29 April 2008

And lifting up His hands...

...He blessed them.

Have you ever followed the hands of Jesus?

See them as Mary first held him, and his tiny hand wrapped around a finger as He nursed in the warmth of her embrace.

See his hands as he reaches out to touch the grizzled beard of Simeon in the temple.

See his hands as He learns to plane the wood and help Joseph in the carpenter shop, hands growing calloused even as a youth.

See his hands as he opens the Torah and reads from it, a finger tracing along with the words.

See his hands as they fold when John puts Him beneath the waters of Jordan.

See his hands as they crack in the dryness of the wilderness, his whole self parched and weary.

See his hands as he touches the leper and the leprosy flees at his words: "I will; be clean!"

See his hands as he takes up the loaves and the fish and blesses his Father for his goodness.

See his hands as he touches the head of the woman he saved from stoning and says: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

See his hands as he pats the donkey's head, riding into his holy city.

See his hands as he takes a whip and turns it on those who would sell what God gives freely.

See his hands as they take a towel in hand and he stoops to wash dirty feet and dry them, one by one.

See his hands as he takes bread into them, blesses and breaks and gives his body.

See his hands as they enclose around the cup, and he offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving, his own blood.

See his hands, outstretched in the garden, and trembling receives the cup that the Father gives.

See his hands as he touches Malchus and restores his severed ear.

See his hands, at his side, not raised to defend Himself, against the blows, the spit, the venom.

See his hands spread out against the wood, split open with the nails, determined to do this for you and for your forgiveness.

See his hands writhing in agony as the sky darkens and he is left alone with the burden of all your sin.

See his hands, lifeless and torn, touched by His mother as he his lifeless body rests in her loving embrace.

See his hands, folded across his chest, laid in a tomb, at rest, in repose.

See his hands, scars still there, yet alive again, never to die again, reaching out to the disciples, giving them peace, calling them to life.

See his hands, handling the fish for an early morning breakfast beside Galilee.

See his hands, raised in blessing as he lifts our human nature to the very throne of heaven.

See his hands, wounded and yet living, and pleading for all ages for mercy, a sweet smelling savor to the Father.

His hands.

"I have graven you on my hands," he says.

And to be held by those hands? What more could a person ever ask for or desire?

And lifting up his hands, he blessed them, and for your blessing hands, we bless You, O Lord!

22 comments:

hausnfef said...

Beautiful! Thank you.

Pr. Lehmann said...

Methinks it's about time you write a book of Lutheran Akathists.

Anonymous said...

Can you guess which one is not like the others?

>See his hands, lifeless and torn, touched by His mother as he his lifeless body rests in her loving embrace.

Which Gospel verse is that one based on?

Why not "See his hands as he crowns his mother, bodily assumed as Queen of heaven"? It has just as much Biblical support.

Or is it better to clearly distinguish solid, Scriptural truth about our Lord from pious but uncertain speculation about Him (Menschensatzungen!) that cannot sustain faith?

William Weedon said...

His mother was at the cross. We know that from the Scriptures. And we know that His mother, being a mother, would have had the need to touch, to hold, to embrace him, even if only for a little time, as his body was hurriedly prepared for the tomb. It is a supposition, but one founded on a human instinct that I'd argue is universal. Have you lost a child? You'd understand.

Christopher (formerly Anonymous) said...

Dear Pr. Weedon,

(My name is Christopher, by the way. I see now there is a way to enter a name without offering up an e-mail address to Google)

I think it is pretty shoddy to make assumptions about someone else's experience based on a theological disagreement, and will not enter into a game of one-upmanship over experiences of grief as a parent.

I do hold, however, that it is bad theology to use the projection of my own emotions to found an article of faith.

How would you respond, based on your presuppositions here, to the RC argument for the assumption and coronation of Mary:

"A good son wants to do everything he can to honor his mother. Jesus was a good son. As Son of God, He was able to exempt his mother from death and crown her Queen of Heaven. Therefore He must have done so. If YOU loved your mother, you would understand. Q.E.D."

Could Jesus have taken Mary into heaven? Could Mary have cradled Jesus' crucified body on her lap à la Michaelangelo? Sure. Do I base my faith and prayer on it (would that be despising the precious Word that God has actually given)? No.

Pr. Lehmann said...

Article of faith?

How about expression of personal piety.

Some charity, please.

Saying that the Mother of God touched her son on the cross is nothing like asserting the Assumption.

Christopher said...

To be sure, Pr. Weedon is not proposing a creed.

He is, however, offering an (exhortation to) prayer and adoration.

Does the rationale clause in a collect need to be true, or can it be speculative? "Almighty God, who might well (as far as we know) have. . ." Does prayer proceed from faith in God's Word and promise, or from speculation about what might have happened? Do we worship God for what He has done and declared, or for what He might have done?

For the sake of conscience, isn't it better to keep pious speculation far away from our faith, prayer and worship?

William Weedon said...

Actually, the Church has NEVER done so. It has always permitted and even encouraged the painting of the details, if you will. Let me give an example. Tomorrow is Ascension Day. The hymn of the day, assigned in LSB, says that "Christ looks down upon the faithful, leaving them in happy tears." Where is the explicit Scripture for this? There is none, but it is based solidly on a common human experience of leave-taking, and yet of wonder and awe.

William Weedon said...

I will note too that Lutherans historically have even taken the pious expression not only into their prayers and their singing, but also into the pulpit. A read through of, say, Luther's homily on Christ's baptism shows that he believes that the angels themselves had to be manifest there because the Trinity was revealed in such glory.

William Weedon said...

A place to really check out where the pious imagination is allowed to romp freely are the Church's hymns of Christmas:

Amid the cold of winter when halfspent was the night.

Till the air everywhere now with joy is ringing.

All is calm, all is bright.

But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.

It came upon a midnight clear.

Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be that inspire you heavenly song?

On Mary's lap is sleeping.

See amid the winter snow.

The virgin Mary's lullaby calms the infant Lord most high.

And on and on.

Anonymous said...

Great responses, Pastor Weedon.
We are hardly rendered in-human through our baptism into faith, nor immune to human experience.
Yet neither are we limited to human understanding and insight.
Misunderstanding context and construction: very costly to one's experience of understanding.
Knowing the difference between an article (or an object!) of faith and an expression of pious adoration: Priceless!
Susan R

Christopher said...

There is a reason why Christmas songs of this sort have traditionally been segregated as "carols" rather than regarded as hymns in the full, serious sense. Most of the "hymns" you mention are in fact carols.
Elsewhere (Gerhardt) poetical language is used or (Luther) the translator has introduced material not found in the original.

I recall one Christmas being subjected to a "Christmas Creed" from creative worship that mentioned the "three wise men." (Scripture of course enumerates the gifts but not the givers.) "We three kings" is all right for a carol, but as a creed? As the basis for prayer? That is trifling with faith.

Luther, in the House Postil sermon for Epiphany (Klug 1, p. 220) is engaged in a theological syllogism, not historical speculation: "No doubt there were also countless holy angels present. For where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveal themselves, all the heavenly host must also be present."

Would you pray before your congregation a collect beginning, "Lord Jesus Christ, whose lifeless body was cradled lovingly by Your mother,. . ."? Can faith rest on such speculation as it rests on the Word of God?

Isn't this the fundamental error of the church growth movement--that human inventions and speculations are just as good for strengthening faith as the Word of God? Let's not run away from one error so hard that we fall into the same error on the other side--that contemplating the Pieta is just as sure and efficacious as hearing the Word of the Cross (why--because my emotions are just as stirred up by one as by the other?).

Anonymous said...

The mental gymnastics required for you to twist yourself into some conclusion that Pastor Weedon is praying such prayers, or positing such or planning to, or anywhere near resting his FAITH on such speculations..well, I think it's a waste of such nimble abilities.
I think you might reconsider who's performing the dangerous speculations here.
They're not even elegant.
Susan R

William Weedon said...

Christopher,

I think you're reading a whole lot more into a meditation upon the hands of our Lord than is warranted. The Lutheran approach has always been open to such "painting the details" without ever offering to make them objects of faith.

The inclusion of the reference to what is also depicted in the Pieta is simply to show that Christ's hands were also lifeless for us and, I really don't doubt, lovingly held by the woman who bore Him and who loved Him always. But my faith rests not upon her touching His hands, but upon the fact that those hands which were truly dead were the hand of Life Himself that death could not hold - and so it shall not hold me or you either. His hands raised in blessing show that.

Anonymous said...

Pr. Weedon,
Beautiful meditation. It is certainly within the proper bounds of the piety of the orthodox and catholic faith. If I hadn't already written my Ascension homily, I would have used it.

Christopher,
It appears that we might have lost the Seventh Ecumenical Council when we won the "Battle for the Bible" in the 1970s. There are important distinctions to be made with respect to piety, liturgy, creed, and doctrine. A "nuda scripture" perspective has never constrained our pious practices, hymnody, art, etc.

Pax et bonum,
+Mason Beecroft

wmc said...

Nicely written, Brother Weedon. Alas, the poets are few among us. Rare is the combination of the tough-minded and tender-hearted.

Thank you for a delightful poetic meditation.

Christopher said...

Dear Pr. Weedon,

I will freely concede that I am reading more into your meditation (if that is the right genre) than you intended. Whether it is more than warranted is another question.

As for the "Lutheran approach," compare Luther's cycle of illustrations (and texts) in his 1529 Passionalbüchlein (LW 43:44-45, unfortunately with only descriptions of the images) with pre-Reformation Passion cycles (such as Dürer's Large Passion) and you will see how Luther excises all the "painting the details" that filled the medieval passional, stations of the Cross, etc., to keep only the Scriptural content. (Whether and how the image of the Deposition in Luther's prayerbook incorporates Mary--there are no separate Lamentation or Pieta images--I don't know; the WA doesn't provide reproductions either.)

I also recognize that there are "important distinctions" to be made with respect to genre. I took Pr. Weedon's "meditation" to be an (exhortation to) prayer, which I still think is not an unfair reading, and I stand by the position that extra-scriptural speculation is a poor, yes, a pernicious basis for Christian prayer, which must be founded on faith in God's Word. Where is the formal correlative in the "meditation" to the distinction Pr. Weedon makes between where his faith rests and where it does not? How is the speculation about Mary presented any differently than the Scriptural truths about our Lord?

I suppose the one who really has a right to be offended here is Joseph of Arimathea, whose loving care of our Lord's body is recorded by the Holy Ghost through the Evangelists in all four Gospels, but who must yield here to the pious extra-Scriptural speculation of Pr. Weedon's Mariology.

As for the seventh ecumenical council, I freely admit that I stand more with Charlemagne, Theodulph, and Alcuin in their critique of Nicea II (and also, I think, with Luther) in heartily endorsing the pedagogical use of Christian art while rejecting its veneration or any claim of neo-Platonic metaphysical connection between an image and the person represented. Or must we give up Luther here, too?

William Weedon said...

Christopher,

Let me ask you why you focused on that particular point. There is no Scripture that our Lord touched Simeon's beard - but that didn't bother you. There is no Scripture that our Lord laid his hands on the woman caught in adultery - but that didn't bother you. There is no Scripture that our Lord's hands were folded across his chest in death - but that didn't bother you. It was MARY that bothered you. Why?

Christopher said...

Pr. Weedon,

Of all the incidents elaborated, only placing Mary at the Deposition from the Cross has no basis in the Gospels. None of them place her there--not even John's Gospel that has her there at the Crucifixion.

So why insist on her presence at a point where Scripture is silent? Such Marian insertions, seeking to involve her at every step in the passion of her Son, are of course a key element in the Roman theology of Mary as Coredemptrix. I do not mean to suggest that you hold such a doctrine, but I would ask whether Lutherans are not in a state of confession over against that claim.

I am confident that the blessed Virgin, Mary, the Mother of God, can be praised and honored as God would have her honored on the basis of what God Himself says of her in Holy Scripture, without the need for human inventions or speculation set in parallel with God's Word.

Might her parents have been named Anna and Joachim? Maybe--but I'm not going to publicly call on others to praise God because of the miracle at the Golden Gate.

It's not Mary that "bothers me." It is prayer and worship founded on speculation instead of or even alongside God's Word.

One might profitably discuss the right place and context for pious speculation and extra-Biblical legends--or you could try to get me to say that I really hate the blessed Virgin or impugn the quality of my grief as a parent instead.

William Weedon said...

Christopher,

My comments were not intended to impugn either your motives or your parenting - but I do not see how you think it at all unreasonable that when we know his mother was standing beneath His cross, that it is at all unreasonable to assume that she would have held and touched his body when it came down from the cross. Seems the most natural thing in the world to me. And she WAS at the cross, standing beneath it, and as a mother, there's no way I can see her not touching her beloved child. Call it adding to Scripture if you want, but it just seems to be the human response to grief. I suspect we'll have to agree to disagree.

Maria said...

Beautiful! Thank you for posting it.
(On a side note, Michelangelo's Pieta is one of my favorite pieces of art...)

Rev. James Leistico said...

thank you for nourishing me with this before the Lord sends me to feed His people tonight. Your refrain (and use of images) reminded me of Todd Pepperkorn's 2003 Ascension sermon where he uses as an opening refrain, "This same Jesus" - however, since that phrase does not limit him to the Incarnation, Pepperkon's starting point is, "This same Jesus was the voice of the Father in creation when He said, let there be light."

fwiw, here's my offering from a few years back.
http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=967
I think I might have borrowed a bit from Cwirla here and Petersen there.