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.


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. For what that stuff in the banner means, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar.

31 March 2007

Palmarum/Palm Sunday 2007

"Who do you say that I am?"

The events we the church remember this day ask us this question because they present one answer to this question. We already know the end of the week's story -- the man welcomed with wild cheering by the crowds will in a few days be executed as a criminal among criminals.

But this day, such an end is not in sight -- except to him. Covering a person's path is a sign of great esteem, widely practiced in the ancient near East and still a part of our mentality, as in "roll out the red carpet" from the custom of royalty. Joshua, who led the people into the Promised Land as the Lawgiver Moses could not, whose name is with the name Jesus a variant of the same name, was given the same triumphal accord. Here, perhaps, was the Messiah! Here, perhaps, was the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of the Messiah predicted by Zechariah, to whom our Gospel account, Matthew, refers! How does the wild joy of seeing the king come turn to a criminal's execution? It is not because Jesus turns out not to be Messiah, but because Messiah turns out to be not the Messiah we want.

Does not Zechariah speak of the removal of chariots and war horses from Jerusalem, breaking battle bows, with a reign of peace from the Jordan throughout the Earth? Let us not congratulate ourselves that thinking of the Messiah in the political and social terms of removing the Roman occupation from the land was the failing of the Jews of Jesus' place and time, something that Jew or Gentile in more elightened times, oh, say us in our time, would never do. It wasn't a reaction to the Romans. The mainstream of the entire Prophetic tradition, from the Prophets themselves to the atmoshpere in which the Apostles were raised to our own time, is that Messiah is a man, not God, not a God-Man, who will usher in a lasting era of universal peace here in this world, not a world to come, in which the light of the true God first given to a nation called out from the nations will extend to all nations -- nothing about sin, forgiveness, justification!

Is that not the Messiah we all want -- Jew and Gentile alike, then as now? A Messiah in earthly terms, one who will straighten out the mess of things here on earth, with no reference to the mess being of our making, allowing us to live long and prosper right here, who asks not repentance and conversion but simply to do good works like he did, who is about giving us a purpose to drive our lives rather than giving us the sacrifice that takes away our sin, whose religion is about not what he has done but what would we do as he did? And do we not, Jew and Gentile alike, then as now, turn away from him when he turns out to be not the Messiah we wanted?

Jews typically do not believe Jesus is Messiah not because they fail to see how Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecy, but because they do not see the Messianic prophecy as pointing to anything like Jesus. This was a persistent problem even for the Apostles. Gentiles do not believe Jesus is the Messiah not because they fail to see how Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecy, in fact many of them say he does, but because they too find the Messianic prophecy to be a matter of a good man showing us the way to live as good people, to become better people, and find in Jesus such a man.

In the Hellenistic, which is to say Greek based, culture that surrounded Jesus' time and place, many religions existed featuring gods who had miraculous births, worked miracles, acted on behalf of man, entered the city, died and rose again, and whose followers partook of rites of bathing and eating and sacrifices, called mysteries, which the Romans termed sacraments. The Greek Dionysus, whom the Romans appropriated as Bacchus, the Persian Mithra and the Egyptian Osiris are the best examples among many others.

Is this Jesus too? Is he simply another failed Jewish Messiah, whose followers, when what will happen after Messiah comes didn't happen after he came, recast Messiah in the Hellenistic terms surrounding them to fit him so they could continue to say he was Messiah after all and obscuring his true value as a moral teacher? Is he simply another Hellenistic mystery cult figure, perpetuated by those who derived power from presiding over the mysteries, obscuring the real Jesus and his true value as a moral teacher?

"Who do you say that I am?" was not Jesus' first question. That was "Who do men say that I am?" And indeed, who do we say that he is -- one of the great prophets of Hebrew Scripture come back, one of the great moral teachers in human history over whom, as with other great teachers, has been laid religious fables by those who claim to follow him but in fact falsify the historical person for a figure of faith, but in any case, a teacher, a model, an example. Would we not cover the path of such a figure with palms, since that is the saviour we want? And would we not be just as mistaken as those who covered his path thinking here was deliverance from the Roman oppression and the era of peace? And on finding out that is not who he is, would we not shout as well, Away with him!

That is still who men say he is. Who do you say that I am? Simon answered, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus told him flesh and blood had not revealed this to him, but his Father who is in heaven. Flesh and blood, that is, human wisdom, never reveals this unto us because it is beyond all human wisdom and contradicts all human wisdom. Therefore it cannot be arrived at by human wisdom nor chosen by human decision, but is the gift of the God and only the gift of God. Human abilities even with Law and Prophecy and Writings from God could not grasp it; human wisdom apart from revelation constructs bits and pieces of it around mere fable characters who cannot deliver. Either way the natural knowledge of God written in every human heart strives for something it senses is there but cannot discern, and which can only be given by the gift of God.

The Sanhedrin had it exactly right. Jesus was not executed because he said he was the Messiah. One can claim that, and simply be wrong or right. The Messiah is a great man, but a man. He was executed because he said he was God. One cannot claim that without blaspheming God -- unless it is true. We'll take a Messiah who is a great man, we'll lay palms to cover his path, we'll rejoice that what we want is at hand -- and when it turns out instead he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed to be raised again on the third day, well, it shall not be unto the Messiah we want, and thus we become an offence to him, Satan, savouring the things of Man rather than God.

Men say all kinds of things about who Jesus is. Things for which we will joyfully lay palms to cover his path, or at least accord him a place in the gallery of the great teachers and moral figures. And then he asks each of us, Who do YOU say that I am?

Holy Week 2007: Gospels

Holy Week, or Great Week as it is also called, concludes the preparation for Easter.

Interesting that the Gospels for this week follow the Biblical order of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, a tie between the events of the Gospel accounts and the liturgy that not even the three year Vatican II lectionary could break.

Palmarum or Palm Sunday offers the Passion account of Matthew. Monday in Holy Week does not have a Passion account but the passage from John where Judas' unbelief, which like so many after him was disguised as a concern for the poor, is expressed six days before Passover when Jesus was in Bethany, where Lazarus had died and who was now at table with Jesus. Tuesday in Holy Week offers the Passion account of Mark. Wednesday offers that of Luke, and is sometimes called Spy Wednesday in reference to Judas' betrayal. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday both offer the Passion account of John, the one for the institution of the Eucharist and the other for the Crucifixion.

Separate posts for Spy Wednesday, Green Thursday and Lamentation Friday will be posted. Huh? Maundy was a strange enough term, what's up with spy, green and lamentation? What happened to Holy Thursday and Good Friday? Who goes to church on Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy Week and why waste a whole Gospel Passion account on it?

More to follow. For now, simply a time to understand how the liturgy does especially in this holy week what it does all year, present the Gospel revealed in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

23 March 2007

Judica 2007

On this Sunday the church reads Hebrews 9:11-15 for the epistle reading and John 8:46-59 for the gospel. Unless of course one divorces oneself from the ageless voice of the church and her preaching and follows 1970s Rome, when you won't hear this at all in any of the three years in the cycle. Modern versions of the traditional lectionary add an Old Testament reading to the Epistle and Gospel for the day, which is Genesis 22:1-14. This is the story of Abraham and Issac and the near sacrifice of the one by the other, consigned in the three year new Roman cycle to Lent 1, Year B -- kind of reads like a shipping parts list. Our practice of having a lectionary at all derives from the synagogue, where the lectionary is based on a reading of the Law (Torah) through the year, beginning after the Biblical New Year in the Fall, with a related reading from the Prophets (Haftorah) assigned to each Sabbath's Torah portion; special selections are made for the festivals established in the Law. This became a reading from the Gospels with a related reading from the Epistles.

Genesis 22:1-14 is called The Binding of Isaac, or the Akedah, in the synagogue worship. The story is read twice, once in its regular place as the Torah is read through the year, which is the fourth regular Sabbath, Vayyera, and also as the Torah portion for the second day of New Year's, Rosh Hoshannah, which is vitally connected to the Torah portion for the first day of New Year's, Genesis 21, and the associated prophetic reading (haftorah) 1 Samuel 1-2:10 ending with the Song of Hannah, the first Magnificat.

Jewish and Christian teachers alike hold forth the Akedah as a supreme example of obedience to the will of God. And so it is. And so remote it can seem when obedience to the will of God is asked of us. When obedience is asked to something that makes no sense to us, that can even seem so wrong to us that it cannot possibly be from God. When it seems to dash, as it did to Abraham, all the promises made and kept so far, only to come to this? When it seems that all the gifts of God were cruel hoaxes, one's heart shattered in the cold body of a dead spouse, in seeing a loved one adrift and struggling between God's wisdom and the world's madness, or in any of the thousands of other things that can come in life as if, we wonder, there is no God of the preachers.

Who of us would not rather cry with the Psalmist whose verses give us the name for this day?

Judica me Deus et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab homine iniquo et doloso erue me.
Judge me God, discern my cause against an unholy people: from the unjust and deceitful man deliver me.

Who of us does not cry with the Psalmist, how can this be, how can this happen, when bad things happen to good people indeed, where is God, why doesn't he stop this, why does he allow this; has he caused this?

Quia tu es Deus fortitudo mea: quare me repulisti et quare tristis incedo dum affligit me inimicus?
For thou O God art my strength: why hast thou repulsed me and why do I go about in sadness while the enemy afflicts me?

Is that it then? Suffer the loss of everything, even what and who is most dear, even what seemed to have been given by the very God who now seems to take it away? This is God? This is religion? Yet, isn't that exactly what the human idea of religion is in ordinary life apart from dire moments? We must do something to please God, to be right with God, and religion tells us what those works are, be they works to lead a good life, be a good person, offer worship -- whatever, here are the works you must do. In Abraham's time child sacrifice was not at all uncommon and the wonder might be not that a god would ask it, but prevent it. But before we congratulate ourselves on our enlightened modernity, let us ask was not the idea behind it the same idea behind our drive to find purpose in our works, that surely if I do these things everything will be OK with me and I will be OK with God? The truth is, we may have given up child sacrifice, but not the idea behind it.

The rabbis point out that the word God uses to tell Abraham to "offer" up Isaac is not the word used to signify the slaying of a sacrificial victim, and is more akin to "lift" him up, showing that God never had the intent to accept or even ask for human sacrifice. But did Abraham know this? It is not whether he did or didn't, but that he didn't ask the question! He didn't second guess God, he didn't open a theological seminar, he was simply willing to do it if that is what God wants without trying to settle it with God beforehand about the "if". In a word, faith -- and thereby offering on that mount that would become the Temple Mount the only thing that matters. So we can now pray:

Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam: ipsa me deduxerunt et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuam et in tabernacula tua.
Emit thy light and thy truth: for they have led me and brought me to thy holy hill and thy dwelling place.

That faith in God is not our work either, it is his, it is his light and truth which have led and brought us to where we can now say:

Et introibo ad altari Dei: ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.
And I will enter unto the altar of God: unto God who makes joyful my youth.

Confitebor tibi in cithara Deus Deus meus: quare tristis es anima mea et quare conturbas me?
I shall yet praise thee on the harp, O God my God: why is my soul in sadness and why dost thou trouble me?

God had indeed provided the Lamb for sacrifice, the Pashal Lamb who soon will celebrate the last seder of the old covenant and the first mass of the new, giving us until he comes again his pledge and testament, the body and blood, separate as the sacrificial victim he will then be, God sparing nothing, giving everything, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, passing over those with his blood no matter their sins, saving them from the destruction they merit and giving them life with him now and into eternity. The God who seems to ask everything of us is the God who in fact gives everything to us. It is he and not we who spares nothing and sacrifices everything. Child sacrifice is outrageous, and most especially so because it is the most outrageous way in which we think we serve God when in fact we thereby make ourselves our god by trusting in our works rather than his. How often we go unto his holy mount, his dwelling place, fearing the worst when he offers the best.

Spera in Deo quoniam adhuc confitebor illi: salutare vultus mei et Deus meus.
Trust in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the salvation of my countenance and my God.

The God who so loved us has so loved those whom we love too. He loves them far better than we do. He who spared nothing for us spared nothing for them too. Our love is imperfect, strewn with good and sometimes bad intentions, with actions that sometimes turn out to have been the right thing and sometimes not, with inaction that sometimes turns out to have been the right thing and sometimes not. Yet we can love, because he loved. We can act even knowing it will be imperfect, because we know he has acted perfectly. We can do good works, not in a bondage driven life to be saved or to save others or to please God, but in freedom because we are saved and God is pleased in Him in whose blood we are sprinkled. We need not fear what God will ask of us, even when our hearts are breaking, our souls filled with fear, and our eyes full of tears, because he will not ask us or those we love to be the sacrifice. Like Abraham we need to skip the ifs, trust in His word and do what it says. He will provide the lamb for us as he did for our father in faith Abraham; he has provided the Lamb, Agnus Dei, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world -- dona nobis pacem; give us peace.

In Gottes Namen.

18 March 2007

Laetare 2007

Laetare Sunday in Lent (or Lent 4 if you prefer to worship as if Vatican II were in St Louis rather than Rome, and/or as if Rome still called the shots on worship) takes its name from the Introit for the day, as do most named Sundays. The Introit is taken from Isaiah 66:10-11 and Psalm 121:1 (unless you use Christian Worship which does away with Introits as effectively as any "praise" service).

Rejoice ye with Jerusalem and be glad with her: all ye that love her.
Rejoice for joy with her: all ye that mourn for her.
Ps. I was glad when they said unto me: Let us go into the house of the Lord.
Glory be etc.
(TLH, p.63)

Sometimes Laetare is seen as kind of a break from Lent. But why a break, why does the church in her liturgy offer rejoicing in a penitential season? Because we need one? Because we deserve one? Hardly.

We need salvation, and we deserve nothing. But God has dealt with us not according to what we deserve, but according to his unfailing love, and became one of us to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away. Which we shall shortly celebrate in Holy Week and Easter. Which is such great news that it even breaks forth into the penitential time of preparation for it. That even as the events which it celebrates so completely broke the bonds of sin and death from which we can not free ourselves, so can the season of penitence to prepare for it not be without a recognition liturgically of the joy to which it leads. That is not a break from Lent. It is an essential part of it! It drives us forward to the Easter message without which Lent has no meaning or reason and degenerates into another futile attempt to impress God with our observances, be it fasting or loud praise.

For as the Epistle and Gospel for the day say, we are children not of the covenant of the slave woman but of the free, not of the covenant that shows us our sin, but that shows us our Saviour, and from what the world sees as simple products of it, our Lord will bless it, break it and give it to us with more than enough to go around!

So rejoice indeed! We who were barren can now bear fruit!

PS -- pastors, did you wear your rose vestments to-day?
PPS -- Dr Tighe, thank you so much for the book you so thoughtfully sent. Re earlier posts on another blog -- the station for Laetare as you well know is The Holy Cross in Jerusalem!