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.


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

31 March 2018

Easter Vigil / Osternacht 2018.

A description of the Easter Vigil follows shortly.  In the proverbial early church, there was no service at all on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. What they did was a solemn pre-dawn 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 was found to be risen from the dead.

That's what any vigil is, a watch during which one stays awake in anticipation of something, from the Latin vigil, meaning a watchman, and vigilia, meaning a watch, a vigil.  Over time, a service did develop, and the time moved back from before dawn to the evening before, and eventually to Holy Saturday morning! For about a thousand years until the early 1950s the Easter "vigil" was on Saturday morning! 

Among Lutherans, 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.

These days, the Vigil is generally held by everyone who holds it on the evening before Easter.  Saturday night "vigils" look all traditional but in fact are a mid-twentieth century phenomenon, not traditional at all but relatively recent.  Though the general idea 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!  A watch until first light when Jesus was discovered risen does not carry on for a couple of hours and dump you out in the darkness of night hours before dawn.  Really.

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

The contrast between leaving the church in darkness and silence after Tenebrae with nothing until Easter morning conveys the tomb that is then empty much better than all this modern recasting, of which I served many as a youth in the 1950s and 60s, when they were the new thing.  Nonetheless, here's what the "vigil" service is.

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 this but for many centuries has been the "Exultet".

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

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

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

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

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

This joy of the fourth part, the mass of Easter, which in contemporary observance happens sometime Saturday evening and was supposed to happen with the break of dawn Sunday morning, is just as real and just as present if one celebrates it on Easter morning itself.

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

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

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

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

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

So this joy in the crucified and risen Saviour who gives us his body and blood in the transformed Passover of the mass of Easter, 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 --

PRAISE THE LORD!

30 March 2018

Good Friday / Karfreitag 2018.

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

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

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

I. The Traditional Good Friday Service.

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

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

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

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

The service itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Tenebrae.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BAM!

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

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

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

The traditional service of the church for Good Friday is fine and all, but it can't hold a candle to a Lutheran Tenebrae -- so to speak! -- and, it ain't got the Bam. The temple curtain is aside, the High Priest has entered and the mercy seat is open!

BAM!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BAM! 

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

28 March 2018

Maundy Thursday / Gründonnerstag 2018.

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, does it? 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, maybe we should just skip the whole thing and put Jesus first, or at least call it "holy" Thursday and quit bugging people with weird words, huh?

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

How This Night Is Different Than All Other Nights.

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 that laying them out over the days they happened as actual historical events, things which really took place, in the order they happened, not just as religious or theological beliefs. In her liturgy for Maundy Thursday, the church commemorates the night before Jesus died, when Jesus gathered with his Apostles to celebrate the Passover seder, which is the memorial meal commanded in the Law celebrating the night before the exodus began out of bondage in Egypt so they could receive the Law at Sinai and go to the Promised Land.

The seder was already centuries old in Jesus' time.  Does this mean that the Maxwell House Haggadah (the text that gives the service order of the seder) that you might find in a grocery store at Passover time is just what Jesus followed?  No, it does not.

For one thing, the Haggadah quotes sources from after Jesus' time. The Tannaim (means "repeaters"), the Jewish scholars whose writings are preserved in the Mishnah (means "repeat"), are quoted. Their era was about 200 years, from Jesus' lifetime to roughly 200 AD; the latest one quoted, Yehudah bar Elaay, was active about 170.

For another thing, quotations from later than that appear too in the Haggadah as we know it; the Gemara, expositions on the Mishnah that to-gether with it form the Talmud (means "instruction"), whose era runs to about 500 AD.

For a third thing (this is the last "thing"), even later additions are found, and the preponderance of evidence points to the compiler of the Haggadah as we know it being Amran Gaon, who was active about 850 AD; he is also the compiler of the synagogue worship called the Siddur (means "order") which became the model, through Saadia Gaon and Maimonides (look 'em up or parenthetical explanations will go on forever!) of the Siddur as we have it now too.

Not to mention -- manuscripts!  The oldest compete manuscript of the Haggadah is from the 900s as part of Saadia Gaon's siddur, and the Haggadah as a separate book apart from prayer books and the Talmud does not appear before about the 1200s; the earliest known printed one is from 1486, by the Soncino family in Lombardy (well, Duchy of Milan then).

This sort of stuff is often pointed to as meaning that the Scriptural accounts of the Last Supper say nothing about how it was celebrated, that the Jewish Passover is a post-Biblical service that has nothing to show us whatever about the "Last Supper" or about Communion as Christ instituted it thereat, and, that attention to it distracts from the Sacrament of the Altar.  This is completely, totally and utterly false, and here's why.

For one thing (yeah "things" again but there's only two this time), there has never been one set text for Passover, in fact, there has never been an authority who could establish one, and several traditions exist, among them Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Karaite and Samaritan.  A set text is not an order.  These are variations, and variations are not fundamentally different entities but variations on an overall entity.  Just as our Divine Service has had many different exact texts and forms over the centuries, yet a basic order is evident in them, and we do not say because these set texts are not found in the Bible our present order is something new unconnected to anything before it or to the Bible.

It's not about a set text, it's about an order, and that is the second thing.  The order, not the set texts, is clearly discernible in the Gospel accounts.  The fact, not speculation, is, that the Gospel accounts lay out a sequence of events at the Last Supper that is exactly the order that happens at seders to this day.  A dipping, a meal, then a breaking of bread, a grace after the meal with a cup, then hymns.  Exactly!  The dipping is the Karpas before the meal itself. The meal itself is the Schulchan Orech.  The breaking after the meal is the Tzafun, the eating of the afikoman (matzoh), which is where instead he said This is my body.  The grace after the meal itself but not the seder overall is the Bareich where the third cup is drunk, which is where instead he said This is the cup of my blood.  The singing the end is the Hallel and Nirtzah that conclude the order of seder!

No, this is not to say we should have "Christian" seders or start participating in Jewish ones.  It is to say that 1) Scripture is indeed quite clear what happened at the Passover we call the Last Supper and 2) understanding the seder and the significance of its parts greatly deepens our awareness that the Sacrament of the Altar, aka Communion, Eucharist, etc, is exactly what out Confessions say it is and not what other understandings think it is.  Here's how.

Early on in a traditional seder, the youngest person able to speak, noticing that there are many things different in this meal than in any other, asks "Why is to-night different than all other nights?" In our times, the person then asks four detailed questions about the differences, but in Jesus' time there were five, the fifth question being why to-night is everything roasted, but as that related to the existence of the Temple it was discontinued after its destruction in 70 A.D. To answer the questions, the Magid, which means "the telling", the 5th of the 15 parts of the seder, is done, which tells the whole story of the Exodus with explanation as to why everything is done as it is.

The Apostles didn't know it, but they were about to get not just a night different than all other nights, but a seder different than all other seders, in fact, the last seder under the Law of Moses! Imagine how astounded the Apostles must have been when Jesus, instead of the well known words of the seder they were expecting, said something entirely different at the breaking of the bread and at the third of the four cups of wine.

What's up with the Four Cups? It comes from Exodus 6:6-7, where God expresses the deliverance in four ways: 1) bringing out; the first cup, at the opening Kaddish or blessing; 2) delivering; the second cup, at the Magid or Telling; 3) redeeming, the third cup, at the Birkat Hamazon or Grace After Meals, and the point at which the focus of the seder shifts from gratitude for past deliverance to hopes for future deliverance; 4) taking; the fourth cup, at the Hallel or Psalms of Praise.

OK, so how clear does he have to be, if you know the seder? At Motzi and Matzah, the 7th and 8th part of a seder, the breaking of the bread, which is already different than the usual meal, with the regular blessing at the breaking of bread followed by the blessing for the Passover bread the matzah, instead Jesus up and says "This is my Body"! And at the Third Cup, at the Grace After Meals, the Birkat Hamazon or Barekh as it is called at Passover, the 13th part of a seder, right when the focus shifts to future redemption and an extra cup is poured for Elijah who heralds the Messiah, instead Jesus up and says "This is my Blood"!

Must have blown them clean away! And ought to blow us clean away too, as here, clearly, unmistakeably, he has taken the Passover Seder and made it his body and blood, the body and blood of the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice to-morrow would take away the sins of the entire world, but to-night he passes transformed seder on to us as his last will and testament, to have until he comes again!

Why is to-night different than all other nights, indeed!

And so the church celebrates mass to-night, or Divine Service with Communion if you prefer, a mass as always yet also a mass in remembrance of that first mass ever, the mass he celebrated on the night we commemorate to-night, at once both 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.

And to emphasise that the lamb now goes to the slaughter for our sakes, not only do mass and Communion go away until Easter, but after mass the altar is stripped bare of all its usual stuff not to return until Easter, while Psalm 22 (or 21 in some numberings), a traditional Jewish prayer of the dying, is recited -- My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?

How This Night Is "Maundy".

Then, the most amazing thing happens -- so amazing we don't do it very often, even in liturgically observant parishes, maybe we 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 -- which is John 13:1-15, the account of the Last Seder, but the next verses telling the Crucifixion we will not hear until to-morrow -- while the celebrant takes the action Jesus took told in John, and washes the feet of twelve people.

During this washing, 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. Hence the name -- 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!

Normally a modern seder concludes with the 15th part, the Nirtzah, "Next year in Jerusalem!" or, if you are already there, "Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem", a Messianic hope since this can only happen when the Messiah comes. But this same Jesus, who makes the Passover seder his body and blood, shall, as we see to-morrow and at Easter, himself be the Temple, destroyed and then rebuilt, as it were, in the Resurrection! We are already there, the rebuilt Jerusalem and its Temple right before us, his testament and pledge of our salvation!

How We Are.

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, doesn't seem to make sense but 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 Peter says Thou shalt never wash my feet! Just like us, imposing our ideas of what God should do even in front of God himself, in person or in Scripture.

So 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, but, just as we do, then runs to the opposite, no less extreme than before, and still 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, all 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 God's. 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 wake ourselves, 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 but let's do it this better way, come to just do it his way!

25 March 2018

Palmarum / Palm Sunday and Holy Week 2018.

"Who do you say that I am?"

What Is Holy Week?

Holy Week, or Great Week as it is also called, concludes the preparation for Easter. The church in her liturgy does in a particularly intense way this week what she does all year, which is, present the Gospel revealed in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel readings for this week follow the Biblical order of Matthew,   Mark, Luke and John, a tie between the events of the Gospel accounts and the liturgy that not even the three year Vatican II lectionary and its wannabes could break.

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

In this way, the church reads through all four accounts of Jesus' suffering and death, in New Testament order, culminating in the account of St John, which is read over two days, and also commemorates the events in the order they happened. Holy Thursday has the part from St John about the Last Seder of the old covenant becoming the Divine Service of the new covenant, and the sacrament of Communion in his body and blood he instituted that night, but not yet the part about the crucifixion nor any veneration of the cross. Good Friday has the part about the crucifixion and death in which he gave his body and blood for us historically, and the veneration of the cross, but not Communion which he gave for us sacramentally the night before he suffered as the pledge of the redemption gained in his historical act the night he suffered.

Thus in Holy Week we have Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, the sacramental event of his body and blood, and the historical event of  his body in blood, in both the readings and the services in their order.

Palmarum, or Palm Sunday.

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

But this day, such an end is not in sight -- except to Jesus. Covering a person's path is a sign of great esteem, widely practiced in the ancient near East and still a part of our mentality, as in "roll out the red carpet" from the custom of royalty. Joshua was given the same triumphal accord.  Joshua -- who led the people into the Promised Land as the Lawgiver Moses could not. " Joshua" and "Jesus" are  variant forms of the same name.  Jesus -- who would lead the people into the eternal Promised Land as the Lawgiver Moses could not. Here, perhaps, was the Messiah! Here, perhaps, was the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of the Messiah predicted by Zechariah, to whom our Gospel account, Matthew, refers!

So how does the wild joy of seeing what is or at least may well be the Messiah come turn to a criminal's execution? It is not because Jesus doesn't turn out to be Messiah, but because Messiah doesn't turn out to be the Messiah we want.

Does not Zechariah speak of the removal of chariots and war horses from Jerusalem, breaking battle bows, with a reign of peace from the Jordan throughout the Earth? Yes he does, but let us not congratulate ourselves by saying that thinking of the Messiah in the political and social terms of removing the Roman occupation from the land was the failing of the Jews of Jesus' place and time, something that no Jew or Gentile in more enlightened times, oh, say us in our time, would ever do.

It wasn't just a reaction to the Romans. The mainstream of the entire Prophetic tradition, from the Prophets themselves, to the atmosphere in which the Apostles were raised, to our own time, is that Messiah is a man, not God, not a God-Man, who will usher in a lasting era of universal peace here in this world, not a world to come, in which the light of the true God first given to a nation called out from the nations will be extended to all nations -- nothing about sin, forgiveness, justification!

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

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

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

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

Who Do Men Say That I Am?

Think he didn't see that coming? That's why, before any of that came, he asked the question "Who do you say that I am?" But note, that was not Jesus' first question. The first question was "Who do men say that I am?" And indeed, who DO we say that he is?  Various opinions -- one of the great prophets of Hebrew Scripture come back, one of the great moral teachers in human history over whom, as with other great teachers, has been laid religious fables by those who claim to follow him but in fact falsify the historical person for a figure of faith, and in any case, a teacher, a model, an example, maybe a great social reformer challenging the order of his day with a radical message -- even though the accounts we read this week make it clear he was no such thing, the social order found him no challenge whatsoever and wanted to acquit him of all charges and release him?

Would we not cover the path of such a figure with palms, since that is the saviour we want? And would we not be just as mistaken as those who covered his path thinking here was deliverance from the Roman oppression and the start of the era of peace? And, on finding out that is not who he is, would we not shout as well, Away with him!

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Those various opinions are still who men say he is. So then he asks, Who do you say that I am? Simon answered, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus told him flesh and blood had not revealed this to him, but his Father who is in heaven. Flesh and blood, that is, human wisdom, never reveals this unto us because it is beyond all human wisdom and contradicts all human wisdom. Therefore it cannot be arrived at by human wisdom nor chosen by human decision, but is the gift of the God and only the gift of God.

Human abilities even with Law and Prophecy and Writings from God could not grasp it; human wisdom apart from revelation constructs bits and pieces of it around mere fable characters who cannot deliver. Either way the natural knowledge of God written in every human heart strives for something it senses is there but cannot discern, and which can only be given by the gift of God.

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

Who do men say Jesus is? All kinds of things, as we have seen. Things for which we will joyfully lay palms to cover his path, or at least accord him a place in the gallery of the great teachers and moral figures to be so honoured.

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

Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!

23 March 2018

Problem Pregnancy? The Annunciation, 25 March 2018.

It's the feast of the Annunciation. OK, so what was announced? The story is related in the Gospel according to St Luke, 1:26-38. The angel Gabriel (which means "God is my hero" in  Hebrew) announced to a Jewish girl named Miriam (better known in English as Mary) that God wanted to cause her to become pregnant with the promised Messiah, and that she should name him Joshua (which means in Hebrew "God rescues", which is better known in English as Jesus, from the Latin for the Greek for the Hebrew).

Of course, if God is causing the pregnancy, God is not the parent but the father. The complication is, Mary is engaged to a man named Joseph who presumably will be taking care of causing her pregnancies, and in their culture, engagement pretty much was marriage, just the time between the promise of marriage and holding the wedding ceremony.  So, if she said yes but Joseph did not believe "It's OK God did it", which is not something a guy is inclined to believe, he would be within his rights under the Law of Moses to have her put to death. Mary knew that. How's that for a problem pregnancy?

While it's fine to get all into the miracle of a pregnancy caused by divine intervention rather than human intercourse, it might be well to spend a little more time on this -- Mary faced a real hard decision on this pregnancy, like the risk of death, it was not at all convenient for her, but, she trusted God and said yes.

Luke also records that Yes, in the famous Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55, which has become a central part of the Divine Office about which this blog recently posted, associated with Vespers or evening prayer in the Western church and Matins (which, if you mistake the Catholic Church for the catholic church, no longer exists) in the Eastern church.

Well now, how about that, the Messiah comes from a troubled pregnancy!  Let's put that in the context of troubled pregnancies as well as of the Messiah; there is only one Messiah, but we have a lot of troubled pregnancies. Far from being something shunned or ignored, Christianity and the Christian Church started with one!

And how about this, notice that the date on which the Annunciation, which would then be the date of Jesus' conception, is celebrated is exactly nine months, the period of human gestation, before 25 December, the celebration of Jesus' birth. OK, nine months, I got it -- but, there's more to it than that.

Our current way of numbering years comes from a guy named Dionysus Exiguus, which means Dennis the Short.  He introduced his calendar reform in 525 A.D.  His main goal wasn't to work out calendar details, but to fix a date for the observance of Easter, since when to celebrate it was disputed.  In the course of that, he assigned the beginning of the new year to the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March.  Why?  Because years would be dated from the time of grace, which began when Jesus' life began, In the Year of Our Lord, or anno domini (A.D.) in Latin, and since life begins with conception rather than birth, years would be counted as before or after his conception, not after his birth.

Pretty big what is now called "pro-life" statement there.  This pro-life statement is not an accident but quite intentional.  From ancient Rome the practice had been to number years from 1 January, the day the new consules took office.  So this was a change.  It became prevalent with Charlemagne, who used it as the system throughout his empire, the basis of post-Roman Europe.  The beginning of Jesus' earthly life on this date of his conception was such a big deal that it was New Years' Day, the beginning of the new year, until relatively recently, in Mother England as late as 1752.

In the calendar used now throughout the world, years are still numbered with reference to Jesus' life, but the world has erased much of the reference.  First was the move of New Years Day back to 1 January, which happened when the Gregorian (so called from Pope Gregory the Great who authorized it) calendar replaced the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar used in Dennis' time. You can read more about that in this blog's New Years post, but of interest here is that this is the origin too of "April Fools".

As the Gregorian calendar took hold across Europe, starting in 1582, not only did the start date for the year change but the "drift" of the Julian calendar was fixed, so that those who held on to 25 March as New Years Day also found 25 March in the old Julian calendar now fell in April in the new Gregorian calendar, thus making them "April Fools", with pranks being played on them.

Isn't that hilarious?  Hey, what hilarious is, where it even comes from, figures into this too!  Like everything else worth anything it's from or through the Romans, this time the Hilaria.  The word hilaria means cheerful ones and comes from the Greek adjective hilaris meaning "cheerful".  Hilaria could be for any joyful event, like a wedding or birth, but mainly it referred to a big feast of public games and merriment in honour of Cybele, the mother of the gods and known as Magna Mater or Great Mother in Latin.  Especially liked were masquerades where you could poke fun at anything and anyone, even important people.  All to celebrate, guess what, the arrival of better weather and more daylight and the departure of Winter on the eighth day before the Kalends of April, which is the first day after the vernal equinox.  Great, whenzat?  Guess what, on 25 March!

The second erasure has been in recent decades.  Since the Gregorian calendar is in use now throughout the world in lands with a Christian history or not, there has been a move toward calling the A.D. years (anno domini, in the year of Our Lord) the Common Era or C.E., and the B.C. years (Before Christ) Before the Common Era or B.C.E. Well, what's "common" about it, there was people around before and after Christ, but it removes the mention of him even though it's still dated from him.

Although the Western church calendar does contain provisions for moving the Annunciation should it fall in Easter, which is possible, the Eastern church moves it under no circumstances whatever, so important is the celebration of the beginning of Jesus' life, and it would be celebrated as well as, for example, Good Friday. How's that for a statement that life begins at conception?

In Mother England the Feast of the Annunciation is also known as Lady Day, the lady being Mary.  This has some echoes even in the secular world. It is the first of the four quarter days, marking the quarters of the year, when rent was due and servants were hired, and Lady Day as the first Quarter Day is also when landowners' contracts with farm workers began. 25 March in the old Julian calendar became 6 April in the new Gregorian calendar, and 6 April to this day begins the tax year in the UK.

To be complete, the Quarter Days align roughly with the solstices and equinoxes, and they are Lady Day, 25 March, Midsummer Day, 24 June, Michaelmas, 29 September, and Christmas, 25 December.

So Happy Lady Day!  But back to problem pregnancies, especially to those ladies in troubled pregnancies with tough times ahead if you go through with it. God gets it, he chose to come into the world that way. His mother gets it too. So does his church. We're all with you, and welcome you to be with us.

10 March 2018

What's A Divine Service, And Why Bother? 12 March 2018.

Festschrift for the Feast of St Gregory the Great, 12 March 2018.

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!

Now how's that?  Here's how's that.

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 they change in a way in which what they actually mean is lost, leading us to mean something quite different by them.  That's ok in itself, the problem it never happens in itself.  What happens is, the actual meaning remains unknown under any word and its content is lost, so we think we understand something we in fact don't, unless we recover its actual content as distinct from what the word later came to mean.

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 "apathetic", unemotional, nor indifference at all, 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 those things that are part of reason, physics and ethics in getting free of pathos and propathos 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 to the caliphate 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.  It's 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.  This has three major effects, listed in ascending order of importance.

One, this also casts 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.

Two, this 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.

Three, this also casts 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" this 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.

Concluding 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 distinctly recognisable in the NT accounts of the "Last Supper".  This will be covered in some detail in the later post on Maundy Thursday, but the point here is this.  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 instead "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!  He was 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 to remember 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 suspension in the ordinary operation of time too.  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.