30 December 2018

The Sunday in the Octave

Our pastor's son experienced an accident yesterday that necessitated some emergency treatment and even as I write he's back at the hospital and preparing for a second surgical procedure on his mouth. Keep Elijah in your prayers, please.

I filled in for pastor at the early liturgy, and served as deacon to pastor at the second (our second pastor, Pr. Gleason, is serving a vacancy at a neighboring parish). I thought as I prayed my way through the liturgy what an utter blessing to worship in this place, where the old liturgy remains in its sturdy strength and the gospel joy permeates the whole of our worship.

Before the liturgy began I gathered in the Narthex with the acolytes and prepared for the opening hymn. Above the doors stands the passage from Genesis 28: “This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven." How utterly true. We entered to the strains of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The traditional introit for the Sunday in the octave was transferred to Midnight Mass for us on Christmas from Lutheran Worship onward. Makes sense, of course, given the words, but I miss it on this Sunday, where it was at least an option in TLH. Still, Psalm 93 made a fine Introit with its focus on God's house. 

Another change is the new collect for the day. I miss the crisp and quintessentially unsentimental old collect: “Almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions according to Thy good pleasure, that in the name of Thy beloved Son, we may be made to abound in good works; through the same...” This is rather faithful to the Latin (though the Latin is a tad starker: that we may merit to abound in good works). The new collect reflects the unity between creation and redemption, confessing that as God has wonderfully created us, He has even more wondrously restored human nature through the incarnation.

Isaiah 11 and the words of love from Psalm 45 in the Gradual and then onto the Epistle (I always remember the summary of the rector's homily on the same in The Nine Tailors by Sayers) from Galatians four with its great confession: “But in the fullness of time...” The Alleluia with more from Psalm 93 and the contrast between the Lord’s majesty and the humble appearance of the babe in the Holy Virgin’s arms. The beautiful Gospel from Luke 2, the Presentation and the witness of Sts. Simeon and Anna to the child. 

And why does the genuflection during the Creed always touch so deeply during this time of the year? It can never be perfunctory when we think of kneeling before the Child. Onto “Let All together Praise Our God,” which Dr. Stephenson has forever ruined for me by pointing out the anaemic translation of stanza 4 in LSB. No, it's not His realm, His glory and His name He gives auf Deutsch, but the luminous Godhead that he has come to bestow upon us. Awesome. “God became man that man might become god” as the Fathers are all wont to confess.

A visit with Simeon, Mary, Joseph, and Anna and how the Child prepares us one and all to depart in peace. “Create in Me” and then the offering gathered, the table prepared. The intercessions for the church, her pastors, the government and the nations, those in afflictions, all those gathered together for that service, the honoring of the saints who have gone before (especially the Virgin Mother, St. Joseph, St. Simeon and St. Anna) and the prayer for the worthy reception of the the miracle about to unfold before us in the most holy Eucharist.

The lines of chant whose tune is so ancient, untouched through these long centuries: The Lord be with you...Lift up your hearts... Let us give thanks to the Lord our God... And the preface for Christmastide, the invitation to marvel at how through the Word made flesh God would draw our hearts to love that which is not seen, the Father. Joining with angels and archangels in adoration as the endless cry rings out: Holy, holy, holy...blessed is He that cometh...

The solemn time of consecration: the Our Father with its joyous Doxology and then the very Words of Christ that give to us, deliver to us, exactly what He promises. His body, given for you. His blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Peace and then adoration of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The partaking of the Most Holy amid the raucous singing of hymns: St. Germanus' “A Great and Mighty Wonder,” shades of Good King Wenceslas in “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child” and then the shepherds’ joy in “Come, Your Hearts and Voices Raising.” We have seen, tasted, touched the very body and blood of the Son of God, hidden beneath the form of the mean earthly elements, and so with Simeon we are bold to pray Nunc Dimittis. A final thanksgiving to the Father for the gift of His Son and prayer to be governed always by His Spirit. Salutation, Benedicamus, and Benediction. And when your heart is so full you wonder if it could possibly hold anymore, along comes Luther's incomparable “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart.”

We leave knowing we could die. Right now, we could die and it would be just fine. We've been given in Christ a life that is stronger than any death we will ever face, a forgiveness greater than all the sin of the world, a place, a home, made heirs, joint-heirs, and so in Him and with Him and by Him we can cry: Abba, Father! And we know He will say to us: “Welcome home, child. Welcome home at last.”


Unknown said...

Dear Will: first, I wish you, Cindi and all of yours another year full of our Lord’s blessings, much joy and good health.
The topic of death on which you touched in the last paragraph of this posting is one, which has been part of my thoughts for quite a while. Actually not my own death, which is nearer and nearer as I am past 82. That matter is settled, and I approach it with joy, trusting in the promises, grace and mercy of my Lord. However, recently there have been deaths of friends and close members of the family. It seems that my view on the matter is not welcomed by most of those with whom I share it.
Recently I heard a sermon that referred to 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” The pastor made the point that it is possible to mourn as one having hope. I assume that much mourning in Christendom happens in this manner. On the other hand, my question is, “does this verse say we should not mourn at all?” Can any Greek experts shed some light on whether the language favors one interpretation over another?
On the night He was betrayed, our Lord, speaking to His Disciples about His own death, said, John 16:28, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.” Is it proper to assume that this admonition applies to everyone who dies in the faith? If so, does it discourage mourning? How do you tell a mother, who is out of her mind with grief over the loss of a child, that she should rejoice, because her child is with the Lord? Moreover, that the reason for her grief is that she does not love her child enough. I know you would have to be insane to come right out and say so, but is it not ultimately true?
The death of others seems to be much more complicated than my own.
Peace and Joy!
George (Marquart. I know you know who I am, this is for others who might read this)

William Weedon said...

Dear George,

Merry Christmas! I think it’s something that comes with spiritual maturity and the growth of one’s faith; it’s meat, not milk, if you will. No one better grasped the point than Nicolai in that wonderful word “Mirror of Joy for the Soul” that he wrote in the face of the horrendous plague and all the deaths and nonstop burials in his parish. I’ve shared his words before, but here they are again for your edification and for the edification of any other readers:

A Mirror of Joy of the Life Eternal

By Philipp Nicholai


As often as I call to mind the surpassing comfort of the promise of eternal life and of our heavenly home, my heart bursts out with joy and my soul rejoices in God my Savior. Think of it! There we believing Christians will behold with joyful eyes the Almighty King of glory, our only Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ, who for us trampled down the ancient serpent! There we will gather with the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. There we will see again with overflowing joy those we’ve loved on earth – our father, mother, brothers and sisters, husband and wife, children, and all our acquaintances who have blessedly fallen asleep in the Lord and have gone before us in true faith. There God will wipe all tears from our eyes and transform our mourning into dancing. He will clothe us with joy, so that our heart rejoices for all eternity and this awesome joy no one can ever take from us.

There we will enter into the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We will be brought into the company of many thousands of angels and to the assembly of the firstborn, who are written in heaven. And in that place joy will simply overwhelm us as we contemplate the awesome gifts God has bestowed on us. To think that heaven should be ours! That everything which Christ has, is now our imperishable heavenly treasure! God himself will be our very great Reward, our Temple, our Light and our all in all. Who would trade all the world’s perishable splendor, honor, joy, and glory for what God has in store for us? Our future is that we will see and laugh together with the holy angels. Indeed, the entire heavenly host will call us blessed because we have believed in Jesus Christ and trusted His unfailing Word to the death. (17)

Whenever I think of these things, my heart and mind grow quiet, peaceful and still. I do not fret, then, even though in this world we miserable earthworms and sheep of Christ’s pasture are surrounded by temporal death in this life so that our faith and hope have to run the fiery gauntlet of the devil and his cursed followers. The children of God do not need to despair, because we wait in hope for the life that never ends. That is our future even as we pass through this valley of tears, burdened with afflictions, poverty, scorn, mockery, and privation. Yes, the life that never ends gives us hope even though we live in exile, or find ourselves widows or orphans, despised preachers, miserable creatures, poor, sick, imprisoned or scorned, treated as wretched slaves who can be abused and who suffer reverses of judgment, cry over misfortunes and receive no apparent help. Our future hope is secure although here we must be fools for Christ’s sake, an off-scouring of the people, a spectacle for men and angels.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Will. Edifying indeed, and encouraging, and supportive of the faith.
Peace and Joy!