares, ought to have someone writing things down for him, that he may attend to the matters which pressed upon his greater episcopacy. On the other hand, he did write epistles on his own. But maybe the Gospel of Mark is nevertheless a bit of evidence of the Apostolic primacy of Peter.
Why, for that matter, did St. John wait when he got to the tomb, for Peter to go in first? Same thing.
I don't mean to take things too far, as Rome certainly has, but there is something to be said for this. There is plenty of evidence for this primacy thing. And I think we Lutherans are sometimes afraid of discussing it at all. Historians know it's true. What can we learn from it? I'll be away from my desk for a few days, so I'll open this up for discussion if anyone's interested, and then come back and see whether anyone is.
Monday, April 24, 2006
They're kneeling pads, actually (no, they don't look like the one in the picture), and here's a little something about them which will be appearing in our church's May newsletter. They were really inexpensive and easy to make (the altar guild did it), and this was something that truly did arise out of the piety of the people. As in, they wanted it, and they saw it as important for their faith. That, as they say in valleyspeak, is a waay cool thing.
Here's the piece from our newsletter:
The kneeling pads are now available, as everyone has noticed. A few matters about them would be helpful to know.
First, it is a rather intriguing and pleasing thing to me that these kneeling pads did not arise out of my prompting or pushing of the idea. When people saw me or the servers kneeling, they simply began to express a desire to do so themselves. This desire has been discussed among many people here for many months, but only because they genuinely seemed to desire to restore the practice here. This whole matter arose wholly out a certain piety among the people to give honor to the incarnate Christ among us.
This in no way is said to denigrate the faith of others who did not express a desire for it, however. Sometimes people are wary of changes of any kind, no matter how desirable the changes might otherwise be.
In this case it is my hope that everyone will realize that this “new” practice is really not new at all, not even among Lutherans. Kneeling pads or, more commonly, benches, have been regular furniture in Lutheran churches for a very long time.
Here are a few hints and rubrics regarding kneeling which might prove helpful.
Those who cannot kneel but would desire to do so may easily simulate kneeling if they wish by sitting on the front edge of the pew with forearms on the pew ahead.
Kneeling is appropriate whenever the server or subdeacon is kneeling.
It is proper to kneel at the following times:
during the confession of sins
during the Lord’s Prayer
during the Words of Institution
during the Agnus Dei
(these three occur in immediate succession)
during the closing benediction
At Matins or Vespers
After the Canticle, during the Kyrie and following, and through the benediction
Sunday, April 23, 2006
I guess, to judge by some of the replies I've received, I'm never supposed to say anything about my preference for Ann Coulter lest I offend the sensitivies of any political liberals in my parish. I suppose that would apply to anything I might say about Rush Limbaugh, or Wladyslaw Plysczcnsky, or Charles Krauthammer, or Peggy Noonan, etc. In fact, but this standard I can't say anything political at all. Nor should I have the radio on when parishioners walk in my room. Why do I get the feeling that this would force me to think that I must have sensitivity training in order to be an effective pastor? Granted, the pulpit is no place for political speeches, nor is the catechetical classroom. But here? Anywhere? Why must I be muzzled by people who allege that it is improper for me, a pastor, to let my political views be known?
It so happens that among my political views are these (ok folks, fire away): First, that liberal democrats tend to feed on class envy, contra the ninth commandment, to gain economic adhererents. The rich, they say, must be taxed more, for the simple reason that they make too much money, and this is somehow immoral. Second, liberal democrats routinely suppose, contra the eighth commandment, they have insight into secret motives of their opponents (such as when they charge that President Bush attacked Iraq only to raise oil revenues for his personal gain). Third, I believe that it is right for me also to defend and speak well of my neighbors when they are publicly belittled. One of my neighbors happens to be Ann Coulter. It is one thing to disagree with her point of view, something to which everyone is entitled, but it is quite another to dismiss her views out of hand merely for ad hominem reasons, and to say that "serious conservatives" don't pay attention to her. Ah, so I wouldn't want to speak about her views too publicly, lest I be seen as a less-than-serious conservative. Is that it? What a crafty ruse that is!
To be sure, I am indeed reticent about ever bringing political speech into the pulpit, as that not the place, but how does this medium--the blog--qualify for the same kind of proscription?
Thursday, April 20, 2006
My homepage for the past several weeks has been Ann Coulter's blog, for which click here. She is primarily into politics, of coure, and was once a very young aid to Ronaldus Magnus, which ought not be surprising to learn, because brilliant minds think alike. Her most recent post carries an interesting analysis of the differing reactions of people to their sins, and, I think, explains a lot of political thinking. Actually it can be applied to a lot of theological thinking too, I think. You might want to check it out.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
This year for the first time the choir also participated in the event, and was in top form. No organ was used; as it had gone silent from the Maundy Thursday stripping and was not used throughout Good Friday. So the choir led the chanting of the Benedicite Omnia Opera, beautifully, in four part harmony. I recalled my time in Russia, only here, I could understand the words. The confirmations were also solemn and joyous.
Then at last we turned up the lights, sang the Gloria, and the bells were rung, as the organ played.
No Church Growth nonsense in play here. And you know, when weighed against this sublime ceremony, that trash is shown to be the truly abominable sacrelige it is.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
All the preparations of Lent, when they are employed toward the end of contemplation of holy things, as well as of the abiding need we have for them, pay rich dividends when Easter finally arrives. When you fast, your body tells you throughout the season that you are in need. And when on Easter you feast, your body's satisfaction tells you that your Lord has gained for you all that you need as well: "I shall not want." When toward the end you veil the images, turn down the lights, and turn off the organ, you descend with the mind into the depths of Christ's Passion, as that great Good Friday hymn puts it, stanza two: "O sorrow dread, our God is dead" (literally, "Gott Selbst ist Tod"), the drama of rising from the gloom during the Great Vigil is all the more gripping: the veils are gone, the organ plays, the bells are rung, the organ plays, and we sing Gloria in Excelsis Deo.
Everyone gets to celebrate Easter, it is true. The resurrection of our Lord is for everyone, even the most callous Protestants who haven't even been to church during Holy Week, to say nothing of fasting. As Leo the Great put it in his Easter sermon, which I'm paraphrasing from memory here: "Come all! Come sinners and saints, ye that have fasted and ye that are full; ye that have been diligent and ye that have been slothful; let everyone feast this day." So it is true that none of the great traditional Lenten preparations make better Christians out of anyone, or give anyone a greater claim on Christ. But, I am convinced, those who have better prepared for Easter will simply find greater joy in celebrating. A happy and joyous Easter Feast to all.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Sermon notes on the Blessed Sacrament
Now it all becomes clear, and what was for long ages hidden becomes manifest in Christ our Lord.
The Passover must be killed.
The Passover is eaten.
His Blood marks our door (the door of our lips), and Death passes over.
Behold His urgency: we eat it in haste with our sandals on our feet. That is, He washes our feet by this Sacrament, that we may walk in His ways. Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. How can any delay? Delay in coming to this Feast? You might as well play Russian roulette. Why play with your eternal welfare, beloved? Why walk, when the Lord says run? Why plod along, when the Lord says hasten? Eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s Passover.
Now even what Christ had Himself done earlier comes into sharp relief.
Now do you see why He changed water into the finest wine? To prepare us for this Feast! Now do you see why He fed thousands with a few loaves of bread? To show us in advance what He intended to do for all of His people. Now behold what He really meant when He said I am the Bread of Life . . . He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life.
For now, on the night when He was betrayed, He took bread. See, the night when His passion begins, the first hour of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is upon us. The Blood of the Lamb is sprinkled on the altar, the same Lamb whose Blood marks the people’s doors, and whose flesh the people eat.
Here is the heart and soul of your life: here is Christ in all the richest beauty of His merciful lovingkindness; here he gives Himself for you and to you at the same time.
Be of good cheer, beloved, for this His darkest hour is your brightest morn; this His deepest sorrow is your greatest joy. For He insists on being your Life and your Salvation.
As for its challenge to the truthfulness of the Gospel accounts, however, it hardly merits the wide publicity it's been given. It would never stand up to scrutiny even if these things happened yesterday, and even if actually written by Judas, say, before he committed suicide. As though some betrayer is really going to agree with accounts of his betrayal!
And to reply to US News and World Report "experts," no, the events of Maundy Thursday did not really happen on Wednesday, as if they know more than the Biblical eyewitnesses who speak of the Supper on the night when He was betrayed.
I don't even bother reading the latest stuff thoroughly. It's too boring. It's the same old stuff rehashed to make it seem fresh. What's far more engaging for the mind--and edifying, of course--is to consider the words of Christ to Pilate: I am come to bear witness to the truth. Pilate, Albert Schweitzer, the Gospel of Judas, and all the critics in between will always be blindly asking, What is Truth? when Truth is right in front of them. Deer in the headlights, all of them.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Monday, April 10, 2006
Here's another thing about Lazarus. In St. John's Gospel, it is clear that the raising of Lazarus was the reason there was such a great multitude for Palm Sunday. Now this clarifies some things: the people have witnessed the power of Jesus over death. They came out to see Lazarus. They are already convinced--at least some of them are--that His kingdom is not of this world. And they see the connection between His power and their own lives. This king has power to defeat the greatest enemy, which is death. This is also a major theme of St. John: He that liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Moreover, the connection between Jesus' death and resurrection and the death and resurrection of His people is solidified in the person of Lazarus.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Here's some food for thought during Passiontide.
I was pondering the fact that the Gospel of St. John, ch. 12, gives as the reason for the multitudes of Palm Sunday the fact that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead. This makes sense, of course: the raising of Lazarus was a very public event; he had been dead four days, and now Jesus calls him forth. You can virtually see everyone's jaw drop. So the news would have spread like wildfire. Soon a great crowd comes out, hearing that Jesus is about to enter the city. They want Him to be king; they see Him as the greater Solomon, riding on an ass, even has Solomon had. So they straw palm branches, and they cry out, Hosanna! --which is, Osa na!, that is, "Save, now!" To put it in modern parlance, it would be, "God save the King!" This all fits together in the recollection of the Fourth Evangelist: He raises Lazarus, so He is the one we recognize as our King.
But then why don't the synoptic Gospels mention the raising of Lazarus at all? Such a stunning event as this might have at least garnered a passing mention, don't you think? What's going on? St. Matthew has Jesus referring to the raising of the dead in his reply to John's disciples (11.5), but that's about it.
Well, here's a thought. St. Matthew does refer to this amazing event, but only in the midst of the crucifixion account, chapter 27, in that enigmatic saying about the dead being raised and going into the holy city. Could this be a reference to the raising of Lazarus, displaced by Matthew for theological reasons? And could St. Luke be intentionally leaving it out because it is only in Luke's Gospel that we have Jesus' story of the rich man and "Lazarus" (chapter 16). After all, he does say there that if Dives' brothers will not be persuaded by Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead. Interestingly, the story here does not really read like a parable. Could it be an actual event, which Jesus recounts as something that really took place? And that in fact, according to Dives' request, Lazarus did come to them from the dead, and, sure enough, they didn't believe?
So now leave it to John to set the record straight for posterity. While Matthew and Luke leave the matter rather open, even though for their audiences, everyone knew about Lazarus, St. John, writing a generation later, must make crystal clear what actually took place concerning Lazarus; hence his account in his eleventh chapter.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
We're all supposed to be outraged by the DaVinci code, I know; and I admit, I may be. After all, the book (which I have not read) has been sending shock waves for its outlandish claims that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, and the she is the one sitting next to Him at DaVinci's Last Supper, etc. But there are some things which have me wondering. Hoping, actually, because of four things. First there is a somewhat selfish thing, which is the fact that I really like Tom Hanks as an actor, and I don't want to be disappointed by something he's in. Second, there is the fact that Ron Howard is the director. Now I really like Ron Howard. Did you ever see A Beautiful Mind? Five stars, hands down. A masterpiece. And he directed some others too, I forget which offhand, but impressive. Third, there is the note I read somewhere that Howard takes some significant liberties with the novel. And finally--most importantly--I'd really like to end up saying this was a good film when the fundamentalists are all out there trashing it. Sort of like how they used to trash The Simpsons, and now they're singing its praises. Many years before they panned Jesus Christ Superstar. Now that was also antiChristian in many ways, but I remember liking that scene where the disciples are all sitting around musing on how great they'll be, and they sing "Always thought that I'd be an Apostle, knew that I would make it if I tried . . ." Now concering this one we're already getting warnings. I think there's even a recent article in The Lutheran Witness which is full of warnings. Don't get me wrong, I think it's good that people be warned. And who knows, maybe I too will be greatly disappointed and will have to *ugh* say I agree with those warnings. But the movie isn't even out yet, for crying out loud (remember how the Left panned The Passion of the Christ before they saw it?), and so I have another warning: Don't judge a movie by its critics.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Oh, look what I found. A little piece I wrote some eleven years ago about one of the most contravesial topics among us, the nature of the church and the ministry. I don't really think it's out of date, so here goes again. Maybe if the article itself doesn't generate much traffic, this cool picture will.
One Church, One Call
As the seeds of discord continue to be sown among us in the Missouri Synod and others regarding "the doctrine of the call", so also myopic declarations of "truth" continue to sprout.
There has developed a great uneasiness among us over "the doctrine of the call" in recent years, because, alas, our churches have at last begun to act out the part that was so unbecomingly thrust upon them when we first began to think of them as something other than what they are.
When our fifteenth-century fathers pointed out so clearly the sacred significance of each local place were the word of God is preached and the Sacraments administered, they did so in the interest of magnifying, ultimately, the word and the Sacraments themselves. It is preaching and the Sacrament which makes that place sacred. Jesus warned us not to forget this, when he declared, Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? The source of holiness, that is, is greater than that which it makes holy. The means from which the Church derives her holiness are of greater significance than the Church's holiness itself.
In this regard we must ask whether there has been a misguided exaltation of the local congregation among us. Indeed the assembled community of saints is engaging in the most sacred of matters, when they are attending to the preaching of the Gospel and the reception of the most sacred Sacrament of Christ. One could (and should) call even the smallest congregation's altar the most sacred place on earth, for that very reason. For there is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, etc. So is there one mass, one Supper. The place from which the Supper is given is therefore the most sacred place in all the world, wherever it is, and in as many places as it is. Since the mass is one, that place is also one. There is only one most sacred place in all the world, but it is severally found, even as there is only one Christ, who likewise is severally heard and seen in the Predigtamt.
What seems to have obtained among us, however, is a loss of this perspective, due no doubt to the great American idol, which is Individualism. We have become hopeless nominalists, in the worst sense of the term. Reality, for us, is only in the individuals which comprise the whole, the sum total of all members of a given category. Thus the Church is only the individuals which comprise it, and nothing else or greater. "Church", then, is merely a name for this sum total, and nothing else. The expression of this "truth" is summed up in one of gaudy Jesus songs: "I am the Church, you are the Church, we are the Church together." Thus "Church" itself has become nothing, and might really be better identified with a plural noun, such as "believers". Yet believers do congregate in local places, and hence "the congregation" is also exalted among such minds, since it marks a visible collection of people, that is, one available to sight. This at the cost of the oneness of the Church, however, which is not available to sight. Where such nominalist individualism insists upon exalting the supreme holiness of the local congregation, any confession of the unity of the Church in its several places is not very convincing. Such minds tend rather to see a division of the Church into several entities.
When one loses sight of the holiness of the Sacrament as the source from which the Church's holiness is derived, and when the nominalist perspective on "congregation" obtains, the result is a greater emphasis on the holiness of the people there than on the holiness of the Sacrament there for which the people (presumably) have gathered. Gone now is the truth that the sacredness of the place and of the people is a derived sacredness, derived from the Sacrament, and in place of the Sacrament one finds instead a notion of the sacredness of the local congregation. Now it has become the assembly whose sacredness is supreme, whether or not the mass is celebrated, and even whether or not the word is heard, sung, and confessed. Since the holiness of the local assembly is no longer seen as being a derived holiness, now even the Voters' Assembly, since it is an assembly of the faithful, is regarded as sacred! The holy incense that once shrouded the ancient altars and Sacrament has been replaced by the cigarette smoke that fills the meeting-hall where the "real" business of the Church is transacted some four times a year. This is the spirit of antichrist in our midst.
By this mischievous spirit a devilish twist has bewitched also our notion of the Church's call to her ministers. The call must now arise out of the local assembly, since the local assembly is the only true Church there is; moreover for a pastor to be moved from one assembly to another he must receive a new call and be released from his old call. The reason? The Church is no longer one, but several. As the Church is no longer one, so the call is no longer one. So from one divine reality to another the pastor goes, and there is rarely a hint during any of the proceedings that this man is still serving, actually, the same Church. That is because, in the eyes of servants of the American idol, he is not.
But the Church is not several. She is one, and She is real, as one. This we confess: one holy Christian Church. One Bride for one Christ. One Christ who through his one Bride calls men to serve in his stead. "The Church is above the ministers," certainly. But what does this mean? It means that the ministers are bound to the Church's confession, to the unity of her faith. For the ministers to adhere to the Church's confession is for them to be obedient to their Mother, the Jerusalem above. The Church, their Mother, demands this obedience of them, and will not tolerate nor expect disobedience. One cannot really begin to grasp the truth expressed here with a nominalist mind-set, however, for these words say nothing, nothing at all, about sheep being authoritative over their shepherds. To the contrary, the Church demands that the shepherds feed the sheep.
Since there is one Lord, there is also one Church, and there is also one "call". The Bridegroom calls certain men from among the Bride's children to serve as their overseers in his stead. Rome has for centuries been known for declaring that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth; against this we confess that every minister is Christ's Vicar; this is why Christ calls ministers, namely, to be as Aaron was for Moses: his voice. This call, however, can only come mediately, that is, through means. Since Christ always employs means when he distributes his grace, therefore he also employs means when he calls those who are to administer this grace. He calls, that is, through his Church. He speaks through his Bride. But it is no differently to be understood in the case of the call than in the case of Baptism, the Supper, of the word of Forgiveness. When the Bride of Christ gives birth to her children through Baptism, it is the vicars of Christ who administer this Baptism. Thus the Bride bears her children, while the Bridegroom begets them. The ministers are not vicars of the Bride, but of the Bridegroom (Were this not so, then certainly women could serve as acceptable vicars; no wonder the cries are growing louder among us for women's ordination!). So also in the Supper. The Bride is said to feed her children, but it is actually the Bridegroom, the family Provider, who administers the feed, the Sacrament, through his vicars. Thus also the preaching of forgiveness, or the word of absolution, does not arise out of the assembly, but flows from the Bride, whose mouth is one with the Bridegroom she kisses, so that, once again, it is the vicars of the Bridegroom, sons of the Bride, who do the preaching and the absolving.
And so also in connection with the call. The Bride calls her servants; the Bride, that is, not simply the local congregation, except inasmuch as the local congregation expresses the reality of the Bride in the holy mystery of the divine service. It is the Bridegroom who truly administers this call, however, since he is the source of it; this he does through the prophetic utterances and laying on of the hands of his vicars. This is why the laity do not take active part in the laying on of hands; only the ministers do.
And this, then, is the divine call. It is one. It is the holy call to be a minister of Christ in his one divine and holy Church. To be sure, the particular means of placing men in this or that parish is not unimportant, since order and decency must obtain in all things, but such placing here or there, or moving from here to there, ought never to be misconstrued as a replacement for the one divine call from the one divine Shepherd by means of the one divine ordination (or holy orders from him), administered through, in, and for the benefit of the one holy Bride, the one Church.