Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologiert.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.

VDMA

Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.


Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar.

25 May 2015

Memorial Day Is Not All Saints Day Or Veterans Day, 2015.

Nor is it Armed Forces Day, which we just had.  It isn't even Memorial Day any more, really. And, it wasn't to start with, either!  Huh??

So where did it come from? Unlike many holidays, there is no centuries-old background here. The background there is will help not only understanding Memorial Day for what it is and isn't, but our secular holidays as a whole, and provide some eye-openers on the political scene.

The Original Memorial Day.

On 5 May 1868 General John A Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, designated 30 May 1868 "for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion". Not only for that, but also to "renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan". The designation was for 1868 only, but it expressed "the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades".

What does this mean?

The above words, from the proclamation itself, General Orders No.11 from G.A.R. headquarters, make it clear that the reference is to the Civil War. So who is Logan and what is the G.A.R.?

The latter was not a unit in the Civil War. It was a group founded 6 April 1866 by Benjamin F Stephenson MD in Decatur IL for veterans of the U.S. Army who had served in the Civil War. He himself had served as surgeon of the 14th Illinois Infantry with the rank of Major. The unit was a regiment with the Army of the Tennessee for a three year term ending 24 June 1864, after which he returned to Springfield IL, the state capital, to resume medical practice.

Among the notable commanding officers of the Army of the Tennessee are its first, Ulysses S Grant, and its second, William T Sherman, who arranged for John A Logan to be its fifth and last after the war was actually over. There's a story there. The third commander, James B McPherson, was killed in action 22 July 1864 during the Battle of Atlanta, and Logan temporarily replaced him, but command went to another, Oliver O Howard from the Army of the Cumberland. Howard, like Sherman, was West Point; Logan wasn't. However, Sherman arranged for Logan to become commander so he could lead the army in the Grand Review to kind of make up for being passed over. It disbanded 1 August 1865.

And what was the Grand Review? An event on 23 and 24 May 1865, whose full name is Grand Review of the Armies, in Washington DC to celebrate the end of the war. On 23 May, Major General George Meade of the Army of the Potomac, who had won over General Lee at Gettysburg, led about 80,000 of its men in a six hour parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and the following day Sherman led about 65,000 men combined from the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of Georgia in another six hour parade, Howard riding with Sherman and Logan leading the Army of the Tennessee.

Post Civil War Memorial Days.

General Logan served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 1st Illinois Infantry during the Mexican-American War -- during which he learned to speak Spanish -- graduated in law from the University of Louisville in 1851, practiced law and rose in a political career from county clerk to the Illinois state house of representatives and was serving as a member of the US House of Representatives, Democrat from Illinois, at the outset of the war. He was a volunteer at Bull Run, or Manassas, after which he resigned his congressional seat and organised the 31st Illinois Volunteers, with the rank of Colonel. After the war he switched parties, was a Representative and then Senator from Illinois, and ran as the Vice Presidential candidate on the Republican ticket with James G Blaine in the election of 1884, which lost to Democrat Grover Cleveland.

There's another story. Cleveland, whose Civil War service was paying a Polish immigrant to serve in his place when he was drafted -- legal under the Conscription Act of 1863 -- was a classic liberal, "liberal" being as unrelated to what the term means now as "Democrat". He opposed taxes, supported the gold standard and lowering tariffs imposed on imports to protect domestic products, worked for reduction and limitation of government, and opposed government intervention in the welfare of individuals. In vetoing a measure to provide a "bail out" for Texas farmers ruined by drought, he said the veto was " to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood". Not a lot of that kind of talk from Democrats lately.

The election was hard fought. The Democrats accused Blaine of influencing legislation to benefit railroads whose bonds he owned, which was long denied until letters were discovered making it a little harder to deny, some of them ending "Burn this letter", which in turn gave rise to the campaign slogan "Blaine, Blaine, James G Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine". The Republicans in turn tried to sully Cleveland's image when a woman named him the father of her illegitimate child, and Cleveland admitted he did pay her child support. She however was known to have, so to speak, played the field, including with Cleveland's law partner, for whom the child was named, and while Cleveland himself actually did not know who the father was, being the only bachelor among the possibilities, took responsibility, leading to the campaign slogan "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?"

And you thought politics only got rough and dirty lately! It gets worse. Blaine, whose mother was Irish Catholic, was hoping for support from that community, not typically known for supporting Republicans, but then one of Blaine's supporters denounced the Democrats as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" (the party of Lincoln not being popular in the South) which lost him a ton of votes in swing states to Cleveland, who won the popular vote by less than 1%, though being swing states the electoral college vote was decisive. After Cleveland won, the slogan was turned around to "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa, gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!".

It gets worse yet. In 1888 he was renominated and ran again, and the Republicans ran Benjamin Harrison, Republican Senator from Indiana, against him instead of Logan -- oh yeah, Logan, we'll get back to him -- for high tariffs and big government -- yes, you read it right, that was the Republican position, big government -- and while Cleveland did not win all the swing states as before, what did him in was, guess what, vote fraud by the Republicans in, guess where, Indiana, where Cleveland narrowly lost, however, it gave Harrison the electoral votes to win although he lost the national popular vote. And you thought politics only got rough and dirty lately!

Cleveland came back though. Harrison's high tariffs, and big budgets -- he was the first President to have a billion dollar budget, yes Republicans for a big budget -- and support for backing currency with silver as well as gold -- why was that a problem, because silver wasn't worth as much as its legal gold equivalent -- with taxpayers paying in silver, cheap money to "help the poor", but the government's creditors required payment in gold, the economy went to hell. With the Republicans losing supporters of free silver to the new Populist Party, Cleveland was elected President again in 1892. He thus became the only President (so far) to serve non continuous terms, and will, btw, therefore have two coins in the Presidential Dollar series.

Oh yeah, Logan. Had the Blaine/Logan ticket won, he would have died in office. He died 26 December 1886. Staunchly Republican, he became Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 and continued in that position until 1871 when he became a US Senator. He was always active in veteran's affairs, and public education -- the non West Pointer. A GAR endorsement was essential to winning a Republican nomination for President for decades. The GAR also was influential in the establishment of Old Soldiers' Homes, which became the basis for the present US Department of Veterans Affairs. At its peak in 1890, the GAR had 490,000 members, but, realising numbers must eventually decline, in 1881 the GAR founded the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) to eventually carry on.

And so they did: the last encampment, as national meetings were called, was in 1949, and the last surviving member, named Albert Woolson, died 2 August 1956 at age 109, it was thought, though census records now indicate 106. There's a story there too. He was from New York state. His father was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and taken to a military hospital in Windom, Minnesota, where he and his mother moved, though his father later died of his wounds. Whereupon Albert enlisted in Company C of the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment as a drummer, which is not just for parades and stuff like now. Then, as for centuries before, there was no motorised transport, and drummers were key in both setting marching pace and boosting morale during combat. Albert enlisted 10 October 1864 just months before the war's end and the unit did not see action. He returned to Minnesota, lived out his life as a carpenter, and died in Duluth.

General Eisenhower, President at the time said of his passing " "The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army ... His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States". The recognition of both sides was not new; at the first Memorial Day graves from both sides were decorated.

Modern Memorial Day Evolves.

With his death, the GAR ceased to exist. Memorial Day did not. More or less. The original name was Decoration Day, from the original proclamation for the decorating of veterans' graves of the Civil War, which also, in 1868, envisioned its existence until the last survivor was gone, which was 1956, 88 years later. It's expanded a bit. After World War One, it had become a Federal holiday observed on the original date, 30 May, and was expanded to included the decoration of the graves of all who died in any US military engagement. The alternate name for Decoration Day, Memorial Day, was first used in 1882, and after World War Two, which gave many more to be remembered and whose graves to be decorated, became the more common name, and was made the official name in 1967.

The following year, the Uniform Holidays Bill changed its observance along with Veterans' Day (11 November, on which this blog also posts annually) and Washington's Birthday (22 February) to create three three-day-long weekends to take effect in 1971. None of these observances were instituted to give people a three-day week-end, with an extra day off and cook-outs and sports and big sales at the stores, but to remember as a nation particular people and things.

Washington's Birthday was chosen to commemorate the commander of the Continental Army in the war for independence and the unanimous choice of the Electoral College to be the first President, a unifying figure for the new nation and model for its future Presidents, often called "the father of his country", on his, well, birthday, 22 February. Veterans Day is now called that to commemorate all veterans, and was originally to commemorate the armistice which ended World War One starting on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 11 November. Decoration Day was chosen to commemorate Civil War dead on 30 May precisely because that date is not connected with any particular battle or other event of the Civil War, not because the flowers are in full bloom as some (the current President for example) have said.

The dates mean something, closing up shop for a particular commemoration of a particular something on a particular date, not an opportunity to take the 3rd Monday in February, the 4th Monday of October, and the last Monday in May off from work to do other things, or stay at work to boost business from big sales attracting those off work. The outcry over this loss of the meaning of the day, and acquiring meanings unrelated to it, was enough that Veterans Day was moved back to its original date in 1978, but with the provision that if that date fell on a Sunday it could be observed the following Monday, or if on a Saturday either on that Saturday or the Friday before.

In the 1980s advertisers began the push to boost sales on the new day for Washington's Birthday as "Presidents Day" including Lincoln whose birthday is 12 February. So now we have Washington's Birthday, which is still the official name of the holiday, not on Washington's birthday, not altogether about Washington, not generally known under its name but an advertising nickname, and not really about presidents either but time off work and buying stuff.

As to Memorial Day, it is for no other purpose than to take time from our normal pursuits to commemorate those who gave their lives in the armed forces of this country that we might have the freedom to go about those pursuits. It's not for the dead per se -- the church provides that with All Saints Day on 1 November, and other religions have similar observances for the dead -- not for living veterans and current service members, both of which groups have their own commemorations, which are observed on this blog, and certainly not to provide a three day kick off for Summer.

Conclusion.

For us Lutherans, and for all others, their sacrifice has given us a country where we need not wrestle with local, regional and national governments to hold our beliefs, or have our services in the only place where services are going to be, the state church, or at least be tolerated by it. We are free to form our churches according to our understanding of God, as are others according to their understandings, as are others who choose not to participate. Nor do we need to re-create here church structure that emerged in the old countries where that was not the case and church officials were state officials too. What an incredibly precious gift.

The VFW noted in its Memorial Day statement of 2002: "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day." Efforts continue to return Memorial Day to its original date of observance.

But we can return the observance itself to what it is, as General Logan said, to commemorate those who have died defending their country, AND to renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

19 May 2015

Pentecost / Shavuot / Pfingstfest, 24 May 2015.

So why does the "birthday of the church" have the Greek prefix for fifty in it?

Because Pentecost wasn't originally the "birthday of the church", but something else, that's why, which is also why the account of Pentecost speaks of it as something already there.  Just as Passover was transformed into the Eucharist, Pentecost was about to be transformed too.  Here's the deal. 

What was already there is an observance commanded by God in the Law of Moses which is to be held fifty days after the second day of Passover, with each day formally counted.  The name for this feast in the Bible is Shavout, which means "weeks" in Hebrew, so it is called the Festival of Weeks in English, but when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek since that's what most Jews spoke at the time (that's the Septuagint, the version of the OT the NT quotes), it was called Pentecost, meaning fifty days, the length of the count from Passover.

The Original Pentecost In The Law Of Moses.

The counting is called the Counting of the Omer. What's an omer? Omer are the sheaves of a harvested crop. During the days of the physical Temple, the priests would offer newly harvested barley on the second day of Passover, which represents the start of the seven week harvest season. Which is why Pentecost is also called the Feast of Weeks. In the Law, Shavuot is called Hag ha-Katzir, the Holiday of Harvest's End.

Ah, so we have a harvest festival, taking its place among the various harvest festivals in world culture and religion. Well, yes and no. Yes, it's another harvest festival, another instance of a human cause for celebrating a human milestone, the end of the harvest, particularly in a pre-industrial society. But there's something a little different about this one.

The Talmud (what's a Talmud? -- ancient rabbinical writings; for more, look it up, Wikipedia is linked to the right of the page) says it was on the 6th of Sivan (a month in the Jewish lunar calendar), which is the first night of Shavuot, that God gave the Ten Words, better known among Gentiles as the Ten Commandments. Consequently, a popular observance has been an all night Bible study at home or in the synagogue, breaking for morning service, called shakharit, the ancestor of our, well, morning service. This all nighter is called tikkun.

Traditionally only dairy foods are eaten on Shavuot, and while no-one knows why for sure, the thinking is that on the first Shavuot they had slaughtered all these animals for food but after the Law was given it turned out they were not kosher so they only ate dairy foods.

In the liturgy of the synagogue, the readings for the service for the first day of Shavuot are: Torah portion Exodus 19:1 - 20:23 and Numbers 28:26-31; haftorah Ezechiel 1:1-28 and 3:12. In case you're a little rusty, this is the Exodus account (actually the first of two Exodus accounts, the other being Chapter 34, and there's another in Deuteronomy) of the giving of the Law, specifically the Ten Words, and Ezechiel's account of the chariot of fire -- you know, the flying saucer.

This is the feast that Acts 2:1 (in the Epistle for Pentecost, which even the Vatican II three year lectionary couldn't overturn) refers to when it speaks of Pentecost arriving, and why there were men from all over everywhere in Jerusalem for it. It's to celebrate the giving of the Law, the reception of which is the whole reason why there was a Passover and a deliverance, the most important event in Judaism. And like Passover just had been, it was about to be transformed!

The Original Pentecost Transformed!

For God himself had become Man in Jesus Christ, suffered the condemnation for our sins in his death, and then rose again. Now, if this were all to the story, why didn't he just stick around, proof positive that he had risen? If the whole point were "All you need is Jesus", "I am saved because Jesus died for my sins and rose again", "Jesus first, as long as you believe that the rest isn't that important", then what would make that point better, what would make that point more irrefutable, than if he had stayed right here, so you could see him, talk to him face to face, hear him teach, and say to those who don't believe "Look, there he is right there, doing pretty well at age roughly 2000, go ask him yourself".

But it didn't happen that way, because that is not the whole point and not all to the story. Just as the Passover and exodus from bondage in Egypt had been not for its own sake but in order to gather with God so he could give his people his Law, so the Passover of the full paschal lamb Jesus had been not for its own sake but in order to gather with God so he could give his people his Spirit! Just as God had commanded the counting of the Omer, the fifty days connecting Pesach, aka Pascha, and Shavuoth, Pentecost, so now God himself counts the Omer from the Pascha of the Lamb he provided, his Son, to the Shavouth or Pentecost so that on the very day where his people once celebrated only the giving of the Law, they still celebrate that and added to it is the giving of the Spirit!

And what happened as a result of that? The Apostles were men who knew all you need is Jesus, men who knew for a physical fact that Jesus had died and risen again, men who knew Jesus is first.  They had all that, but on that basis alone were scared and afraid and huddled around each other in the comfort of others who had all that, tending to their prayers and the internal matters of their little band.  "All that" is not all, and not sufficient, neither for the Apostles nor for us.  The rest came on this day of celebrating the giving of the Law -- they gave the Law, and then the Gospel, no longer scared and afraid. Not only that, each one there heard it in his own language, addressed directly to him!

And what did the people do after this amazing event? Everybody just up and believed?  No.  They did the same as the Apostles had done when the women told them the tomb was empty and he had risen. They didn't believe them. Some thought this is just a foolish wishful story, others sought to figure out what this means, others thought they're just crazy, probably drunk, out of their minds. That's what happened first. Pretty much what still happens when people hear the mighty works of God told to them -- when WE hear the mighty works of God told to US. Some form of the same three reactions:  1) it's a really nice story stemming from our deepest wishes; 2) let's talk about this and dialogue as to what it all means; 3) those guys are crazy.

That's what happened first. The amazing event wasn't the amazing event.  It wasn't and isn't about the languages.  After the languages was nothing but unbelief.  The rest didn't happen until something else happened, and that's the amazing event and the big deal about Pentecost.

The Biggest Sign and Wonder Of Pentecost.

Peter then stood with his brothers in the Office of Holy Ministry and laid it right out for them, clean and clear. This is what Joel and David had spoken about, Jesus delivered by the plan of God to us whom we in our sinfulness abandoned the Law and in turn delivered him to the power and law of the world to be killed, Jesus delivered by the power of God from the power of death and our sinfulness which inflicted that on him, Jesus risen again and now placed on the throne of David at the right hand of God, Jesus having been given the promise of the Spirit so that now you see and hear this: Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

That's the Law. And when they heard the Law, given now for the first time in its fulfillment on this day of celebrating the giving of the Law long ago, they were cut to the heart. People by nature want a religion of works, stuff they can do to make it all right, stuff they can do to feel OK with God, with each other, and within themselves. And the world offers all sorts of versions of that. Some of them go by the name Christianity. And the feelings and purpose they impart are utterly false.

God himself has shown us in the Law exactly the stuff he wants us to do, and we showed ourselves absolutely incapable of it by our own reason and strength, even in a scenario where there are but two people and one commandment, even when a people is called and set apart to do the full Mosaic Law and be an example to the nations, to the extent that we handed his prophets and finally the One he sent over to the power of our own ideas and law to be killed, and still reject their message to this day.

So much for a religion of works. We can't do it even when God himself shows us exactly how, no matter how hard we try in purpose driven living or to attain our best life now. What's worse, just like those on this Pentecost, and just like those delivered from Egypt in the first one, we don't get it even when the mighty works of God are directly addressed to us even with wondrous signs, preferring instead to think it over or think they're just nuts!

Pentecost came to-gether not in the signs and wonders, which can still leave us in unbelief, but when Peter and his brothers in the Office of Holy Ministry laid it out clean and clear. It still does. It was then, when Peter had given the Law in its horrible consequences, that they, we, thought not about what it all means, not let's think this over, not maybe there's some good ideas here, not maybe these guys are nuts, but instead were cut to the heart by the fruitlessness of their, our, own reason and strength, and asked Peter and his brothers, Men and brethren, what shall we do? It was then and only then that they could tell them the Good News, the Gospel.

Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

What happened then? Same thing that happens now. They that gladly received his word were baptised, and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

The Holy Ghost Church.

Guess what! There's an emerging church all right. Not just lately, not out of some marketing scheme supposedly crafted to the taste of the times, but ever since the outpouring of the Spirit on that Pentecost whose historical happening we celebrate every feast of Pentecost.

We may not be in Jerusalem, the Temple is not physically there to go to in one accord, and Peter and the other Apostles are not personally our preachers. And it makes not the slightest difference. The taste of our or any time has no taste for the Gospel and it is worthless to pander to it thinking that will produce a taste for the Gospel. That will produce only what it always produces -- a religion of works, stuff to do to catch the God buzz in a quest after one's own feeling better, on the surface all about Jesus or God but really all about me, or, a lot of discussion about what it all means, or, a rejection of it as wishful thinking at best and lunacy at worst.

What produces a taste for the Gospel is the Law. That's why the Spirit was given to proclaim the Gospel on the feast celebrating the giving of the Law! And we have the reality of Pentecost before us no less than they. Huh?  The Temple is in ruins and Peter and the Apostles are gone. So how's that, how is Pentecost not just another thing you read in a book that supposedly comes from God, maybe it does, maybe it doesn't.

Because the true Temple Jesus has been raised again on the third day, and has taken his place with the Father, and has sent his Spirit as he promised. And that Spirit speaks the same message to us as it did that day in unbroken continuity and succession, not that Peter and the Apostles are still physically here, not that other men are still here in a succession of corporate hierarchy, not in those who produce signs and wonders or miracles of church growth and attendance in his name, but that the clean and clear laying out of Law and Gospel as was heard that Pentecost continues to be heard in the faithful preaching of those in the Office of Holy Ministry unto the ends of the earth despite sin, the world and the gates of hell itself.

And when this happens, the same thing follows as did then. Those who receive this proclamation of Law and Gospel are baptised, they continue steadfastly in the Apostles' teaching handed on in the church, especially in those books upon which the church has said you can absolutely rely as the inspired word of God without error, the Bible, and in preaching by those called to do so of that Word, they continue steadfastly in fellowship and community and gathering with each other, they continue steadfastly in the breaking of the bread, the mass, the church's liturgy, wherein Jesus was only fully discerned for who and what he is even when he was bodily here for forty days after he rose, and they continue steadfastly in prayer.

Conclusion.

That is the gift of the Holy Ghost, and every bit of it is as available here and now as it was on that day we read about in Acts, in the Epistle or Christian haftorah for Pentecost, every bit of what was pointed to in Ezechiel's chariot of fire we read about in the original Pentecost haftorah. Pentecost comes to-gether, despite all our vain and sinful efforts to make it happen in some other way more to our liking, the same now as then as ever. Accept no substitute! There is no substitute, even if it claims his name or produces signs and wonders and warm feelings in his name, as true and false teachers and even Satan himself alike can do!

Pentecost is about the one thing they cannot produce and only the true Spirit of God can. As the Little Catechism explains:

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Christian church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

Amen.

What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian church He daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers, and will at the Last Day raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life.

This is most certainly true.

12 May 2015

Armed Forces Week And Day, 2015.

This blog posts annually about Veterans Day, which celebrates all veterans of service in the U.S. military whether living or dead, and Memorial Day, which celebrates those who died while in that service.  Therefore, it also posts about the day for those currently serving.  Neither Veterans Day nor Memorial Day is about those currently serving in the armed forces -- that is the purpose of Armed Forces Day, and, it's actually not a day but a full week, beginning the second Saturday in May and ending the third Sunday in May, with Armed Forces Day itself the third Saturday in May.

Originally, each branch of the military held its own day, and weren't branches of a unified military either. After World War Two, the US armed forces were unified in a new, single branch of government, the Department of Defense. Armed Forces Day was created to reflect that change, which was announced on 31 August 1949 and celebrated for the first time on 20 May 1950.

Some information on the original separate days will help toward one of the goals of Armed Forces Day, a better understanding by the general public of the armed forces.

Army Day. 6 April. The first Army Day was 1 May 1928. The day was chosen to offset the Communist Worker's Day also on 1 May. The next year it was changed to 6 April, the date of the US entry into World War One, and stayed there. The military history of the United States begins with colonial militias of citizen-soldiers originally working with the British military, which later became state militias and since 1903 the National Guard, with some units on state status and some also reserve units of the United States Army. The Army itself began on 14 June 1775, when the Continental Congress formed the Continental Army. It disbanded in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris formally ended the Revolutionary War, and was re-created by Congress as the United States Army on 14 June 1784.

Navy Day. 27 October. First celebrated in 1922. 27 October was chosen because it is both the birth date of Theodore Roosevelt, who was a very strong voice as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and the date in 1775 when a committee of the Continental Congress issued a report to begin a navy with the purchase of ships from merchant lines. The Navy considers 13 October 1775, the date of the Continental Congress resolution to form that committee, its inception, though there was no naval force after the Revolutionary War other than the Revenue Cutter Service, now the Coast Guard, until 1794 when, to defend against pirates, Congress mandated building six frigates. They were launched in 1797, one of which, the USS Constitution, is still a frigate in the United States Navy.

Air Force Day. 1 August. This day was established in 1947 when the Air Force was still part of the Army, as the recently concluded world war had demonstrated air as an essential frontier to be protected. The date comes from the date of the establishment of the first unit of what would become the Air Force, the Aeronautical Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, in 1907. The Air Force became a separate branch on 18 September 1947.

Marine Corps Day. 10 November. The Marine Corps was established by Congress on 11 July 1798 to serve under the Department of the Navy. Marine Corps Day was celebrated on 11 July by the Corps from its first birthday in 1799 until 1921. The date was changed in 1921 to 10 November to reflect the original establishment of the Marine Corps on 10 November 1775 to assist the navy during the Revolutionary War, after which the Corps was disbanded. The Marine Corps still observes this day, while participating in Armed Forces Day as well.

Coast Guard Day. 4 August. On that day in 1790 the Treasury Department under Alexander Hamilton established the Revenue Cutter Service, to enforce the first US tariff laws. The Revenue Cutter Service has been in service ever since, becoming the Coast Guard on its merger with the Lifesaving Service in 1915. The day is still observed in the Coast Guard, which also participates in Armed Forces Day. The Coast Guard is unique among the military's five armed services in that it is both military and law enforcement; in 1967 it was transferred from Treasury to the then new Department of Transportation, then on 25 February 2003 it was transferred again to then recently created Department of Homeland Security, but as before, at the direction of the President, or by Congress in declaration of war, it can be transferred to the Navy under the Department of Defense.

What's this got to do with the Lutheran faith? Among the many other benefits, our armed forces have secured a country where we are free to form our congregations and church bodies, and not, unlike the countries from which many of our ancestors came, have to fight over what will be the church funded by the state or fight to be allowed to be part of the state church.

President Truman's Proclamation of the first Armed Forces Day states a goal that has become more telling as the years have passed:

"Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America's defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense."

07 May 2015

C.F.W. Walther. 7 May 2015.

What if the times were like this: Lutherans are saying that while there may have been historic merit in the Lutheran Confessions, the fact is the old doctrines and practices no longer make sense to people in our day, and the church must change to fit the times, adopting new measures if it is to draw people to Christ, and leave the old things to former times, things like liturgy and sacraments and concern for doctrine.

Huh? Aren't the times exactly like this? Well, thing is, the times I have in mind in this description are two centuries ago, Lutheranism in the US in the 1800s! If they sound just like our times, and they do, that is because, to borrow Bishop Sheen's phrase, there are no new errors, just old errors with new labels, so they look new to us and take us in.

The fact is, the circumstances and condition of Lutheranism at the time of the formation of our beloved synod are exactly those of our own. And now, with the added twist that in our times even within our beloved synod one hears the very same old errors, now with new labels, that the synod was formed to counter;  the same errors that, instead of which, our beloved synod was formed to offer solid, orthodox Lutheranism grounded in the Confessions of the Lutheran faith, our Concordia (aka the Book of Concord), so that not only the book but the synod may present the faith of Christ correctly stated in Concordia in our teaching and liturgical practice with one heart, as the name Concordia means.

So on this "feast day" of CFW Walther, our first synodical president, instead of offering something about him, I'm offering his own words about that which he was all about offering. Well, his own words translated from German, with a few notes from me indicated like [this].  They are so timely they could have been written this morning.

We know and firmly hold that the character, the soul of Lutheranism, is not found in outward observances but in the pure doctrine. If a congregation had the most beautiful ceremonies in the very best order, but did not have the pure doctrine, it would be anything but Lutheran. We have from the beginning spoken earnestly of good ceremonies, not as though the important thing were outward forms, but rather to make use of our liberty in these things. For true Lutherans know that although one does not have to have these things (because there is no divine command to have them), one may nevertheless have them because good ceremonies are lovely and beautiful and are not forbidden in the Word of God. Therefore the Lutheran church has not abolished "outward ornaments, candles, altar cloths, statues and similar ornaments," [AP XXIV] but has left them free. The sects proceeded differently because they did not know how to distinguish between what is commanded, forbidden, and left free in the Word of God. We remind only of the mad actions of Carlstadt and of his adherents and followers in Germany and in Switzerland. We on our part have retained the ceremonies and church ornaments in order to prove by our actions that we have a correct understanding of Christian liberty, and know how to conduct ourselves in things which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman antichristendom enslaves poor consciences by imposing human ordinances on them with the command: "You must keep such and such a thing!"; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. Unfortunately, also many of our Lutheran Christians are still without a true understanding of their liberty. This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies.

It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist [on what "Methodist" means here, see the note below], who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

It is too bad that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great with many people — this does not, however, alter the fact that it is very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said, "Qui cantat, bis orat–he who sings prays twice."

This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16) that the congregations of his time had a similar custom. It has been the custom in the Lutheran Church for 250 years [this is now about 400 years]. It creates a solemn impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the their joy in such a lovely manner.

We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.

Uniformity of ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon Church order published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A poor slave of the pope finds one and same form of service, no matter where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church.

With us it is different. Whoever comes from Germany without a true understanding of the doctrine often has to look for his church for a long time, and many have already been lost to our church because of this search [just as true now of those born right here but also without such an understanding]. How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafers?

The objection: "What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?" was answered with the counter question, "What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: "It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments".

(C.F.W. Walther, Explanation of Thesis XVIII, D, Adiaphora, of the book The True Visible Church, delivered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, beginning August 9, 1871, at the 16th Central District Convention, translated by Fred Kramer, printed in Essays for the Church [CPH: 1992], I:193-194).

Note. His reference to "Methodist" should not be confused with the present United Methodist Church, a body formed in 1968 from the union of the Evangelical United Brethren and the The Methodist Church, which itself was formed in 1939 from a reunion of three groups originating in the Methodist Episcopal Church. However, the conflation of the Holiness Movement with the Social Gospel is characteristic throughout, with the emphasis on personal feeling of sanctification in living still prominent in "evangelical" churches to-day and Pietism in our own history.

Hat tip to Pastor Paul T McCain, on whose excellent but now defunct blog Cyberbrethren I saw this excerpt.

01 May 2015

May Day, May Day! 2015

If you know why I just said "May Day" twice instead of thrice, good on you! I'll explain it shortly for the others, but perhaps you will find the rest of the post entertaining nonetheless.

So it's May first, or 1 May, to put it correctly. Did you make someone a May Basket and leave it to-day? Huh? Judas H Priest in the archives, more musty stuff from Past Elder? Whatever am I talking about?

OK, maybe you've heard "May Day" as a distress signal in the movies. So why "May Day" for a distress signal, did something really bad happen on 1 May once? No. The expression originated from the legendary Croydon Airport in London, which closed 30 September 1959. It was the first airport to begin what is now called air traffic control, in 1921. A senior radio officer named Frederick Stanley Mockford was asked to come up with something understood by all concerned to indicate distress, a grave or immanent danger needing immediate help.

It was to be a spoken radio equivalent to the radiotelegraphic SOS in effect since 1 July 1908; the telephonic 9-1-1 was decades away. Since at that time most of the traffic was between Croydon and also legendary Le Bourget airport in Paris (that's where Charles Lindbergh would land in 1927, and is still open, business jets only), Mockford chose the French phrase "Venez m'aider", Come to my aid. "May Day" is an English corruption of the French phrase.

Now, when given as a distress call it is said three times, to avoid confusion since, the conditions under which it is given are likely fairly confused already. Therefore, to honour the practice, I said it only twice since this is not a distress call.

However, May Day as a day has long had varying significances. Well here they are. The original May Day was a Roman (as in Empire, not Church, though it is sometimes hard to tell the difference) festival of Flora, goddess of flowers. The word flora is still the botanical term for plants, and is the basis of the word for flower in Latin derived languages, such as the Spanish flor. Floralia, the feast, happened on IV Kalends of May, which is between what we call 27 April to 3 May, and was associated with springtime, new life, fertility, end of Winter, all that good stuff.

Others also had Spring-is-here-hooray goings-on. Our good friends the Germans had Walpurgisnacht, Walpurgis Night. What in all flying Judas is that? Well the custom was pretty common among Germanic types, like the Vikings, and included bonfires to keep away pesky spirits and the return of light etc. Ain't got nuttin to do with the name though. Walpurga was an English girl who went with Boniface and some other English guys from Devon, that southwestern tip of Mother England, whose language at the time was Germanic so some of them set off the evangelise the German people. She died on 25 February 777, or 779 depending on who's counting, which was and still is in some places her feast day.

But her remains were dug up and moved -- this is known by the more elegant phrase "translation of the relics" -- on 1 May, and as the Christianisation of Europe proceeded, that became her feast day in many places, and the coming of light became associated with her feast day, so that the bonfires and the clergy of the indigenous religion -- witches, pejoratively -- had to scatter with the coming of St Walpurga's Day, May Day. Hence Walpurgis Night, the night before as a last big blow out. No word on special flights to Blocksberg for those whose brooms are in the shop.

Another related celebration is the Celtic Beltane. So, build a bonfire, dance around the May pole -- now there's a phallic fertility symbol for you, and related to the sacred tree thing of pre-Christian Germanic types. Boniface (whose real name was Winifred) supposedly cut down Thor's Sacred Oak in 723 but we still have Thor's Day, Thursday, or Donnerstag, his German name being Donner. Or, make a May basket of sweets, but instead of for Flora leave it on somebody's doorstep anonymously, maybe for your own choice to be Queen of the May.

Speaking of which, that practice survives in some Catholic circles as May crowing, where a crown is put on a statue of Mary, who has the whole month of May dedicated to her. Wasn't always Mary though. May is actually named from the Greek fertility goddess Maia, or Maia Maiestas in Latin, and in Rome (as in Empire, not Church, though yeah it's hard to tell the difference) the first and fifteenth of the month were her holy days. Not sure what Miriam (Mary) the mother of Jesus would think of being a reconstituted Maia, but it probably ain't good. Do whatever he tells you, she said, and he didn't say bupkis about nuttin like this.

Alternatively, May Day is also International Worker's Day. This celebrates the victories of the labour movement, especially the recognition of the eight-hour workday. The date was chosen by the Second International, an association of socialist and labour movements, in 1889. Why 1 May? To commemorate the executions of some of the participants in a strike for the eight hour day on 4 May 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago. Hey, didn't I say 4 May, not 1 May? Yes I did. However this particular strike was one of many throughout the land, as the eight-hour workday was supposed to become standard 1 May 1886 and that is when strikes in support of it began. On 4 May at the Chicago one, someone tossed a bomb at the police line -- this is the origin of the phrase "bomb throwing anarchist" -- and it is unknown how many actually died. Among the four eventually executed by hanging for the incident, none was the "bomb throwing anarchist".

All that said, why not make a little basket of sweets for your sweetheart and give it to her as a surprise. And, if you go to an eight-hour workday, remember that the eight-hour workday didn't happen because the forces of the market efficiently and enlightenedly produced it, but because some people worked damned hard to bring it about in the marketplace despite its forces.

06 April 2015

Eastertide / Osterzeit. Paschaltide 2015.

Think Easter's over?  Guess what? Remember how it takes forty days, that Lent thing, to prepare for Easter? Well, it takes fifty days to celebrate it, and it's called Eastertide!! Or even better, called Paschaltide.  That's right, Easter is not just one day to show up and celebrate, let alone not worry about making church again until Christmas. Nor does Easter celebrate something that came up and now you hold on to that until you die.  Jesus fulfilled something which in turn leads to something further.  Here's the deal.

We saw in the last few posts that Easter is not a stand-alone event. Here's a recap.  When God told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let his people go from slavery, it wasn't about human rights or dignity or anything else, it was so that his people may worship him, and what he wanted them let go for was to give them the Law, and so that in turn they may take the Promised Land.

All of that happened.  It's recorded in the Hebrew Bible, which you may know as the Old Testament, specifically in the Law, or Torah, which is the first five books, and more specifically, in Exodus, the second of those five.  And also in the Law, God commanded three great festivals to commemorate each of these, the liberation from slavery (Pesach, or Passover), the giving of the Law (Shavuot), and the journey to the Promised Land (Sukkoth).  That's in Exodus too, with a recap in the book that itself is a recap of the Law, Deuteronomy.  The three are called the Shalosh Regalim.

However, God's Law was not able to be fulfilled. So great is human sin, that it could not be fulfilled, even when the Law was given only to a special people, who were called out to receive it to in turn be a light to other peoples. In this we, all people, are shown our sin, our utter inability to attain to God even when he shows us exactly how to do it and doesn't even ask all of us to do it.

But, there is Good News. Having been shown our sin, God shows us our saviour, and not only that, becomes a man to be that Saviour himself! And in this man, Jesus, he did the whole thing himself because we couldn't.  First, he transformed the Passover sacrifice of a lamb into the passing over from the slavery of sin by the body and blood of the Lamb of God, which is himself, then that body and blood was sacrificed at Calvary, and then God ratified all this and brought it to-gether in the resurrection Jesus from the dead.

It doesn't stop there.  Two more to go!  Just as Passover lead to the giving of the Law, so Easter leads to the giving of the Holy Ghost.  It goes like this:  in the Law of Moses God commanded a ritual counting of the fifty days between the celebration of Passover and the celebration of the giving of the Law, called Shavuot or Pentecost. 

Wait, what?  Isn't Pentecost just a Christian deal, the "birthday of the church" and all that?  No, it's not.  "Pentecost" is a later name derived from the Greek for "fiftieth" for Shavout, the feast of the giving of the Law at Sinai fifty days after Passover.  That's why in the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible it speaks of all the people being in town; they were there for what they thought would be that year's Pentecost.  But instead, just as Jesus transformed Passover into the giving of himself, God counts the days and will transform Pentecost into the giving of the Spirit!  So the church similarly counts and rejoices in Easter for fifty days until it celebrates the giving of the Law fulfilled and transformed into the giving of the Holy Ghost!

That's the second one.  More on that, and the third to follow, when we get there in fifty days.

That counting from Passover to Shavuot is called the Counting of the Omer in the Law; the counting from Easter to Pentecost is called Eastertide. Thus, the joy and celebration of Easter is not one day, but fifty days leading right up to the gift of the Holy Ghost! We could call it the Easterly Joytime! In fact, in German they do -- die österliche Freudenzeit.

This joytime has several Sundays. The first is Easter itself. There are three seasons in the church year in which the Sundays have "nicknames" taken from the first word or two in Latin (called the incipit) of their Introits, and Eastertide is the third of them, Advent and Lent being the other two like this. Here are the traditional Introits, Collects (the prayer that collects the thoughts for the day) and Bible readings for them.

Second Sunday of Easter -- Quasimodogeniti

Introit.
As newborn babes: desire the sincere milk of the Word.
Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me. (I Peter 2:2)
Ps. Sing aloud unto God, our Strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob. (PS 81:1)
Glory be to the Father etc.

Collect
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we who have celebrated the solemnities of the Lord's resurrection may, by the help of Thy grace, bring forth the fruits thereof in our life and conversation; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, out Lord, who liveth etc.

Epistle
I John 5:4-10

Gospel
John 20:19-31

Third Sunday of Easter -- Miserecordias Domini

Fourth Sunday of Easter -- Jubilate

Fifth Sunday of Easter -- Cantate

Sixth Sunday of Easter -- Rogate

(Ascension Thursday)

Seventh Sunday of Easter -- Exaudi

05 April 2015

Easter / Eostre / Pascha / Counting the Omer 2015.

Here's a story for you. Once upon a time, a Goddess of the Dawn named Eostre found a bird whose wings froze over the Winter, and helped it by turning it into either a rabbit or a hare. Now, neither rabbits nor hares lay eggs, but this one, having been a bird, could, and there you have the Eostre Bunny. Or if you speak German, a hare, the Osterhase.

Eostre had a festival in her honour, and Venerable Bede, a Benedictine English monk writing in the 8th Century in De temporum ratione (On the calculating of time), said she had the whole month named after her, Eostre Month, Easter month -- Eostur-monath in his original, a Latinised version of the many variants on her name -- the lunar month corresponding to the Roman month of opening, Aprilis, or April as we say in English now . The Grimm Brothers, maybe better known now for their children's stories, were scholars of Germanic mythology and Jacob Grimm called her Ostara in his Deutsche Mythologie in 1835.

So what do we have here? A pre-Christian Spring festival celebrating fertility and new life and awakenings, that got morphed into a Christian observance about a risen god but really is properly celebrated with bunnies and eggs and joy and happy gatherings, taking its place among the various celebrations in world culture that Winter is over and Spring is here? Yes, and no.

Holy Week began with Palm Sunday, seeing the crowds joyously welcoming the controversial teacher who just maybe was the Messiah, which is the person sent by God to remove the oppression of his people, then currently the Romans, and inaugurate the Messianic era of universal peace. We saw that if we are really honest, it wasn't just the crowd that day but we too who want such a messiah, the one after which we will never again have to watch the news, get that phone call, or visit, or letter, or results from the physician, and wonder how a loving God could let such things happen, or try to explain how bad things can happen to good people -- like us, of course.

And we saw that when no such things began to happen, but rather that this supposed messiah began to suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and ended up being executed for blasphemy, the crowds were gone, after the palm branches turned to shouts of "Away with him". And if we are really honest again, we see that is still our response.

Along with Christmas, churches typically draw their best crowds at Easter. He is risen! Everything is in white, great music, a big service, the empty tomb story, pancakes or brunch in the fellowship hall, everybody is happy! And the message is -- Away with him!

The truth is for many Easter is Palm Sunday all over again, with lilies instead of palms. Now we can have the messiah we want for real! And the story of Jesus' resurrection becomes, from among the many available, the myth we happen to find culturally acceptable to start saying universal Springtime stuff about life, new life, eternal life, whatever, some sort of affirmation that everything is really OK after all in spite of the figurative Romans that plague us. So we put him back on the donkey and start cheering all over again for the messiah we want. But, as the great spiritual song asks, were you there when they crucified my Lord? Where were the crowds on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services?

Let my people go, Moses said to Pharaoh before the original form of Passover. What was that? Let my people go because it's the right thing to do, let my people go because their condition is an affront to human dignity and a social wrong, let my people go because they have a right to self determination?

Absolutely nothing of the sort. Moses was not told to tell Pharaoh to let the people go, period. He was told to tell the reason too -- Let my people go, that they may sacrifice to me! The people are to be let go for one reason, and one reason only, that they may gather with God according to his instruction, and apart from that they may as well remain in slavery! Their social and political freedom was not sought for its own value, but derived its value from allowing them to heed the word of God.

The deliverance was hard to bear for the delivered. They lost sight of the fact that freedom is not freedom if it is not to heed the word of God, that it is not about a comfortable life here, victorious living, everything turning out in a way we want. And despite having seen powerful acts of God they began to wonder what sort of madness this is. Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to die? They began to pine after their days in Egypt, even slavery looking better than this! And when the moment came and Moses went up to receive the Law, they fashioned a god more to their liking.

They? Us. Do we not, no less than they, turn away when it doesn't go as we think it should, or hoped it would? Do we not, no less than they, begin to wonder what we are doing in church and wish we could just live in the world like everyone else? Do we not, no less than they, begin to build gods of our own when God seems to take too long or be too far away? Do we not, no less than they, want to listen to ourselves when God's pastor presents the Law? And do we not, no less than they, shout "Away with him!" when the Gospel is shown in a suffering and death for our sin rather than a sure-fire recipe for victorious and purposeful living?

We want Easter, but without Good Friday. We want Passover, but not to receive the Law. It cannot be. They come from God as parts of one whole, connected by God and meaningless apart from that. In the Law, God commanded the Passover. But it does not stand alone. Part of the Passover is to count the days until the celebration of the reason for the Passover, the giving of the Law. This is called counting the Omer. Just as God connected the call to be let go with the reception of the Law in the message he gave to Moses, so he connects the observance of the letting go, Passover, with the observance of the giving of the Law, called Pentecost, in the Law he gave through Moses.

What? Pentecost? In the Law? But that's a Christian thing, the birthday of the church, isn't it? In the Law, God commanded three major observances: Pesach, or Passover; Shavuoth, or Pentecost; Sukkoth, or Tabernacles, also called Booths, which is preceded by the Days of Awe which includes Rosh Ha-Shanah or New Years and Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. And the time between Pesach and Shavuoth, Passover and Pentecost, is ritually counted. The word Pentecost is because of that, from the Greek for fiftieth, the number of days. The counting of the Omer is connected in the observance God commanded as it was connected in the historical events.

This is why Acts speaks of all the people being in town for Pentecost -- there already was one! "Easter" does not stand alone. And if it is isolated from that within which it stands and made to stand alone, it is not Easter but something else. The women who went out that first Easter went out not in joy to find their risen Lord but to tend to the body of a dead man. And when they found he was risen, they hurried to tell the Apostles -- who did not believe them. (You can't make this sort of stuff up -- here's the biggest news ever, but first shown not to those in the Office of Holy Ministry but to the women, who were told to go tell them!) No pancakes, no lilies.

Instead, the Passover seder becomes at Jesus' institution the mystery -- or, using the English cognate for the Latin for the Greek word for mystery, the sacrament -- of his body and blood which we are now to observe, and then he gives his body and blood as the full and final Passover lamb so that those sprinkled with his blood will be passed over by death and saved, and then he rises from the dead, which at the time, far from being a nice family day with lots of good thoughts, produces fear, doubt and confusion, which continues through the counting of the Omer until the observance of the giving of the Law, when he then bestows the Spirit.

That is the story. Deliverance from bondage and death in Egypt, a trek toward the reason for the deliverance, the giving of the Law at Sinai. The Passover seder and its lamb (Pesach), counting the Omer, Pentecost (Shavuoth). The Last Seder and Death of the Paschal lamb and his resurrection from the dead, God himself counting the Omer, the giving of the Spirit in Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Pascha, Paschaltide, Pentecost. That is the story of salvation we celebrate during this time.

We can take it as God gave it, with the seder giving way to and becoming the mass, the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb giving way to and becoming the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb Jesus, and the giving of the Law giving way to and becoming the giving of the Spirit. Then we have the religion of the Christ, Christianity; then we have Law and Gospel -- the Good News.

Or we can turn it into news more like we want to hear. We can turn it into hailing this great guy and teacher who showed us how to live so that we feel right with God and things go well with our fellow men and things don't get messy with all this about sin and death. We can call that sin and death stuff our metaphorical way among other ways of understanding that we're OK and there's a loving God who only wants us to try to be a good person. Then we have the religion of Man, an Easter no different really than the one about Eostre that might as well use the same name because the only difference is that a story about a goddess who helped a frozen bird become a happy bunny is replaced by a story about a dying and rising god who helps us become happy, successful and purposeful people as the metaphor for nice Springtime thoughts about ourselves.

So what do we have here? Yes, while Eostre herself is largely forgotten we have what remains of a pre-Christian festival called Easter celebrating fertility and new life and awakenings, properly celebrated with bunnies and eggs and joy and happy gatherings, taking its place among the various celebrations in world culture that Winter is over and Spring is here. And yes, the name of her festival was appropriated to another religion's observance of the story of a risen god called Jesus which to many who observe it likewise is a myth and metaphor for new life and possibilities and purposes and awakenings suggested by the end of Winter and the arrival of Spring. Pretty much the same idea, just illustrated by a different myth. One often finds the two mixed to-gether. And why not? It's Easter either way.

But for those who follow the liturgy of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, it is something completely different, sharing nothing with Easter except two things -- it generally happens around the same time in April, and the name Easter. We would do well to discard the borrowed name in English and do what most languages do, call it by its own name derived from its own sources, Pascha. English is confusing enough being a hybrid language with its Germanic roots and its Greek/Latin overlay through French after the Norman Conquest. We say "moon" from a Germanic root, but don't refer to it as "moonal" but "lunar" from the Latin word for moon, for example. We've already taken the real word for Easter into English as an adjective for it, paschal, so let's use the noun too, Pascha!

For Pascha is exactly what we have here! The Passover seder and lamb and cup of blessing has been changed by the Lamb of God Jesus into the mass where he gives us his body and blood as his pledge and last will and testament of his body and blood, which he then gives for our salvation from our sins that block us from God and from which we cannot free ourselves, and with the full and final sacrifice of the Temple offered, and the Temple which he truly is destroyed by our sins, God raises the Temple on the third day in the bodily resurrection of Jesus so the Temple is fully functioning again but this time with the mercy seat of God now wide open! He is risen and among us, now as then in the laying out of Scripture and fully discerned in the breaking of the bread, not in our doing for him or good feeling about him or service to him but in HIS divine service to us in Word and Sacrament in what we call just that, the Divine Service, or mass.

And now, Passover so transformed. we count the Omer with God until Pentecost is similarly transformed (we'll get to what happened to Tabernacles/Booths/Sukkoth later!), where as the Law was once given to show our sin, now the Spirit will be given to show our Saviour in the Gospel, empowering the Office of Holy Ministry and all Christians with them to be his witnesses from Jerusalem unto the ends of the earth and time!