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.