Friday, March 13, 2015

Life on the Edge

One of the more interesting things about Jn 8:1-11, is the fact that the vox populi ... conveniently armed as it was with stones ... didn't turn its blood-thirsty targetings away from the adulteress and begin to assail the ever-annoying Christ. It's not like the public was absent such hair-trigger tendencies (cf. Jn 8:59; Jn 10:31).   But I suspect this prospect would have terrified the fingered (and conspicuously solitary) woman even more.  One false “companion” had left her to hang by herself, earlier.  To have a male Champion face the prospect of being cut down before her eyes, would have proved utterly devastating to the sorely wounded psyche.   Our Lord surely would never have countenanced such additional trauma, and it simply did not happen.  The woman’s adversaries abandoned the field, their raging passions not satiated yet fully silenced, themselves being shamed by God’s light cast on the soul (and maybe even some odd sand-doodlings, revealing much).

The scenes of Jesus deftly side-stepping the dangers to His physical life, again and again, furnish the Gospel account of the “beloved disciple” with a "hold-on-to-your-seat" grittiness and narrative nuance that is almost unparalleled in its companion books (outside the Passion story, of course).  Often we hear of back-room mutterings and political plottings to kill God’s Anointed; intentions, yes, but not specifics. There are a few exceptions.  In Lk 4, the Lord’s fellow Nazarenes at synagogue seize Him, and bring him to a precipice.  He chooses to shrug off and walk through the murderous crowd, untouched and with foot undashed against a stone.   Matthew’s stark revelation of the Herodian holocaust visited upon Bethlehem, and the Holy Family’s heart-breaking (and heart-racing) flight into Egypt, may to many minds approach the intensity of the acute crises detailed in John.  What I especially take away from St. John, however, is the knowledge of the Man, who truly could lay down His life whenever and however He deemed as being fit, and to divine plan.

See, stones could break a man, but were not especially cursed.  In fact, stones with Writings were sheltered safely inside the Holy Ark of the Covenant.  Their writings did not break Christ; on the contrary, He kept them safe and sacred.   Stones were not the plan, nor a headlong fall over a cliff.  No, a tree with a curse would be man's primordial demise; and a cursed tree for hanging was destined to be man's salvation. 

Illustration Jesus and the Sinner Woman  Vasily Polenov.  Oil on canvas, 1886-1887.  Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Thursday, March 5, 2015

“Departing Before the Mysteries … “ Ap XII.12

This is a great turn of phrase, used to high effect in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (AC). There are at least three ways to do it (i.e., depart), since the orthodox Lutheran party openly and fully acknowledges 2-4 Sacraments. One occurs with the dismissal’s blessing at the Altar, during the Holy Supper, which extends the very Peace of God to the penitent. Another “departing,” of a more sordid character, takes place with ANY abuse of the Mysteries, or Sacraments, of God.

Some context here, before continuing further. The ApXII.12 citation is directed at the Roman Confutation of ACXII, the article dealing with repentance. Melancthon argues that the Confutation’s rebuttal treats absolution “very coldly,” and bitterly complains that in the Roman church’s demands of external “satisfactions” for sin, “there is no mention of faith that grasps absolution and consoles the conscience.” This, declares the fuming professor, is “truly” a “departing from the mysteries.” According to Kolb and Wengert’s footnote, this expression is intended as an ironic jab (one phrased in Greek, naturally, by the brilliant Melancthon); one which references the ancient Church’s dismissal of catechumens from the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist. Note, in passing, that the ancient Church always had a Eucharist in its Serviced-and-worshiping fellowship gatherings. Not all were allowed to fully participate in such fellowship. Things at the Altar were, well, they were closed … harsh as that sounds to modern ears, which paradoxically are thoroughly waxed to the examples of the true saints of the Church, anyways. So we pray to the Great Physician, that His otolarnygoscopic Spirit can fully pry these stubborn organs open, to embrace His will. Amen.

Yet another “departing” is the perverse AVOIDANCE of the Mysteries, those wonders with which the Lutheran has been abundantly blessed. Some self-described Lutherans have advocated the dropping of the Holy Supper from celebratory Services conducted on Christmas Eve and Easter, as a means of enhancing “outreach” on those presumably “high-volume," pew-filled days. Apparently, the blessed Sacrament is seen by these rascals as making hard work for the man guarding the paten's gate; or as a shaming device for the 21st century, caring-and-sensitive non-churched person. The truth is, the Church of the Scriptures was graced by the Body and Blood of her Lord EVERY Lord’s day, come what may, and GREW famously. I am guessing that a reverent and believing behavior towards the Mystery of God’s Presence would send a strong evangelical message to the non-churched that something wonderful is being witnessed at the Altar, quite beyond the mega-church’s understanding. But this is evidently beyond the comprehension of the so-called Lutheran, too; they are pitiable creatures demonstrably more into internal emotions and Church Growth scams, than Lord Christ’s insistent “DO this” anamnesis. But shame, of the seeker, is a great concern and worry to them. Perhaps the best available prescription to treat such malady, is to advise the so-called Lutherans to stop projecting their shame regarding the Sacrament, onto others.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bait-and-Switch "Lutherans" VS. the Unmerited Switch of God

The "sin-and-who's-the-sinner" aspect of Luther’s Great Exchange is rarely emphasized by gutted (and gutless) evangelical "outreach" campaigns.  Christ saw human sin as a given, an disputable fact of the species, and didn't shy from risking an offense to the seeker-ego.   Indeed, among the very first words of the evangelical and preaching thrust of the Lord Jesus, to a lost and bumbling people, was "Repent ye" (Mt 4:17). It wasn't "The Kingdom of God is at hand! So use this, to touch and fellowship your inner-child.  Feel good!"

But ... following the actual example of our Prophet, Priest and King ... there is encouragement to talk of sin, and to do it boldly:  "Forsake the Lord Jesus, and you die in your sins. Accept Him, through the unmerited  grace and power of the Holy Ghost alone [1,2] ...  and our Lord becomes a despicable sinner for life -- your life."

There are some synodical “counselors,” who steadfastly refuse to explicitly talk of sin somewhere on their parish websites; which devices are putatively an introduction to the parish's heart-felt beliefs, and really, what they're all about. Evidently the "counselors" are of the business-driven opinion that "sin" scares people. It should.

Credits and Citations

1.  Carol Rutz (21 Jan 2015; Wednesday, via a Facebook comment), recognizing a potential ambiguity in the text, and encouraging a Lutheran clarification to the heretofore unadorned "Accept Him."  Credit where credit is due, then:  to Ms. Rutz, certainly and thankfully, but firstly also to the Holy Ghost.
2.  The Lord Will Answer:  A Daily Prayer Catechism, Concordia Publishing House (St. Louis MO), 2004; p. 97 (reading for Wednesday 2015, of Epiphany II; at the Office of Vespers):  "WE BELIEVE that, since Christ was our substitute before God, our Savior's perfect keeping of the Law is part of His saving work for us. and because of Him we are considered righteous before God.  In the Ten Commandments God shows us what His will is.  Christians, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are eager to do God's will."  Emphases mine.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On Praying for the Dead, Triumphant

I've suddenly come to realize, upon the occasion of the death of a Christian loved one, the paucity of formal resources for the poor layman, wishing to pray on behalf of the saint; the saint who now (by grace) is wondrously afforded a direct access to God and His Church Triumphant.  Secure in Jesus he or she may be. But that individual is still our brother and sister, still our neighbor.  He or she still exists by the mercy of God and is dependent on Him alone, if being altogether safe from the evil and temptations of this world.

The intercessions provided by the Lutheran hymnals (I've checked the pages of two so far, and have detected what could be a trend for all) and my prized Lutheran Prayer Book (LPB; Concordia Publishing House, 2003/2005; a maroon cover, yes, but still amazingly serviceable)  are frankly inadequate and tongue-tied in this matter of the dead who yet live.  The prayers  we are provided, as examples and for ready use, are lovely and spiritually nourishing for the ill, the convalescing and the dying to be sure.   LPB's "Devotion at the Approach of Death" (p.  239-243) is outstanding in confronting the realities which accompany dying, and furnishing a Christ-based comfort in the face of such.

But as to teaching the newly-grieving how to pray, Christfully,  when a loved-one is summoned to meet God's Face at last... here we are left adrift. 

Yet the Evangelical-Catholic confessors are unequivocal on the matter. The ramblings of Aelius are rejected, and the praying FOR those fallen asleep in Lord Christ's bosom is endorsed. See Ap AC XXIV.94-96.   Epiphanius (in his book detailing doctrinal malpractice, the Panarion Haereses) informs us that Aelius maintained that prayers for the dead were useless.  The papist adversaries slandered the Evangelical-Catholic party, accusing it of agreeing with the heretic.  In the Apology, Melancthon dismisses the calumny, saying flatly "we do not support Aelius [regarding such prayers]."  So then, the public acts or omissions, of "friendly" printing presses may call into question Melancthon's orthodox assertions, as to real-time Lutheran beliefs and resulting behavior ... yet again.

But I think we do have a sterling example to follow, in the Divine's own petition "Give us this day, our daily bread." You see, the dead's day may have been stretched into an eternity, yes; but they are like us in being still very much dependent on the full grace and Fatherly goodness of our King, even as they too wait for the Great and Glorious Culmination of all things.  And even with that Culmination and the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth, God alone will be our Font of all Goodness.  Right now we can cheerfully remind and thank Him for His promises of being all-sufficient forever, for ourselves and the departed. Those residing peacefully in God's bosom, I say again, are still very much our neighbor. Let us then remember and pray for those who have fought the good fight, and won, and are waiting at rest any true Lutheran confessor would.

A Prayer to Jesus, for the Dead in Christ (Modified after St. Ambrose)

You were medicine to Your servant, when she was sick;
You were her strength, when she needed help;
You were life itself, when she feared death;
You were the Way, when she longed for heaven;
You are her Light,
You in Your wisdom having banished all her earthly gloom forever.
Thank you, dear Lord Jesus.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Epiphanytide: The Time for Gentiles, for Gophers and for All

To feed is to grow; thus, the wise man approaches the once mangered and once crucified Christ, feeding on Him with all due reverence and adoration, for our salvation and eternal life.

Professor Northrup appreciated this.  He confessed:

"I recognize in Jesus not a mere man, however remarkable, but a messenger from God who had power to lay down his life and power to take it again, a Person fitted in all respects by character and power to be the light of the world and to reveal God to us as He really is. This, that and the other may disappear or change or perish, but Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and forever, the Son of man and the Son of God, the Divine Savior of the world."


Cyrus Northrup (1834-1922) was born in Ridgefield, Connecticut; eventually graduating from Yale University, and its law school as well.  For several years he clerked for both houses of the Connecticut state legislature. He then served as a professor of Rhetoric and English at Yale (1863-1884), before assuming the presidency of the University of Minnesota (1884-1911).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This Season, Blindmen Still Seek to "Remove" Him, E'en from Our Flesh: An Illustrated Tale

"Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in Peace,
according to Thy Word.
For my eyes have seen Thy Salvation,
which Thou has prepared before the face of all people ..."   Lk 2:29-31

"And Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceeding wroth and sent forth [to slay the Child] ... in Beth-lehem [which is to say, the House of Bread ] ..."   Mt 2:16

"[Let] the mind consider of what nature the act of this Supper is, Who is Present there, [and] what kind of Food is offered and taken there, so that one can prepare himself with due humility and piety for its reception ..."  Ministry, Word and Sacraments:  An Enchiridion, Martin Chemnitz, 1593/1603 (translation, Luther Poellot; Concordia Publishing House, 1981;  p. 131

"At the outset, it is again necessary, by way of preface, to point out that we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously retain and defend it.  Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord's day and on other festivals, when the Sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved."  Apology [i.e., Defense] of the Augsburg Confession XXIV.1 (Kolb-Wengert translation, 2000)

O Lutheran, Lutheran:  are you seeking to retain, treasure and defend "Who is Present there," or instead, ever-seeking to remove the promised "there?"

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" ... Mt. 23:37

Monday, January 12, 2015


At the Anderson cottage, the Christmass trees and outdoor foliage lights are extending their stay.  Certainly, they look very enchanting against that newly fallen 3+ inches of powder, discovered anew this AM.  It assists with the shoveling, when its too early for the coffee-additive Bailey's.  But keeping the photons gallantly streaming fits very well, too, with the Lutheran hymnody devoted to this season e.g., the German J. Franck's "O Light of Gentile Nations," and the German P. Nicolai's "How Lovely Shines the Morning Star."  After all, due to the God-enBabe'd ... adored by bowing Gentile kings ... all darkness, gloom and sadness are enfeebled and thoroughly banished, by His all-encompassing Light.

Once God was mangered; now He is altared.  That is emphasized in yet another great Epiphanytide hymn, composed by the Englishman J. Montgomery: "Angels from the Realms of Glory," its verse 4 (TLH 136) in particular.

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His Temple shall appear.
Come and worship, come and worship;
Worship Christ the Newborn King.

See?  Saints behaving out their faith, their love and their fear towards the Newborn King.  See?  The august Lord Christ, stooping low again to visit His people, in His Temple, even if the numbers be as low as two or three gathered together in His Name.   Now, it is likely that Mr. Montgomery's immediate intent was to poetically reference the Lord's Presentation, and the Old Testament faithful waiting and yearning for such.  But there is more to the words than first  meets the eye, and the Lutheran should see the more and exult in it.  It is wrong, spiritually blind and intemperate to separate His Mass, His Supper, from the Lord's Day or any high festival day  ... whether that day be December 25 or January 6.  We'll be feeding for an eternity with and on the Once Feed-Troughed; all self-described Lutherans had best get used to it, then, in the here-and-now.