Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.

(For what this all means scroll to the bottom of the sidebar.)


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.

01 May 2021

May Day, May Day! 1 May 2021

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?  The first of May has a long history of varying significance.  Here's the deal on that.

Distress signal.

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 the 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.


The original May Day was a Roman (as in Republic, not Empire or Church, though it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between those two) 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.

It was a pretty big blow-out, and an official one too, paid for by the government and supervised by elected government officials called aediles.  Cicero had a hand in the 69 BC event.  There were two kinds of aediles, patrician (from the descendants of the patres, the fathers) and plebian (from the plebs, the regular folks).  The plebian aediles (aediles plebis) were the original ones, and were in charge of the Floralia.  It started with theatrical events (ludi scaenici) and ended with competitions and spectacles.  Suetonius says the Floralia in 68 AD had an elephant walking a tightrope.  Of course this was under Emperor Galba, the first emperor in the notorious Year of the Four Emperors, so hey.  Juvenal says prostitutes would dance naked and put on mock gladiator fights.  Romans were good at blow-outs.  

It's important to notice that this was primarily a plebian festival, for regular folks, free citizens but not patricians.

Others also had Spring-is-here-hooray goings-on.  Now on to them. 

Walpurga Day (and Night).

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 celebrate the return of light etc. Ain't got nuttin to do with the name though.  Here's the story on that.

Walpurga was an English girl from Devon, the southwestern tip of Mother England named for the Dumnonii, the Briton tribe living in the area when the Romans showed up in 43 AD, including present-day Devon and Cornwall.  Around 741 AD she went with her uncle Boniface and some other English guys from Devon to evangelise the German people, who were not Christian then.  English as spoken in Devon at the time was Germanic (this is well before the Norman Conquest changed everything) so they would be understood. She was Benedictine (of course).  Her dad had stuck her in the Benedictine convent at Wimborne Abbey at age 11 so he and her two brothers could go off on one of those blasted pilgrimages to the "Holy Land", for which dad is known as St Richard the Pilgrim.

Wimborne Abbey is still there, sort of, the original women's nunnery was trashed by the Danes in 1013, rebuilt by the Normans in C12, the rest was appropriated by the "Church of England" when that was invented and it's now a tourist attraction and local parish church.  Church of England, of course. 

Due to her education, Walpurga was able to write an account of their travels, making her the first known female author, English or German.  Her brothers had founded a Benedictine monkery for men and women both in Heidenheim, in Bavaria, of which she eventually became abbess.  She died there on 25 February 777, or 779 depending on who's counting, which following the usual practice was and still is in some places her feast day.  

However, on 1 May, she was canonised a saint by Pope Adrian II in 870, and also on 1 May 870 her remains were dug up and moved -- this is known by the more elegant phrase "translation of the relics" -- from Heidenheim to Eichstätt, which gave rise to a Benedictine abbey which is still there.  As the Christianisation of Europe proceeded, 1 May became her feast day in many places, and the coming of longer sunlight days became associated with her feast day, so that the bonfires and the clergy of the indigenous religion -- aka witches, pejoratively -- had to scatter with the coming of St Walpurga's Day, May Day. Hence Walpurgis Night, the eve of her feast, the night before as their last big blow out. No word on special flights to Blocksberg (the Brocken) for those whose brooms are in the shop.


Another related celebration is the Celtic Beltane. That's one of the four big Celtic feasts, and with Samhain, around 1 November at Winter comes on, the two most important.  1 May is about midway between the Spring equinox and Summer solstice, when the herds are led back to the fields, bonfires are built to protect against the faeries, thought to be particularly active at this time, feasts prepared, often with people jumping over the bonfires.  So, build a bonfire, dance around the May pole -- now there's a phallic fertility symbol for you.  

BTW, related to the sacred tree thing of pre-Christian Germanic types, Boniface (Walpurga's uncle, remember, and btw whose baptismal 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 or the faeries leave it on somebody's doorstep anonymously, maybe for your own choice to be Queen of the May.

Maia and Mary crowning.

Who's Maia?  "May" comes from Maius in Latin, and is actually named from the Greek fertility goddess Maia, or Maia Maiestas in Latin, and in Roman traditional religion the first and fifteenth of the month were her holy days. 1 May was the date of her festival as the Bona Dea (the good goddess), the goddess of fertility and growth, which likely gave rise to the word maiores, elders ie those who have grown.  Some of which practices 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.  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 (John2:5), and he didn't say bupkis about nuttin like this.

International Worker's Day.

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".

In Communist countries May Day was celebrated with parades of workers and military.  In post-Communist countries, as well as many others, the day functions much as Labor Day does in the US.

Feast of St Joseph the Worker.

The Roman Catholic Church reconstituted that too (they do that a lot with stuff).  To counter International Worker's Day, in 1955 along with his (in)famous revisions of the Holy Week liturgy, Pope Pius XII abolished the feast of St Joseph as patron of the universal church, established in 1870 by Pope Pius IX for the Wednesday of the second week after Easter, and created a feast of St Joseph the Worker to be celebrated on 1 May, also thereby boofing the feast of Saints Philip and James from that date.


All that said, why not make a little basket of sweets for your sweetheart and give it to her as a surprise.   If you go jumping over any bonfires, watch your butt.  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 beneficiently produced it, but because some people worked damned hard to bring it about in the marketplace despite its forces.

21 April 2021

21 April. The Founding of the City. 2774/2021.

Huh?  What city?

Well, when you use the definite article ("the") with "city" you know it can only mean one thing, Rome.  Rome evolved a character that is the background of what we know to-day, yet then traded it for an un-Roman empire and its later church.  There's something we can learn from that so we don't do the same.  Here's the story.

First Rome.  Kingdom, Republic, Empire.

Marcus Terentius Varro (no relation, though Roman naming practice would indicate there is), who lived from 116 to 27 BC, right at the time the Roman Republic was transitioning to the Roman Empire, calculated what in the modern calendar we now date as 21 April 753 BC as the date of the founding of Rome.  Varro was an incredible scholar, one of the most remarkable anytime anywhere, and wrote extensively on pretty much everything, though only one work survives complete and only a few survive in fragments.

His one surviving complete work is Rerum Rusticarum Libri Tres, meaning On Things Agricultural in Three Books.  (See "rustic" in there?)  Among many other duties, he owned a large farm near Reate (modern Rieti, in central Italy), which was a central point in the Roman road linking Rome to the Adriatic Sea on the other side of what is now Italy.  That road was called the Via Salaria, meaning Salt Road, a major trade route beginning with the pre-Roman Sabines gathering salt from the River Tiber, which was a huge factor in the founding of Rome, hence Varro's connexion to it.

Roman improvements to the Via Salaria survive to this day in rural areas where the destruction after the Fall of Rome by the Germanic barbarians wasn't so severe.  The Via Salaria had a role in the introduction of Christianity to Rome, which is covered in the "22 February. The Confession of St Peter.  On Chairs Too" post on this blog, so you can read about that there.

But I can't let Varro go without mentioning that this incredible genius, for example, with no technology to detail it, by sheer observation and deduction therefrom, anticipated modern epidemiology and microbiology by noticing the disease coming from hanging around swamps and marches, warning against it and positing the existence of organisms not visible to the eye that enter the body and cause the disease. His Disciplinarum libri IX (Disciplines in Nine Books), though itself now lost, we know from other ancient sources was the model for the encyclopaedia as we know it, and, the basis from which that pillar of education, the Seven Liberal Arts, derives, which is also treated elsewhere on this blog, on the post "Readin', Writin' and Absolute Multitude" for 25 February each year, the founding date of my alma mater The University of Iowa.  Helluva guy.  We use stuff that comes from him every day and hardly know of him.  Rome, always Rome.

We use stuff every day that comes from Rome and hardly know of that either.  Rome itself went through three distinct stages, namely kingdom, republic and empire, from 753 BC to 476 AD.  That's 1,229 years!  And though the western part of the Empire containing Rome itself fell in 476, the eastern part of the Empire continued until 1453.  That's another 997 years for a total of 2226 years!  And, what took itself as a reconstitution of the Roman Empire lasted until 1806.  That's another 353 years, for a total of 2579 years!  Over two and one half millennia!!

At its founding Rome was a kingdom.  This was from 753 to 509 BC, 244 years; there were seven kings.  Kingship was elected by a senate, not hereditary, but, the king was absolute in all areas; he was chief lawgiver, chief executive, chief judge, chief priest.  Then the kingdom was abolished for a system of elected executive officials, laws made not by direct popular vote but by elected representatives, a separation of powers, and a constitution.  Sound familiar?  This was from 509 to 27 BC, 482 years.

Eventually though, the success of the Republic was also its downfall.  This is where we have something to learn.  Conflict between the Patricians, descendants of the founding fathers ("patres", hence "patrician") and their families from the Kingdom, and the Plebeians, everyone outside that class ("plebs", Latin for "common people") grew worse. The "Conflict of the Orders", though it saw the Plebeians attain the political rights originally held by the Patricians only, also saw the emergence of an unofficial aristocracy of plebeians who did well financially with the successes of the Republic, so the general situation of most people did not change, and increasingly though they had political rights they were not inclined to use them, but rather looked to a strong executive who would give them stuff as the answer.  Maybe that sounds familiar too, now.

Thus did a provision for a dictator, originally meant as a provision for a limited time to get through a period of a specific crisis, become a dictator for life in Julius Caesar and eventually a reversion to a supreme ruler, an emperor, in his adopted son, Octavian, in 27 BC, though the institutions of the Republic, most notably the Senate, still existed.  Outwardly a republic, but really a dictatorial empire.  All too familiar.  How this outwardly one thing inwardly another changed the church is covered elsewhere on this blog, on the post for 16 January "Eastern Church/Empire, Western Church/Empire".  Here, it's about what we can learn from the true essence of Rome, which figures so heavily in our own founding, and how Rome discarded it for something quite different, to help us not do the same thing in increasingly similar circumstances in our own time socially.

The Roman Empire lasted from 27 BC to 476 AD, 503 years.  Sort of.  By 476, there was one Roman Empire, but it was divided into two parts, eastern and western, with twelve administrative units called dioceses.  This was done by Diocletian, the son of a slave who became emperor, in 285 to solve the crisis of the enormous instability in the huge empire that arose in the third century (which historians call, oddly enough, the Crisis of the Third Century).  The western part, which includes the city itself, collapsed in 476.  The eastern part did not.  That's the "sort of".

Second Rome.

The eastern part was later called the Byzantine Empire since it was Greek speaking, but they themselves used no such term, and saw themselves as the Roman Empire, period; they continued Roman traditions and considered themselves Romans.  They tried to maintain order in the fallen West by exarchs (Latin vicarius, vicar in English), one in Ravenna from 584 until the Lombards (north Germanic types who took over most of what is now Italy) killed the last one in 751, and one in Carthage, from 590 until destroyed by the Umayyad Caliphate in 698.  The loss of the riches of Carthage and of Egypt in the Exarchate of Africa was a severe blow, and a much greater threat in the rise of Islam emerged, which having already conquered most of what we now call the Middle East, now had their sights on Constantinople, the capital.  Islamic conquest was stopped in the eighth century, but later this reversed with the Battle of Manzikert in modern Turkey in 1071, resulting in steady decline to the point where the Roman Empire called upon the Roman Empire for help in 1095.

Huh?  Howzat, were there two Roman Empires?  Well yeah, sort of.  Oh great, another sort of.  Well, history is full of them, and they have a lot to do with how our present is.  Here's what happened.  Rome's problems weren't only the internal social ones mentioned above.  Externally, there was the threat from the Germanic barbarians beyond Roman borders, which resulted in two sacks of Rome, one in 410 by the Visigoths commanded by Alaric, the other in 455 by the Vandals under Genseric.  Finally, Odoacer, the Scirian (the Scirii were East Germanic types) leader, deposed the last western Roman emperor, Romulus (what an irony, same name as Rome's legendary founder after whom the city was named) on 4 September 476.  And the Senate went along with it!  Even so he professed to be under the eastern emperor, Zeno, but he wasn't impressed and sent the Ostrogoth king Theodoric to conquer him, which he did.  Theodoric invited Odoacer to a reconciliation banquet, at which he killed him on 15 March 493, then set about restoring the lost glory of Rome.  And that's the real story of Dietrich von Bern.  (Lutherans, if you're not laughing, check your Large Catechism for God's sake.)

What's not to be missed here is this: though Rome as a political reality was gone, and though none of these guys were Romans, and, though these non-Romans were the destroyers of Rome as a political entity, and, though they were Arians, a version of Christianity opposed to the one the empire had defined, they nonetheless appealed to either or both the surviving eastern part of the Roman Empire and/or the cultural legacy of the western part and the Empire as a whole for legitimacy!

The reconstituting of western Rome proceeded further with Charles Martel (Karl Martell, Carolus Martellus), King of the Franks.  Franks?  More Germanic types, known to the Romans before things fell apart, the only Germanic group that was not Arian, many had served in the Roman army all the way back to Julius Caesar.  Legends with written documents from as early as the seventh century attribute their origin to the losing forces of King Priam at Troy, the same origin as Virgil, on commission from Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, in the Aeneid attributed to, guess who, the Romans!

External to the south was the rise of Islam; the Umayyad Caliphate had conquered its way across northern Africa and up the Iberian peninsula into what is now the middle of France.  This was halted and its reversal begun on 10 October 732 at the Battle of Tours (aka Poitiers), when Charles, leading united forces against a vastly superior force, in one of the most stunning military achievements ever, so soundly defeated the forces of the Caliphate that he got his nickname The Hammer (martellus in Latin) and set the stage for the reconstruction of some sort of unified order in Europe.

This came to fruition in Charles' grandson, also named Charles, who further consolidated his rule in the lands of the old western Empire, and on 25 December (yes, Christmas Day) 800 AD was crowned Emperor of the Romans, Imperator Augustus, by the last surviving authority of imperial Rome, the bishop of Rome, at the time Leo III, at St Peter's Basilica (not the one there now, the one built by Constantine that was there before) in Rome.  For such accomplishments, the first unified ruler in Europe in over three hundred years, he is called Pater Europae, the Father of Europe, and also Charles the Great, Carolus Magnus, or Charlemagne.

Oh OK, you're talking about the Holy Roman Empire, right?  Well, sort of.  Great, another sort of.  Well, history is ... like we said above.  The "Holy Roman Empire" didn't see itself as the Holy Roman Empire.  That term didn't even arise until the thirteenth century, by which time the "Holy Roman Empire" had been around some four hundred years.

From the start, in 800, it was simply the Roman Empire, period, reconstituted, a translatio imperii, transfer of rule in Latin, from ancient Rome with the same legitimacy.  But the eastern part of the Roman Empire thought it was still the Roman Empire, and didn't think much of these former "barbarians" thinking they had reinstituted the Roman Empire, not just the western half but the whole thing.  At the time the eastern claimant to being the Roman Empire was ruled by Irene, as regent for her son who was too young to assume rule.  For a time she thought of marrying Charlemagne, who was eligible at the time, but the idea never came to anything.

So there's the "sort of", two entities each considering itself the Roman Empire.  The Roman Empire (the eastern half that survived) called upon the Roman Empire (the western half revived) in 1095 for help against Islamic conquest.  Thus began what are called the Crusades (though they weren't called that until well after the last one).

Interesting to note that the appeal was not from one Roman Emperor to the other.  It was from Alexios I, Roman Emperor as in the one in the east, but not to the "other" Roman emperor Henry IV, the "holy" Roman emperor at the time; rather, the appeal was to the bishop of Rome, that last surviving authority of the Rome that fell, which at the time was Pope Urban II.

The Roman Empire as in the so-called Byzantine Empire, fell to Islamic conquest on 29 May 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, who claimed both the sultanate (secular) and caliphate (religious).  The Roman Empire as in the so-called Holy Roman Empire would last from 25 December 800 to 6 August 1806, following defeat by Napoleon at Austerlitz.  That's just over a millennium!

So there's your total of over two and one-half millennia, i.e. (which stands for id est, that is, in Latin, more Roman stuff we use) over 2,500 years, of political entities derived from and based on Rome.  OK that's impressive but it's over, right?  Wrong.  Enter the "Third Rome".

Third Rome?  Three of Them.

First candidate.

There's a third Rome?  Yeah, sort of.  Great, another sort of.  Actually, there's several of them.  Well, history is ... getting the idea?  When Sultan of Islam Mehmed II successfully led the conquest of Constantinople (he was only 21 at the time btw!), he proclaimed himself Caesar of Rome, Qayser-i Rum, since the western empire was long gone and he had possession of the capital of the eastern, Constantinople the new Rome (as in city).  And, it was supported by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the state church in the eastern empire, with Mehmed installing the Christian Patriarch and the Patriarch crowning the Islamic emperor. Even what would have been the heirs of the last "Byzantine" Emperor, Constantine XI (his deceased brother's sons, since he left no heir), served Mehmed and attained high office in that service.  Mehmed was intent on there being a third Rome, the first being pagan, the second Christian and the third Islamic.

He had his sights set on conquering the west including the city of Rome but died before carrying it out, and though the title wasn't used much after him the concept was.  The Ottoman Empire lasted until 1 November 1922, not even a century ago at this writing, when, having been on the losing side of World War I and having lost much Middle Eastern territory to the winning side, a revolution led by Mustafa Kemal (aka Ataturk) abolished the sultanate and threw out the ruling Osmans as traitors, literally, the last sultan, Mehmed VI, leaving the country on 17 November that year.

The man who would be Sultan of Islam if it still existed is Harun Osman.  He became the 46th head of the House of Osman on 18 January 2021, on the death of his brother, Dundar Ali Osman, who had become head of the House of Osman on the death of his predecessor 6 January 2017.  Though male Osman family members were allowed to return to Turkey in 1974, he remained in Damascus, Syria, his birthplace, then in 2017 he was evacuated by order of President Erdogan of Turkey and lived in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople.  President Erdogan also telephoned Harun Osman, who lives in Istanbul, to offer condolences to the Osman family on the death of Dundar Ali Osman.  

All of which is part of a noticeable shift for Turkey under Erdogan, which seeks to re-establish the influence of Turkey in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire.  This has caused some discomfort in the West as a shift away from it.  Dundar's predecessor, Bayezid Osman, was the first to be born outside of Turkey and after the end of the Empire, lived in the United States and even served in the US Army.  After some hesitation, the caliphate was abolished by Turkey on 3 March 1924.  Turkey as we just noted remains much in the news these days, as do efforts to re-establish a caliphate.  BTW "Islam" in all this is Sunni Islam, not to be confused with Shiite Islam, which has entirely different ideas about succession of authority in Islam.

Second candidate.

Also following the fall of Constantinople and the end of the surviving eastern part of the Roman Empire, some Eastern Orthodox, the state church of that empire, took refuge in Russia, which was also Orthodox since St Vladimir, aka Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev, in 988, and the idea spread that Moscow, itself and as the main city of the land, was the new, third Rome.  This took a big uptick when Ivan III, Grand Prince of Moscow (no Tsars yet), married the niece of Constantine XI, the last eastern Roman emperor.  Thing is, succession by line of descent is a later idea, and was not the established norm for Rome.  The claim rests more really on the continuance of the Orthodox Christian faith of the "Byzantine" Empire.  Ivan began to use the title Tsar, which is the expression in Russian of, guess what, Caesar.  Sometimes it's written Czar, in which the derivation is even clearer.

This became the formal title of Russian emperors, lasting until 1917 with Nicholas II, overthrown and executed by the Communists.  Though it's not the only case of it, it's significant in this case that the double eagle symbol of the "Byzantine" Roman Empire (Rome itself used a single eagle) was adopted in the coat of arms of the Russian Empire, was continued in the coat of arms of the short-lived Russian Republic, and only discontinued with the aberration of Russian history that was the Soviet Union.

Hey wait a minute, ain't Kiev in Ukraine?  Yes, but sort of.  Ukraine is actually The Ukraine, why, because the word "Ukraine" means "borderland".  Borderland of what?  The Russias, that's what.  Why the plural, ain't it just Russia?  Sort of.  The word "Russia" comes from Rus', and describes a people and the broad area in which they lived, not a country per se.  Hence, the Kievan Rus'.  That's why the czars were called Czar of all the Russias -- all the present lands of the Rus'.  The Ukraine is The Borderland of that.  Western European countries have been trying to bring the borderland under their sphere of influence for centuries, a fact not lost on the current president of Russia.

Speaking of which, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation was formed.  Take a look at the coat of arms adopted by the Russian Federation in 1993.  Know what's at the top?  The double-headed eagle, the basics going right back to Ivan III.  Moscow, the Third Rome.

Not to mention, Moscow is built on seven hills, just like Constantinople before it and Rome before it.  Wild, huh?

Third candidate.

The concept of a third Rome was also prominent in the formation of modern Italy as a unified state from the many historic small states on the peninsula.  This was to be a third Rome, as in, the first one of emperors, the second one of popes, and a third one of the people, as the name of the movement expresses, Resorgimento, cognate with our resurgence, a rebirth or revival, which also included dominance of the Mediterranean area.  The first big step was the establishment of a unified kingdom of Italy on 17 March 1861 when Victor Emmanuel, of the House of Savoy and King of Sardinia, became King of Italy, as the Kingdom of Sardinia, which controlled much of the Italian peninsula, became the Kingdom of Italy and the capital ended up in Rome.  This movement changed, not in essentials but in intensity, with the king's appointment of Benito Mussolini as prime minister in 1922.  With this, a new political movement emerged called fascism and the stage was set for the cataclysm we now call World War II.

Fascism.  What It Is, What It Isn't, Why It's Un-Roman.

Fascism.  Now, the word is mostly used as a pejorative, to put down anyone advocating government action with which you don't agree.  But it arises right here.  Fascism is a modern term; it originates with Mussolini's 1932 essay "The Doctrine of Fascism".  (He actually only wrote part of it but it all appeared under his name.)  What we now call World War I was in its time called The War To End All Wars.  It didn't, but it did end a social order that had evolved over millennia, on a scale unprecedented in human history.  Fascism addresses that situation.  The term has been associated with the right wing of the political spectrum since World War II, but actually Fascism opposes all wings of the political spectrum, right and left, as relics of the past inadequate to the new modern situation.  It views the right as backward and the left as destructive, and cares nothing for how it is classified since it sees all those classifications as variable.  The future it believes belongs to authority, which alone can manage human life, therefore, no human value exists or develops outside of or apart from the state since the state alone can comprehensively nurture all aspects of human life.

This would indeed be the Resurgence, a strong unified nation out of a broken set of pieces after the war, with the strength and unity coming from strong government, a re-surgence of the Roman Empire.  The Fascists gained control in several localities and eventually did the famous March on Rome, so powerful that in 1922 the king thought it better to appoint the Fascist leader prime minister than risk the bloodshed that would follow if he didn't.

This in turn inspired a young man, also a WWI veteran, north of the Alps in his desire to effect a strong united Germany following the defeat and loss of the German Empire.  Adolf Hitler directly modelled his first attempt to take power in Germany after Benito Mussolini, the next year, 1923.  That attempt failed, but eventually he succeeded.  Since for a strong unified nation there can be only one political party and since there is only one movement that is right, the leader of that party once in office is the official leader of the state.  Mussolini's designation in 1922 as The Leader, Il Duce in Italian, from the Latin dux, meaning leader, was the direct model for Hitler's designation in 1934 of himself as The Leader, der Führer in German.  The model being Julius Caesar, who precipitated the evolution of Rome from a republic to an empire, and Octavian, aka Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.

The term "fascism" comes from, guess what, a Roman thing, the fasces lictoriae.  OK OK I'll translate.  Fasces means bundles.  Lictoriae means of the lictors.  Great, what's that?  Fasces is plural, the singular is fascis, bundle.  Bundle of what?  Rods, usually birch, bound by a red leather strip, with an axe in the middle with its blade sticking out, a symbol of the authority of any level of Roman magistrate; lictors are the guys who carry them before the magistrate.  These were used throughout the entire history of Rome, from the Kingdom on.

Oh wow so WWII is the legacy of Rome in modern times?  That's a hell of a thing to ascribe to something you seem to think is good, there, Past Elder.  Yeah it would be, if that were what I am doing.  I'm not.  The convulsions of mid C20 happened because these guys forgot something about the fasces, and the fasces expresses what the movement named after them forgot, or more accurately overlooked, about Rome.  Which is, within the Pomerium, the axe is removed from the fasces.  What does this mean?  (Lutherans should ask this of everything.)   Pomerium is a Latin contraction of post moerium, meaning, behind the wall; it's the original area of Rome as ploughed out and demarcated by Romulus on, guess when, 21 April.

It means that in the heart of the city, the axe, a sign of ultimate power even over life and death, therefore a sign of absolute authority, was not allowed.  The idea being, power has its limits, and at the core of things, power rests with the people through their elected representatives, not a Leader.  That's what a republic is, literally, res publica, "a public thing" in Latin.  This principle is what is the essence of Rome.  It was well served by its sixth king, Servius Tullius, who besides preserving the nation militarily also extended power to all classes, which had as its outcome his assassination in 535 BC by his own daughter, Tullia, and son-in-law Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.  When the latter became the seventh king, outrage at this tragic crime (that's what it was called, tragicum scelus) led to not only his ouster as king but ouster of the kingdom itself as unRoman.  The Republic was established and the office of king abolished and split between two officials, called consules, singular consul, so power never was totally held by any one man.  No Leader.

It didn't last.  So what happened?  The Republic did allow for a dictator -- from the Latin for "to speak", one whose word becomes law -- to be appointed, for a limited time to address a specific crisis.  Oh well there's the problem, then, huh?  Well, sort of, again.  This actually worked quite well for some time, and when the guy who changed it, Julius Caesar, came along, it hadn't been used for 120 years.  He gave it a new form, with no time limit.  Sulla, the guy who last had it, kept it for about a year, then retired.  Which set the stage for Gaius Julius Caesar to bring back the regular dictatorship, then have it extended to one year, then renewed annually, and finally being named dictator perpetuo, dictator in perpetuity.

Which shortly morphed into an emperor, the first being Julius Caesar's adopted son, known as Caesar Augustus, and of course with that, though many of the institutions of the Republic continued, the Republic was no more, an empire took its place, with an absolute leader at the head.  So Rome devolved into an essentially unRoman entity, and it is that entity which generally comes to mind when one says "Rome", the Roman Empire.

The legacy, that which influenced and was incorporated into later times, of the Roman Empire is immense.  Our language, both its vocabulary and how it is written, our calendar, units of measure, basics of law, technology spanning many fields, such as medicine, architecture, civic planning, agriculture, weaponry and engineering, to name a few.  And of course, science and philosophy, as Rome absorbed ancient Greece and other cultures, bearing new fruit and passing them on to us.  Most of that, however, happened before the Empire.  And that's the key.  Rome itself, or more accurately, many within Rome itself, knew this transition was happening even as it happened.

Nero (15 December 37 - 9 June 68), became the 5th emperor at age 17 on 13 October 54.  He was militarily successful for the new empire, and public spending, as well as on himself, was massively increased.  He was The Leader.  He was quite popular with the lower classes but not so much with the upper classes whose taxes paid for all this.  This led to his overthrow and reported suicide in 68, which led to massive political instability, four emperors in one year, and to disbelief among commoners that he was really dead but would at some point return, and return to power and start giving away stuff again (Nero Redivivus).

Around 100 AD, about 30 years after Nero's death, which is about 125 years after the Roman Republic ended on 16 January 27 BC when the Senate proclaimed Octavian with the new title Caesar Augustus, Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenalis) decried this change in the Roman nature in his Satire X, in the famous phrase "panem et circenses", bread and circuses.  The Romans had traded the dignity and freedoms of the Roman Republic for the Empire, based on who would give them stuff ("food and entertainment") for free, i.e., paid for with someone else's money via the government.

Bread and circuses, meaning food and entertainment.  It's from this that the country in The Hunger Games is called Panem; circuses comes from the circles within which public entertainment was staged.  No surprise that later in the same Satire Juvenal says rather than the wrong, or wrongly exaggerated, desires expected from one's own efforts or appropriated from the efforts of others, such as power and wealth, one should desire mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.  And no surprise he warns in another Satire (VI, to be exact) of the dangers of a government so powerful.  Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?  -- who guards the guards themselves, or, who watches the watchers?

And that's the great question.  Power.  Power by whom over whom and for what purpose.  In a word, society, Latin again, societas, how do we form and organise our associations, literally, with each other.

Plato thought the guardians will be their own guardians against abuse and corruption by what is called the "noble lie" in politics and the "pious fiction" in religion.  That is, a myth of a religious or political (or both) nature told by an elite that doesn't actually believe it but uses it for the purpose of establishing or maintaining the greater good.  Yeah well, sounds good but doesn't work out that way.  So what is the greater good, and how is that established or maintained?  The only constant among Man's various answers to that is an elite in power, so we're right back to power by whom over whom and for what purpose.  Societas, how, why, and for what purpose do we associate ourselves?

Another Third Rome?

After the constitutional convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what type of government had been worked out in the closed proceedings.  He replied: A republic -- if you can keep it.  Franklin knew where this comes from, and he knew how it was lost.  All the essential features of a republic come from Rome, as in the Roman Republic.  A constitution (Rome's was not written like ours, it used precedent, and that is still a feature in our legal system), regular elections, term limits, quorums to do business, veto, impeachment, filibuster, the "power of the purse", separation of powers so that power does not concentrate in one office or office holder -- all of this comes to us from Rome.

The Roman Republic, that is.  Rome blew it.  It traded the Republic for an Empire.  While that Empire contributed much to life as we know it now, most of that comes from the Republic, and some of it, particularly when it comes to authority, does not, but both the good and the bad influences everything.  Another third Rome is not a country, but a culture.  Again:  Our languages, both its vocabulary and how it is written, our calendar, units of measure, basics of law, technology spanning many fields, such as medicine, architecture, civic planning, agriculture, weaponry and engineering, to name a few, and of course, science and philosophy.

Will we keep it?  Will it be mens sana in corpore sano or panem et circenses, a sound mind in a sound body or bread (food) and circuses (entertainment)?  Will we get carried away by exaggerated desires for the fruits of our labours and/or fruits appropriated from the labour of others, and turn to a guardian who will deliver them to us?  What has been passed to us from and through Rome is an astounding heritage that has yielded an even more astounding harvest of knowledge, with more to come.

Senatus populusque romanus.  SPQR.  Sums it all up.  Well, if you know what it means it does, so in case you don't, here it is -- it's Latin for The Roman Senate and People.  It's the classic inscription put on coins, and public documents and buildings.  "People" in this usage means government as a whole; the people, as represented in their assemblies.  A free and sovereign people, the root of authority.  This came into use, as one might expect, after the Kingdom with the Republic.  And it continued after the Republic into the Empire, but no longer meant what it said, and was discontinued after Constantine.  The outer form was there but the inner content was not, the assemblies really being a rubber stamp for the will of the emperor, as the embodiment of the people and therefore of their will.  Which could happen as an unofficial aristocracy based on wealth, acquired or inherited, emerged and the people in general began to look to it for the solution to their problems rather than to themselves.  

That's the trade.  Sound minds and bodies of free and sovereign people traded for food and entertainment provided by an authoritarian guardian.

Outwardly a republic but really a dictatorial empire.  Let's not make the trade of being a free and sovereign people of sound minds and bodies for an authoritarian guardian who is our provider.  Learn from Rome, the eternal city.

21 April 2774 ab urbe condita, from the city having been founded.

05 April 2021

Paschaltide / Quinquagesima paschalis 2021.

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 Paschaltide!! Or if the non-Biblical non-liturgical term "Easter" is used, Eastertide.

That's right, the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord is not just one day to show up and celebrate, let alone not worry about making church again until Christmas. Nor does it celebrate something that happened and now you just hold fast to that until you die.  In fact, in the Gospel account, just the fact that Jesus is risen did not inspire joyous shouts of "He is risen, he is risen indeed" but fear, doubt and confusion after which they holed up and kept a low profile.  So what happened?

The Resurrection still works that way.  It doesn't stand alone and is not meant to stand alone.  In fact, we count until what's next.  That's because Jesus fulfilled something which in turn leads to something further.  Here's the deal.

Here's a recap of what we saw in the last few posts.  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, so that he could 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.  That's what the word means, from the Greek, deuteros nomos. second, as in copy of or repeat of, the law.  The three festivals 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 not to all mankind but only to a special people, who were called out from mankind 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, that marks the exodus from physical slavery, into the passing over from the slavery of sin, by the body and blood of the Lamb of God, which is Jesus himself.  We celebrate that on Maundy Thursday.  Then that body and blood was sacrificed at Calvary.  We celebrate that on Good Friday.  Then, God ratified all this and brought it to-gether in the resurrection Jesus from the dead.  We celebrate that on Pascha, aka Easter.

It doesn't stop there.  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 counting from Passover to Shavuot is called the Counting of the Omer in the Law.  OK, what's an omer?  It's not a thing, it's a unit of measure, and is sometimes translated as "sheaf".  OK, sheaf of what?  Barley, that's what.  It was offered in the Temple, the first, but not the last, fruits of harvest.  Just as God did not deliver the Israelites from Egypt and then say "OK I got you out, I'm done, you're on your own from here" but got them out to give them the Law and begin the journey to the Promised Land, so the fulfillment of this in the Passover sacrifice of the Lamb Jesus doesn't just leave us on our own from there but leads to something more.

The Old Testament sacrifice that ends the count, before celebrating the giving of the Law, is wheat, a little better grade of stuff than basic barley.  So with the fulfillment.  The transformed and fulfilled Counting of the Omer, counting from the transformed Passover with Jesus the risen Lamb of God to what will be the transformed and fulfilled Pentecost, is called Paschaltide.

In Latin, this is called Quinquagesima.  Hey wait, didn't we have Quinquagesima in Lent?  Yes we did, and now there's another one, a different one, which has the same name because the time frame, 50 days, is the same.  The Lenten one is distinguished from this one as Quinquagesima penitentiae, penitential fiftieth day, and this one is called Quinquagesima paschalis, paschal fiftieth, or even more tellingly, Quinquagesima laetitiae, joyful Quinquagesima!  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 the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord 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, meaning "it begins" in Latin, of their Introits. Paschaltide is the third of them, Advent and Lent are the other two. 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

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.

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.

I John 5:4-10

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

04 April 2021

Easter / Eostre / Pascha / Counting the Omer 2021.

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.  It's Eostur-monath in his original, a Latinised version of the many variants on her name, and is 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, which at the time was 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 thing 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 welcoming 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 is 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 were not filled with zeal to tell everyone this good news, they were afraid.  They hurried to tell the Apostles -- who did not believe them. And when the Apostles saw for themselves the empty tomb, they too were not filled with zeal for the Gospel and joy, but fear, and locked themselves away.  No pancakes, no lilies.

So what happened, why no Easter joy that first Easter?  Because Easter doesn't stand alone, and becomes just another Spring thing when it does.  Just as Easter came from something, it leads to something too, and the totality is the real deal.  Here's the totality.

First, 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.  We observe that on Maundy Thursday.
Then, 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.  We observe that on Good Friday.
Next, he rises from the dead.  The Gospel accounts do not record his rising from the dead, they record the discovery after sunrise on what we now call Sunday that he is risen from the dead.  We observe that on Easter Sunday.

But that discovery, at the time, far from being a nice family day with lots of good thoughts, or even joyous shouts of Christ is Risen, produces fear, doubt and confusion, so they isolate and hole up.  Why?  Because Jesus isn't done transforming and fulfilling things, the fear will continue through the counting of the Omer, which becomes Paschaltide, until Pentecost, 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 all 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.  There's no embarrassment in that whatever, it actually rather fits what to many who observe it 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.   Bunnies, eggs, lillies, ham dinners, etc.  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. For example, 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 why not 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 in Pashaltide 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!

03 April 2021

Easter Vigil / Osternacht 2021.

A description of the Easter Vigil follows shortly.  

In the proverbial early church, there was no service at all on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. None. The Biblical day starting at sundown had nothing to do with it.  What they did was, a solemn pre-dawn watch for dawn.  Why dawn?  Because the Gospels do not record the Resurrection, they record when Jesus was first was discovered to be risen, which was at dawn.  And just before dawn, the catechumens, those who had been instructed in the faith during Lent toward conversion, were baptised and confirmed and made their first Communion, rising to a new life in Jesus at the hour when Jesus was found to be risen from the dead.

That's what any vigil is, a watch during which one watches in anticipation of something.  That's what the word means, from the Latin vigil, meaning a watchman, and vigilia, meaning a watch, a vigil.  Over time, in the Eastern churches, an elaborate service did develop for Easter Vespers, and the time moved back from before dawn to the evening before, and eventually to Holy Saturday morning! It was unknown in the West until the time of Pope Vitalian (died 27 January 672) when the Eastern or Byzantine Roman Empire was trying to preserve order in the lands of the former Western Roman Empire, which had collapsed about 200 years before.  For about a thousand years until the mid 1950s the Easter "vigil" was held on Saturday morning!  So what happened?  Here's what.

Among Lutherans, this service, though retained in the Reformation, including Latin texts, fell into disuse amidst the devastation of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which effect continued here in the US.  Ironically, it was a recovery of the Vigil in German Lutheran churches that in turn contributed to the Catholic revision of the Vigil and Holy Week in general in 1955 by Pope Pius XII, who had been papal nuncio to Germany. The service was then hacked over by the Vatican II novus ordo. Its use has been spreading in American Lutheranism.

So this Saturday night before Easter "vigil" looks all traditional but is in fact a mid-twentieth century innovation, not traditional at all but relatively recent.  And, as we saw above, not even a vigil.  There are rough general similarities with the earliest times -- something of a watch with various observances, then reception of converts and mass -- but this is hardly a recovery of a practice of the "early church".  Their idea was not at all a "vigil" that begins and ends in the night, before what it is a vigil for, but rather, a service that was timed, for reasons we saw above, to culminate with the break of day!  A watch until first light when Jesus was discovered risen does not carry on at night for a couple of hours then dump you out in the darkness of night hours before dawn.  Really.

So, while the service echoes some ancient practices, holding it as a Saturday evening rather than a pre-dawn service is not traditional and no more restores some imagined purity or practice of the "early church" any more than holding it Saturday morning did.  And, not holding any service at all anytime on Saturday does not stand apart from such an imagined restoration either.  Frankly, a sunrise pancake breakfast and service has more in common with the original idea of the vigil than these latter-day Saturday night churchathons.

I served a dozen or so of these "Easter Vigils" as a youth in the 1950s and 60s, when they were the new thing.  When I first became Lutheran, its absence seemed strange -- until I experienced the awesome contrast between leaving the church in darkness and silence after Tenebrae on Good Friday with nothing until Easter morning, which conveyed the tomb that is then empty much better than all this modern recasting of a "vigil".   Fact is, the "Easter Vigil" is not ancient, not traditional and not even a vigil.

Nonetheless, here's what the "vigil" service is.

The Western Easter Vigil

There are four parts:
1) The Blessing of the Fire, Incense and Paschal Candle;
2) The Reading of the Prophecies;
3) The Blessing of the Baptismal Font, Baptism and Confirmation of Converts, and the Litany of the Saints;
4) the Mass of the Risen Christ.

The first part begins where Good Friday left off, in darkness. Outside the church, the celebrant strikes a fire from flint and ignites coals and blesses five grains of incense. They enter and begin the Lucemarium: at the back of the church the deacon intones "Lumen Christi" or Light of Christ, and the people respond "Deo gratias" or Thanks be to God. They move up the aisle to the middle of the church and do the same. Then they enter the sanctuary and do the same a third time, for each person of the Trinity. Along the way, the people, holding small candles, light them from the candle fire and pass it along, so that at the end, the darkness is gone.

In the sanctuary the deacon then blesses the Paschal Candle itself and places the five grains in it in the form of a cross -- and in modern times, the interior church lights are now turned on -- and the darkness of Good Friday is now dispelled by the light of the risen Christ! The prayer which contains this blessing was not always this but for many centuries has been the "Exultet".

During this prayer, the most amazing thing is said, before the incense grains are put in the candle. The glory of salvation, the sureness of the Risen Lord, is so great that even the sin which made it necessary is called a happy thing! Wow. O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem -- O happy fault, that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer! Oddly enough, the version in LSB leaves the most striking part of the Exultet out! Leaving that out makes as much sense as would putting back in the prayer for the Holy Roman Emperor, which most to-day don't know was ever there, since it had not been said since the deposing of the last Holy Roman Emperor by Napoleon in 1806, but it actually remained in the text until removed in the Holy Week changes of Pope Pius XII in 1955!

The second part is a series of twelve readings, or prophecies, which are a reader's digest version of the Hebrew Scriptures, outlining the faithfulness of God from Genesis 1 and Creation through Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets. Some places have used a different set number, but whatever the number, it is set. Unfortunately, in the modern revisionist liturgies the readings are often cut down from twelve to seven, and sometimes from even that to four, or from whatever the set number is to less, but always include the Passover and crossing the Red Sea.

As if we had something better to do than hear salvation history from start to finish once a year to prepare to celebrate the fulfillment in the Resurrection. As if the Passover and Red Sea passages are essentials and the rest can be skipped if it makes the service "too long". It's all essential -- when the church defined the Bible, did it say while these are the books you can rely on, if it's getting a little long for you, just skip over some of it?

The third part is the blessing of the baptismal font and water, the sprinkling of the people with some of the blessed water in remembrance of their Baptism, and then the Baptism of any new converts, and finally all recite the Litany of the Saints, which in Lutheran use became "the" Litany, a Litany of the Saints without the saints.

The fourth part is the mass of Easter! Purple is now replaced by white vestments, and the celebrant for the first time intones again the prayer "Gloria in excelsis Deo", Glory to God in the highest, as church bells ring out! A mass of great joy continues, culminating in the Eucharist of course, where it all comes to-gether, not only for those who now for the first time receive it, but for all the faithful.

This joy of the fourth part, the mass of Easter, which in contemporary observance happens sometime Saturday evening and was supposed to happen with the break of dawn Sunday morning and not end with you going back out into the dark of night, is just as real and just as present if one celebrates it on Easter morning itself.

For after Maundy Thursday until this moment Communion is not given (exception is made for the dying), but now the promise of Maundy Thursday and the death of Good Friday, celebrated separately, come to-gether, in the Risen Christ who gives us now his Body and Blood as the sure pledge of our salvation!

This day of the week is called Sunday in English, a Germanic language, which like all Germanic languages took over the names of the days of the week from the Romans, who in turn got it from the Egyptians. They thought there were seven planets, named after Roman gods, namely, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon. Each planet had an hour of the day associated with it, and the one that ruled daybreak each day had the whole day named after it.

Easter happened on dies Solis, the "Day of the Sun" in Latin, which Germanic languages modified to their gods as Sun-day, Sonntag in German, Sunday in English. Other days were also so named, for example Moon Day becoming what is called Monday in English and Montag in German, but in non-Germanic languages more directly descended from Latin, for example in Spanish, lunes, from luna, the word for moon in Latin and then Spanish.

In fact, the joy of these gifts of our Saviour is so great on this morning of this day of the week called Sunday in English, that the church celebrates it the morning (not the night before) of every such day of the week throughout the year. Justin "Martyr", in chapter 67 of his Apology (meaning defence) written about 150 AD, gives the earliest surviving reference to this practice of the Christian church, replacing the Old Testament start of the day at sundown.

He called the day by its Roman name, and the practice led to Christians calling it the "Lord's Day", which is why in those more direct descendants of Latin such as again Spanish it is called Domingo, from the Latin dominus for lord.

So this joy in the crucified and risen Saviour, who gives us his body and blood in the transformed Passover of the mass of Easter, this sure pledge of our salvation, his testament to us his heirs as the testator who left it to us until our entry into eternal salvation in heaven with God either through death or the end of times, this joy of Easter morning now becomes a "little" Easter, a little Pascha or Passover, every week on Sunday!

And the dismissal includes something else we haven't heard through Lent, the Alleluia, or Praise the Lord! So --


02 April 2021

Good Friday / Karfreitag 2021.

Everyone knows Good Friday is about the death of Jesus.  So what's so good about death? Most everybody knows Jesus was executed as a criminal. What's so good about that? Whoever heard of a religion built around someone convicted of a capital offence and executed for it? This is good?  What's the "good" in Good Friday anyway?

Well, most likely, we come by the modern phrase Good Friday the same way we come by Good Bye.  "God be with ye" over time crystallised into Good Bye, and the name God's Friday, or in its earlier English form, Godes Friday, morphed into Good Friday. So the good in Good Friday is God.  How's that?

Well, the two services we Lutherans use on Good Friday show exactly how that is, and that is why each service is the way it is.  Either one is totally different than any other service in the year, because Good Friday is different than any other day in the year.  Here's the deal.

I. The Traditional Good Friday Service.

Last night, Maundy Thursday, we celebrated Jesus' celebration of the Last Seder (Supper) and his transformation of it into what we call the mass or Divine Service in the West, in which he makes the pledge which is his last will and testament, his body and blood given for us and given to us.  We saw the Passover seder begins with the youngest present asking, Why is to-night different than all other nights?  The story of the Passover, when the Angel of Death literally passed over those marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb, is then told and the meal, called a seder, commanded in the story is eaten.

The question "Why is to-night different than all other nights" belongs to last night, but even more we may ask it of this night, Good Friday, when we confront and are confronted by not the sacrament he left us but the historical event of the death by crucifixion of the Passover Lamb itself. It isn't pretty. It's brutally ugly. My dad was a physician, and he used to say that the average person, reading a detailed medical account of what happens to the human body in the process of dying from crucifixion, probably wouldn't be able to finish it without throwing up because it is so gruesome and horrible. It is so ghastly that under Jewish law, which does sanction capital punishment, crucifixion, which was a Roman form of capital punishment, is not allowed.

That's just the physical aspects of it.  There's more.  Not only was it meant to be a physically painful death, it was meant to be a publicly humiliating one too.  Crucifixes show Christ with a garment around his waist, but that's for our sensibilities. It wasn't done that way.  Crucifixion was actually done naked, so the humiliation of public view of the body's elimination of waste as death approached was part of the punishment as well as the physical torment.  Like I said, this is ugly.

And so as we gather to mark this event, we indeed have a night unlike any other night, when the Passover Lamb is slaughtered. There is no mass/divine service/divine liturgy, there is no Communion, and on leaving there is no joyous recessional and conversation, just silent darkness, unlike any other service of the church. Why is to-night different than all other nights indeed.

The service itself.

In the Eastern church, there are three related services: before noon the Royal Hours; around 1500 hours (3 pm) the time the Gospels give for the death of Jesus; and in the evening. In the Western church, there is a single service around 3 pm, often also said later. In neither case is this a mass, or divine liturgy; it's different than all other observances. The Western service historically has two parts, A Liturgy of the Word, similar to the first part of the mass, but instead of a Eucharist a service of Adoration of the Cross follows.

First part.  In the first part, the readings are Hosea 6:1-6, with its call for a return to the Lord and prophecy of raising after three days to live in his sight, then Exodus 12:1-11, the institution of the Passover meal of the sacrificial lamb (Hey, Why is tonight ...), then John 18 and 19, the conclusion of the Passion account of John begun last night, telling the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Then follows a series of intercessory prayers, quoted in The Lutheran Hymnal as the Bidding Prayer, page 166: for the church; for church leaders; for catechumens; against illness and disaster and calamity; for heretics and schismatics; for the Jews; for pagans.

Second Part. In the second part comes the focus of the whole thing, the Cross. Veiled for two weeks since Passion Sunday, we now see it in its stark reality, nothing abstract about it, not a pious meditation, but a gruesome execution, all the more so because the victim was innocent. The celebrant removes the veil from the upper portion of the crucifix and chants, Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world, (Ecce lignum crucis in quo salus mundi perpendit) and we answer, Come let us adore (Venite adoremus). Then the celebrant moves to the Epistle side of the altar (anyone remember which side that is?), uncovers the right arm, and chants again, Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world, and we answer again, Come let us adore. Finally the celebrant goes to the middle of the altar, uncovers the whole cross, and again chants Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world, and we again answer, Come let us adore.

The celebrant, who significantly has removed his chasuble -- the vestment put on over the others to signify his service of the Lord, to  underline the focus on the Lord himself -- now kneels and takes off his shoes too, and begins the adoration of the cross.

While everyone in turn comes before the cross, the Improperia, also called the Reproaches, are sung. It begins. O my people, what have I done to thee, or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me.  (Popule meus quid feci tibi?  Aut in quo constristavi te?  Responde mihi.) and then beginning with the Exodus, the acts of the Lord to deliver his people are mentioned in answer to the question each time -- at every stage, God has acted to deliver us, and we have acted to reject him.

This question and answer, which so completely lays out the impropriety of what has happened, so to speak, is among the most ancient parts of the liturgy, so ancient that even in the Western rite when said in Latin the full Greek Sanctus hymn is sung. His love and our spite, his faithfulness and our infidelity, laid out fully.

The service continues, to further underscore the point, with the Pange lingua, concluding in verse and response form with the Crux fidelis, Faithful Cross.  OK, there's two Pange linguas.  Those two words mean Sing, tongue.  The Pange lingua used on Good Friday is the first one, written by a court poet named Venantius Forunatus in 570 for Queen Radegunda (Thuringia) as she received a relic of the supposed "true cross" from Eastern Emperor Justin II, and made its way into the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday.  This Pange lingua is the Pange lingua gloriosi proelium certaminis (Sing my tongue the glorious battle).

Two interesting things about the poem.  One is, it hints at but does not state or endorse an old legend, which is, that when Adam died his son Seth got permission from the angels guarding the Garden of Eden from which they were exiled to have a branch of the tree from which Eve at the "forbidden fruit", then he planted it on Adam's grave, which became known as Golgotha (Skull Place), and the tree then was the source of the wood of the Ark of the Covenant, the pole on which the bronze serpent was lifted in the desert, and, the cross on which Christ was crucified and right on the sight of Adam's grave, thus the Salvation of Man is accomplished right where the Fall of Man was buried.

Pure legend, with nothing whatever to substantiate it, Biblically or otherwise, just like all the "true cross" stories.  Frankly, the Christian faith itself comes across to many as pure legend and that is not helped when the Christian faith gets tangled up with stuff that is indeed pure legend.  Nonetheless the poem does state the victory of the cross, which lead to the second interesting thing about it, it later inspired Thomas Aquinas to write the other Pange lingua, the Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium, Sing tongue the mystery of the glorious body (usually given as Sing my tongue the Saviour's glory), which is about the Sacrament of the Altar, the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, and get this, that Pange lingua is used last night on Maundy Thursday as we celebrate Christ's transformation of the Passover into the Sacrament of his body and blood.

So two pange linguas, one on the night about the sacramental reality of his sacrifice, the other on the night about the historical reality of his sacrifice.

And so it ends. No pomp, no ceremony, no smells, no bells, no chancel prancing.


Absolutely unlike anything else in the church's worship, because what it commemorates is absolutely unlike anything else that has ever happened on earth. What is the point? To feel sorry for Jesus? Not at all. As Bishop Sheen used to point out, for everyone else, death stops his life's work, but for him, this is why he came, this was his life's work. Are we to carry on as if we did not know there was a Resurrection, feel real bad as if maybe this is the end?  Hardly.

The utter starkness, the absence of what usually constitutes our worship, the lamentation -- that is what the German name for the day means, Friday of Lamentation -- is not as if just a human being had suffered this. Say, you or me for example. It is because I, you, all of us, should have suffered this, it is what we deserve, not him, it should have been our execution, not his, but God so loved us that he did not regard his divinity and became one of us to be the sacrifice we could not be, to do what we could not do, take away our sins, so that whoever is sprinkled with the blood of this Lamb, that he has provided as he provided a lamb for Abraham instead of Isaac, should not taste death but have eternal life.

What we have witnessed is not just a nice example of or metaphor for self-sacrifice or doing for others.  We have witnessed the commutation of our death sentence. We have watched him take upon himself our guilt, so that we make take upon ourselves his innocence. Or in the word so dear to us, justification.

It should have been my condemnation, and at the cost of everything to him it is my justification. We are shown our sin in its grossest reality and we are shown our Saviour in his greatest reality. The supreme moment of Law and Gospel. Yes, the joy of finding the tomb empty will come, but for now we leave in stunned silence at the God who spared nothing to save us who could do nothing to save ourselves, who so loved us that he gave himself for us who have nothing for him, so that whoever believeth in him shall not die but have eternal life.

Sweet wood, sweet nails, both sweet and fair,
Sweet is the precious weight ye bear.

(Dulce lignum dulces clavos dulcia ferens pondera -- from the Alleluia for 14 September, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, on which this blog posts more on all of this.)

II. Tenebrae.

What's up with Tenebrae, the "other" Good Friday service?

As an RC kid in the 1950s, I used to see the words "Tenebrae" and "Sunrise Service" in the church ads in the paper for Protestant churches. I would think, how typical, you gotta give them an E for effort, they're really trying to do the right thing, but this is what happens when you try to be church apart from the Church he put here, tinker around with the pieces of the former unity apart from their source, and come up with all sorts of stuff, part of it the real deal and part of it whatever Reformer's ideas of the real deal one follows.

I mean, what's up with Tenebrae? Everybody knows -- well, everybody who's a dedicated altar boy thinking of maybe becoming a priest -- that Tenebrae isn't the church's main service on Good Friday or even of one day. It is (or was; Rome's 1970 novus ordo abolished it along with Matins and much else) a collective reference to Matins and Lauds for the last three days of Holy Week, originally said in the night and early morning but pushed back in the Middle Ages to the evening before! Monks do that kind of thing all the time. That's how we got "noon", from monks pushing back None, the office of the ninth hour in the Roman (city/republic/empire, not church) day, about three in the afternoon, to right after the sixth hour office at midday, Sext, so you can work the fields all afternoon.

Poor guys, I thought, they don't even know that "afternoon" is just that, after None, heck, most of us don't either, so why be surprised at having a Matins service, a word coming from the Latin for "dawn" and giving us our word matinee for a daytime showing, at night instead of the service that's supposed to be there at the ninth hour when he died (1500 hours if you know how to REALLY tell time!), which we ourselves often put off until later so people can get there after work! Maybe the whole thing's our fault originally, messing around with stuff. I mean, if you gotta knock off work to go in at 1500 to pray None, just do it; if you gotta knock off work to get to Good Friday service at 1500, just do it. Some places let people off about 1, some places they still don't go to work at all Good Friday.

So -- here they are having "Tenebrae", a bunch of Protestants doing what's supposed to be a three day monastic service instead of the day's normal parish liturgy, and here I am in an ordinary parish and have never been to a real Tenebrae in my life! Oh well, at least we have it someplace and I know what it is, but you gotta give them E for effort and they'll probably walk right in. (That's a Catholic thing -- "walk right in" means walk right in to heaven without having to spend any time in Purgatory getting rid of what still needs to be gotten rid of.)

The heart of the real Tenebrae is its three "nocturnes" or readings. These are: The Lamentations of Jeremias (Jeremiah); St Augustine's commentary on Psalm 54 (in the Vulgate, Psalm 55 to Protestants); St Paul Hebrews 4:15-5:10 and 9:11-15. And of course there's the putting out of candles, one at a time after each Psalm.

My first experience of anything by the name Tenebrae was in the mid 90s in WELS. (I first made profession of faith especially as taught in the Small Catechism in a WELS parish 15 December, 1996.) Holy Week consisted of Communion (in the sense of both consecration and communion, though in that context you'd probably raise an eyebrow if you said "mass") on Maundy Thursday with particular remembrance of Jesus' institution of Communion at the Last Supper, then "Tenebrae" on Good Friday, then nothing, meaning no Easter Vigil at all, one of the most ancient services of the church, until, hey, "Sunrise Service" on Easter, then pancakes, with a later "Festival" service for those of us who might rise with the Son but not the sun. I wondered a little bit -- I had just finished the Tappert Book of Concord (we didn't have the "McCain" Book of Concord yet!) and was thinking I had cast off the Roman Catholic church for the real catholic church, but maybe I ended up just Protestant after all!

There was the putting out of candles thing, but nothing else of the office of Tenebrae. It was constructed instead around the Seven Last Words, with each passage read followed by an appropriate prayer and hymn and putting out a candle. No Lamentations, no St Augustine, no St Paul, or if my professors at my Benedictine university are to be believed, whoever wrote Hebrews. Totally out of my experience, totally new to my experience! But I'm thinking hey, maybe there is a better service to be using (even WELS has a version of the traditional Good Friday service!) but the Seven Last Words are his seven last words and this is Good Friday, at least nobody's got it mixed up with Holy Thursday and offering Communion or anything, so I'm going with it, each "word" leading to the end, Consummatum est, it is finished.

And I'm sitting there in darkness thinking, what is finished? Jesus? Hardly. He is risen, and we will soon celebrate that. Sin? Hardly. The world goes right on sinning, and me with it despite myself. But right now, what is finished is the sacrifice that takes away my sin and the sin of the whole world. Passover indeed, from bondage to the promised land. Real nice thoughts to have all safe here in church but before long I'll be back out there where real nice thoughts are hard to maintain a lot of the time. And then it happened.


Strepitus! The loud nose or crash, called by the Latin word for, guess what, a loud noise or crash.  And with it, all came to-gether. The promise, the old covenant, was now closed, complete, and the fulfillment was here! Et antiquum documentum novo cedat ritui, over ancient forms departing new rites of grace prevail, says the hymn Tantum Ergo (which btw is the last two verses of Aquinas' Pange lingua discussed above). For real. So for real that the earth could not support, nor the sky shine on, the injustice which is my justification. And most of all, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the Temple is rent asunder by the full and final High Priest and the mercy seat of God is open wide, and all who are sprinkled with the blood of the full and final Passover Lamb can, well, walk right in!

And so I shall, but for right now, I'll depart in darkness and silence, stunned that someone just took the bullet I had coming, died so that I might live, took my guilt and gave me his innocence, not to wallow in survivor's guilt as if this were by accident, good for me but bad for him, or even the supreme gesture of another human, but stunned for the moment that this is precisely what he came to do, on purpose, God so loving his children that he offered himself for me, for us, and opens wide his mercy.

I have come to love the Tenebrae service more than any other in our observance. Tenebrae as Lutherans do it isn't always the Seven Last Words, or Die sieben letzten Worte as we "too German" types like to say. It can be for example the Passion account of John, which is the traditional Passion account for Good Friday anyway, read in seven sections, with an appropriate hymn after each and a petition based on the prayers after the St John Passion reading in the traditional Good Friday service found as "The Bidding Prayer" in TLH p. 116, and of course the candle putting out thing. It's all good.

The traditional service of the church for Good Friday is fine and all, but it can't hold a candle to a Lutheran Tenebrae -- so to speak! -- and, it ain't got the Bam.  I served about a dozen of the chief service, as we call what was the only service growing up and of the "vigil" to follow.  NOTHING has ever expressed to me the reality of what we commemorate in Holy Week as a Tenebrae followed by nothing until Easter morning.  The temple curtain is aside, the High Priest has entered and the mercy seat is open!


Speaking of the Temple, maybe next year I can get them to work in Lamentations. It's supposed to be there anyway, but there's more to it than that. Just as the New Covenant is an organic outgrowth of the Old, so is worship in the New Covenant an organic outgrowth of worship in the Old. What is the mass anyway but a Christianised synagogue Sabbath service followed by a Messianic seder? In the Tenebrae with its traditional Lamentations though, instead of understanding worship in the New Covenant as an organic development of worship in the Old, here New Covenant worship actually anticipates what would happen to the worship of the Old after it did not accept the New. Here's how.

Jesus said, Destroy this Temple and in three days I will build it up. They thought he meant the physical Temple in Jerusalem. Don't we always do that? Just a few days ago we thought great, here's the Messiah to cast off the Romans and begin the era of universal peace. God's just fine as long as it's our idea of "god". But he meant himself. He is the Temple, he is the High Priest, he is the sacrifice. And you know what? He'd better be, because unless he is, we ought to call the whole thing off because he got what he deserved, not by claiming to be Messiah which we thought was a man anyway, but by claiming to be God, which is blasphemy punishable by death. Unless you are God. He said he was God and he is, but he was put to death. We say we're good people really and therefore all going to the same good place, but we're not, yet we think we're going to live.

Well, the real Temple to which the physical Temple pointed, Jesus, was destroyed and in three days built back up in rising from the dead. And just as he said, the generation that saw it had not passed away before the end of the world as previously known up to Jesus -- the Temple destroyed, the priesthood killed and scattered, the sacrifices ended. This happened by the Romans on the ninth of the Jewish month of Ab, which falls somewhere between what we call late July and mid August, in 70 AD, or CE (Common Era). And you know what? That was exactly the day on which the first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, or BCE (Before the Common Era) and the people hauled off into captivity.

Jeremiah told them it was coming, and after it came, though overwhelmed with what had happened, he told them this was not because the enemies' gods are stronger than ours but because ours is giving us what we deserve for our faithlessness, and for that Jeremiah was branded a traitor to his religion and people, flogged at the Temple and left for dead in a pit. His Lamentations was written at the destruction of the first Temple. Tisha Be'Av, or the Ninth of Ab, is marked in the synagogue with the reading of DT 4:25-40 for the Torah portion and Jeremiah 8:13-9:23 for the haftorah, or the related reading from the Prophets.

But that is not all. Guess what? In the evening of that day Jews gather for the reading of Eikha, which is -- Lamentations! One sits on the floor like a mourner rather than in a seat. It is a full fast day to the max -- no eating, no drinking, no bathing, no leather shoes, no perfume or make up, no sex, although you can smoke or go to work. Tradition has it the Messiah will be born on Tisha Be'Av, the only happy thing about the day.

At the conclusion of the Passover Seder, one sings "Next Year in Jerusalem". But the Last Seder was in Jerusalem, and the full and final Passover sacrifice has been offered, as we commemorate on this day. The Temple has already been destroyed though the physical one still for a time stands, and so, we read Lamentations. But this Temple will be raised again in three days! We read Lamentations on this Friday of Lamentations not in mouring over the loss of two Temples and in hopes for a third, as if we were under the Law of Moses, in fact not in mourning at all for the "Temple" but for our faithlessness which destroyed both the physical Temple and the Temple Jesus to which it pointed.

You looking for a purpose to drive your life? Wanna find your best life now? Wanna make things sensitive to seekers? Looking to put Jesus first? Well here it is, pal. We read Lamentations, and celebrate Holy Week in our various traditions and liturgies in union with believers before us, now, and to come, precisely and for no other reason than to profess ourselves and proclaim to those who don't know it yet the knowledge that the Temple is indeed raised up again after three days, with the mercy seat of the loving God who opened it for us open to all through the body and blood of the Passover Lamb, even Jesus the Christ!


The Cross. Makes all the difference. Here's some Gospel music about it.