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.

10 March 2017

What's A Divine Service, And Why Bother? 12 March 2017.

Festschrift for the Feast of St Gregory the Great, 12 March 2017.

Hey, Christian Freedom, Adiaphora! No NT Rules About How To Worship!


The New Testament lays down no order of service for Christian worship, and neither does Christ nor anyone else in the New Testament. Therefore we are free in these matters, there being no command from God about it. And therefore, a service is good as long as it preaches Jesus, and to take it any farther than that stomps on our Christian freedom, shows an attachment to a simply human tradition, and therefore is a barrier to preaching Jesus to all people of any tradition.  Right?

Well I'll be dipped if our Lutheran Confessions, though, aren't quite proud of the way our services preserve what Christian worship had been, and say they only seek to omit any accretions along the way which contradict the Gospel.  And not only that, they present the fact that our services pretty much are the same as the ceremonies previously in use, as evidence that our reforms are true and not some new take on things!

Now how's that?

Here's how's that. The fact is, the idea that liturgy etc are "indifferent things", sometimes called by the Greek word for that, adiaphora, things not found in Scripture and neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture, and that therefore worship is something we are free to do as we see fit in light of what seems to work best for us, is an idea that ALSO is not found in Scripture, but comes from human philosophy, and, Scripture commands against it!

The Original Adiaphora.

For starters, "adiaphora" is not Greek for "doesn't matter" or "who cares". It actually isn't even a Christian concept. It comes from the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece. "Stoic" itself has come to mean "indifferent" in popular usage, but that isn't what either "stoic" or "indifferent" is at all to the Stoics.  This is another example of something this blog posts about often, namely, words change, as of course they will, but sometimes in a way in which what they actually mean is lost, leading us to mean something quite different by them, which is ok in itself, the problem being that the actual meaning remains unknown by any word and that content is lost, so we think we understand something we in fact don't unless we recover that content.

The Stoics' main concern was how to live so that your inner life is not dictated by what happens to you in your outer life in the external world. They saw the world as a matter of reason, physics and ethics. These were the main things in life. They saw the study of them as the way to avoid the errors in reason which lead to disruptive and destructive emotions that make you miserable over what happens in life when in fact it may only be what you think is happening in life but really isn't.

This is not anti-emotion; rather, it was to free one from destructive emotions based on incorrect judgements so one could enjoy emotions associated with well-being and peace of mind, having corrected one's judgements by reason and brought them into alignment with reality, the totality of which is God.

Even the word for peace of mind has gotten all twisted around on this "indifferent" thing! The word for peace of mind was apatheia, yup, the ancestor of our word "apathy" and didn't mean apathy in our sense at all, but rather, being free of both pathos (plural pathe), the destructive emotions resulting from incorrect perceptions, and also free of propathos or pure instinctual reactions, to enjoy the eupathos (plural eupatheia) emotions that come from perceptions that align with reality. A-pathetic is not indifference but being free of destructive emotions whose opposite is eu-pathetic or constructive emotions.

So what was adiaphora? Those things that are not part of reason, physics and ethics and are not in and of themselves destructive or constructive, but could go either way, depending on how you're doing with what is part of reason, physics and ethics in getting free of pathos and enjoying eupathos. Like getting rich for example, neither good nor bad in itself, but can go bad in a person who is, well, pathetic, literally, or go for good in a person who is a-pathetic in the literal sense above.

How The Idea Of Christian Adiaphora Started.

It's easy to see how all this could be used by Christians. The term "logos" itself is the biggest thing, which started with Heraclitus (whom Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, btw regarded as the only philosopher worth reading) who used it to denote the fundamental order of the universe.  Then, it became the idea of rational speaking in the Sophists and Aristotle, which is the root of our word logic.  Then with the Stoics logic became the divine that is immanent, present throughout the whole universe, which Philo then took into Jewish thought, and finally then became theos, God, himself, and Jesus as the Word (logos) of God in St John and early Christian apologists.

Both Stoicism and Christianity emphasise a progress from the passions of the world to something not clouded by those passions.  But, God as creator and an afterlife are not Stoic ideas, so it's not that Christianity is just Stoicism with Jesus and the Christian logos thing does not mean that either.  Arius got carried away with the idea that it did, and the church had to define how it didn't at Nicaea.

Christian concern about adiaphora is often held to begin with St Paul's answer in First Corinthians chapter 8 to the question of whether one can or cannot eat meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. That passage states that one is no better or worse for eating or not eating such meat per se.  But the matter doesn't stop there; he is far from saying "doesn't matter" or "who cares" so end of story do whatever.  St Paul also states that those who eat it should not use their freedom to do so in a way that becomes a problem for others who do not eat it. It does matter, we are to care, and the criterion is not that eating or not eating is forbidden or commanded, but what we Lutherans typically call good order in the church.

So, we see right from the beginning of the Christian adaptation of the Stoic concept adiaphora, recorded by St Paul in Scripture, that while in some matters we are neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture, we are also commanded by Scripture not to use this freedom in disregard of good order in the church.

How Adiaphora Became A Big Deal In The Reformation.

This whole adiaphora thing really got rolling with the Reformation. Poor old Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to whom the Confessio Augustana, or Augsburg Confession, was presented on 25 June 1530, was trying to keep a lid on things.  This was partly out of concern for good order in the church, but largely because just the year before (1529) the Islamic conquest of Europe, underway for about a century already, had been stopped with the Siege of Vienna under Suleiman the Magnificent, Caliph of Islam and Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, so Charles didn't want to spend a lot of time on religious squabbles.  The re-conquest of what was lost would last until 1699, well past the lifetime of anyone alive in 1530.

The first attempt to keep the same lid on Lutheran and Catholic alike was the Augsburg Interim.  The "interim" was to be until a church council could be called to settle the matters.  It allowed for priests to marry and Communion to be given in both kinds (meaning both bread AND the fruit of the vine, not just bread) but otherwise restoring Roman practice. Since that compromises the justification by faith alone thing, although Melancthon was willing to go along with it, pretty much everybody else was not willing to compromise an essential, THE essential, teaching for a therefore false unity.

That lead to the Leipzig Interim, which Melancthon also pursued, wherein Lutheran churches could hold their beliefs but would hold the Roman line in worship, which ticked everybody right off Catholic and Lutheran alike.  Catholics saw the measure as usurping the church's authority and Lutherans were split between those who supported it (the Phillipists, after Melancthon's first name) and the "real Lutherans" (Gnesio-Lutherans) who didn't. The whole thing resulted in armed conflict, which concluded on 25 September 1555 with the Peace of Augsburg.  Its principle is, cuius regio eius religio, whose the rule his the religion, meaning the local ruler decided what was to be followed.

This btw is not "Catholic" and "Protestant" as the terms are generally used now.  It was between the Roman Church and Lutheran princes only.  People were allowed to move to a place where the ruler practiced whichever one wanted to follow.  But no place was given to later developments then emerging, such as the Calvinistic "Reformed", a theology still seen in many "Protestant" churches, as the term is used now, or the Anabaptists.

Lutherans resolved their differences with the "second Martin", Chemnitz, in the Formula of Concord of 1577, wherein the adiaphora were identified as things like church ritual, which is neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture, but again not in a "doesn't matter" or "who cares" sense but as distinguished from the doctrine of justification by faith alone which we believe IS laid down by Scripture.

So, if we think this adiaphora worship wars stuff is bad now, well, it is, but it's been a hell of a lot worse.

Hey, Isn't This A Post About The Divine Service?

The only reason I bring all this old stuff up is the only reason I ever bring up old stuff -- not for its own sake but for the contribution it makes to understanding what we are even talking about now, where we are and how we got there, toward understanding where we ought to go. To me, the old stuff has no other "sake" than that, which is a huge one.

Be it the example of getting rich with the Stoics, eating meat sacrificed to idols with St Paul, or church rites in the Reformation, the common thing is that these are things that can go either way, for good or bad, not essentials in themselves but completely dependent as to whether they go good or bad on the essentials, and if they go bad are a source of great harm to those essentials, therefore, though they are not essential, they are hardly a who cares or doesn't matter kind of thing. In the sense of who cares or doesn't matter, there are no "indifferent" things.

Our Lutheran principle is not "if it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it", but rather, if it contradicts Scripture we ain't doing it. Being commanded or forbidden in Scripture is not the only source of a good idea, it is rather the only source of a good idea that is divine. The care and concern that we take about ideas that are not divine is entirely based on their effect of being for good or bad on the ideas that are divine. And this care and concern, as we said before, we typically call good order in the church.

This whole business about rites and ceremonies in the church is all about good order in the church. God commanded in the Law rites and ceremonies in the Temple. He hasn't commanded bupkis about rites and ceremonies since. But he does command care and concern for our fellows, he does speak against doing things that may be OK in and of themselves but are not helpful to the common good, good order in the church, the touchstone always being what he has commanded or forbidden.

So in and of itself, there is no rite, lectionary or calendar that is essential and any number of them are legitimately possible. The thing is, that does not mean any rite, lectionary or calendar is fine, nor that any possible one is a good idea or even OK. For about 1500 years, three fourths of its elapsed history to date, the Western church has used a lectionary and calendar that goes back to the influence of St Jerome, a rite for the Divine Service that goes back to the influence of St Gregory, and an order for the Divine Office that goes back to St Benedict, not once delivered unchangeable for all time, but in a continuous and organic development over many places and times with many variations. The Eastern church has a similar story.

And that development did not just fall out of the sky or start about 1500 years ago, but itself was a continuous and organic development from what came before it in the Jewish synagogue, something Jesus and the Apostles knew very well.

What Did Jesus And The Apostles Do?

The thing is, Jesus and the Apostles and the people around them were Jews. The NT does speak of them as participating in regular normal Jewish worship. About which it supplies no details. And why would it, everybody knew. Kind of like a birthday party invitation isn't going to include music and lyrics to "Happy Birthday", you know that stuff already. Except when it comes to what they knew already, we don't. The point of this post is to lay them out so you do.

And that's important because that is what they did, and if we don't know what they did we'll read the NT like people coming across a birthday invitation with no idea that singing "Happy Birthday" will be part of it. And that, in turn, is important because that is what the Christian communities in the NT and on from there did -- they worshipped within the forms they knew yet adapted them to what they also knew, the Gospel.

Where The Idea Of A Divine Service Comes From.

OK, there's three times of prayer traditionally in Judaism, first Ma'ariv which happens right after sundown, the start of the day in Judaism, then Shacharit which is in the morning, and then Minchah which is in the afternoon. Now, this is also where the Divine Office, the community Christian prayer of other than our Sunday services, comes from, but we'll get into that in the next post. Right now our focus is on what happens for the Sabbath service, the ancestor of our Sunday service.

Sabbath is not on Sunday. It's Saturday, which if you're lucky enough to speak Spanish you can see in the word for Saturday, sábado, and, remembering when the day starts in Judaism, actually starts in what to us is the night before, Friday after sundown. Ma'ariv, the evening prayer, like our liturgy has a lot of variation over times and places, but also like our liturgy has a basic format underneath all that variation which is always there. Shacharit, the morning prayer, has the same basic format.

Here is that basic format. There's four parts. First are some introductory prayers, then second a call to worship and the Shema and the Blessings, then third a prayer called the Amidah (aka Shemona Esrei), and on Sabbath readings from Jewish Bible with some explanation, and then fourth and finally concluding prayers.

You know what, this is the way the first part of the Divine Service is laid out too! And that's because right from the start Jesus, the Apostles and the early Christians worshipped this way too, with Christian prayers over time replacing the Jewish ones but in the same format.

The Synagogue Sabbath Service Morphs Into The Service Of The Word.

Let's look at specifics.

First and Second Parts. First are some introductory prayers, then a call to worship and the Shema and the Blessings. What's the Shema?  It's DT6:4-9, the central blessing in Judaism, which Jesus affirmed as the greatest commandment (MK12:29-31), and St Paul re-expressed in Christian terms in ICOR8:6.  In Christian usage this pattern remains, with an opening hymn, a welcome and dedication in the name of each person of the Trinity, in many places the antiphon "I will go unto the altar of God", sometimes the recitation of Psalm 43 (or 42 as numbered in the Greek Septuagint) then in the West instead of the Shema and its Blessings a confession of sin and an announcement of the blessing of forgiveness, followed by an Entrance Prayer of praise, called the Introit, and then a prayer of petition, which in the West somewhere along the line lost the petitions but kept the response, Lord have mercy (Kyrie eleison).

Third Part. Then comes the Amidah, which means "standing" because it is said standing, and is also called the Shemoneh Esrei, which means "eighteen" because it is a prayer of eighteen short prayers written by the 120 men of the Great Assembly, as in Ezra in the Bible, after the return from the Babylonian Captivity and the resumption of religious life at home. A later 19th blessing was added but the name remains. The full Amidah, said on weekdays, has a section of three blessings of praise, thirteen of petitions, and three of thanks.

But on the Sabbath one enjoys a foretaste of eternity and the fullness of God in which no petition is needed, so the Amidah for Sabbath and the great festivals goes like this:  the first three of praise, one special one for the day replacing the thirteen petitions, and the last three of thanks; all praise and thanks for Sabbath. The church evolved an exact image of this, which starts with the words of the angels at the birth of Christ in Luke 2:14, Glory to God in the highest. It began in Greek, was translated into Latin (said to be by St Hilary of Poitiers about 360), and guess what, has seven sections, a middle reference to his being the one who gave his body and blood to take away our sins, framed by three on either side of praise and thanks.  Just like the Sabbath Amidah because it is a transformation of it.

This is the prayer commonly still called from its first word in Latin, the Gloria, unmistakeably Christian and unmistakeably a Sabbath Amidah, and yeah, said standing! An organic development like the faith it expresses.  Yet these days we often count it as but one of any suitable song of praise.  Accept no substitute, insist on the real thing!  Nothing says this is the feast better than the Gloria!

After the Gloria, there is a prayer called the Collect. What does the Collect collect? The theme of the particular Sunday, whose readings we are about to hear.

Then comes the readings from Scripture and explanations of them. These too follow a clear pattern, which is, to read through the entire Law (aka the Torah, the Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible) by portions in a year, and with each Sabbath's portion, also read a related section called haftorah from the Prophets or the Other  Writings of the Bible. (The Hebrew Bible has three distinct sections, just as Jesus called them, the Law, the Prophets, and the Other Writings; Christian Bibles use the Hebrew Bible as the "Old Testament" but mix the Prophets and Other Writings to-gether.)

Jesus of course fulfilled the Law, and gave us the Gospel. So, in place of reading through the entire Law in a year, Christians began to read through the entire Gospel in a year. But wait a minute, there's four Gospel accounts in the Bible, so how do you do that? Well, the New Testament has exactly the same structure as the Old Testament in its Hebrew order: the Gospel accounts first as the Law is first in the OT, next the letters, often called by an older word for letters, epistles, of St Paul as the Prophets are next in the OT, and last some Other Writings from other Apostles as the Writings are next in the OT.

Within the Gospels, Matthew's was put first, because while of the Greek texts we have Mark was the earliest, the Greek Matthew is a translation of the earliest Gospel, in Aramaic, the Jewish dialect Jesus spoke, which is now lost in that version. So Matthew became the primary Gospel account used in going through the Gospel, with the others here and there, with passages related to the reading for the day from primarily the epistles of St Paul, but also with the writings of the other Apostles and sometimes the OT here and there, an exact image of the synagogue pattern of torah/haftorah because it is a transformation of it.

The list of readings varies over time and place, but the pattern in the Western church was established by St Jerome about 400 or so, in what is called the Comes (Pronounced KO-mays) which in Latin means "to go with" literally, a companion, here a companion list of readings to go with the service.

This remains to this day the basic pattern of the readings for divine service, except where modern revisionists at or following the lead of Vatican II have cast it aside after about a millennium and a half and come up with a three-year cycle drawing from all the Gospel accounts and epistles generally, adding OT readings and Psalms.

They also cast aside the fact that this supposed improvement was tried centuries ago in the synagogue, where those outside Palestine came up with a three year cycle too, but as it corresponds to no human cycle of anything and flies in the face of the annual rhythm of things, vanished into the dustbin of history in favour of the one that was there, as our current misguided alternative to the historic lectionary will one day do too, and not a minute too soon so it deprives as few as possible of being connected to the centuries, even millenia, long unfolding of the worship of God.

It also casts aside the idea that a lectionary, any lectionary, Jewish or Christian, is not a Bible study to expose people to as much Scripture as possible, but a selection from Scripture to expose people to the events celebrated in worship throughout the year, the Law in the synagogue, the life of Christ in the church.

And they also cast aside the whole guiding principle of Lutheran liturgical reformation, which is, that ceremonies be retained as they have developed except where it expresses something that contradicts Scripture.  Which is not the Romantic, 19th century idea of some sort of lost noble past age of greater purity, to be re-sourced, recaptured in its greater purity.   This approach is generally known by its French name, ressourcement.  Why?  Because it began with French Jesuits at Ore Place, a seminary set up in Hastings (Sussex, not Nebraska) after they had been kicked out of France, from 1902-1926.  (It was torn down in 1987 to make way for a housing development.)  At the hands of the "liturgical movement" became the idea of making the "early church" or the patristic era the ideal, to be recaptured in its supposed purity by their scholarship and by new rites supposedly jumping over the corruptions of the intervening centuries and closer to the early purity.

Ressourcement may sound quite similar to the Lutheran watchword ad fontes.  Hey, both mean back to the sources don't they?  Yes they do, but in distinctly opposite ways.  Again, recovering what was meant is key.  The Lutheran idea is, retention of the organic forward development of the church but tested against the norm of not some "early church" or "the Fathers" but of whether it contradicts Scripture or not, assisted by the earlier witness of the early church and the Fathers who held this same ideal in their own day. The purity sought is not a late Romantic fiction of some idealised lost age, but of concordance with Scripture.  That is why the method was retention of existing rites insofar as nothing contradicts Scripture rather than the creation of new rites on the model of old ones.

Then in the third part comes an explanation of what was just read, called the D'var Torah, which is, can you see it coming, the Sermon! Among Germanic Jews, the Ashkenazi, this is also called the Drasha. So your sermon is your drash on the readings. And as in the synagogue, prayers for the sick and other needs or announcements of various kinds may be made after this.

Fourth Part. Finally the concluding prayers, which is the synagogue include the aleinu, the kaddish and a hymn. The aleinu prays for a time when the vain pursuits of Man are replaced by the universal recognition of the true God; the word aleinu means "ours", what it is ours to profess. The kaddish, while best known in the form for mourners, is not essentially about mourning at all. The word comes from the Aramaic for "holy" and expresses the belief in what the aleinu prays for, the holy future for living and dead alike and to-gether. All of which is stated in its Christian version in the Creed, which is said, yup, right here, same pattern as before, along with a hymn of the day.

So there you have it, a Christian synagogue service for the Christian Sabbath, point for point, nothing more, and nothing less, there from the start, and present throughout the history of the Christian church, except in the last few centuries with those who ignore all this and worship like going to a birthday party with no clue about "Happy Birthday".

This first part of Christian Sabbath worship has had a number of names over time, and the one that really captures best what it is all about is Service of the Word. Why?  Because in it, God serves us his Word in Scripture and in explanation of it. It's not really something we do, it's something he does; it's not called service because we serve him but because he serves us.

The Passover Seder Morphs Into The Service Of The Sacrament.

But wait, if that's all of the original Sabbath service, why is it the first part of the Christian service? What is the second part, where did it come from, and why is it there? Here's the answer. The calendar of Jewish worship had weekly things, the Sabbath services, and big things that happened once a year which in fact God did set out in some detail, the biggest of which are three major festivals and the biggest of those are the things relating to Passover.

The night before Jesus was to become our Passover in his Crucifixion, he gathered with his Apostles to celebrate the Passover meal commanded in the Law, which is called a seder.  This is sometimes called the Last Supper, but it wasn't just any supper it was the Passover seder, and it isn't "last" as in his last meal.  It's the Last Seder, the last seder supper under the Law before Jesus fulfilled and transformed it.

The outline of the seder is easily recognisable in the NT accounts of this event.  Jesus, in what must have blown the Apostles clean away, changed the age-old blessings over the bread and the fruit of the vine, saying "Take and eat, this is my body" over the bread and "Take and drink, this is my blood" over the fruit of the vine. Unmistakeable if you came for a seder!  Hewas making himself the Passover and serving it to them.

This then is nothing less than him serving us the Good News itself, his body and blood given for the sins of the world, the passing-over from bondage to sin and death to life with God here and for eternity! And, as he was about to die, and once risen shortly return to the Father, he told them to do this as his memorial. That does not mean we are just remembering Jesus real good. He did not say here is my memorial, he said do THIS, do what he had just done, offer his body and blood, a memorial unlike any the world can offer just as he offers what the world cannot.

This second part of Christian Sabbath worship has had a number of names over time, and the one that really captures best what it is all about is Service of the Sacrament. Wait a minute, what's a sacrament?  That too is a borrowed term that originally had nothing to do with Christianity.  Sacramentum, a Latin word, meant in general the pledge of a covenant between two parties, and in particular the covenant of a soldier's oath of allegiance.  If "Communion" were not exactly what our Lutheran Confessions say it is, there would have been no reason for the early Christians to appropriate this word.  Service of the Sacrament expresses this best, because in it, God serves us his body and blood as the pledge for our salvation. It's not really something we do, it's something he does; it's not called service because we serve him but because he serves us.

Which is totally connected to his resurrection from the dead. If that happened, it's a massive suspension of the ordinary operation of matter, then, though while only lately we understand that matter and energy are related across the speed of light, such a suspension in the ordinary operation of matter also must involve a temporal suspension too, and the "mass" has understood that all along, saying the Risen Christ's Body and Blood were truly present here and now, in, with, and under the appearance of bread and the fruit of the vine, the very same energy, literally and not figuratively given by him the testator to us as the heirs of his testament in the mass. We do and bring nothing, he does and gives everything.

Luther spoke of it this way, in Babylonian Captivity: Who would not shed tears of gladness, indeed, almost faint for joy in Christ, if he believed with unshaken faith that this inestimable promise of Christ belonged to him? How could he help loving so great a benefactor, who of his own accord offers, promises, and grants such great riches and this eternal inheritance to one who is unworthy and deserving of something far different.

Conclusion -- What's A Divine Service And Why Bother?

"Divine Service" is the service of the divine, God, to us, first of his Word and then his Sacrament of his Body and Blood. A Christian Sabbath service followed by a Christian Seder, that's it. "Seeker sensitive" doesn't even get right who is the seeker. We ain't the seekers.  We think we are, but we are not.  Apart from him who seeks us, we are lost and no more able to come to faith in him that a dead man can wake himself from the dead, as Walther put it. So as to being "seeker sensitive", it is he who is seeking us, and it is in our liturgy that we are sensitive to that.

Even the word liturgy shows that. What kind of a word is that, another churchy thing from the musty past that gets in the way of preaching Jesus? The word "liturgy" is the English form of an ancient Greek word that had nothing to do with church, it described the obligation that a wealthy Athenian had toward the people of Athens to do something big for their benefit at his own expense. If Christian worship were not exactly what our Lutheran Confessions say it is, there would have been no reason for the early Greek speaking Christians to appropriate this word -- here, the "wealthy Athenian", God, undertakes something for the people at his own expense, the sacrifice of the body and blood of God Made Man Jesus for our salvation from sin and its wages death!!

And that is exactly what a Divine Service is, and why we bother.

PS. Why post this for 12 March? Because it's the feast of St Gregory the Great, that's why, who for centuries was regarded as the "Father of Christian Worship". While maybe not that, his liturgical reforms were hugely influential in Western Christian worship being as it is. Gregory was bishop of Rome from 3 September 590 to 12 March 604, the day he died. It is the custom of the Christian church to commemorate its saints on the day they died, in this life, and were born as it were to eternal life. He was considered a saint immediately by popular acclaim -- the way it used to be done, and even John Calvin, who took the Reformation well beyond what the Lutheran Reformation was all about, thought Gregory was the last good pope and speaks well of him in his Institutes  -- and his memorial feast was celebrated on his day of death. Until Vatican II tinkered with that too, and thinking since the day will always fall in Lent, moved it for the Roman church to the day he was installed as bishop of Rome, 3 September (in 590).

The Eastern Church sees no problem at all with his feast being during Lent and continues to celebrate his feast on his feast day, and the Western Church didn't either until the 1960s in Rome, and neither do Western Christians not under the influence of the toxic waste that is the revisionist nonsense of Vatican II and stick to the historic calendar, and the historic everything else for that matter.

01 March 2017

What's A Quadragesima? Lent 2017. A 40 Days Of Purpose.

Happy Spring!  BTW, you're gonna die.

The word "Lent" actually just means Spring.  It derives from a Germanic root that means "long" and was applied to this time of year because the daylight hours are getting longer.  Nothing religious about it.  So how did we get a season associated with fasting, "giving up" stuff, and having ashes on your face on the first day of it?  Here's the deal.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.
Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

Those are the famous words from the liturgy for the imposition of ashes in the shape of a cross on your forehead on the first day of Lent, called Ash Wednesday.  "Pulvis" in there is the Latin word for dust.  It's the root of the English word "pulverise".  To pulverise literally means to be turned into dust. Which is exactly what death does. It's going to pulverise me, you, and everyone and everything else.

Howzat for some good news?

And, that's not only living stuff, it's everything. Everything decays, everything loses its value over time. Go look at your car. Then look at its service record. Look at what you paid for it and what it's worth now. Or, speaking of paying for stuff, look at the money in your wallet or your bank statement. Both the money itself and the value given it are decaying; inflation.

Such is life. Such is even non-life. It's even measurable scientifically. That's called a half-life, which is the time it takes something to lose half its original value.

And such are the famous words from the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday, or on Aschermittwoch, as they say in the original language of our beloved synod. We are dust, and unto dust we and everything else will return. Observable fact, no belief required, and we start right there.

And go where? Is that all there is? Is there actually nowhere to go, so, we should resign ourselves to that, without illusion and without asking it to be more? Or, even so, should we go for the gusto we can get while we can still go for anything? Should we create such meaning as we can, in between the inevitable finish we don't like and the start for which we did not ask? What meaning or purpose can something that is dust to dust have anyway?

In Lent we begin with the most unflinching fact of our existence, death, and are asked to be quite clear on that -- you will die, and everything and everyone else dies or decays or passes too. Ashes signify that. Ashes are that. Ashes are in your face about that. Ashes are ON your face about that.

But ashes are also something else. Ashes are also a sign of repentance. Repentance from what? Is it not God who needs to repent, if there even is one, for supposedly creating such an inescapable joke, whose only meaning is whatever we provide it? What about all the suffering and sickness we see everywhere?  And here's this church service where you mark stuff on your face then read a Gospel passage saying not to go around looking like you're being all religious by marking stuff on your face.  What's up with that?

Hey, it's Lent. This is not going to be pretty. Or very nice either. It gets a little rough. And on Ash Wednesday the two most basic facts of Man come to-gether in a jarring way. One is the fact that you came from nothing and you're going back there. We can see that.  The other fact we cannot see, which is, God doesn't want it that way, didn't and doesn't intend it that way, so if it's that way it is now, that is Man's doing, not God's.  Hence the repentance.  So what's God gonna do about that?  More on that shortly.

The double message of the ashes is clear.  It runs through the readings on Ash Wednesday at mass, also known as divine service and not to be confused with Mass: turn to God and you will be delivered, stick to ashes and you will be, well, ashes.

A Purpose Driven Life?

Rick Warren says, whenever God wants to prepare someone for something, he takes forty days. His forty days for either churches or individuals has the same basis, two passages from Matthew, the one  the Great Commandment in Matthew 22, and the other the Great Commission in Matthew 28. From that he abstracts five principles, or purposes for Man.

Love the Lord with all your heart … (Worship)
Love your neighbour as yourself. (Ministry)
Go and make disciples … (Mission)
Baptising them … (Fellowship)
Teaching them … (Discipleship)

OK, but guess what? The church in its liturgy -- supposedly the dismal domain of those who only care about maintaining the musty museum of such things -- for most of its two millennia existence has been offering a five-point forty days of purpose to prepare for God's answer to Man's problem, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Christian Passover. This period of preparation for it in both the Eastern and Western Church is a period of forty days in imitation of Christ’s forty days in the desert before he began his way to the cross.

The Eastern church's forty days starts on a Monday called Clean Monday and runs forty consecutive days until Friday of the sixth week, then celebrates Lazarus Saturday as a pointing toward Jesus' Resurrection, then proceeds with Holy Week where his way to the cross is told.

The Western church starts on a Wednesday and does not include Sundays in the count, each Sunday being a "little Easter", and concludes with Holy Saturday, which is also the end of Holy Week.

Same idea, different ways of setting it up.

For the five Sundays in Lent before Holy Week, the Western Church offers the five point plan of preparation. Lent will start with the starkest facts of human existence, right from looking like there is no meaning or purpose to it, in your face, ON your face, then see why that is and what God has done about it, and end by actually inviting, welcoming, not dreading, the judgement of God.

Originally in English, what we now call Lent was called by the Latin word Quadragesima, meaning fortieth, from its duration of 40 days, and "Lent" as we saw just meant "Spring".  As time went on, since Quadragesima always happens at this time of year, "Lent" became associated with that, and the season was more called Spring, from a Germanic root meaning just that, to spring up, since that's when plants start to spring up.  This transition, where the word for Spring gets associated with Quadragesima and a new word appears for Spring, in English was complete by about the 14th Century.  Other languages kept the Latin name but adapted it, for example in Spanish the word for Lent is Cuaresma.

In our sister language German, what we now call Lent is called die Fastenzeit, which means "the fasting time".  Spring, the season, is der Frühling or das Frühjahr, "early year" literally, or poetically, der Lenz, which harks back to "long".  And in the Eastern Church, the season is known (in English) as Great Lent, or Great Fast.  So what's up with the fasting, where does that come from?  The idea has a basis in Scripture but is nowhere commanded in Scripture at this time of year, so the basis is human, not divine.  The basis is, the forty days fasting in the desert that the synoptic (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Gospel accounts relate Jesus having done before beginning his public ministry.

What's Up With Lenten Fish Frys?

The whole idea of anything about the church year is to get into the life of Christ -- who he is and why we think that's God's answer to Man's problem.  This part of the church year is to prepare to celebrate the culmination of his life, his Death and Resurrection, which will happen in what is called Holy Week and Easter.  Not originally, but rather early on, by the 300s (4th Century) or so, people began to attach to Quadragesima (Lent) penitential practices to be part of this preparation, of which a fast in imitation of Christ's fast was a major element.  It takes various specifics in various places and time, but the common factor is self-denial.

Meat is pretty universally the big thing to go, but other animal products like eggs and milk often go too, and while the West generally allowed fish, not finding it as tasty and pleasing as meat, the East generally banned fish too.  There's fasting, but there's abstinence too.  Abstinence means no intake of something, fasting greatly restricts intake.  So, you reduce the amount of everything, and eliminate some things altogether.  While things are greatly relaxed since say the Middle Ages, the form this had when I was a kid is typical.  One full meal a day, and two lighter meals, called collations, not to equal another full meal, are allowed, and no meat on some days.  Now, that's only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Thing is, these are all human ideas of stuff to do.  They ain't in the Bible.  Which doesn't make them bad ideas.  And, Lutherans aren't a "If it ain't in the Bible we ain't doing it" bunch, but rather, we're a "if it contradicts what's in the Bible we ain't doing it" bunch.  As with all our human things in response to God, from pious personal practices to a community practice like liturgy, they are just that, human, and not actions we take to please God or make ourselves more godly.  In fact, trying to please God or become more godly through our own actions stands the Gospel right on its head.  The Gospel, which means good news, is, that God has already made us pleasing to him despite ourselves, through the Death and Resurrection of Christ, his action, not ours.

Which is not at all to say OK then eat like a pig, Christ died for you so it's all good.  Bodily discipline, moderation, not being wasteful, etc is a good idea and a proper response to God all the time, not just during Lent.  Self-induced early stage glucose deprivation, which is the physiological effect of fasting, need not be theologised into a "hunger" for Christ.  These things are fine for voluntary outward observance and training, but easily descend into works-righteousness, and that ain't Gospel.

Pious personal practices may, or may not, aid in Lenten devotion.  Either way, with them or without them, the point is the same, and there is no point, literally, in pious practices if the point of them is lost or they themselves become the point.

BTW, you know why they call those light meals collations?  Ain't a collation a collecting or gathering of something?  Yes it is, so how did a meal come to be called a collation?  Monks, that's how.  In a monkery, I mean monastery, having withdrawn from life in the world, when you eat a meal you listen to somebody read spiritual stuff (called lectio divina, divine reading).  During light meals Benedictines would often use a collection by John Cassian of conversations he had with desert monks on the spiritual life called Collationes patrum in scetica eremo (Conferences of the Desert Fathers), and the word "collation" from that Latin book title came to be the name of the meal too.  Monk stuff.  Do you live in a monkery, withdrawn from the life of the world?  No?  Skip the collation and have a decent meal and some human interaction with those having it with you.

Quadragesima/Lent.

Here's how Lent/Quadragesima works. The church has a definite pattern it uses to take us through the life of Christ and our life in Christ. It's an annual (not a three year) cycle. It arranges readings from the book it says you can rely on, the Bible, followed by a sermon based on these readings, in the same pattern every day.

Here's the pattern.

The church begins its liturgy with an introductory verse called the Introit.  The word derives from the Latin word for entrance (introitus).  That sets the tone for the day, is usually taken from the Psalms, with a verse response to it. In fact, the Sunday often takes its nickname from the first word or two of this introductory verse, the Introit. Then, the church has a prayer before the Scripture readings each Sunday that collects the thoughts of the day, called, oddly enough, the Collect. Then, for Scripture readings, the church continues the synagogue practice of two readings from Scripture, but replaces the synagogue's Torah, or Law, readings with Gospel ones, and replaces the related haftorah, a related reading usually from the Prophets, with ones usually but not always from the Epistles.

Let’s see how that lays out for Ash Wednesday and the Sundays in Lent. We'll get to Holy Week, the thing for which all this is preparation, in later posts.

Ash Wednesday / Aschermittwoch.  1 March 2017.

Introit. Wisdom 11:24,25,27. Thou has mercy upon all, O Lord, and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made, overlooking the sins of men for the sake of repentance and sparing them, because Thou art the Lord our God. Verse, Psalm 56:2.
Collect. Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that Thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitient, create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.
Epistle. Joel 2:12-19.
Gospel. Matthew 6:16-21.

Invocavit -- He shall call to Me.  5 March 2017.

Introit. Psalm 91:15,16. He shall cry to Me, and I shall hear him; I will deliver him and I will glorify him; I will fill him with length of days. Verse, Psalm 91:1.
Collect. O Lord, mercifully hear our prayer and stretch forth the right hand of the majesty to defend us from them that rise up against us.
Epistle. 2 Cor 6:1-10 Not to receive grace in vain. Now is the acceptable time, now it the day of salvation.
Gospel. Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus' forty days and nights, tempted to be a false Messiah.

Reminiscere – Remember, O Lord.  12 March 2017.

Introit. Psalm 25:6,3,22. Remember, O Lord, Thy compassions, and Thy mercies that are from the beginning of the world, lest at any time our enemies rule over us: deliver us, O God of Israel, from all our tribulations. Verse, Psalm 25:1,2.
Collect. O God, who seest that of ourselves we have no strength, keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.
Epistle. 1 Thess 4:1-7 Progress in sanctification, holiness.
Gospel. Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Great is thy faith, let it be done.

Oculi -- My eyes are ever toward the Lord.  19 March 2017.

Introit. Psalm 25:15-16. My eyes are ever toward the Lord: for He shall pluck my feet out of the snare; look Thou upon me, and have mercy on me, for I am alone and poor. Verse, Psalm 25:1,2.
Collect. We beseech Thee, almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defence against all our enemies.
Epistle. Eph 5:1-9 Walk, then, as children of light.
Gospel. Luke 11:14-28 Jesus’ lesson after casting out a demon. Blessed are they that hear the Word and keep it.

Laetare – Rejoice, O Jerusalem.  26 March 2017.

Introit. Isaiah 66:10,11. Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come to-gether all you who love her: rejoice with joy, you who have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. Verse, Psalm 122:1.
Collect. Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of Thy grace may mercifully be relieved.
Epistle. Gal 4:22-31 Children of Agar, bondage, slave, Sinai; children of Sarah, promise, free, Jerusalem.
Gospel. John 6:1-15 The loaves and fishes. Passover is near, the bread king.

Judica -- Judge me, O God.  2 April 2017.

Introit. Psalm 43:1,2. Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man: for Thou are my God and my strength. Verse, Psalm 43:3.
Collect. We beseech Thee, almighty God, mercifully to look upon Thy people, that by Thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore in body and soul.
Epistle. Heb 9:11-15 Christ the High Priest, blood of the new covenant blots out sins under the old covenant.
Gospel. John 8:46-59 If anyone keep my word, he will never see death. Before Abraham came to be, I am.