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.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.

VDMA

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


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

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

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

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

28 April 2009

The Divine Office -- What's That and Why Bother? 2009.

What's a Divine Office -- where God goes to work?

The divine office is along with the mass the public worship of the church. Oh man, hey, just give me Jesus, we're free aren't we, why bother with all this set stuff? One hears that a lot about liturgy these days. Well, here's why and how all this set stuff is part of giving you Jesus, or rather, part of Jesus giving himself to you.

Pre Messiah, there were no particular set times for prayer for hundreds of years. Not that prayer wasn't prayed at set times in various places, but there was nothing normative about it. That came at the end of the Babylonian Captivity (the one that happened to the Jews, not the Church!) with the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the reconstruction of the Temple, ie the Second Temple. As part of that restoration, Ezra and the 120 Men established set times for prayer in essentially the form they are still used in the synagogue, which was adapted and continued by the church.

Established, not originated. These were not new, but were codified into three times of prayer during the day. These times were set to correspond to the three times of sacrifice in the Temple: morning (shaharit), afternoon (minha) and evening (arvit or maariv). On top of that, in Jewish tradition they trace themselves to the times of prayer Scripture records for each of the three great Patriarchs: Abraham in the morning (Gen19:27), Isaac at dusk (Gen24:63) and Jacob in the evening (Gen28:10).

This pattern was adapted by the Church in light of the Christ having come, and is the basis of the three major times of prayer in the Divine Office we know as Matins, Vespers and Compline. Just as in the Divine Service, or mass, we have essentially a Christian synagogue service followed by a Christian seder, a service of the word followed by the sacrament of the altar, so in the Divine Office we have a series of daily Christian synagogue services whose main ones are:

1. Matins, a Christian shaharit going back through the history of the New Israel the church to the pre-Messianic morning synagogue service which Jesus and the Apostles knew, and aligned with morning sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the morning prayer time of Abraham;

2. Vespers, a Christian minha going back through the church to the afternoon synagogue service known to Jesus and the Apostles, and aligned with the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the afternoon prayer time of Isaac;

3. Compline, a Christian arvit or maariv going back through the church to the evening synagogue service Jesus and the Apostles knew, and aligned with the evening sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the evening prayer time of Jacob.

Where can you find this stuff? There's been all kinds of versions over time in both the Eastern and Western church. The history of this development is beyond our scope here. What is important here is three main points: 1) community gathering for prayer, preaching and Scripture reading throughout the day continued in the church from the synagogue from Apostolic times, for example Acts chapter 20; 2) amid the great variation in details over time and place a consistent pattern is clear; 3) the three major times of prayer came to feature canticles, hymns setting parts of Scpripture, usually known from their first words in Latin, the Te Deum for Matins, the Magnificat for Vespers, and the Nunc dimittis for Compline.

The Te Deum is the only canticle that is not directly from Scripture. Traditionally it is said to have been spontaneously composed as St Ambrose baptised St Augustine in 387. It proclaims the Creed in the context of a heavenly liturgy and concludes with verses from the Psalms. You want some praise music -- this is it!

The Magnificat quotes Mary's words to Elizabeth at the Visitation, Luke 1:46-55, which in turn reflects and fulfills the Song of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, considered in Judaism the example of how to pray and as such the haftorah for Rosh Hoshannah or New Years, not to mention Mary's mother's name was Ana, or Anne, a variant of, guess what, Hannah! Want some more praise music -- this is it!

The Nunc dimittis quotes Simeon's words to Mary when Jesus was presented in the Temple to fulfill the Law, Luke 2:29-32. Our Common Service -- would that it were our common service -- also uses it as a thanksgiving after Communion. Want still more praise music -- this it it!

Also worth mentioning is the Benedictus, which quotes the words of Zacharias, a Temple priest and husband of Elizabeth and father of St John the Baptist, said in praise of the coming Messiah, Luke 1:68-79, which with the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis are the three evangelical, because they come from Luke, canticles said every day. The Benedictus is associated with the office Lauds, meaning praise, which fits here because originally Lauds was Matins, but as the night vigil came to be said right before Lauds, the name Matins passed to the Vigil (hence the oddity of a morning name for a night service) and the original Matins became Lauds. In the Eastern Church Lauds is still at the end of Matins, which they call Orthros.

More praise. Looks like we don't have to go hunting for praise stuff, the church has had it all along in the Divine Office! And you hardly have to undertake some sort of monastic regimen. All this stuff started with parishes, not monasteries! Any of the hymnals in use by our beloved synod contains material for use, sometimes combining Vespers and Compline into one. The Concordia Edition of the ESV from Concordia Publishing House has excellent short ones. Or, you can just follow what is set out for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Little Catechism!

Absolutely, not commanded by Scripture. But we Lutherans aren't an "If it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it" crowd. Our Confessions are explicit -- though unfortunately sometimes our parishes aren't -- that we happily accept the observances and ceremonies that those who came before us in faith brought about and hand on to us, rejecting not what isn't in Scripture but only what contradicts it that crept in here and there over time.

And what a great gift has been handed to us! In the Divine Office as in the Divine Service we not only have a magnificent gift from those who came before us, but we take our place with them in the forward motion toward the final fulfillment of the promises of God, and do so in a vehicle that is itself an expression and product of the unfolding through all its points so far of the coming of salvation and leading on to that great and final Coming of the Omega drawing all Creation to its convergence in God in Jesus his Christ!!

[Note: I blew it this year! This discussion of the Divine Office will join my "Blogoral Calendar", a series of posts aligned with the Church Year. My original post on it was part of something for the O Antiphons of Advent, then posted separately, and now more fully treated. Going forward it will be published on the feast day of the man who more than anyone else allowed this continuous song of praise of the church to survive the fall of the Roman Empire and its wake of destruction and pass to us. That is the holy father in faith St Benedict of Nursia, whose feast is celebrated, as is the custom with feasts, on 21 March, the date of his death, or rather birth unto eternity, regardless that it was moved to 11 July by the ecclesiatical vandals in their 1960s Sack of Rome called Vatican II that left its own wake of destruction. Abolished the term Matins too btw! For them. Luckily, the catholic church ain't the Catholic Church. Anyway, this year I'm a little over a month behind!]

22 April 2009

Readin', Writin' and Absolute Multitude. Lyceum 2009.

What's up with that? Don't I mean 'Rithmetic?

When it's almost back to school time, along with all the sales in the stores there's the usual stuff for sale too about the value of education. Trouble is, there's about as many ideas of what is an education, not to mention of what is its value, as there are kinds of pens, notebooks and clothes in the stores.

So let's start with the good old liberal arts education, as distinct from learning what you need to know to make a living out there.

You don't hear much about it these days, but the ideas of liberal arts education, like democracy, originated in Greek antiquity, in societies where those who were going to participate in democracy and have such an education were not burdened by having to "work", and that was done by a slave class. "Liberal" comes from the Latin for free, and a liberal art originally meant something appropriate to the free class, not the slave class.

You might hear that the liberal arts were originally seven, the first three being grammar, rhetoric and logic, also known as dialectic, a three-part way known in Latin and consequently to the West as the Trivium (from which our word trivial comes too, trivial matters being those you learn to get on to the heavy lifting of reality itself), and the last four being arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, the four-part way called the Quadrivium.

The Seven Liberal Arts.

The Three Part Way, the Trivium.
1. Grammar.
2. Rhetoric.
3. Logic (dialectic).

The Four Part Way, the Quadrivium.
4. Arithmetic. (Absolute Multitude)
5. Music. (Related Multitude)
6. Geometry. (Stationary Magnitude)
7. Astronomy. (Mobile Magnitude)

Nice to know, but doesn't tell you a damn thing about what this was all about, though it looks like it does.

In the original universities, a person who had completed a course of studies in the Seven Liberal Arts, and passed final examinations by his masters (teachers), was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts.

What does this mean? Not what you would think based on the ordinary current meanings of these words, and that is where the whole problems starts. "Arts" does not mean painting or sculpture or whatever, but the Seven Liberal Arts. "Bachelor" does not mean an unmarried male, but comes from the Latin baccalaureus, and originally referred to the lowest class of knight, a squire, or apprentice, to a knight, or a knight in the service of another knight. The word itself seems to have come from baccalaris, a man employed on a dairy farm. Bacca was a variant of late Latin vacca, which still survives in Spanish as vaca -- cow. The progress is similar to that of a guild learning a trade.

On further study, and then participating in and moderating disputations (disputationes), highly formalised debates on the truth of specific propositions, usually based on arguments from appropriate authorities (argumentum ad verecundiam), which are inappropiate to syllogistic logic, in which the syllogism is true or false based on its on its correct process and not who does it, but are common in informal logic, where since no-one can be an expert on everything one relies on those who supposedly are experts on this or that thing, and which is the origin of the ad hominum (against the man), which refutes a statement on the basis that the authority cited is no authority at all -- on such further study and activity, a person would be awarded the degree Master of Arts, the Arts being the Seven Liberal Arts, and "master" deriving from the Latin magister, which looks like master but actually means teacher; one may now teach the Arts.

A degree was simply a step, in Latin gradus, to becoming a teacher or master, hence the term "graduate", a progression again similar to the trade guilds and still seen in the apprentice, journeyman and master structure of qualification in the trades. Since the masters were teachers, they were also called doctors, from the Latin for "to teach". Over time, since the three higher fields of study were Law, Medicine and Philosophy, masters who went into these fields earned a bachelor, then a master, then a final doctor degree in them, and the doctoral degree in these higher faculties came to be regarded higher than the master teachers/doctors, eventually becoming the present Bachelor, Master, Doctor hierarchy, with later fields coming under the division of philosophy along with philosophy itself.

The first universities were modelled on the Islamic madrasahs, then borrowed the structure of trade guilds for preparation, then, with the reforms of Pope St Gregory for learning to include more than liturgy but also theology and canon law, bishops began to establish schools in their cathedral parishes to teach things beyond the monastery schools, then finally with demand far in excess of supply plus the original town and gown tensions between students and townspeople, which were not pretty with rape and murder not uncommon and often protected by clerical immunity, schools gravitated to big cities, with the first modern degree-granting universities established in Bologna (1088), Paris (1160) and Oxford (1167), the final step being recognition by papal bull of a university's autonomy from the city, the church, and each other, meaning non-interference from the state, the church (the proverbial "academic freedom") and also that a graduate from one could teach anywhere jus ubique docendi, with no further examination.

In Bologna, the students ran things, hiring the teachers; in Paris, the church hired and paid the teachers who ran things, and in Oxford, the crown did. As a result, Bologna was not a comfortable place for teachers and fell into decline, and Paris became the leading university and really the great graddaddy of the modern university, although the government sponsorship of Oxford and the later Cambridge (1209) allowed them to survive the replacement of the church with the state Church of England.

A student entered the university at about age 15, and after a six year curriculum in the Liberal Arts, usually with an emphasis on logic, if they passed graduated a Bachelor of Arts. Courses were not by subject so much as by the authoritative book studied, often from Aristotle, the Bible, or the Thoughts (often called the Sentences, from the Latin title Quattuor libri sententiarum, or Four Books of Thoughts, still reflected in the idea that a "sentence" should express a complete thought, of Peter the Lombard, who taught in the cathedral school at Paris). Having graduated from the Faculty of the (Seven Liberal) Arts one could go into the world, or continue in one of the three other, further, fields of Law, Medicine or Theology, which would take another 12 years or so.

So what's the point of all this -- I'm into old stuff that isn't the way it is any more and think you should be too? No, and hell no. For as much "old stuff" as I post on here, I wouldn't consider any of it worth a ginger snap if it didn't do two things for us now: make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing how we got here, and make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing what was the idea of where we were going in the first place.

We've seen a brief summary of how we got to modern education. now some points about where we were going in the first place.

First: education had nothing whatever to do with earning a living. When the idea began, work did not ennoble, it debased, it was done by a class that precisely because it had to work could not possibly have time to learn what one needed to know to participate in democracy or high positions. Later, trades, something learned for the purpose of making a living, were learned in guilds, not universities, with the interesting twist that guilds formed first and universities began by borowing their ideas of how to organise from them! So show a little respect to the repairman that shows up next time you need one.

Second: the trivium was not grammar, rhetoric and logic exactly as we mean them now, nor even something learned for its own sake, but rather learning the tools by which one learns anything at all, just as a tradesman learns the tools of his trade before learning how to use them in the trade itself. Basically, grammar was the study of how thought is written down in symbols (language), rhetoric was the study of how thought is communicated from one person to another, and logic was the study of how to think to reach supportable conclusions. Thus a person will be able to write down or speak his own thoughts rather than just let them rattle around in his head, evaluate whether the written or spoken thoughts of others are well written down or written to hide or disguise things, and evaluate his and others thoughts as to whether the content is supportable or based on unsupportable assertions and/or hidden assumptions which are deceptive.

Recent decades have seen an astounding increase in the ability of thoughts and information to be communicated, starting with mass printing some time ago but exploding first with the coming of radio, then TV, and now the Internet and other forms of digital media; and at the same time have seen an alarming decrease in the apparent ability of people to form, communicate and evaluate thoughts and information. Where the ability to smarten up exists to an unprecedented extent, the fact of dumbing down is seen everywhere.

Amid an unprecedented ability to communicate information, people seem to have less information and less ability to critically evaluate information than ever. And this largely not because people are any more smart or stupid than before, but because educators themselves have nearly totally lost sight of this, that the magnificent increase in the media of communication does not invalidate but in fact makes more needed than ever the basic tools for forming, setting forth, and understanding what is communicated.

This general dumbing down of society is not new, it was noticed decades ago, but it has assumed warp speed as the very means of communication develop at warp speed too. One of the earliest, and still best, more applicable to-day to the means that did not exist when it was written than ever, is an essay called "The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy L Sayers in 1947. She was best known for her detective novels, a genre generally considered "low brow", and that such a magnificent and magnificently educated mind as hers should equally well write best selling detective novels exemplfies what this is all about.

Her essay is online now. You can read it here: http://web.archive.org/web/20040415041359/http://redeemerclassical.org/lost_tools.php

Another, and more recent, modern exposition of these tools of learning is by Sister Miriam Joseph of the Sisters of the Holy Cross at St Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, called, guess what, "The Trivium". Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2002. Available through Amazon easily.

For the record, here's what the names of the liberal arts in the Quadrivium mean. Once you learned how to study anything at all, the stuff to be studied was divided into two big categories, things that are what they are as combinations of units, and things that are what they are as units that divide into further units. The former were called Multitudes, and further divided into those that are not applied to anything but abstract, which was called Arithmetic, and those that are applied to something, and that is called Music. The latter were called Magnitudes, and further divided into those that do not move, called Geometry, and those that do, called Astronomy.

Arithmetic then simply meant the study of number in the abstract, not appled to anything, just how numbers can be combined and used -- what is generally called math to-day. Music was using numbers to understand a phenomenon, and was further grouped into three areas, musica mundana, using number to quantify and understand the world outside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day physics, chemistry, and the like, musica humana, using number to quantify and understand the world inside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day biochenistry, psychology and the like, and finally and at the lowest level, musica instrumentalis, using number to understand the tones and combinations of tones produced by the instruments that produce them, including the human voice, which is what we generally only mean by music now except it includes only the understanding part, the making of this kind of music being simply a skill and not included for its own sake but left to the uneducated. These days, being able to strum a few chords on a guitar and belt out a few words seems to immediately confer that status of prophet, revelator, visionary, and authority on whatever one belts out about.

So, it's a system for first learning how to learn, then for classifying what is to be learned in order to be educated to fulfill the responsibilites of democracy and high office. It's not at all about going back to the "Music of the spheres", in which the mathematical ratios in tones and in the orbits of the sun and planets around the earth were though to be the same, or anything like that. What happened was, as some of the knowledge taught within the system was later found to be either incomplete or just false, like what orbits around what, the system itself and more importantly the overall unity of things which it expressed also came into question.

New knowledge did not replace invalidated knowledge in the system as it should have but was confused with the system itself and brought it down, and thus we have the start of our fragmented knowledge and view of learning to-day. This began when difficulties in reconciling Aristotle with Christian doctrine became more and more apparent, and the bishops of Paris issued a series of formal Condemnations, most notably those of 1277 by bishop Etienne Tempier, which had the effect of allowing scientific investigation to proceed without reference to Aristotle.

Which was great for science but also had the effect of everything previously held now possibly being wrong or soon to be found out to be wrong.

A new direction in thought, best summed up in the maxim of the English Franciscan William of Occam, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, or no more things should be thought to exist than necessary, a lex parsimoniae or law of parsimony that brought about a new way of thinking that was skeptical to agnostic, and consciously saw itself as a new way and called itself such, the via moderna or modern way, as opposed to the trivium and quadrivium which became the via antinqua or old way. This turned up in every field, in music (as we use the term now) it was called the Ars nova, a term first used by the theorist Phillippe de Vitry in a book by the same name of in 1322.

Music that was not monophonic chant but polyphonic, with secular themes being placed over a base of a piece of chant, music in duple time rather than triple reflecting the perfection of the Trinity, music written this way for religious purposes -- utterly revolutionary, and part of the shift in the times from the arts to theology itself. What a modern irony that some to-day will perform the motets of Machaut, the greatest of ars nova composers, and be thought to be real fuddy duddys, but Machaut himself in his day was thought of as an affront to everything right and proper for worship!

It was into this world turned upside down and inside out that Martin Luther, having graduated from schools that focussed on the trivium, enrolled at 17 in University of Erfurt in the first year of the 16th century, 1501, graduated with a Master degree in 1505, and went on to the Law school following his father's wishes and the usual pattern. He soon dropped out. Questioning everything, positing as little as possible, and so on was all fine, but at what point did it yield reliable results, also known as answers, which is particularly upsetting regarding the claims of Christian doctrine with some pretty extreme claims of salvation and damnation.

There being no answers, he sought one in what was available, the rigours of the actions of monastic life, to the extent that his superior, Johann von Staupitz, Vicar General of the Augustinian Order in Germany, had him continue an academic career in theology to take his mind off his own salvation, and also spoke to him about the Means of Grace and salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, which, though Staupitz was no Lutheran and lamented the breaking of visible church unity, got him put on the Index of Forbidden Books!

Seems long ago and far away, but it is into exactly this same world turned upside down and inside out than we are born now, just with better means of communication. Each age along the way seems to think it has started a new age, a new way, a modern way, an Age of Aquarius, an Enlightenment, or whatever, simply repeating the confusion of the via moderna with better technology. And our world where graduates can't count back change in their minimum wage jobs, or reliably point on the map to where the people came from toward which they have been taught warm inclusive fuzzies, or hear a news report with an ear to whether or not it contains unexamined assumptions from which supposed conclusions are drawn.

The point of the Lutheran Reformation was not to create a new church or even split the one there was, but to bring back to front and centre the Means of Grace through which salvation is communicated and the message of salvation through the blood of Christ itself -- to paraphrase Luther, making the most clear things about the church what had become the most obscure amid the Roman confusion. The direction in which the later more general Reformation went, which began even in Luther's lifetime, was as opposed by Luther and Lutherans as the errors of Rome.

Perhaps another reformation is needed, not a religious but an educational one, where the tools of learning are actually taught, where a person is then taught how to handle abstact operations, operations applied to things as they add up, how complicated things break down and how that is applied to things. Perhaps that would be education, the basics for participating in our society, open to all now, rather than the latest theories of what is "enlightened" this week, which are handed down as such but amount to no more than secular articles of faith handed down ex cathedra from an authority which, when it takes itself to be such, violates the very parsimony and science it thinks it passes on, as it neither guarantess a correct conclusion nor prevents a false one and may not even be applicable to a particular field, and if applied to all fields as a universal principle violates its very definition.

Oh, why Lyceum. That was the name of the school that Aristotle founded in Athens, right beside the temple of Apollo of Light, Apollo Lykeios. Its location was rediscovered in 1996, just east of modern downtown Athens. The word survives in modern European languages for roughly what we call high school in the US. "Academy" and like words btw come from the school Plato founded in a sacred grove dedicated to Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, called the Akademia. Hekademia originally, actually. Its most famous graduate -- Aristotle.

More BTW -- the custom of referring to the school from which one graduates as "alma mater" comes from the University of Bologna, which, like the other two Universities mentioned above, Paris and Oxford, still exists. The school's motto is Alma mater studiorum, nourishing mother of studies, and, as the oldest degree granting university in the West, it caught on as a reference to one's school, Bologna or not. The University of Paris does not exist as such, has been reorganised many times over the centuries, is currently a set of 13 universities still evolving, and are often known by the name in some of them, The Sorbonne. Luther thought the plays of Terence, after whom I was named IRL, were excellent for children's learning.

OK, some old stuff, but only because you'll know who passed these ideas from the end of the ancient world with the fall of the Western Roman Empire to later times, including us. First, a guy named Martianus Capella, who sometime after Alaric trashed Rome in 410 wrote a book called De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii et de septem Artibus liberalibus libri novem, which means On the Wedding of Philology and Mercury, and the Seven Liberal Arts, in Nine Books. The first two books are an allegorical love story about how Mercury, the pursuit of learning, actually learns by way of communicated information, Philology, and the remaining seven are textbooks in each of the seven arts he sets out as above. They were largely based on existing ancient works, and the whole thing was pretty much an encyclopedia of its time, which, when that knowledge began to show itself lacking, the whole thing started to appear lacking, as we discussed above, and scholars now routinely diss him, when what is needed then as now is separating the system itself from the content of any given time.

Second, a guy named Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, who lived shortly thereafter. His best known work is On the Consolation of Philosophy, written while awaiting execution by the Arian Western Roman Emporer Theodoric for supposed treason with the catholic Eastern Roman Emperor Justin. However he translated a bunch of ancient works into Latin, and in his rather free translation of Nicomachus' book on arithmetic also set out the liberal arts, giving them the trivium and quadrivium names, and in his On Music set out the three-fold division of music above, and these books remained standard authorities in universities for hundreds of years and the Consolation is one of the most influential books ever written.

Third, a second cousin of Martianus with a variant spelling of the last name, Antonius Cappella, who wrote thousands of pieces of music, all of them identified by the way he signed his name, A Cappella, in a wide array of styles still performed to this day. OK, I'm just jacking around now. A cappella actually means "from the chapel" and was used to designate purely vocal Renaissance polyphony generally for the church from the later Baroque concertato style which featured alternating vocal and instrumental parts in a piece of music. Oddly enough, turns out those vocal motets were often doubled on instruments, but they didn't know that, so the term came to mean pretty much any music that is singing only, no instruments. Except for a small school of hard cores, in a city named for its big reeds, Acapulco de Juarez in Mexico, who wouldn't use the reeds for instruments, so the style is also called singing Acapulco. OK I'm jacking around there too.

20 April 2009

Titanic Update: A Survivor, an Auction and a Bidder To Remember

The auction is over. It raised 300,000 pounds, which is about $450,000. Hardly any for her. About $7,500.

Twice a year, an auction firm, Henry Aldridge and Son, conducts an auction of Titanic-related stuff. Millvina Dean's remaining stuff was but one lot in last Saturday's auction.

A key found on the body of Edmund Stone, a steward who used it to try to save mail but which allowed many third-class passengers a route to escape, was auctioned by the family and brought 59,000 pounds, about $90,000, from a private Irish collector.

A flask a man used to give his wife and two daughters some milk, lowering himself into their lifeboat then returning to the deck, as a man would do, brought 37,500 pounds. Two letters from passengers brought about 27,000 pounds each.

A collection owned by Barbara Dainton (West) went for 60,000 pounds. She passed away in October 2007, leaving Millvina Dean the last living survivor.

What about Millvina Dean? Her lot, including the canvas bag mentioned in my prior post, brought about 5,000 pounds, roughly $7,500, which at 3,000 per month for her nursing home, is about a month and a half's worth. The bag itself brought 1,500 pounds, about half a month's nursing home bill.

$7,500 for a 97-year-old trying to stay in her choice of nursing home, out of $450,000 total of Titanic artefacts. I guess the demand just wasn't that big for what she supplied, so the system worked again, huh. Well, apparently the story has brought some private donations as well.

Funny thing, though. The auctioneer said when the man, apparently a London businessman, who remains anonymous, came to pay for the bag, he wouldn't take it and said to give it back to her.

Now there's a real Englishman. Or human being of any description. Also the private donors.

17 April 2009

A Survivor To Remember

15 April 2009 was, besides being Tax Day for us in the US, the 97th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Sometimes the date is given as 14 April 1912, which is because in local time the ship struck the iceberg before midnight, but sank after midnight, so the whole event spans two days with the sinking itself on 15 April 1912.

Didn't see a thing about it all day, except notes in the two historical widgets I have on my iGoogle page. Closest thing other than that was some TV ads for Macy's during the great new show The Unusuals, after Lost -- Isidor Strauss, the Macy's guy, died on the Titanic. Oddly enough, so did Emil Brandeis, a member of the family that owned Omaha's leading department store of the time.

On 17 April 2009, up early due to the proverbial summons of nature, I refreshed my Twitter page for the hell of it, and saw a tweet from CNN that the last living survivor of the Titanic will have to auction off her remaining memorabilia of the sinking to retain control of her nursing home situation.

Her name is Millvina Dean. She's 97 now, and was 9 weeks old when the bleeder sank. She, her older brother and her parents were on their way to America. The plan was to go to Wichita, Kansas, where her dad had family already, and open a tobacco shop. Strange thing is, they weren't supposed to be on the Titanic at all. However, with a coal strike on, they were transferred to it as third class, aka steerage, passengers at Southhampton.

Her father felt the impact of the collision, checked it out, and got his wife and two kids up and on deck, and got them, but not himself, into one of the lifeboats. There was this idea of "women and children first" wherein a man's duty was to ensure the well-being of his woman and children, then other women and children as needed, before himself. It wasn't being a hero, just being a man. Bertram Frank Dean was a man. His body was not identified among those recovered at sea.

Millvina Dean's mother, brother (also named Bertram) and herself were among the first to board Lifeboat 10, which had 31 people aboard including two Able Seamen from the deck. Lifeboats had a capacity of 65. They were supposed to stop at different deck levels on the way down, but as there had been no drills, this did not happen and they were lowered straight into the sea.

Under regulations of the time of the British Board of Trade, the number of lifeboats was determined by the ship's tonnage, not the number of passengers. At the top end, boats over 10,000 tonnes were to have 16 lifeboats of 5,500 cubic feet each, with rafts for 75% of lifeboat capacity. These regulations had been drawn up in 1894 when the largest ship was 13,000 tonnes, Cunard Line's Lucania. Titanic's tonnage was 46,328 tonnes. Titanic's provisions exceeded the regulations of the time, though nothing like ships of Titanic's size existed when the formula was drawn up.

When the ship that rescued them, the Carpathia, arrived in New York, she like many survivors, particularly in steerage, had lost everything but what they were wearing. New Yorkers poured out help in generosity, and her mother, after considering going on to Kansas as planned, decided instead to return to England thinking it would be easier to handle being a new widow with two small children back home. Among the items Millvina had were a suitcase that carried the clothes New Yorkers had given them, and a canvas postal bag, which is either the one in which she was lifted from the lifeboat to the Carpathia, or one like it.

After a long working life, in 2006 she broke her hip in a fall at her home. She had hoped to be in nursing care a short time, but an infection set in and she remains there yet. The monthly cost of her nursing home care is 3,000 pounds, about $4,480 in USD. That's 36,000 pounds a year, or about $53,760 USD. When she runs out of money, the government will pay her costs, but of the care they, not she, choose for her. The Golden Rule: he who has the gold, rules.

In October 2008, she had to auction off the suitcase, some letters to her mother from the Titanic Relief Fund, and other items. It brought a little over 30,000 pounds, roughly $45,000, not even enough for a year. This Saturday, she will auction off the canvas bag and correspondence between her and Barbara Dainton (West), a 10 month old at the time of the sinking who passed away October 2007 at 96, leaving her the last living survivor.

The ins and outs of "the system" are determining her last years as they determined her first, at the end taking away from her what is left of what was taken away from her at the beginning. In many ways, the Titanic is a metaphor for the passing of one age and the energence of another, oddly enough, both based on a misplaced confidence in the achievements of Man.

Her story illustrates one of those misplaced confidences, that a society can be achieved wherein moral outcomes will happen by virtue of the structure of the society, as if there were no Fall or Original Sin, let alone our own actual sins, or a Gospel to announce redemption from all that. One of our most cherished illusions, sometimes expressed in various forms of the idea that government can regulate and control everything into happiness, and sometimes in various forms of the idea that people will do it themselves in "free markets" etc., and both tied by varying parties to the Gospel as its social application.

Two seemingly opposite forms of the same illusion, both as shipwrecked by the facts of human history as the Titanic itself, except that wreck lies under two miles of water whereas the other continues to form our political discourse, on the way to future literal and figurative Titanics. It's kind of freaky that her brother Bertram, who also survived, died on 14 April 1992, the 80th anniversary of striking the iceberg. But freakier yet that two days after the 97th anniversary of a Night To Remember, the last survivor of a literal Titanic becomes another figurative one. Again.

From a Night To Remember, a survivor to remember. And learn from, if we can, or will.

11 April 2009

Easter / Eostre / Pascha / Counting the Omer 2009.

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

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

So what do we have here? A pre-Christian Sping 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, that being the person sent by God to remove the oppression of his people, currently the Romans, and inaugurate the Messianic era of universal peace. We saw that if we are really honest, it wasn't just the crowd that day but we too who want such a messiah, the one after which we will never again have to watch the news, get that phone call, or visit, or letter, or results from the physician, and wonder how a loving God could let such things happen, or try to explain how bad things can happen to good people -- like us, of course.

And we saw that when no such 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 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 lillies 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 Pharoah 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 Pharoah 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 counting of the Omer, connected in the observance God commanded as they were connected in the historical events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 April 2009

Easter Vigil / Osternacht 2009.

(I am sorry -- this is not the 2009 post. I forgot to copy and paste as a new post when revising it for 2010, and saved a draft of the 2010 version in the 2009 place. It's OK in a way -- the 2010 version is better anyway!)

In the proverbial early church, there was no service at all on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. What they did was a solemn watch, and just before dawn, the catechumens, those who had been instructed in the faith toward conversion, were baptised and confirmed and made their first Communion, rising to a new life at the hour when Jesus rose from the dead.

Over time, a service did develop, and the time moved back from before dawn to the evening before, and eventually to Holy Saturday morning! On top of that, the service, though retained in the Reformation, including Latin texts, fell into disuse amid the Thirty Years War, rationalism and Pietism, 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 reform of the Vigil 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.

Now the Vigil is generally held by everyone who holds it on the evening before Easter. Though the overall order of the service has remained from the earliest times -- something of a watch with various observances, then reception of converts and mass -- 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, any more than it was a Saturday morning service, but rather a service that was timed, for reasons we shall see in a moment, to conclude with the break of day!

So while the service contains some ancient practices, those who hold it as a Saturday morning service or a Saturday evening service are no more restoring themselves to some imagined purity of the "early church" -- it would seem St Paul wrote all those epistles because the early church was not in that great a shape! -- than those who hold no service at all on Saturday stand apart from it.

The Western Easter Vigil has 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 so but for many centuries has been the "Exsultet".

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!

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. Unfortunately, in the modern revisionist liturgies the readings are often cut down from twelve to seven, and sometimes from even that to four, 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. 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.

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.

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 come to-gether in the Risen Christ who gives us now his Body and Blood as the sure pledge of our salvation!

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

09 April 2009

Good Friday / Karfreitag 2009.

Everyone knows Good Friday is about the death of Jesus. Humanly speaking, 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?

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. The good in Good Friday is God.

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

The question "Why is to-night different than all other nights" might seem to belong 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 of the 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 because it is so gruesome and horrible. It is so ghastly that under Jewish law, which does sanction capital punishment, it is not allowed.

And so as we gather to mark this event, we have a night unlike any other night, when the Passover Lamb is slaughtered. No mass, no communion, no joyous recessional and conversation on leaving -- but silent darkeness, unlike any other service of the church. Why is to-night different than all other nights?

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.

In the first part, the reading 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 the conclusion of the Passion account of John begun last night, John 18 and 19, 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.

In the second part comes the focus of the while thing, the Cross. Veiled since Palm 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, and we answer, Come let us adore. 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, and 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. And it continues, to further underscore the point, with the Pange lingua, Sing my tongue the Saviour's glory, in verse and response form with the Crux fidelis, Faithful Cross.

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

Nothing.

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, do what we could not do, take away our sins, so that whoever is sprinkled with the blood of this Lamb he has provided as he provided a lamb for Abraham instead of Isaac should not taste death but have eternal life.

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.

07 April 2009

Maundy Thursday / Gründonnerstag 2009.

Maundy. Now there's a word for you. Just like a lot of that liturgical stuff, doesn't seem to make any sense in the real world of ordinary spoken language. Is there a maundy anything else? What is it to be maundy? As if that isn't enough, to German speakers this Green Thursday. OK, green is plain enough, but what's green about this day? Hey, why not skip the whole thing and just put Jesus first?

Well, the names came about because of putting Jesus first. Here's the deal.

In Holy Week the church commemorates the saving acts of Jesus, not that we don't do that all year, but this week we add to it laying them out over the days they happened as actual historical events, things which really took place, not just religious or theological beliefs. In her liturgy to-day, the church commemorates the night before Jesus died, when Jesus gathered with his Apostles to celebrate the Passover seder, the memorial meal of the night before the exodus from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land began.

The seder was already centuries old at the time. We can only imagine how astounded the Apostles must have been when Jesus, instead of the well known words of the seder they were expecting, said something different at the breaking of the bread and a cup of blessing, making it his body and blood, the body and blood of the Lamb of God whose sacrifice would take away the sins of the entire world, and passing on to us this last will and testament to have until he comes again!

And so the church celebrates mass, a mass as always and also a mass in remembrance of that first mass ever, the one he celebrated on the night we commemorate to-day, at once the last seder, or last supper, of the Old Covenant and the first mass of the New. The purple vestments of Lenten penance are set aside and white is used; the Gloria, which has not been said during Lent (of course, if one follows the newer Vatican II style liturgies it isn't said anyway a good bit of the time!) is now said again -- and then, along with mass and Communion, disappears again until the Resurrection.

To emphasise that the lamb now goes to the slaughter for our sakes, not only do these things go away, but after mass the altar is stripped bare of all its usual stuff, while Psalm 22 (or 21 in some numberings) is recited -- My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Then, the most amazing thing -- so amazing we don't do it much, maybe can't bring ourselves to do it much, it's just a little too stark and graphic. A wooden clapper gives the signal, the deacon sings the Gospel of the day -- John 13:1-15, the account of the Last Seder, and the next verses telling the Crucifixion we will hear to-morrow -- while the celebrant takes the action Jesus took told in John, and washes the feet of twelve people.

During this, a series of antiphons are done, starting with one drawn from John 13:34 -- a new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you. In Latin, this begins "mandatum novum", a new commandment; our word mandate derives from the Latin mandatum for commandment, and so does the word maundy. This is the day of the new commandment, mandatum or maundy Thursday! Hard to put Jesus any more first than to name the whole day after his giving his new commandment! Than to do what he did and as he said in the Gospel for the day!

That's our liturgy. And what of us? We're Peter. When Jesus got up during the seder and prepared to wash his disciples' feet and came first to Peter, what did Peter say? OK? Sure Lord, I know this must be right if you say so? No, he questioned Jesus: Lord, dost thou wash my feet? How often is that our response to Jesus -- you really mean that Lord? To which Jesus said, What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter. Right, I'll get it later; not good enough, not to Peter, not to us. So he says Thou shalt never wash my feet! Just like us, imposing his idea of what God should do even in front of God himself.

Jesus makes it just a little clearer for him: If I do not wash thee, thou shalt have no part with me. Peter then gets it, and just as we do, then runs to the opposite extreme, no less than before, imposing his idea of what God should do and his idea of what he should do before God himself -- Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head! Do we not do the same? Run from one self willed idea of God and our interaction with him to another, from one rejection of his word to another disguised as an acceptance -- anything, anything at all except just what he said!

We run from the washing of the feet liturgically like we run from the new commandment itself in all aspects of our lives, wanting it to be, like Peter, after our ideas rather than his. We can no more save ourselves than a man can wake himself from the dead, as CFW Walther said in one of his sermons. But the good news is we don't have to, so why don't we quit trying? He has done it for us, and this night given us his body and blood as the pledge and testament of our salvation to be ours until he comes again in glory!

Almost forgot -- about Green Thursday. Nobody really knows. It's a German thing. Some say it comes from the Latin dies viridium, Tag der Grünen in German, the Day of the Green Ones. Huh? Who are the Green Ones? Those who are now fresh and green after forty days of Lenten penance. Some say it comes from the practice of eating green vegetables this say. Some say it comes from green rather than white being the liturgical colour at one time replacing the Lenten purple. Some say it comes from greinen, to weep. Some say other things.

But for sure Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin name for the day, Dies Mandatum, the day of the new commandment. The liturgy shows us the new commandment in the giving of the Eucharist and the washing of the feet. May we Peters, as we stagger in our lives between No, never and Well OK then let's do it this better way, come to just do it his way!

01 April 2009

BAM!, or Tenebrae 2009.

What's up with Tenebrae?

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. What's up with that, I'd think. 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's 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 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 Protestants, they don't even know that "afternoon" is just that, after None. Oh well, most of us don't either, so why be surprised at having a Matins service, a word coming from the Latin for "dawn" that gave 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!

Typical Protestantism, bits and pieces from the church Christ founded combined with some Reformer's additional ideas. 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 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, having just finished the Tappert Book of Concord (we didn't have the "McCain" Book of Concord yet!) and thinking I had cast off the Roman Catholic church for the real catholic church, if maybe I didn't end up just a 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, and 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.

BAM!

Strepitus! 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. For real. So for real 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 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. I've also seen it done like this: not the Seven Last Words, but the Passion account of John read in seven sections, with an appropriate hymn after each, and a petition based on the prayers after the Johanine 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. And sometimes things that usually set confessional types right on edge -- female acolytes, a "praise band" as well as choir and organ, a time for young disciples aka children's sermon. Well, as they say in my part of town, It's all good. Yeah it's all good bro. There was O Sacred Head too, to chime in with my basso grosso. It's all good. I still love the traditional service of the church for Good Friday. But it ain't got the Bam. The temple curtain is aside, the High Priest has entered and the mercy seat is open!

BAM!

Speaking of the Temple, maybe some 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.

Jesus said, Destroy this Temple and in three days I will build it up. When he said that, the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing, and they thought that's what he meant. 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. 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 off the whole thing 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. 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. And just as he said, the generation that saw that had not passed away before the end of the world as previously known before it -- 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, for which he 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 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 not in mouring over the loss of two Temples and in hopes for a third, 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!

BAM!

Palmarum/Palm Sunday and Holy Week, 2009.

"Who do you say that I am?"

Holy Week, or Great Week as it is also called, concludes the preparation for Easter. The church in her liturgy does in a particularly intense way this week what she does all year, present the Gospel revealed in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel readings 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 (aka Green Thursday) and Good Friday (aka Lamentation Friday) both offer the Passion account of John, Thursday for the institution of the Eucharist and Friday for the Crucifixion.

The events we the church remember this Palmarum day ask us who do we say Jesus is 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 this day 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 was given the same triumphal accord. Joshua, who led the people into the Promised Land as the Lawgiver Moses could not; Joshua, a name that is with the name Jesus a variant of the same name, who would lead the people into the eternal Promised Land as the Lawgiver Moses could not. 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 driven life rather than giving us the sacrifice that takes away our sin, our best life now rather than eternal life, whose religion is not about what he has done but what we will do to follow him? 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. That is why Scripture describes the Gospel as a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.

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, thereby 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, and 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, but 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.

Who do men say Jesus is? All kinds of things. 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 to be so honoured.

And then he asks each of us, Who do YOU say that I am?