05 October 2010

On Death and Resurrection

A very fine pastoral conference this year up at Pere Marquette.  We were blessed to hear Pr. William Cwirla and Prof. Jeff Gibbs hold forth.  Cwirla gave us the art of dying.  Gibbs challenged us on the resurrection.  I think Gibbs' presentation was quite similar to what he delivered at the worship conference but this allowed for greater expansion of his thought and it was well worth it.  Random thoughts and ahas that came along:

* The "intermediate state" better describes the state of all creation between the beginning of the Resurrection in our Lord and its completion at His Appearing than it does merely referring to the blessed dead during that same time.

* The substitution of the meta-narrative that has prevailed through so much of Christianity - where "heaven" is the goal and death is just the gateway to heaven, and can stop the story without reckoning with the Appearing of our Lord and the joy of resurrection on that day - is perhaps the main culprit in the loss of prayer for the dead among us.  We forget that the dead await the Resurrection - and the martyrs under the altar impatiently!  "How long, O Lord?"

* To overemphasize the continuity or the discontinuity between old creation/new creation will equally land you in truncating of the Biblical witness.  The key word is that we (and all creation!) will be "changed" at that moment, rendered incorruptible, immortal.

* Starck's Prayer Book has the whole Ars Moriendi totally covered from a Lutheran perspective; cannot recommend its beautiful prayers and comforts highly enough.

* I am irritated when Romans 6:23 is continually interpreted as though:  You sin, so God serves you the wage of death; yet God's free gift is eternal life.  The genitives are parallel in construction, and the whole image is of slavery.  Paul's point is simply:  You want to be sin's slave?  Fine.  But you realize what wage Sin delights to pay out to those who serve him:  DEATH.  Much better to be God's slave, for He doesn't dish out a wage, but a free gift of eternal life.  The wage sin pays vs. the gift God gives.

* At one point Gibbs noted that in the snippets we have of preaching in Acts, the death of Christ does not appear to be particularly salvific, rather, the emphasis is on the Resurrection.  That's true.  But it's also of interest to me that (I believe) it is only in the Jerusalem chapters that we have the accusation hurled:  "whom YOU crucified."  Once they move outside Jerusalem, this becomes "whom THEY crucified."  No attempt to portray collective guilt upon the human race for the death of the Anointed One.  Quite in contrast with "I caused Thy grief and sighing by sorrows multiplying as countless as the sand."

* If you have a salvation that is finished with death (either Christ's or our own), you do not have the Biblical salvation.  For it is finished when the dead are raised: Christ, the first-fruits, and then us.

* I think that St. Paul probably is referring to the NEW creation when He calls Christ the firstborn of all creation - the firstborn out of the old and into the new and incorruptible and immortal.

* Cwirla highlighted at one point the fine German funeral hymn:  "This body in the grave we lay."  I love the hymn, but the intrusion of the alternate metanarrative at the end of verse one has always made me scratch my head a bit:  "to mount triumphant to the skies."  Just checked it out and it is quite different in the original German:  "it [this body we're burying] will on the Day of Renewal (the Last Day) arise and appear without corruption."  What a shame that we didn't get that fixed for LSB!

Those are just some random thoughts I had in reaction to these two fine presentations.  Any thoughts from you all?


Josh Schroeder said...

Preview of the upcoming Good Shepherd Institute?

Anonymous said...

At prior Pastoral Confab Dr Gibbs
chided the church for majoring in
minors. The MINOR thing is the mom-
ent of death when the Christian's
soul goes to heaven and is aware
and conscious of existing there.
Yet the typical church funeral
exalts this day more the MAJOR
thing when Christ returns on the
Last Day, the body is resurrected, and reunited with the soul in heaven. The parousia is the MAJOR.

Unknown said...

That can't be just a translation error. It seems like the translator just changed it to suit their own theology.

Unknown said...

Was this conference recorded possibly for our listening pleasure?

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, but under what circumstances may you pray for the dead? I was taught that Luther said, "only once or twice, perhaps", the idea being that the state of the dead cannot be changed by our prayers. They await the resurrection, as you say, and their fate is not in doubt, good or ill.
(He was, of course, fighting the whole system of purgatory, etc.)

Last week a 19 year old student killed himself with a gun in our library. If prayer will help, I pray that, whatever drove him to that, God was merciful!
Of course, one can pray for peace for his family but I return to the thought that somehow, someone should have been able to reach out to that young man.


Jeremy Loesch said...

Gibbs' CJ column from the early 2000s on "What Not To Say At A Funeral" was stellar. The loss of a focus on the resurrection is terrible.

Am currently teaching Revelation on Sunday mornings and there was fruitful discussion on ch. 6-7. What John sees in 6 is that the souls under the altar are also waiting for the resurrection of all flesh. In 7 we have a beautiful picture of the fullness of God's Church and the desire of God to have His people with Him.

Dr. Gibbs is coming to our SED conference in mid-October. Hope this is on the menu.

Glad to hear of your enjoyment and benefit from this presentation Will.


William Weedon said...


One prays for the dead along the lines of what we find in Starck's:

Refresh the soul that has now departed with heavenly consolation and joy and fulfill for it all the gracious promises which in your Word you have given to those who believe in you; grant to the body a soft and quiet rest in the earth until the Last Day when you will reunite body and soul so that the entire person who serve you here may be filled heavenly joy there.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to your point when you contrast the preaching in Acts with the line "I caused Thy grief and sighing by sorrows multiplying as countless as the sand."

William Weedon said...


The point being that St. Paul does not charge the Gentiles with being responsible for the death of the Messiah. Medieval piety especially dwells upon the corporate guilt mankind shares in the death of the Son of God, and applies this strongly to the individual: YOU are responsible for the death of the Son of God! But the Apostolic preaching in Acts doesn't make that move; it does say: "You!" when addressing the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. But otherwise, the good news is that the One whom the Jewish leaders rejected and killed, God Himself raised from the dead and He risen from the dead sends out a message that invites one and all to repentance and forgiveness.

Sch├╝tz said...

Sounds like it was a marvellous conference, Pastor Bill. So much to say "Amen" too! Thanks for telling us about it. And yes, these presentations do seem to be doing a bit of "Wright-ing" the narrative (or re-Wright-ing) that has become "traditional" and yet is so unfaithful to the New Testament!

Re: resurrection/crucifixion as the act of redemption, it is interesting that in Romans 3, Paul does not speak explicity of the resurrection, refering instead to the ransom and the expiation which seem to point solely to the death of Christ - and yet the Resurrection is clearly a part of his overall narrative (eg. 1 Cor 15).