Monday, April 22, 2019

Art. . . oh my goodness

So take a gander at the interior of Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, Chicago.  How hard it would be to become distracted with all of these images pointing you back to what was going on around you and how that directed to what God was preparing in the grand eschatalogical consummation of all that He began for the saving of sinners and the redemption of those lost.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Blessed Pascha!

Let all Pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous to the other; he repays the deed and praises the effort.

Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness.

Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh.
Jesus_ resurrection

When Isaiah foresaw all this, he cried out: “O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world.” Hades is angered because frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and lo! it discovered God; it seized earth, and, behold! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible.

O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and life is freed, Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead: for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom Easter Sermon


Friday, April 19, 2019

Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest. . .

Sermon for Holy Thursday, preached on Thursday, April 18, 2019

    In at least three of the hymns in our hymnal, Christ is sung as victim and priest, the offering and the one who offers it.  Only in keeping these two together, is the great and grand mystery of the Holy Sacrament of the Altar preserved to us as the Gospel we eat to live forever.  If you get either side of this wrong, the Supper is lost to us and it becomes something foreign and alien to what Christ instituted when He gathered in the Upper Room and in the midst of the Passover, took bread, gave thanks, and gave it as His body for the forgiveness of sins and took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it as His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.

    Christ the victim.  The offering that atones for sins, pays the price of those sins, and makes right the relationship between God and His people is nothing that we do.  None of our good works has the power to redeem anyone, not even ourselves.  None of the things we do can be added to what Christ has done without rendering Christ’s offering inadequate and tainting what is holy with what is not.  Christ is the offering.  He is the innocent Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  What John first pointed out, the Church now echoes every time we come together for the Lord’s Supper.

    Christ is the victim.  Jesus does not offer something to God.  He offers Himself.  He offers to the Father the one and only offering which has the power to make right the wrong of sin and to restore the blessed unity of Creator and His foremost creature.  Christ does not look for something to offer but offers Himself.  Indeed, as He says to Pilate, “For this I have come into the world and for this I was born.”  Whether He was speaking with doubting disciples or praying in the garden, Jesus insists that He must drink of this cup, that He cannot pass it by, that everything hinges upon His self-offering on the cross.  Over and over again our Lord tells His disciples that this is the Gospel, that the Son of Man must suffer betrayal, be crucified as a sin offering, and die, and on the third day rise again.  For there is no forgiveness of sins to be preached in His name or in anyone’s name unless it is the preaching of this offering of Himself on the cross.

    Christ the priest.  But Jesus does not offer this reluctantly nor is He tricked into it.  Jesus is not some unwitting victim of a people who were more crafty than He was and is or more cunning in their pursuit of a goal.  Jesus will not be rushed to the cross nor will He avoid it but He must meet it on His terms and in the ripe and fullness of time His Father has appointed.  We do not offer Him but He offers Himself.  Not the scribes and Pharisees and rules of the Temple who conspired to kill Him nor Judas who betrayed Him or Satan who thought the end of Jesus was His victory over the Father can take credit for the offering.  Christ offers Himself at the right and ripe moment in time.

    The day that was written before time began and to which all time looked was the day Christ made His way to the cross and offered Himself as the perfect and spotless offering, the one and only holy Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  As the Old Testament priests offered the blood of lambs and oxen and goats to prefigure the offering of the Son of God in human flesh and blood, Jesus presided over His own sacrifice of His flesh and blood on the altar of the cross.

    This offering cannot be repeated nor can anything be added to it or it will take away from the perfect sacrifice and render it defiled.  As often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.  And this is our solemn and joyful duty – to remember and proclaim first by eating and drinking in faith and then by proclaiming the sacred mystery of the meal that feeds forgiveness and everlasting life.  The eating and drinking is not a metaphor or symbolic language and neither is the forgiveness of sins that comes by that eating and drinking.

    But there is even more going on here.  We are incorporated into Christ by this eating and drinking so that Christ abides in us and we in Him.  What Christ does in this Holy Sacrament is offer us to the Father.  Rome got confused in all of this and thought that we were offering to the Father the body and blood of Christ but it is completely turned around.  By eating and drinking this body and blood of Christ, Christ is offering us to the Father as His holy and perfect bride, the Church.  We eat the offering and become one with Christ the victim and offering.  And He who has washed us clean by His blood, declared us just as gift of grace, and welcomed us as the prodigal sons and daughters home, now lifts us to the Father as His most precious possession.  Others forgot that Christ was Victim and Priest and saw this Sacrament as their own remembrance, with the only power of bread and wine to trigger our own memory, but emptied Jesus words of truth.  They saw their incorporation into Christ as the fruit of their own desire, conversion, or prayer.  They became the priests of their own salvation.  Victim and priest must be held together.

    Christ is the victim.  Christ is the priest.  He offered Himself once in time, His flesh for the life of the world and for you and me.  Now He offers us over and over to the Father as the people of His promise in whim the Father can delight and as a people who have been made perfect and clean by the blood of Christ.  Now tonight and every Sunday and every Thursday in the blessed Holy Communion, Christ gives Himself to us and we feast upon Him.  He is victim and offering and He is priest and offered.  But hidden in all of this, is the wondrous gift of being called the children of God and presented to Him who made us and who sought our redemption.  Christ opens His arms and delivers us to the Father and says, “Father, here is my bride, here is she for whom I suffered and died, here is she whom I have made perfect and holy.  I loved her more than life and now in love I present her to You that You may proclaim her worthy for My sake.  Christ offered Himself to the Father for us, offers Himself to us, as High and Holy priest, after the order of Melchizedek, and now He offers us, who have been made one with Him in baptismal water and in this blessed communion. 
    Father, these are those for whom I have died.  These are Your beloved, restored now to You forevermore. 

    And in response to all of this, what can we say but “Thanks be to God!”  Thanks be to God that Christ gave Himself for us.  Thanks be to God that He did so as priest and Lamb at the same time.  Thanks be to God that the Father has accepted His offering and now Jesus feeds us that sacrificial flesh and blood that we be His own and He may live in us.  Thanks be to God that He offers us to the Father and the Father welcomes us in His name.  Thanks be to God that those whom He has redeemed, He will not let go nor surrender to death but will deliver to everlasting light and life in heaven.  Amen.

The Passion. . .

John 18-19 (ESV)

Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

18 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.”[a] Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus[b] said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant[c] and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Jesus Faces Annas and Caiaphas

12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews[d] arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

Peter Denies Jesus

15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man's disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants[e] and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

The High Priest Questions Jesus

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Peter Denies Jesus Again

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

Jesus Before Pilate

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters.[f] It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

My Kingdom Is Not of This World

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.[g]

Jesus Delivered to Be Crucified

19 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews[h] answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic[i] Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour.[j] He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

The Crucifixion

So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.[k] But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

The Death of Jesus

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Jesus' Side Is Pierced

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Jesus Is Buried

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus[l] by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds[m] in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The goal of the Lutheran liturgical movement is still unrealized. . .

Though others have told the history in detail, the Lutheran liturgical movement had its roots not in the monastery (Rome) or in the university (other liturgical traditions and even some Protestants) but in the parish.  It was not primarily a movement to recover some pristine moment in liturgical history or to resurrection a liturgy from a particular time or place and make it normative or even a desire to see the recovery of Eucharistic vestments, chanting, or the customary ceremonial Lutherans once knew and had no qualms about (like they do today).  It was born of a pastoral perspective to recover the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith and piety and the Divine Service as the order in which that Eucharistic piety might take shape in our lives as the baptized people of God.  It was not a purist ideal but a pastoral need and urgency when we read our Symbols and looked at what had passed as faithful Lutheran practice in the day.

No longer could the norm be page 5 and the Ante Communion with its abrupt end right where the Supper should be.  No more could four times a year be both minimum and maximum.  No more could we be faithful in the pulpit while the altar sat as ornament to what was missing and still feel like we were honoring our history and being true to our Lutheran Symbols.  No one should be content to understand the Sacrament of the Lord's Body and Blood as mere added extra to an otherwise complete Service of the Word.  No more could we look at rubrics and the Divine Service and say that we were being Lutheran in practice not to have the Sacrament on the Lord's Day and whenever else there were people who desired to receive it.

With this came also a renewal of baptismal identity, the re-discovery of baptismal vocation, the renewal of the Word as the efficacious Word that does what it says and delivers that of which it speaks, the revival of private confession, and the restoration of the ministry as seelsorge and not simply preacher.  It all became part of the one move to recover and re-establish within the people of God a fully Eucharistic piety, prayer life, and life of mercy and service.

Now here on Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday), we find ourselves face to face with what the Lord did on the night when He was betrayed and we must once again survey how we have kept what He has instituted.  It is not enough to preserve in theory the Real Presence or to have proper and faithful awe of the gift.  It is required of us that we must keep the gift, that this Holy Sacrament must be the beating heart and center of our life together as a people of Word AND Sacrament. 
O Lord, in this wondrous Sacrament You have left us a remembrance of Your passion.
Grant that we may so receive the sacred mystery of Your body and blood that the fruits of Your redemption may continually be manifest in us; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
If we would keep this wondrous Sacrament, then we must be prepared to have it continually manifest among us so that we may bear its fruits in our lives.  In the end, it may well be that we have recovered more the easy part of this renewal -- you see more chasubles, hear more chanting, witness more frequent communion, etc...  But we still have much work ahead of us to preach and teach the Sacrament as the beating heart of our common life as the baptized people of God, the source and summit of our spiritual lives, and the body of Christ receiving His Body to be that body.  If for this reason only, the Lutheran liturgical movement continues and will not pause. 

If we fail, we will have only restored ceremonies empty of meaning and still left our people with the suspicion that Lutherans are simply Evangelicals or others who happen to have a checkered liturgical history.  Our Symbols insist that is not true but if we fail in our efforts to keep up the good work once begun in restoring a Eucharistic piety to our people, those words will testify only to what was and not to what is.  In this we pray the Lord not to let us fail.