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.

24 April 2010

The Joint Betrayal Of The Doctrine of Justification.

Apparently in some quarters, there being nothing else to do like earn a living, raise a family, participate in one's parish life wherein one finds Word, Sacrament and everything that made the saints what they are, something is being made about this being the tenth anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

I encourage all readers of this blog not to miss the excellent post by Pastor Paul McCain on this, which you can do by clicking here, just in case you might wonder if the Lutheran position evidenced by the Lutheran signatories is really Lutheran.

The only thing I would add is this: having come from the other side, I am aware that traditional Catholics regard the JDDJ similarly. Just as we confessional Lutherans see it as a betrayal of the Confessions of our faith, which we believe to be a true and accurate statement of the faith of Christ, so do traditional Catholics hold the signing of the JDDJ, similarly noting its imprecise terminology, to be a betrayal of the faith of the Catholic Church, which they believe to be the true and accurate faith of Christ, and some even have expressed that this action brings the Catholic Church under its own anathemae.

18 April 2010

Hold Fast To Hope - Godfrey Diekmann, OSB

[Preface. It is fitting indeed and just, right and helpful unto salvation -- oh wait, not that kind of preface, but it is dignum et justum to say I did not write the following. It is an article by Patrick Marrin of the National Catholic Reporter, with copyright given. It is also published online here. I am posting the text (typos and all) without further comment here, except to say that Father Godfrey was born into eternity on 22 February 2002, 22 February being in the Roman Calendar the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. And to say it was my inestimable privilege to have known him, a stunning accomplishment of the human spirit even if he was, IMHO, wrong about damn near everything, and a professor and Benedictine unmatched except, again IMHO, by his much lesser known brother Father Conrad, whose World Lit (Homer, the Greek tragedians, Virgil, Dante and Cervantes, I suppose to-day we would say Western Lit, though Conrad also offered a wonderful class on haiku which I took) classes, though at 0800 on Minnesota Winter mornings, were among the singular experiences of my life. Mr Marrin's "accompanying story" to which he refers below, follows.]

Diekmann says hold fast to hope - Vatican II figure Godfrey Diekmann

Vatican II participant appeals for restored priorities, transformed lives

Vatican II, regarded by some as one of the most revolutionary councils in church history, is now the subject of video retrospectives and historical overviews that pronounce who won, or where the pendulum has come to rest. If anyone is watching or reading, the easiest verdict is that the council is fading in both time and influence, its prophets either gone or all but silent.

With at least one notable exception.

Even at 90, Benedictine Fr. Godfrey Diekmann carries his 6-foot-3-inch frame straight and tall behind the aluminum walker he is pushing swiftly down the long monastic corridor at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn. His face -- large, sculpted and serene -- glows above his black turtleneck.

He is a man on a final mission, made all the more urgent by a doctor's verdict last August that he could die or be incapacitated at any moment by a, host of heart troubles that have left him too fragile for any further medical remedy.

Diekmann, regarded by many as one of the giants of the American church and a key participant in the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), has been using his borrowed time since Benedict August to reassert that the most important goal of the Second Vatican Council was to recover for everyone full and confident access to an intimate life with God through Jesus Christ. The key to opening up the institutional church to this life was to restore an understanding of the church as the body of Christ. This single reform held revolutionary implications for every aspect of the church's governance, worship, spirituality and mission. (See accompanying story.)

The body of Christ

For Diekmann this is no worn cliche but Christianity's best-kept secret, a startling revelation conveyed in the prayer offered daily during the preparation of the wine at Mass: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

In his 63 years teaching patristics -- the rich treasury of writings from the first centuries of the church -- Diekmann has struggled to convey to his students the meaning of the patristic adage: "He became human that we might become divine."

"My main point in teaching was to make my students realize what Christianity is -- that it's not just being good with the grace of God helping us, but it means real transformation, that you are sharing the divine nature. This must be taken seriously.

"What does it mean to say that we are members of the body of Christ?" Diekmann asked. "It means that in some absolute, almost contradictory way, we are sons and daughters of God, and not just as a figure of speech. The very fact that we casually keep on talking about being adopted children of God is proof that obviously we don't have the faintest idea what this is about, because adopted, by itself, in present usage, can only mean a matter of the law.

"We acknowledge that Christ, of course, is the tree Son of God. But we are now also tree sons and daughters of God, but by a gift -- by adoption -- and this is actually sharing the life of God. That is a staggering thing, and for many Catholics it is completely new."

For Diekmann, these "glad tidings" so exceed the claims of ordinary religion, are so stunning in their implications, even theologians fail to comprehend them. The language of Western philosophy has never been able to adequately express what the Eastern church has always celebrated through symbol, music and ritual in its liturgy, Diekmann said.

For all the controversy that swirled about Vatican II, this is what it was basically about -- to re-animate the church and its members as the body of Christ.

Diekmann believes that we cannot overstate the importance of this restored ecclesiology and must not allow it to languish. It was the soul of the 40-year pastoral liturgical movement that helped prepare the church for the Vatican Council, and it is the one image of the church that has the power, lacking in other images, to inspire us to embrace the gospel's call to become participants in the life of God.

Resistance to the council

The main source of conflict during and after Vatican II was that the ecclesiology being displaced, a highly centralized and hierarchical model based on Robert Bellarmine's image of the church as a "perfect society," was well entrenched in 1959 when Pope John XXIII surprised everyone by convening the council.

The pre-Vatican II church most older Catholics remember, enshrined by the Council of Trent in 1563 and bolstered by Vatican I in 1870, was a proud if isolated medieval cathedral/fortress at the height of its triumphalist stature. The Catholic church was the oldest, largest, wealthiest, authoritarian institutional religion on earth. For many, it was also divinely ordained, infallible and changeless.

Diekmann shares the view held by many church historians that such a structure was rooted not in the New Testament but in Emperor Constantine's decision in 313 to advance Christianity as the state religion. The church went from being a countercultural force and catalyst to being guardian of the status quo. Bishops became territorial, or diocesan, governors, a corruption of their original servant roles and a blow to collegiality, or shared authority among all bishops. "From the time of Constantine until Vatican II, you had an uninterrupted development of clericalism and centralization," Diekmann said. By unplugging this ecclesiology, the Catholic church set a bold precedent for institutional change worldwide.

The laity, the Catholic church's now nearly 1 billion adherents, had the most to gain by the council's recognition that baptism entitles every member of the church to "conscious, full and active participation" in the worship and life of the church. Every Christian shares in the risen life and redemptive activity of Christ -- priest, prophet and king -- through the use of his or her own charisms.

Diekmann recalls the speech given by Cardinal Leo Suenens during the council on the charisms flowing from baptism: "Each one by baptism has his own charism and contributes something to the church, first of all to the local church, or ecclesia, to which you belong, and then to the entire church. In God's plan you are indispensable. This is terribly important -- the importance of laity of themselves."

The idea of lay charisms was little understood at the time of Suenens' speech in the 1960s, even as the idea of the body of Christ was rejected by some in the 1920s as too dangerous, too much like the Protestant idea of the "priesthood of the faithful."

While many council reforms are coming more slowly than supporters had hoped, Diekmann the historian believes in taking the long view. What the council adopted in principle still needs to be fully implemented: "But the momentum of 1,600 years cannot be reversed in a mere generation," Diekmann cautioned. "The doctrinal foundations have been firmly placed by Vatican II, and, contrary to increasingly pessimistic evaluations, the substructures of renewal are being placed, often by trial and error if not by official initiative."

Even apparent crisis and controversy can be interpreted positively. The shortage of ordained clergy, for example, has opened the way for non-ordained men and women to serve as parish administrators and has prompted creative extensions of the sacramental work of Christ through lay leadership and outreach. Diekmann said he is joyful in the freedom of the Spirit evident in such adaptive situations. He points to early church writings as an untapped treasury of solutions and models for today's needs. The revolution will continue; there is no turning back. The full application of Vatican II's vital ecclesiology will come because it is the will of the Holy Spirit.

Astonishing series of miracles

Diekmann's confidence is rooted in his own experience at Vatican II, where he served as a member of the preparatory commission for the document on the liturgy. The council was for him and many other witnesses an astonishing series of miracles -- unforeseen events, opportune moments, dramatic interventions and come-from-behind victories that advanced the daring new ecclesiology, first in the liturgy document, then into the debate on the nature of the church itself.

One Protestant observer and close friend of Diekmann, the late Albert Outlet of Southern Methodist University, expressed amazement at the council's dramatic reversal of 1,600 years of church history: "My conviction is that never before in the entire history of Christianity has there been such an obvious intervention of the Holy Spirit as there has been here," Outlet said.

There were setbacks as well. The one Diekmann regards as doing the most damage to the intended impact of the council was the misapplied emphasis given to the phrase "the people of God" in the aftermath of the council.

An Old Testament designation, the phrase was used as the title of Chapter Two of the "Constitution on the Church," and there only to indicate that the whole church is more important than any one part, including the pope or the bishops. Unfortunately, it was later received widely as the operative image for the church, supplanting the body of Christ.

This led to de-emphasis of the most important message flowing from the council. The bold assertion of divine life through baptism, real incorporation into God's own nature, was conveyed as only a special closeness to God within the fellowship of the church. What the council had powerfully proclaimed it failed to effectively teach.

Liturgical buzzword

The idea of fellowship, or koinonia, became the buzzword of many liturgical reformers eager to replace the formal, vertical, divine worship in the old liturgy with the new, theologically horizontal and less formal celebration of a meal with the human Jesus in community. The result was a false evaluation of the transcendent and immanent dimensions of the liturgy. The former emphasis on transcendence became a one-sided stress on immanence -- we become pals with God. Both dimensions are essential. This misunderstanding created divisions within the reform effort and became a source of untold confusion and criticism in the wake of the council, and this has continued to distract and delay implementation of its deeper purposes.

For now, Diekmann is less interested in arguing than in appealing for an openness to the life that is meant to flow freely through the church to each member of the body of Christ. Any structure that blocks that life limits ministry within the church and blocks the urgent mission of the church to proclaim the gospel to the whole world.

As Diekmann anticipates his own face-to-face encounter with God, he has seized every opportunity to alert others to his concern that the gospel of divine life is not reaching the church or the larger world clearly and fully.

When Cardinal Joseph Bernardin attended graduation ceremonies at St. John's University in June of 1996, just months before his death, he asked to see Godfrey Diekmann.

"Before Mass he called for me. He said, `You know I'm sick and I'm not sure I can finish with the Mass. I don't want to just make conversation, but I asked for you so you could tell me what is closest to your heart.' And for 35 minutes I talked about being sons and daughters of God, how that is the essence of Christianity, how that is the glad tidings. He took all of that it in, he listened. Then he said, `You are perfectly correct that we haven't done enough to make that clear.'"

In recent interviews and letters to his many friends, Diekmann's long story of the miracle of the council is being distilled to a kind of mantra he seems intent on proclaiming until the time silence, claims him:

"Baptized Christian, remember of whose body you are a member."

By PATRICK MARRIN Special to the National Catholic Reporter Collegeville, Minn.

COPYRIGHT 1999 National Catholic Reporter
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

[Here is the "accompanying story". It is also online here.]

"Christian, remember your baptism" - 1997 address from Fr Godfrey Diekmann

These remarks were delivered by Fr. Godfrey Diekmann as part of a panel discussion at St. John's School of Theology, Collegeville, Minn., on April 17, 1997. Panelists were asked to speak about the meaning and purpose of the Second Vatican Council and on the state of the reform and renewal in today's church.

Cardinal [Leo] Suenens [of Belgium] stated that Vatican Council II was a council about ecclesiology, about the nature and activities of the church. I believe most theologians would agree. So I suppose the first question that comes to mind is what is the church?

It may come as a surprise to many to discover that Vatican Council I in 1870 and Vatican Council II have given radically different answers to that question. For more than three centuries before Vatican II, the accepted answer would have been that of Robert Bellarmine: The church is a society. There are two perfect societies, that of the church and of the state. That's not a very spiritually inspiring definition, is it? It is a definition in fact which a priori excludes the very possibility of collegiality. It was only in the 1920s that a new, or rather, the biblical, Pauline and patristic understanding of the church, began to surface again in the Western church. And it became the leitmotif of the pastoral liturgical movement, namely, the church as the body of Christ.

The body of Christ. Too bad it was called mystical body of Christ. At that time many were put off by the word mystical: What has that got to do with me? Perhaps at the present time the term would be welcomed.

The concept of church, or body of Christ, only gradually gained acceptance. It was a very sensitive subject. We had to be very careful in speaking of it, or printing an article about it in Orate Fratres or Worship [magazine], principally because, I suppose, of our post-Reformation nervousness about the priesthood of the laity, of the faithful. Only with Pius XII's encyclical on the mystical body in 1943 did it gain respectability. Let me quickly enumerate five of its most inspiring and revolutionary implications.

1. Every baptized Christian is an active, co-responsible member of the body having a distinctive contribution to make. This became the Magna Carta of the laity, the basis of active participation in the liturgy and the great movements of the time; the Jocists, the Family Life Movement, the Catholic Worker.

2. Collegiality: Bishops are not vicars of the pope. They, too, are vicars of Christ. The diocese is not just a geographical division of the universal church; it is the local church, united to all other churches, and in a most special way to Rome, the church of the pope. The bishop's leadership is made manifest above all in the celebration of the Eucharist.

3. The presences of Christ: Not only in the eucharistic bread and cup but "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them." This involved a long overdue rethinking of sacraments. Sacraments are not just external signs to confer grace, that terribly mechanistic, automatic understanding of the sacraments that created rightful scandal among our Protestant friends. Sacraments are not things, they are acts. They are acts of Christ. Christ is in our midst, continuing to send the Holy Spirit for the upbuilding of the church.

4. The recovery of the resurrection of Christ as redemptive: We in the West for some 500 years at least had put almost exclusive emphasis on Christ's passion and death as effecting our redemption. How bad the situation was is clear from the fact that [F.X.] Durrwell's book on the resurrection as redemptive, published in 1960, just a few years before the council, created heated controversy. But the apostle Paul said, "Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification," that is, that we might have life, Christ's life.

No wonder Augustine could cry out, "We are sons and daughters of the resurrection, and Alleluia is our song?

5. And what is that life of Christ? It is the life of the risen Christ. It is divine life. We are sons and daughters of God, not by nature but by gift. This is the essence of the Christian glad tidings. To quote a patristic cliche, "God became human that we might become divine." Or, as St. Leo the Great tells us, "Christian, remember your dignity." And that thought, I submit, constitutes the one and only school of Christian spirituality of the biblical and patristic period. There are dozens of schools of spirituality at the present time. This is the only one that I could recognize in the writings of the early church: "Christian, remember who you are," or equivalently, "Christian, remember your baptism."

I should, by right, add a sixth point. Since Vatican II, a new situation has arisen, a rightful demand to achieve and to put into effect the equality of male and female. In this question, also, the doctrine of the body of Christ, as expressed, for example, in Galatians 3, or 1 Corinthians 12, the body of Christ concept gives us the strongest and clearest biblical warrant for urging the radical equality of men and women. You all know the famous passage: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free person, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

In conclusion, therefore, let me say, the topic of our discussion is the renewal of the church. Those of us who are old enough will remember what an exhilarating and enriching period of spiritual renewal were the several decades of the pre-Vatican II liturgical movement, a movement inspired by the doctrine of the body of Christ. It was a voyage of ever new discoveries. When all is said and done, Vatican II was a church-wide effort to effect spiritual and structural renewal by that same doctrine.

I submit that it is a complete misunderstanding of the council to think that the concept "people of God" was meant to replace that of the "body of Christ," as largely happened after the Vatican Council II. The chosen people of the Old Testament, the Jews, were already spoken of as the people of God. The new dispensation offers something gloriously new, the people of God have become the family of God, true sons and daughters of God.

The term "people of God" was used as the heading of Chapter Two of the document on the church chiefly to pick out, to give prominence to, one important aspect of the body of Christ, namely, that the entire body is more important than any of its members, even pope and bishop, and that applies also to the teaching of infallibility. The total body is greater than its parts.

In a word, renewal of the church according to the council demands of necessity the recovery in the popular minds and perhaps in that of theologians the biblical and patristic understanding of the church as the body of Christ. "Baptized Christian, remember of whose body you are a member."

COPYRIGHT 1999 National Catholic Reporter
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

04 April 2010

Easter / Eostre / Pascha / Counting the Omer 2010.

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!

03 April 2010

Easter Vigil / Osternacht 2010.

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 in Jesus 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.

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 saw above, to conclude with the break of day!

Now, the Vigil is generally held by everyone who holds it on the evening before Easter. But, while the service contains some ancient practices, those who hold it as a Saturday evening rather than a morning 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 it Saturday morning or 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 if it makes the service "too long". It's all essential -- when the church defined the Bible, did it say while these are the books you can rely on, if it's getting a little long for you, just skip over some of it?

The third part is the blessing of the baptismal font and water, the sprinkling of the people with some of the blessed water in remembrance of their Baptism, and then the Baptism of any new converts, and finally all recite the Litany of the Saints.

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

This joy of the fourth part, the mass of Easter, is just as real and just as present whether one celebrates it as the conclusion of what is supposed to be a predawn service on the morning or night before, or not and celebrates on Easter morning itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


02 April 2010

Good Friday / Karfreitag 2010.

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?

I. The Traditional Good Friday Service.

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.


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.

II. Tenebrae.

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. It used to strike me as typical -- you gotta give them an E for effort, they're really trying to do the right thing, but this is what happens when you try to be church apart from the Church he put here, tinker around with the pieces of the former unity apart from their source and come up with all sorts of stuff, part of it the real deal and part of it whatever Reformer's ideas of the real deal one follows. (Hey Herr Schuetz, you reading this?)

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

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

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

My first experience of anything by the name Tenebrae was in the mid 90s in WELS. (I first made profession of faith especially as taught in the Small Catechism in a WELS parish 15 December, 1996.) Holy Week consisted of Communion (in the sense of both consecration and communion, though in that context you'd probably raise an eyebrow if you said "mass") on Maundy Thursday with particular remembrance of Jesus' institution of Communion at the Last Supper, then "Tenebrae" on Good Friday, then nothing, meaning no Easter Vigil at all, one of the most ancient services of the church, until, hey, "Sunrise Service" on Easter, then pancakes, with a later "Festival" service for those of us who might rise with the Son but not the sun. I wondered a little bit, 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 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.


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 that the earth could not support nor the sky shine on the injustice which is my justification. And most of all, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the Temple is rent asunder by the full and final High Priest and the mercy seat of God open wide, and all who are sprinkled with the blood of the full and final Passover Lamb can, well, walk right in!

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

I have come to love the Tenebrae service more than any other in our observance. Tenebrae as Lutherans do it isn't always the Seven Last Words, or Die sieben letzten Worte as we "too German" types like to say. It can be for example the Passion account of John 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. 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!


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

Jesus said, Destroy this Temple and in three days I will build it up. They thought he meant the physical Temple in Jerusalem. Don't we always do that? Just a few days ago we thought great, here's the Messiah to cast off the Romans and begin the era of universal peace. God's just fine as long as it's our idea. But he meant himself. He is the Temple, he is the High Priest, he is the sacrifice. And you know what? He'd better be, because unless he is, we ought to call the whole thing off because he got what he deserved, not by claiming to be Messiah which we thought was a man anyway, but by claiming to be God, which is blasphemy punishable by death. 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 Jeremiah was branded a traitor to his religion and people, flogged at the Temple and left for dead in a pit. His Lamentations was written at the destruction of the first Temple. Tisha Be'Av, or the Ninth of Ab, is marked in the synagogue with the reading of DT 4:25-40 for the Torah portion and Jeremiah 8:13-9:23 for the haftorah, or 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!


01 April 2010

Maundy Thursday / Gründonnerstag 2010.

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!