There is little rush to claim the past these days. Oh, to be sure, Rome has its warriors and Lutherans, too, who fight over whose position the past supports. Perhaps you have read it right here. But the truth is that we are rather offended by the past. We find its language archaic, its values out of step with modern sensibilities, its images of women and men stereotypical at best and offensive at worst. We seem to delight in dredging up the worst moments of our history and then painting modern day folks with the sins of those who went before them.
Theologically, it does not seem that many want to be informed by the past, much less shaped by its witness, legacy, tradition, and faithfulness. We live too much in the present to give much more than scant glance at the past. Arguments which dredge up what was believed, confessed, and taught by our theological ancestors bear little weight in determining what we believe, confess, and teach today. Witness how quickly we went from the millenia of conviction that same sex marriage and the GLBTQ agenda conflicted with the moral vision of Scripture and tradition to the present moment in which most of Protestantism, most of Lutheranism, and a goodly number of Roman Catholics seem intent to disconnect with this catholic past and find accommodation with those who insist what feels good, is good.
In many respects the same could be said of the future. We seem to wear blinders for the future and can only see into the foreseeable tomorrow, without much care or concern for the eternal one. Business and industry seem to pay more attention to immediate profits rather than financial security for the future. Our technology has made the present so rich and interesting that we can hardly turn away from the next cuddly puppy video on Facebook or wait for the next cute Instagram post. We are so hungry for conspiracy theories and easy explanations of why things are as they are that we are easy targets for fake news. If it cannot be said in 140 characters, excuse me, 280 characters, we presume it is not worth the extra time it takes to read the Twitter version of a long novel. We have fast food, fast shopping, fast internet, and fast relationships. Today is too busy to worry about tomorrow.
Strangely, even death does not seem to confound us anymore. We have made our peace with life -- as long as we get enough todays we do not need a tomorrow. Give us a good laugh at the expense of the dead or a tearful moment of remembrance and we are good to go. Let the dead bury the dead. We have more important things to do. So theologically we do not desire or crave the promise of the risen Lord. We want our best lives today and we are not sure we want to pin much hope on an eternal future floating in the clouds. In fact, the resurrection and life everlasting have become the stuff of sitcoms in our age.
So it is no wonder that the Lutheranism of the Augsburg Confession sits strangely upon the river of today. It is the bridge between the past and its catholic heritage of faithfulness and its catholic witness to eternal truth and it is the herald of an eternal future prepared for those who have loved His appearing. We claim the past in our Confessions. But we claim the future as well. It is the present we are not so worried about. As long as we are faithful in preserving and proclaiming the abiding faith and eternal truth of Christ and Him crucified, we do not harbor the angst of those who impatiently complain about the pace of progress nor do we give into hysteria about the world coming to an end with an out of control person in the White House and a kook in North Korea. We believe that God has entered history and, indeed, that all history looked to the moment when the eternal Son of the Father was incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. We believe that the future is not some aimless and fearful tomorrow but the one prepared by this Christ for those for whom He came and comes still in Word and Sacrament. It it this that the echo of our forefathers in the liturgy recalls and it is this that we teach to our children who will outlive us. The dead are not dead but live in Christ and we await with them the dawn of the eternal day.
Perhaps this is why we cannot marry the spirit of the age nor attempt to repristinate a golden moment in the past. We are those who rejoice in the legacy of the faithful and whose faithfulness passes on a legacy to those who follow us, ever more moving toward the outcome of the faith, the salvation of our souls, and never content to glance around us and say "this is enough."
This is what it means to be a catholic -- not only do we connect to our past and rejoice in the rich and joyful legacy of those who went before us, we also pass on the abiding and eternal Gospel to those who will come after us. Truth matters. The Word endures. We shall not die but live in Him and soon with them who went before. This is the great and grand mystery of that precious word catholic.
“To the so-called Lutheran, that is the true catholic Christian, belongs the entire past, before and after Luther. The future must belong to him as well. All things true and scriptural are his, when and where they are spoken.” (Wilhelm Loehe, The Pastor, p. 157)