Monday, December 29, 2014

Pine for Your Two Front Teeth ... But All I Want for Christmass is HIS Body and Blood.

The instructional folder of Zion Evangelical-Lutheran (Detroit), entitled "The Church Year: Advent," has recently fallen into your (unworthy) servant's hands, and the double-sided, triptych production is to be both cherished and commended.  The catechetical device discusses the history of the Adventide reverencing, the three-fold coming of Christ which the true Lutheran celebrates at this occasion, and its liturgical nuances and hymnology.  Conspicuously, it employs the term Christmass throughout, to make reference to that great Festival of the Nativity of our Lord which is observed on December 25.   I like this.  I hope this trend catches on and spreads, epidemically in fact.  The term allows us poor Christians ... we retain fallen flesh ...  to separate more easily from the cheap and seductive "eat, drink and go bankrupt" superficialities of the world at large, which will seek any reason to party and seek rest from its anxieties through numbing excess.

More deeply than this, though, the term "Christmass" focuses our attention, firstly, on Lord Christ; and secondly, on His loving, last-word-and-testamental provision of the Means by which His Presence is made known to us not only in the past, or in the Age to come, but among us today.  You see, the Lord visits His people today, in both Word AND Sacrament of the Liturgy of His Church.  In the Eucharist, we of His Body receive and maintain an intimate attachment with Him, in sanctified forms we humans can eat and drink.

But this has not always been faithfully professed by Lutherans of the past.  Only some 30 years ago, for example, a Children's Program published by the "conservative" Northwestern Publishing House had the Lord's little lambs give discourse on the acronym C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, with a short devotional message based on each letter.  The spelling lesson went no further than the first six letters, however.  This interruption was not because of a fear that the treat-bagged oranges and peanuts were going stale;  but rather because ... so it was piously recited ...  "Christ is all we need."

Of course, one can safely presume that within a few short hours of the resounding declaration of this creed, both the preaching kiddies and the receptive adults were enthusiastically ripping the tissue from their begged-for gifts.  Even their church's brown-bagged health-foods would not be enough booty for them.  You see, stolid Lutherans can be a hilarious as well as a "peculiar people", as humorist Garrison Keillor would firmly prove to no little profit, a mere two decades or so later.

It's true, though.  Christ is all we need.  That is why we fear, love and adore Him, and put our bodies where our mouths are by showing this love by obeying His Word.  His clear instructions are to DO that which the Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions refer to as the "breaking of bread"/the Mass/the Lord's Supper so that we come to remember and treasure His Passion which freed us from bondage to sin, Death and the Devil.   And to eat and drink His very Present Body and Blood, for the remission of sins.  By following and cherishing our Lord's "This do," we imitate what the growing ancient Church did at least every week, according to the Book of Acts; and we imitate what our Lutheran forefathers boasted, without sense of irony or facial "wink-wink," that they did with greater fervor, intensity and reverence than did the papal party.  Because the Mass clearly propounds the blessed Incarnation [2; p. 168] and just as surely, the comforting belief that our bodies, "when they share in the Eucharist ... are no longer subject to corruption but possess the hope of the Resurrection [2; p. 169]."   And finally, because the Mass, of course, teaches the real coming and presence  of our dear Lord in our Divine Service, now.  Today. 

Christmass without the Mass is Christ no mas, is a Christ "no more" ... to use the translated, 1980 surrender language of welter-weight boxer Roberto Duran against "Sugar" Ray Leonard [3].   At least, not a Christ the true member of the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, including the patristic father Irenaeus [2; pp. 168, 169], would recognize. 

Apparently the WELS youths of the 80's learned their programmed scripts all too well.  Dynamically, as Freud once argued, the child is father to the man.   Now the synod's grown-up pastors, once upon a time professing little kiddies but now learned moderators of and contributors to the Institute of Worship & Outreach [1], are counseling the churches of their "conservative" denomination to drop the Mass from the congregational celebration of Christmas(s), as an evangelistic maneuver.  Apparently, the IWO concludes, Christmas(s) ... and Easter and even the High Church Festival of Mother's Day) ... are  big draws for the restless seeker; and the exclusivist nature of the Mass ... which gift does carry pastoral responsibility and a divine judgment if eaten without adult comprehension and faith ... carries a certain risk of shaming and angering the outsider.  Not to mention the "counselor" himself being fingered by the enraged 21st century skeptic, as being artlessly intolerant or at least cluelessly delusional.  This happened to the Lord Jesus Himself, as recorded in John 6 when He challenged His listeners with some very uncomfortable truths about Himself.  At that time, even a lot of perturbed "disciples" fled from His holy presence; and not all the blame can be placed on the Christ's failure to organize a rockin' praise-band to embellish His weekly synagogue visits and a lesson or two from Isaiah.

The personal fears of appearing foolish or a stumbling-block aside, the logic of the IWO does NOT follow the teachings and uncompromising practice of our Lord (including that teaching found in Mt 28; cf.  "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you"), or the behavior of the early Church ... which grew and turned the world upside down by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not by a resort to the cleverly devised "bait-and-switch" tactics of man, to better snare the uninformed inside the nave.

Moreover, if the Mass were an encumbrance to the evangelical proclamation, and if "Christ [localized physically to heaven] is all we need" were true according its rank protestant understandings ("A sermon's enough!"), then why bother with the Lord's Supper on Father's Day (evidently something of a second-class liturgical holy-day, in WELS-think and Hallmark Card surveys, compared to that of Mother's own) ... or on any Sunday for that matter?

Maybe that logical step is to be left for the third or fourth generation, to follow the fathers' advice sowed in the 1980's.  

[1]  J. Schroeder  "Worship and Outreach:  A Lutheran Paradigm,"  The Institute of Worship & Outreach; posted 7 September 2011
[2]  M. Chemnitz "The Lord's Supper (De coena Domini)," Part X.G: The resurrection and salvation of the flesh are demonstrated by our participation in the Lord's Supper; Concordia Publishing House (St. Louis), 1979.  Translation from the Latin by J.A.O. Preus   
[3]  Leonard-Duran Championship Fight II

No comments:

Post a Comment