Friday, April 29, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christos Anesti! ~ The Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom

One of the most beautiful of the Patristic Easter homilies. Together with the Lorica of St. Patrick this will forever be to me the most beloved of ancient Christian meditations.

Christos Anesti!

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St. John Chrysostom, 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen 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 destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!


Friday, April 22, 2011

We call this Friday good...

"When God brings to life, he does so by killing; 
when he justifies, he does so by accusing us; when he brings us into heaven, he does so by leading us to hell." 
 -- Blessed Dr. Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will
(WA 18, 633)

Nota Bene: Before I begin my meanderings in earnest, I must credit Pr. Jeff Hemmer, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a conference we both attended in Sussex, WI, last June. Our conversation was brief, but it, and he, made an impression on me. "Sanctification," I remember him saying, "is the process of learning to believe the truth of your justification in Christ. The Christian is like a bride who cannot believe that her husband loves her as she is, who does not, cannot believe him when he tells her, 'you are beautiful.'" Is sanctification more than this? Certainly. This is not a full exposition of doctrine (with that said, please let me know if my paraphrase is off, Pr. Hemmer). But I think it gets very near to the heart of what sanctification is, as we must remember that when Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom, says to His Church -- and equally to each member therein -- "you are beautiful," His living and active Word effects that which it describes.

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I find the above excerpt from Luther's De Servo Arbitrio to be especially compelling, and a fair epitome of the paradoxy which is so central to Lutheran orthodoxy (not in any idiosyncratic way, but rather, I would submit, correctly): it is in the midst of and throughout "the dark night of the soul" that God applies His sanctifying mercy and grace to us, though this fact is often recognized only in retrospect.

At least in my experience, which is limited, brief (if only because I am young), and no sure guide, all that one knows while in the dark night of the soul is that it feels like death. To put it bluntly, one who is suffering from the worst kind of acute depression (call it what you will), which is leavened in no small way with spiritual agony -- such a one feels as though his days are numbered. He assesses the way he feels, and concludes quite reasonably that there is no way that such a wretched, pervasive feeling could be endured indefinitely: it will either kill him, or drive him to suicide. This seems to him to be almost a matter of physics; indeed, for depression has a certain kind of gravity all its own.

Such a one feels as though he has been hurled into the depths of the sea with a millstone tied around his neck as punishment for his many sins, especially those by which his guilt has been multiplied, those sins of which Donne wrote that he had "won / Others to sin, and made my sin their door..." (John Donne, A Hymn to God the Father, ll.7-8). Who could survive such a drowning? No one! Indeed, no one survives drowning: it isn't properly a drowning until one has, well...drowned.

"Some mere chastening, this!" one is tempted to cry out in despair and indignation. "I am dying! Why have you forsaken me, God? I thought you loved me."

This thought, too, the devil will seize upon, for all of a sudden the possibility that God does not love you begins to make sense; it starts to evolve from a possibility to a likelihood, and then -- ponderously, horrifyingly, inexorably -- this likelihood begins to ossify into a fact (cf. Calvinism). Indeed, this is an entirely sensible, utterly logical thought, because, after all, you are not worthy of His love! You might as well hasten the process, then.

The question then arises, is this Baptism, or is it drowning? Am I going to surface, or am I going to sink and go down to Sheol?

The answer, is, I think, "yes," on all counts: it is Baptism, it is drowning, you are going to surface, but you are going to sink first. You are going to go down to Sheol, which is also called Hell. But you are not going to stay, for all the while you have been in the strong grip of the God-Man: you have been taking passage in the very wounds of Christ. He rose; so also will you. You did rise with Him, you are rising, you will rise. Your election is secure in Him. Believe it.

Because when God brings to life, he does so by killing; 
when he justifies, he does so by accusing us; when he brings us into heaven, he does so by leading us to hell. 
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

(I know that it's technically plagiarism if you don't attribute the quotations you use, but I wanted to illustrate how seamlessly these thoughts go together. Besides, this is the blogosphere...

...but, just to be on the level, that first bit is the original Luther quotation, and the last bit is Romans 6.3-4.)

It is in the various crucibles of this life, wherein "the devil, the world, and our flesh" are bent on destroying our faith and flinging us into apostasy, that the very dross of "false belief, despair and other great shame and vice" are burned out of us. Before Our Father we stand holy and righteous on account of the finished work of Jesus Christ, our life hidden with Him in the triune God, as unbelievable as that might seem.

So believe Him when he says, "Your sins are forgiven." Believe Him when He says, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise." Believe Him when He says, "It is finished."

That is why this Friday is good.

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East Coker, IV;
        from The Four Quartets
        ~T.S. Eliot


The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind us of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood-
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday: "Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died..."

What's this? Is it an unlikely concordat I spy? Aquinas? Luther?

Consanguinity, more like it: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" Amen and Amen. It is, indeed, or -- as the Dumb Ox puts it below, immortally rendered into English by Hopkins -- "there's nothing true."

Oh, St. Thomas, you were right: all of your theology was straw (can't be helped -- most theology is, eh?). But your poetry? The purest gospel, at least this bit here. Each of the following four excerpts pertains to this Holy Thursday, but make no mistake, it is the third which is the unquestionable pièce de résistance. Yes, hat-tip to the papists on this one.

A blessed Maundy Thursday to you. Pax Christi vobiscum.

"For if you ask:  what is the Gospel? You can give no better answer than these words of the New Testament, namely, that Christ gave his body and poured out his blood for us for the forgiveness of sins.  This alone is to be preached to Christians, instilled into their hearts, and at all times faithfully commended to their memories." -- Blessed Dr. Martin Luther, The Misuse of the Mass (1521)

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"Why is the Sacrament of the Altar the Gospel for Luther? First of all simply because the Words of Institution contain the whole Gospel. To attack them is to attack the Gospel itself." -- Hermann Sasse, We Confess: The Sacraments

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"No offering that we could bring could possibly reconcile us to Thee, our God.  All that we can plead is the work of Thy Son, His perfect obedience in all that He did and all that He suffered, His Body nailed to the Cross for us, His Blood poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. As by the mystery of the sacramental union Thou hast made His true Body and Blood present for us in this Bread and in this Cup, for us Christians to eat and to drink, so, we beseech Thee, let it be present in Thy sight also as the price of our redemption.  Let it remind Thee that Thou hast forgiven mankind in the reconciliation which Thou hast wrought in Thy Son.  Before Thee we appeal to no virtue, no righteousness of our own, but only to the alien righteousness of Thy Suffering Servant and Son, our true Paschal Lamb, which was offered for us and has taken away the sins of the world, Who by His death has destroyed death, and by His rising to life again has restored to us everlasting life." -- Fr. A.C. Piepkorn
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Adoro te devote
~ St. Thomas Aquinas
    trans. Gerard Manley Hopkins

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran—
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight. Amen.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

No Tramp of Soldiers' Marching Feet

I wish I could find a recording of this amazing Palm Sunday hymn on YouTube to include with this post, but even without music the lyrics are stirringly beautiful. The melody has sort of a lilting, march-like, almost Celtic sound. It's hymn #444 in the Lutheran Service Book, if you're curious enough to look it up and sing/sight read the melody.

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No Tramp of Soldiers' Marching Feet

~ Timothy Dudley Smith

No tramp of soldiers’ marching feet
With banners and with drums,
No sound of music’s martial beat:
“The King of glory comes!”
To greet what pomp of kingly pride
No bells in triumph ring,
No city gates swing open wide:
“Behold, behold your King!”

And yet He comes. The children cheer;
With palms His path is strown.
With ev'ry step the cross draws near:
The King of glory’s throne.
Astride a colt He passes by
As loud hosannas ring,
Or else the very stones would cry
“Behold, behold your King!”

What fading flow'rs His road adorn;
The palms, how soon laid down!
No bloom or leaf but only thorn
The King of glory’s crown.
The soldiers mock, the rabble cries,
The streets with tumult ring,
As Pilate to the mob replies,
“Behold, behold your King!”

Now he who bore for mortals’ sake
The cross and all its pains
And chose a servant’s form to take,
The King of glory reigns.
Hosanna to the Savior’s name
Till heaven’s rafters ring,
And all the ransomed host proclaim
“Behold, behold your King!”


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lux Cordelianis

A tribute to William Shakespeare, George Herbert, and Werner Heisenberg -- three guys I'd like to grab a few pints with. All of us together at one bar! I think that would be great.

Lux Cordelianis

Oh, that I could heave
This goldenrod patch
Of waves (and particles?)
Into hertz and decibels
So free of my mom's side's
Vibrato that anyone
Could have said it,
Heard it, known it.

But the polysyllabic droning
Of a mendicant synesthesiac
Can no more dream a heaven
Into your philosophy (or mine)
Than could dear, poor Ophelia
Heave her heart into her mouth.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Theological and Linguistic Problem: Fr. Charles McClean on the Office of the Holy Ministry

The latest from Fr. Charles.

~Fr. Charles McClean, April 2011


In the present Constitution and By-laws of Immanuel Church the use of the word “elder” for officers of the congregation presents a theological and linguistic problem.

In English translations of Holy Scripture the Greek word presbyteros is invariably translated elder. But when one examines Holy Scripture one discovers that the word presbyteros/elder is never used for humanly established arrangements of church government but only for the divinely instituted pastoral office.

According to Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession (5,6) the pastoral office was instituted by our Lord in the calling of the twelve apostles:
Our teachers assert that according to the Gospel the power of keys or power of bishops is a power and command of God to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer and distribute the sacraments. For Christ sent out the apostles with the command: ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained’(John 20:21-23).

In the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (62,63), which is in reality an addendum to the Augsburg Confession, we find these clarifying words:

This power belongs to all who preside over the churches, whether they are called pastors, presbyters or bishops. Accordingly Jerome teaches clearly that in the apostolic letters all who preside over the churches are both bishops and presbyters. He quotes from Titus, ‘This is why I left you in Crete, that you might appoint presbyters in every town,’ and points out that these words are followed by, ‘A bishop must be married only once’(Titus 1:5-7). Again, [the apostles] Peter and John calls themselves presbyters [I Peter 5:1, II John 1, III John 1].” One of the clearest passages demonstrating that in the New Testament presbyter and bishop refer to the same office is found in Acts 20:17, 28: “From Miletus [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders (presbyterous) of the Church. And when they came he said to them…‘Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [bishops] (episkopous) to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood.
Grounded in Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions teach that presbyteros/elder and episkopos/bishop in fact refer to one and the same office: the divinely instituted pastoral office. It is therefore on the basis of Holy Scripture that the Evangelical Lutheran Church rejects the teaching of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church and of some Anglicans that the distinction between presbyteros/elder and episkopos/bishop exists by divine institution. The presbyterate/episcopate/pastoral office was instituted by Christ Himself.

It is therefore misleading to use the word “elder,” which in Holy Scripture designates the divinely instituted pastoral office, for a humanly established office of church government. If this is nevertheless done, the result is that the unwary reader of the English Bible might well conclude that the references to “elders” in the New Testament in fact refer to the humanly instituted office of lay “elder.” There are no lay “elders” in the New Testament.

The term “elder” was in fact borrowed from Calvinism: from the Reformed tradition in general, from Presbyterianism in particular. The very name of the Presbyterian Church, which means a Church led by elders (as the name the Episcopal Church means a Church led by bishops), refers to its historic insistence that the distinction between “teaching elders” (pastors) and “ruling elders” (laymen) belongs to the divinely established form of the Church, a doctrine unequivocally rejected by the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

In some congregations of our Synod the word “deacon” is used for the office called “elder” in our Constitution and By-laws.

The word diakonos/deacon/servant is also a Biblical word, but a study of the New Testament shows that its meaning is quite fluid. It almost always designates a function, meaning nothing more than “one who serves,” but it can also refer to an office established by the apostles: Philippians 1:1, I Timothy 3:8ff. Although the word diakonos/deacon nowhere appears in the text, the seven set apart in Acts 6:1-6 have traditionally been understood as the first deacons (servants) because of the nature of their work. And this passage has often been cited as precedent for the establishment of offices intended to assist the incumbents of the pastoral office.