quod pro nobis traditum est

Saturday, May 11, 2013

receiving when the answers aren't there

These are exciting days and there is never any lack for surprise in the ministry.

A year or two ago there was a good old Lutheran in town who visited our church. I had not seen him in many many years so it was good to see him. Two Sundays in a row he visited the service. We have the Lord's Supper at every service so I asked him with some surprise why he did not come to the altar. Oh, it was because he always likes to read the Christian Questions with their Answers from the catechism before he comes up and he forgot to bring his catechism. I was impressed. Here is someone who appears to take the faith seriously.

Then again I was surprised and disappointed. He did not see or hear that the liturgy prepares him to come up to the altar with the same faith - confession of sins and absolution, hearing the Scripture and the preaching of the Gospel, hearing the words of Institution, trusting in Christ, etc. He did not recognize that the faith the catechism teaches is the same faith that is given to us in the liturgy of Word and Sacrament.

Included in the Christian Questions with their Answers is the Words of Institution: "... 'Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'"

He was obviously trying to send me another message. However his actions in not coming to the altar speaks volumes about the value of the Lord's Supper to him and this gives much room for pause. If we hope to take seriously the faith, we will not neglect opportunities like weekly Communion to receive God's mercy in Christ. We may think we can live two or three weeks without God's gifts and forgiveness, without nourishment in faith in Christ. Our sins never take such long breaks. The early Christians did not wait too long, they received the Eucharist daily.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

partaking and not partaking

It is not surprising that a secularly minded culture might not grasp the importance of Ascension Day. Matters raised on this Feast are always beyond reason as is the custom. Even the disciples are chided by Jesus for their "unbelief and hardness of heart" because they did not believe those who had seen Jesus when they told them he was risen from the dead.

When, annually, the Feast of the Ascension is downplayed within Christianity something else is at work. Understandably, some have moved the feast to Sunday so that those who do not come on the Feast day itself might still receive its benefits. On the other hand even Sundays might not help with some.

In my own Lutheran faith tradition each year, around Ascension the bureaucracy buzzes with distractions. Whether intentionally or not, the effect or message seems to be the same, don't put too much attention on the Ascension. I am still looking at church history and the different hymnals to try and figure this one out. There is something about Ascension that makes us nervous.

In the Biblical narrative and the life of Jesus the importance of this day is quite obvious. There is actually much going on in this part of God's plan of salvation that tells us about Jesus, the Holy Trinity and the life of the Church after Jesus' departure.

Each year I am surprised by our general (lack of) reaction to the Feast of the Ascension. And each year I try to figure out our reticence. Then I come to the Proper Preface where the chant continues, "...who after his resurrection appeared openly to all his disciples and in their sight was taken up to heaven that he might make us partakers of his divine nature." Here I am surprised again. Surprised that the Lord's work is not hindered by Lutheran reticence as it was not hindered by the unbelief and hardness of heart of his own disciples. Jesus' ascension in the body has something to do with us. This is a great time to partake of the blessed Eucharist. I am not surprised by those with faith in reason. On Ascension Day, I am surprised by non-partaking people of faith.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

May 1 & 2

The Feast of Sts. Philip and James, Apostles (May 1) in the Western Church goes back to the 6th century. All three hymnals of MS since the 1940s place this feast on May 1. The 1962 Missal commemorates the feast on May 11. This combined celebration is of Western commemoration, the Eastern Church commemorating the two apostles separately.

Jesus tells Philip, after He institutes the Last Supper, that he who sees Jesus sees the Father. He then speaks of the coming Ascension, "Because I go to the Father." (John 14)

The commemoration on May 2 is that of St. Athanasius, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor. Against Arius, Athanasius defended the divinity of Jesus in the 4th century. "We preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord; and ourselves your servants through Jesus." (2 Cor. 4:5-14)

The medieval church took Paul's reference in Ephesians 2 about the church being "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" as a basis for equating the honor of apostles' days with that of Sundays.