Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Marvelous Old Collect for the Transfiguration

Without even looking at Lutheran Service Book, the new LCMS hymnal, I'm willing to bet that their version of the collect for Transfiguration Sunday is not as good as the traditional one in The Lutheran Hymnal. It couldn't be, because as a rule they have a tendency to remove 'heavy' subordinate clauses, to make things simpler, to sacrifice poetry for clarity, etc. And in so doing, in my opinion, they lose something really fine. Granted, the collect for the Transfiguration is a really complicated one. I think it's the longest; it certainly has the longest subordinate clause preceding its petition. But for all that, it's not only great poetry, but it tells volumes about the meaning of the Transfiguration, and about the whole Bible. You can structure an entire sermon around its parts. In fact, this morning, I did. Here's the collect:

O God, who in the glorious transfiguration of Thine only-begotten Son didst confirm the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the fathers, and who in the voice that came from the bright cloud didst in a wonderful manner foreshow the adoption of sons, mercifully vouchsafe to make us coheirs with the King of His glory, and bring us to the enjoyment of the same; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Unpacking that, we find that the subordinate clause which describes God is itself in two parts. The first (“who in the glorious transfiguration of Thine only-begotten Son didst confirm the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the fathers”) is a reference to fathers Moses and Elijah who are talking to Jesus on the mount. St. Luke’s account (chapter 9) gives us these details, and tells of how they spoke of His “decease,” actually a weak translation of exhodon, which more literally means “exodus” (here's a nice subtle reference to the Lukan account in the traditional series, which always has the Matthean Transfiguration Gospel). That is, they were speaking about the greater Exodus through death to resurrection through Christ who is the greater Moses. “The mysteries of the faith” are the words of the entire Old Testament, as signified by Moses and Elijah. Most prominently, the Exodus through the Red Sea is a mystery foretelling Christ. This and all the mysteries are “confirmed” by the testimony of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. See, Moses and the prophets have always been talking about Jesus; now they are doing it face to face with Him. This confirms what they have always been saying. “Search the Scriptures,” He says; “They testify of Me.”

The second clause (“who in the voice that came from the bright cloud didst in a wonderful manner foreshow the adoption of sons”) refers to the fact that the voice of the Father calling Jesus His Son is an echo of His voice at Jesus’ Baptism, and in one fell swoop makes the connection between our Baptism and the adoption we receive as “sons” of God in the Son of God.

Next comes the petition itself “mercifully vouchsafe”—that wonderful old-world word “vouchsafe” means to grant or give, as by favor, graciousness, or condescension; the word is a summary of the whole Gospel, really; pity it was lost to our tongues—“to make us coheirs with the King of His glory,” which is to say, make us heirs of the glory of the King together with Him, “and bring us to the enjoyment of the same,” which is a cry for the return of Christ in glory.

This collect is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Count it one of many reasons the old way is better . . .

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Correction on the Preus Nomination

Since it has been called to my attention that my brief words describing the reason Rev. Rolf Preus was one of our Sabre nominees were a bit deficient, if not misleading, permit me to make a correction.

It is incorrect to say that his stance against the Evangelical Lutheran Synod was "because they had adopted an unbiblical, purely functional position on the Office of the Holy Ministry." That is rather an inference I drew from their stance, and in retrospect, without sufficient warrant.

On the other hand, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that the reason the stance of the ELS now accomodates schoolteachers is that there is a long and wayward history among American Lutherans which sees "ministry" chiefly in functional terms, as in, any use of the Gospel, rather than as the office of the Gospel preaching, the Predigtamt. The Wisconsin Synod has wandered deeply into these waters, and the Missouri Synod has, it seems, solved her problems by ignoring AC XIV altogether (ala the Wichita Convention). A good accounting of the history of the matter is summed up rather nicely on Rev. Preus's website and may be better expressed succinctly as an elastic or even evolving view of the Ministry, with a view to accomodating schoolteachers. It is against this view that Rev. Preus took his stand. To be sure, the ELS also accomodates the view of the ministry as Office, as Predigtamt, distinct from "the priesthood of all believers," but inasmuch as it also insists on doling out a portion of this Office to the unordained schoolteacher, one still hopes their bureaucrats have not counted the matter of AC XIV settled just yet. Indeed I'm told that there are some valiant efforts afoot among the faithful there to hold the Synod together, to its confessional moorings, and that their efforts might as well be deserving of the Sabre of Boldness. Three cheers.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn Receives Sabre of Boldness

Fort Wayne, Indiana, 18 January 2007. The Hilton Hotel at the Grand Wayne Center was the site for the awarding of the 2007 Sabre of Boldness Award, a recognition given annually by the editors of Gottesdienst for Christian courage and faithfulness in the face of trouble or affliction. This year’s recipient, Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn of St. Louis, a longtime member of the faculty of Concordia Seminary, was cited as one “who has been a rock for decades, providing to an entire generation of confessional Lutherans instruction—in speaking and in writing—as well as stalwart support, encouragement, and aid to the cause of the Gospel, and who has never flinched in the face of hostility.”

There were three other nominees who were also recognized for their faithfulness and valor. They were

  • Rev. Rolf Preus, a pastor in Minnesota who took his stand against his church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, because they had adopted an unbiblical, purely functional position on the Office of the Holy Ministry. In spite of bureaucratic warnings, he refused to back down. For this he was removed from the ELS ministerium, leaving him a man without a synod.
  • Rev. Eric Stefanski, whose tireless efforts in cyberspace have often made him an easy target for enemies of the Gospel—for which he has suffered personal loss—while the fruit of his networking skills may well prove to be monumental.
  • Rev. Thomas Olson, Decatur circuit, Indiana, who during the past year stood toe-to-toe with a high ranking administrative bureaucrat, mano-e-mano, and without flinching told him to repent for manifest and public errors, notwithstanding the headaches he knew this would cause for him in his own situation.

Dr Feuerhahn, who was present at the ceremony, graciously received the award to a standing ovation, and spoke for a few minutes extemporaneously on the importance of the confession of faith in love, and concluded by thanking those present, most especially his wife Carol, who was with him.

The ceremony opened with preliminary remarks made by Chaplain Jonathan Shaw, editor of the Sabre of Boldness column in Gottesdienst. He then introduced Dr. Eckardt, who, prior to the announcement of the nominees and winner of the award, gave the following address.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your kairos, as a former synodical president used to like to say. It’s your appointed time. It’s time to stand and be counted, and time to make your stance known. And speaking of time, Time magazine has it right: the man of the year is You. You da man. You have left your homes, you have taken up the call. You have arisen to defend the cause of a faith worth dying for. You were in the field, you were grinding at the mill, you were eating and drinking, you were marrying and giving in marriage, and you stopped everything. You heard the trumpet sound, and you came. To arms! To arms! you heard. You donned your armor, you rose to the challenge, and you prepared to march. Yes, you heard that the grand Sabre of Boldness was about to be drawn, so you came.

Well, okay, maybe that’s overstating the matter just a hair. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that you’re really just here to attend a symposium. Still, I’d like to think there is some truth to the idea that you like to be in the company of compatriots all bent on confessing the same Gospel.

In the year 1095, when Urban II called faithful men to arms, he told them how the infidel Turks were advancing into the heart of eastern Christendom. Christians were being oppressed and attacked; the holy places were being defiled; and Jerusalem was groaning under the Saracen yoke. The Holy Sepulchre was in Muslim hands. To arms! said Urban, for God himself will lead you; you will be doing His work. God wills it!, said he.

Nine hundred years later, it is infidel rock musicians who are advancing into the heart of Christendom. And it’s Christians’ ears that are being oppressed and attacked by the pounding of barbarian drumming and the twang of electric guitars; it’s the holy and sacred liturgy that is being defiled; and it’s Wittenberg that’s groaning under the Willow Creek yoke. The Holy Altar is in the hands of buffoons; and their teenage daughters are dancing around it as before a golden calf; and too many Lutherans are either utterly fooled or utterly tempted by this hedonism thinly disguised as contemporary worship; they can’t help themselves, so they join right in, at the expense of everything they used to call holy.

But today there are no Crusades, there will be army of Red Cross Christians marching to regain our Holy Lands. A sword will be drawn tonight, but only as a gesture symbolic of resistance. The arms to which you are being called are the arms of spiritual warfare, as the Apostle has described it.

Maybe it’s just my own fertile imagination, but it seems to me that this thing gets bigger every year. It started small; it was just a mustard seed, when, twelve years ago a few random Lutheran gentlemen sitting with Lutheran beverages in a Holiday Inn right here in Fort Wayne hatched the idea of handing out an annual award for boldness. In fact, it was just a whim back then, just a twinkle in the eye. But as soon as it hatched, it seemed to catch on. It seems that folks just love nominating people for this thing.

I guess we all still want our heroes. And ever since the greatest ones in our generation died, we have longed for more of them. In the church, there was Robert Preus, and in the world there was Ronald Reagan. So now we look for more heroes, and we rejoice when we see glimpses. We hear of soldiers like Jason Dunham who died last Thursday because he jumped on a live grenade to save his buddies; and we remember churchmen like Kurt Marquart, who never flinched when standing toe to toe with bureaucrats who flaunted their authority. Our need for heroes has never waned, even if the cultural icons of liberalized America would scold us for having it. They have even altered the heroes of our modern mythology. Dirty Harry has almost been forgotten, cowboys have gone gay, and, unbelievably, Lois Lane was last seen saving Superman. Where have all the heroes gone?

The very existence of the Sabre of Boldness is testimony to our perennial quest for heroes. I might add that it’s this very fact that gives us poor, miserable Gottesdienst editors the idea that we can grant anyone an award of any kind in the first place. Whoever gave us that right? I keep thinking—hoping, really—that the longevity of the award, now in its twelfth year, will somehow serve to provide it with a legitimacy which, if the truth be known, we could never provide. Then again, I have to remind myself that this award really has no benefactors. It’s merely something given as a simple acknowledgment, a humble doffing of the hat, toward someone we wish to designate with that lofty and elusive title hero.

And yet, the Sabre’s recipients over the past eleven years would doubtless blush at the very notion of being called heroes. Heroes? they’d say. We aren’t heroes; Christ is our Hero. Saints and martyrs are our heroes. John the Baptist was a hero; the Holy Twelve were heroes; Stephen, Polycarp, Perpetua, Laurence—people like them were heroes. Or even like Martin Luther. They are the heroes, not we. And who could gainsay that correction? Or dare to add to so august a list of heroes as that with the names of our own compatriots?

Then again, what’s the difference between an apostle or prophet who suffers for doing his duty and a simple pastor or layman who suffers as a Christian today? Which of the heroes of old ever stood and said, count me in! I’m a hero too! Rather, they would all said with John, I must decrease. And so too must this award be understood rightly, lest it be misunderstood as a sort of self-congratulatory thing among us confessional Lutherans. We are not here to award ourselves, certainly. And even if we were to admit that maybe there is a tinge of ego that shamelessly arises in the heart whenever a man secretly wishes he were the one picked—you know, like the donkey in Shreck—we who have our theology right can at least recognize the Old Adam for who he is, and wish ourselves rid of him once and for all. No, this award is for someone else. It’s not for us. It’s never for us. It’s for our heroes. And yes, we do still have them, though they often walk among us unnoticed. Indeed, the recipient of the Sabre bears the Sabre not for himself alone, but, we hasten to add, for all of the unsung heroes in the world, who in the simple course of doing their Christian duty, have quietly steeled their chins against the devil, and refused to let him have his way. When threatened, they were not intimidated; when enticed, they were not fooled; when tempted, they did not fall; and when pressured, they did not yield.

It is this multitude of simple heroes that we salute tonight. In granting this award to one, the truth is that we seek to honor many. We can’t name you, for you are too numerous, and too unsung—you are not really known to us; we only see glimpses of you here and there, in the little acts of courage born of a Christian heart which takes its stand, when it can do no other.

Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.
Editor-in-chief, Gottesdienst

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Symposium Week Looms

The rest of the world may tour on its merry way, but for me and my beloved, it will stop for a week. We're off to Fort Wayne again. Actually it's again for me, but for her, it's the first time for a symposium in about twenty years.

Some people don't like being there that week, and I can relate. Over the years I have learned to take in only those parts of the week that I want to take in, and leave the rest. Good grief, there are lectures and lectures and lectures, and then there are papers given in side rooms by Persons of Lesser Importance; there's a recitals and a choral vespers, and daily chapel, and there are gatherings and parties, and the big Thursday banquet. Well, I'll take in some of it, but certainly not all.

I'll be there to renew acquaintances and have a good time.

And, of course, for the most important event of all, the great Sabre of Boldness award Thursday night at 8, at the Hilton. Now that one I won't want to miss. I can't; I'm in it. The event has taken on a life of its own by now, somehow, and that's fine, because it's a worthwhile thing. Awarding someone who stands out for courage and confession, someone who represents all the rest.

Nominations are still coming in. Until next Wednesday when the nominations are closed, and the editors of Gottesdienst vote on the winner.

See you there.

Monday, January 01, 2007

How New Year's Day Came to Be

Some time in the 14th century, I think it was, a decision was made somewhere to move New Year's Day to January 1st. It had been Septuagesima Sunday up to then. You can even check this out easily by considering the names of some of the months. September, October, and November, and December ought to be the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months, if you go by the significance of the words, but they aren't. They used to be, and February was the twelfth, approximately, depending on Septuagesima Sunday. Historians need to be careful about the dating of events prior to the 14th century because of this.

I haven't researched the reasons for this, but one can easily surmise that the old new year's day was so designated because it was the time of the shifting one's liturgical gaze from the Nativity to the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord. As for the new new year's day, it is sensible to count the years -- anno domini, years of our Lord -- from the Lord's manifestation in the flesh. In the West this is observed December 25th, roughly the winter solstice, though I don't know why it's a few days off.

Perhaps it's because since it's better to start the year with the start of a month, the day of the Lord's circumcision and naming wound up being observed on the day of the year's beginning, January 1st, since it is the eighth day from His birth.

Eight is a big deal: it's the first day of a new week. It's a harbinger of Easter. This day is also a harbinger of Good Friday, of course, since it's the day of observing His circumcision in the flesh, the first shedding of His sacred blood.

So therefore, here's my guess: they counted back to December 25th to observe the nativity, after choosing the first of January to observe the circumcision and name, and to observe the new year. This would also serve to suggest an origin for the practice of making new year's resolutions; rather as if to say, "be renewed by the circumcision of your mind."

Anyhow, that's my unresearched but educated guess.