Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Easter and Pentecost

There are some profound differences in the ways people understand the significance of Easter, a fact which also applies to Pentecost. Our Lutheran and historical forefathers rightly saw Easter as the celebration of Christ's fleshly resurrection. We do not merely rejoice in an empty tomb. An empty tomb could mean anything; in fact, the first to discover that the tomb was empty were horrified because they thought someone had stolen Jesus' body. It wasn't until they saw Him and became convinced that it was truly He, in the flesh, resurrected, that they were comforted and began to rejoice. Therefore you won't hear the words 'rejoicing at the empty tomb' rolling off your pastor's tongue. Rather, we rejoice with Thomas and all the Apostles who were convinced that Jesus stood bodily before them and said, "Peace be unto you."

So also at Pentecost, we do not merely rejoice in the coming of the Holy Ghost weakly defined in a nebulous or ethereal way at best, or at worst as a reason to go off speaking in tongues and claiming divine intervention. Rather, we see this too in fleshly terms. The Holy Ghost came to the eleven apostles, and immediately they began to preach Christ in several languages. Thus the coming of the Holy Ghost is the coming of the Apostolic Ministry. The Holy Ghost came to Ephesus, to Corinth, to Rome, or to Spain precisely when and in that the Holy Apostles arrived there.

In all this we see the inseparable link between Jesus and the Holy Ghost. In the Western Christian Church we confess that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son, even as we note that the breath of Christ proceeded out of His mouth when He ordained His apostles. St. John's account of their ordination reports that "He breathed on them and said unto them, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost.'" In English, ghost (or spirit), and breath are separate words, but not in Greek. The word pneuma means both. Pneumonia is a disease of the breath, and pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. Bearing this in mind while considering the passage from the Gospel, we may learn that Jesus' breath and Jesus' Spirit are in fact the same thing. The air that proceeded forth from His very human lungs is, in this case, at the same time very divine; it is Jesus' breath, His Spirit. It was by this breath that He made His disciples into apostles, literally "sent ones." This is all a mystery which therefore we cannot fully explain nor understand, but at least we can say that there is an essential linkage seen here between the Son of God and the Spirit of God.

So also therefore, there is an essential linkage between Easter and Pentecost. Easter is the celebration of the Son in His fleshly resurrected exaltation; Pentecost is the celebration of the Son's sending of the Spirit, in His fleshly ambassadors, His apostles.

Thus in the Christian Church we rejoice during Eastertide particularly over the renewal of Jesus' flesh, His body, upon which we feast; and at Pentecost we rejoice particularly over Jesus' sending of His preachers whose task it is to proclaim Him and His mercy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Touch of Frolic

There's a brilliant article by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon in the most recent (April) issue of Touchstone magazine, which was so good that it inspired me to write this letter to the editors, and which I call reason enough to subscribe:

Patrick Henry Reardon’s “The Son Risen with Healing” was worth the price of the entire subscription. I only wish he had spent more ink lingering on “The Forty Days of Lingering,” his last section. As far as I’m concerned, the expressions of playful cheerfulness that Fr. Reardon calls “jocose” in Jesus’ appearances to his disciples could be the theme of an entire article. “Is there not something exceeding playful, for instance, in our Lord’s incognito appearance to Mary Magdalene . . .?” Yes, most certainly, and in the Emmaus road exchange, and in the appearance to Thomas: “a delicate touch of frolic in all this, a quiet celebration among these intimates of the Victor over sin and death.” Yes, a thousand times. And we could go on with the examples. A favorite of mine is the Lord’s appearance on the shore, in which He not only plays with them as children, but even calls them children, and lightheartedly asks if they have any meat. When He fills their net with fish, the beloved disciple gleefully informs Peter that it is He, and Peter like a cavorting child jumps into the lake to swim to Him. The other disciples are left comically dragging this enormous catch behind their boat, only to find on arrival that Jesus already has a breakfast of fish prepared for them. There is here a sense of hilarious glee in this report of overwhelmingly happy news, a perspective surely meant for all Christendom to gain and to carry into the midst of all of life’s trials and challenges.

Rev. Fr. Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.

Pastor of St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Kewanee, Illinois and

Editor of Gottesdienst, a Journal of the Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgy

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Geraldo's Gaffe at Virginia Tech

Somebody should tell Geraldo Rivera that he doesn't fit in at Fox News. He's still acting like the opportunist we always knew he was. Here he is at Virginia Tech where horror has just struck, interviewing the school's president, grilling him on why more wasn't done to prevent the massacre. What could the poor guy say? They did what they could. Then he asks the typical default, inane question about how he felt and what emotions he had when he heard the news. But the worst was when at the end of the interview tape, Jeraldo says "it's safe to say" that this is an "embattled president." Embattled? Why? And why is this a safe thing to say? And why is Geraldo evidently s already trying to create a controversy at this place where people are dumbstruck from the tragedy? The man should be canned immediately. Let Imus or somebody do his job.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Imus Thing

Since this Imus controversy won't go away, I finally got around to reviewing his original comment about the "nappy headed hos" that got him axed.

I wonder how many people actually did that, went back and played the original video.

I don't know about you, but my first reaction was that there really isn't much there. He and a sports guy are commenting on the video of the Tennesee team beating the Rutgers team in a championship game, and it's actually the other guy who first drops the h-bomb.

Imus is a bit crass, I'll give you that; but the whole thing seems pretty goofy to me. Here's what happened.

Imus and--I think it was sports guy Sid Rosenberg--are doing voice-over while the video is on the teams playing. Imus says, "So I watched the basketball game last night between a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women's final . . ."

Rosenberg: "Yeah, Tennessee won last night, seventh championship for Pat Summit, man, they beat Rutgers by thirteen points."

Imus, reacting, says, "Some rough girls from Rutgers, man, they got tattoos and . . ."

Rosenberg: ". . . some hard core hos."

Imus: "[chuckling] . . . some nappy headed hos there, man, I'll tell you right now . . . man, that's some . . . ooh [chuckling] . . . and um, the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know."

So that's it. I don't have the time to do deep research on the use of "ho" in popular jargon, but it's my guess that Imus had no intention of actually calling these girls whores. He was just commenting on the way the looked to him, with their tattoos and locks and such, in contrast to the girls from Tennessee. It was the tattoos that got his attention, not the color of their skin.

And another thing: If Imus is in so much trouble, how come the other guy isn't? He must have gone and hid under a rock somewhere, relieved to have the axe falling on the other guy's head.

This is all the product of a society looking for things to be offended about. New definitions of sin abound. This is political correctness run amok, and when it comes to racist sounding remarks, then eveyone jumps in because it's easier to make the outrage stick.

I call it hypocrisy.

It is more evidence that our society is getting more accustomed to being intolerant. This keeps up for awhile, and pretty soon it will get quite uncomfortable for anyone with a different point of view. These may well be the building blocks for a civilization which one day might begin condoning some real persecution.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Kudos for Gottesdienst Keep Coming

I recall a certain critic saying recently that he could not "in good conscience" recommmend Gottesdienst to anyone, putting it in the same category as Christian News and Jesus First, publications widely regarded as rags from the right and the left. The conversation was rich, because as it happened this critic had himself been the object of some pointed Gottes-criticism in a prior issue, which just might serve to mitigate the notion that his conscience was "good."

At any rate, another reason I found the criticism so amusing was that I routinely--yes, routinely--get mail from serious readers saying just the opposite. Here following is a sampling lifted from the correspondence we have received in the past two weeks alone, whose volume of kudos was by no means unusual.

"Your publication is wonderful! I am increasingly becoming disappointed in The Lutheran Witness, and this quarterly journal more than makes up for it. I especially enjoyed J. E. Shaw's piece, 'Strategy for Victory.' I was most pleased to see Dr. Feuerhahn had received the Sabre of Boldness award. . . ."

"This is an excellent publication."

"I appreciate and enjoy Gottesdienst . . . the Journal you publish and to which I subscribe. . . ."

"I think the latest copy of Gottesdienst is very special. Please send me 10 copies . . ."

"We are very interested in seeing that the historic liturgy is alive and well for the next generation of Lutherans, and so we ask that [this enclosed donation] be used to the glory of God as best seen fit by your organization's needs. . . . May the Lord of the Church continue to rasi up faithful pastors, congregations and organizations among us who unashamedly subscribe to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions."

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Third Day

The Johannine resurrection account contains the visit to the tomb by the Magdalene (St. John 20), in which she supposed that Jesus was the gardener. Behold, He is the Gardener, and the Seed, in the renewed garden.

For the first garden was ruined when another woman ate of forbidden fruit; not only did she and her husband bring ruin to the whole human race; they brought ruin upon the earth itself. For the ground was cursed because of their sin, and so it has borne thorns and thistles ever since. And pain, and sorrow, and evil, and trial, and terrors, and death.

Now the earth had come out of the seas as dry ground on the third day of creation, a harbinger of a greater third day to come. For a greater third day was needed, since the earth was cursed, and all its inhabitants have ever suffered for its curse.

See, the demise of the earth is the fault of man; but not because he has been burning too many fossil fuels, or driving SUVs, or failing to be environmentally conscious. It is because of the inbred sin in every man that the earth is so twisted and ruined. And this is a fault so deep that no Kyoto Protocol or other political charlatans can correct it. Man is ruined, and cannot save himself.

But now behold the mercy of God: the Creator has come to his earth as Man, in order that He might Himself repair the ruin and renew the earth; in order that He might swallow the sin and its curse in Himself, and emerge from the grave, on the third day. Behold the fulfillment of the third day on this glad Easter! And behold the renewal of creation in the Resurrected Lord! The Seed has emerged from the earth; the Gardener has tilled His soil; the earth is restored; the curse is removed; Eden is refashioned; and by the blessed laver and water of Baptism, new shoots arise and grow in this Garden.

So the children of their Creater are glad to cry again Hallelujah! (which means "Praise God!"). So now they praise Him as they were created to do; now they sing to Him as they were redeemed to do; now they exult in Him as they have been sanctified to do. Thus now in their renewed Garden with Him, they cry aloud to Him, saying, Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Training for the Great Vigil

There seems to be a need for some training of the mind in preparation for our Easter celebrations, especially when it comes to the Great Vigil. The Great Vigil is the solemn service of Saturday night before Easter morning, in which we welcome the end of Lent and the coming of Easter.

One of the elements of the liturgical reform which has taken hold in many segments of Christendom is the recovery of the Great Vigil. For a very long time there was little or no concept of what the Great Vigil was, or what it was for. Indeed The Lutheran Hymnal itself has no propers listed for the Great Vigil. There’s only a little reference to “Holy Saturday, Easter Eve,” having only a collect and two readings, the Gospel being a reference to the burial of Jesus (St. Matthew 27). So even there, although the collect for Easter Eve contains the traditional reference to “the glory of the Lord’s resurrection” on “this most holy night,” nothing else does. There was no Great Vigil among Lutherans in the early 20th century.

The recovery of this ancient and venerable tradition has been a key ingredient in the rediscovery of liturgical beauty and importance for Lutherans.

But still there is resistance, particularly among people who hadn’t grown up with the tradition, and for whom therefore it represented something new. Actually it’s something very old, which, like many venerable traditions, fell into disuse between the 17th and 19th centuries when Rationalism was on the rise. The recovery of Confessional Lutheranism has brought with it an awakening of liturgical piety, and a renewed appreciation for the Great Vigil.

The Vigil is a bit lengthier than a regular Sunday mass, but for those who are aware and appreciative of what’s going on, time does not seem to be a factor. It requires a little disciplining, a little training of the mind to grasp and appreciate the majesty of this holy night, but when that discipline is achieved, the Great Vigil begins to stand apart as an awe-inspiring ceremony.

It’s actually an accumulation of four services set end-to-end, each building on the former, until finally Easter formally arrives.

Beginning at dusk, the congregation gathers around an open fire for the Service of Light. The paschal candle is lit and a procession forms to enter the church. When the long procession finally wends its way into the church, and hand-candles are lit, the solemn Exsultet is chanted, a beautiful and melodious proclamation of Easter’s arrival. There is high ceremony here, done with purpose: we are witnessing and partaking in the celebration of the renewal of all creation in the resurrection of our Lord.

The Service of Readings follows, in which several Old Testament readings foretelling this grand event are read. The service concludes with the great canticle called the Benedicite Omnia Opera in which now the rejoicing of all creation is openly expressed. Also known as the Song of the Three Children (the three men in the fiery furnace), it speaks of the rejoicing of all creation: angels, heavens, waters, sun, moon, stars, showers, dew, winds, fire, winter, summer, dews, frost, cold, ice, snow, nights, days, light, darkness, lightning, clouds, mountains, hills, green things, wells, seas. floods, whales, all that move in the waters, fowls, beasts. cattle, and children of men. Here, as before, we observe that all creation bends toward its Creator who has renewed all things by rising from the dead.

Then follows the Service of Baptism, in which any confirmations are also held, as well as a calling to mind of Baptism for all in attendance. This follows fittingly, since it is through Baptism that we have become participants in the renewal of creation.

Finally, the Service of the Sacrament marks the point of entry into Easter. The lights come up, the celebrant is vested, the lilies seem to trumpet, and we sing the Gloria in Excelsis with gusto; the organ keeps its silence no more, and even the bells are rung. This is the Church’s finest hour: Christ is risen! And so we feast, coming to the altar to receive His Body and Blood in the Sacrament.

This crescendo of rejoicing continues at sunrise, when in the bright array of the morning sun we recall the moment in which the women at the tomb, and Jesus’ disciples, first learned of His resurrection. Easter Sunrise is more festive still than the last part of the Great Vigil. Now we are in full-throated song and music, our choir is at its very best, and our hearts sing in glad harmony with our voices.

The best way to gain the full effect of this great liturgical Feast is to witness it from Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, when the Church is at its darkest and most somber. From the deepest depths to the highest heights we go in just three days, as the liturgy of the Church mimics Christ Himself, who went through death to resurrection. So we sing a mournful tune during the Holy Three Days, but it gives way to a heady rejoicing when we celebrate that Easter has come, and with it, our victory over the grave. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Palm Sunday Vindication

The grand procession of our Lord into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is best seen according to the backdrop of the events in the life of David and Solomon. Remember those? King David was old and rather out of the loop, on his deathbed (I love how the KJV puts it, “he gat him no heat”). They gave him Abishag to keep him warm, although “he did not know her,” i.e., there was nothing untoward about this arrangement. During these last days of the king, the treacherous Adonijah decided it was time to usurp the throne, and he set the wheels in motion to make himself king, thinking he could get away with this because David would never know. Solomon was just a clueless boy, and his mother Bathsheba was powerless to stop it. So she spoke to Nathan, and the two of them decided to try to tell David, in last-ditch hopes of putting a stop to the travesty. David had promised the throne to Solomon, and that according to the word of God. So she went into his chamber and told him, and Nathan came in after, to back up her testimony. Was it too late? David, in his last great kingly act, mustered his waning strength to decree that Solomon must be crowned king at once, and all the customary preliminary steps (at which Adonijah was even now busily working) were, by this decree to be bypassed. Solomon was placed on David’s mule and sent into Jerusalem, amid cries of God save King Solomon! “And the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them.” The Psalm appropriate to the occasion would have been the 118th, including this: Save now . . . Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord!” And this great noise of rejoicing was the sound of vindication, an occasion at which Adonijah, when he saw it, knew the jig was up.

The entry of our Lord Jesus Christ is a resounding acclamation that He is the Greater Solomon, and the vindication of His truth against the scribes and Pharisees. Indeed the Lucan account of it has these words: “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest,” not only reminiscent of the angelic announcement at His birth, but more importantly declaring Him the true Prince of Peace, Shalom, Solomon. And the Pharisees and their allies are as struck as had Adonijah had been. No wonder they would complain to Pilate about what he affixed to the cross, “The King of the Jews.” Those placards were supposed to tell the offense of the criminal, as a deterrent to others. Thus, to Christ’s enemies, the offense was that He said He was the king of the Jews. To say that He was the King of the Jews was to turn it all on its head, and make Him the Greater Solomon.

This was Pilate’s richest mockery: Ecce homo! You want your own king? Here he is, folks, a pitiful worm.

And yet in fact, this is faith’s greatest hour and vindication, for faith believes where it cannot see. The glory of Christ is His cross. His crown is of thorns. His death is His victory. And He is our King (is He not risen from the dead?). And so we cry hosanna (God save the King!) evermore.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sandy Berger's Lies

The Fox News expose on the Sandy Berger coverup ought to be about as earth-shaking as the Washington Post expose on the Nixon Administration's coverup. But it won't be. Times have changed, and now that those who would be most hurt by a national scandal are in charge at the capitol building, there won't be any "outrage" commensurate with the crime, or certainly not in proportion to the "outrage" expressed by those who ranted and raved about the Scooter Libby affair. Libby is now convicted of a felony for his poor memory, over an issue that turned out to be a non-issue (he wasn't the one, it turns out, who "outed" Valerie Plame, remember?), but Berger walks, having copped a plea bargain for what he calls "mistakes." Listen, lies are not mistakes; and to call them mistakes is simply to lie some more. We are to believe that he "mistakenly" shoved top-secret documents in his pants, documents the 9-11 commission needed in order to carry on its investigation, and "mistakenly" hid them away. He "mistakenly" made repeated runs to the men's room for this purpose, and "mistakenly" carried documents outside the building and "mistakenly" hid them under a bush or trash bin or something while "mistakenly" going back to get some more. Then he "mistakenly" cut them to shreds so that no one could ever find them. And then he "mistakenly" explained to us all that this was all a mistake. And no one will ever know what was in those files. He had a motive, and he has mounds of evidence against him. That is and ought to be a felony.

What I can't figure out is why in the world the Bush Department of Justice wouldn't want to prosecute this further. They did get a promise from him that he'd take a lie detector test, even with the plea bargain, but he has yet to do it. Why don't they push? Why don't they ever push? The best way for evil men to succeed is for good men to do nothing. Didn't somebody famous once say that? Churchill or somebody?

Kudos to Fox. But the Berger King was Clinton, so Sandy has nothing to fear.