In this way, the Christian church takes the time which God has created and offers it to God through Christ who has redeemed it. The daily and annual cycles of the feast and fast constitute the means by which the church, inspired through the ages by the Holy Spirit, does this. It is the church’s way of “redeeming time.” The Christian Year by Edward Horn, p. 12.
28 April 2023
God chose the time for time and eternity to meet, and time can never be the same again. The liturgy of the Christian Church recognizes this fact and seeks to relate all time to the redemptive purposes of God. The Christian Year by Edward Horn, p. 8
27 April 2023
25 April 2023
24 April 2023
23 April 2023
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
People loved by God, it was sort of a toss off comment, purely parenthetical, in the Tractatus, but it was utterly profound. Philipp Melanchthon, after arguing that his theological opponents were trashing true divine services, stops short. He seems to recall that his readers might not get what he intends by that term “true divine services.” So he clarifies, glossing with: “that is, the exercises of faith struggling with despair” or a tad more expansively in the German: “faith’s struggles with unbelief and doubt over the the promise of the Gospel.” (Par. 44) True divine services: faith’s workout to hold onto the Gospel promise against the multitudinous temptations to despair.
I can’t help but wonder if our reluctant confessor at Smalcald had in mind the traditional readings for Quasimodogeniti on which our music for today is based when he wrote that parenthesis? And I can’t help but wonder if J. S. Bach had Melanchthon’s comment in view as well. My faith knows the Savior’s victory, Still my heart feels strife and battle, My salvation, appear then!
What is the victory that has overcome the world? Our faith. Past tense. Has overcome. Done. But what a struggle we have to believe that, to hold onto that faith, and to make it our own. Indeed, that is an exercise and struggle well beyond the ability of anyone of us to pull off by our own. As the Small Catechism says so starkly: “I believe that… I cannot believe….”
And I suspect Thomas would have uttered his own loud Amen to that. It’s not that he didn’t want to believe what the others were telling him. I’m sure he did. He just found that he couldn’t. Not on his own. Maybe it all sounded just too much like wish fulfillment. Like when you want something to be true so so very badly that you just kind of persuade yourself to pretend that it is; but deep down you know you’re just pretending. And Thomas couldn’t do that. He was from the ancient equivalent of Missouri, he was a “show me” kind of guy. He states in no uncertain terms the only way he can be convinced is if he sees Jesus with his own eyes (echos of Job) and traces the marks of His crucifixion in His hands, and then thrusts his hand (there’s something oddly violent about that word in Greek) into the gaping hole on the side of the Savior’s body.
Now, it’s always dangerous to set our own terms, of course, when dealing with God. Pretending that we’re in a position to give God the conditions under which we’ll credit Him with having spoken the truth to us! I wonder if that is at least a part of the reason that Jesus let the man stew in his own doubts and fears for a solid week. He could have appeared to him on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday; on Thursday or Friday or most fittingly on Sabbath. Belief, faith, however, it appears, comes not on our terms, but on His, and above all not on our schedule but on His.
How did a younger Melanchthon express that in the Augustana? “For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God (ubi et quando visum est Deo), in them that hear the Gospel.” (AC V). The “where it pleases God” is “in them that hear the Gospel.” So, let us not make the mistake of a Calvinist and assume that there are some to whom God is not willing to give the gift of saving faith. You know, the idea that most folks sadly missed out on the election lottery held by the Trinity before time began. No, the One who will appear eventually to Thomas wills “that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” So the problem isn’t with God and His election. Rather, the problem is with Thomas being truant from that Sunday assembly where beyond their fears the Risen One appeared in their gathering and spoke His peace to them, a peace anchored in his wounds. Faith arises THERE. On His schedule. Where the Gospel is heard.
So Jesus lets Thomas stew for a solid week, the whole octave. Then finally come the 8th day, it’s dejavu all over again. The second Sunday of Easter, when the disciples are again gathered, and this time including Thomas. The doors again closed, but no mention of fear. And Jesus appears once more, speaks peace, shows the wounds, and finally He turns to the the truant from the gathering the previous Sunday. He graciously invites him to touch and handle and even thrust in his hand if he must. But did he? Did he dare to touch the scars and probe with his hand that wound on the side of Jesus’ glorified body? Well, if he did, John doesn’t relate it. What he does relate is that in that assembly, in that gathering, where the Risen One manifested Himself to His disciples, Jesus spoke peace and Thomas was brought from unbelief to bold confession: “My Lord and my God!”
And that, people loved by God, is the vital point for you and me: no one gets rid of unbelief by laying down hoops for Jesus to jump through. In fact nothing you SEE will ever get the job done. You get rid of unbelief in a far simpler and infinitely more gracious way. Not through the eye, but the ear. Unbelief is chased away by coming together, in fear or not, on the Lord’s Day, gathering with His people, and there Jesus STILL comes into the midst (where even just two or three are gathered) speaking His word of PEACE. He speaks the peace that is anchored in His wounds, secured by His cross, and which He delights to deliver to you! And this Word of peace from the Risen One is the only thing that can put to flight the fears and doubts, because His Word is stronger than your fears and doubts. His Word is the Spirit’s instrument and also and especially the word attached to the water (Baptism) and the blood (Eucharist), both of which testify that Jesus’ victory is yours. This is the Holy Ghost’s arena, where it is His delight to give the faith that overcomes the world, His gift to those who gather to hear the Gospel, the word of peace from the lips of Him who died but is alive forevermore.
And this not only in the sense of general preaching, but in the private absolution. At the time of J.S. Bach, the people so frequently recurred to the Beichtstuhl, the Confessional Chair, to make known their sin and to hear from the pastor the word of forgiveness, that extra pastoral staff had to be added just to hear all the confessions. J. S. Bach went often himself. And after confessing his sins, these are the words he would have heard from his pastor:
The Almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ would be gracious and merciful to you. He wants to forgive you all your sins, and this because His dear Son, Jesus Christ, has suffered for them and died for them. In the name of the same Lord Jesus Christ, because He has mandated me to do this, in the power of His words, where He said, “Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven,” I say to you that all your sins have been forgiven. They cannot hold you captive. They are altogether forgiven as abundantly and completely as was won for you by Jesus Christ, through His suffering and death, and which He has commanded to be proclaimed in all the world through the Gospel. And this is now said to you, to comfort and strengthen you, as I now speak to you in the name of the Lord Christ, for you to receive gladly, setting your conscience at peace, as with a faith that cannot be shaken: your sins are surely forgiven you, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go forth in peace. Amen.
I don’t know about you, but if that got put into my ears every time I went to confession and named my shame, I’d gladly run there to expose it all! Those are fighting words! Words that overcome, because they are words of faith in the Gospel promise. A personal sermon for the penitent.
And in this way the battle against unbelief is won. Jesus speaks and His word does its faith-creating job. We have to but drop our silly conditions and give ear to His words. Jesus made this clear earlier in John: “I pray for those who will believe in me through their words.” And “my sheep hear My voice and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.”
So that’s you and me. And though we often pray in tears like the father of that poor child: “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!”, you must know where He answers that prayer, and when He helps our unbelief: precisely where we, the water washed, gather around Him, attending to the Spirit’s Word and drinking the blood, and where He continues through His called servants to speak to us His absolving Gospel both publicly and privately, for in these places and in these ways He delivers us the words that alone can chase unbelief far away, and bring His peace into our hearts.
As we heard in the cantata today, Du Friedenfürst, Herr Jesu Christ, “Yet it almost seems that the remaining enemies, whom I find too great and only too frightening, do not let me stay in peace. But if You have won the victory for me, then fight You Yourself by my side, by Your child. Yes, indeed, already we feel in faith that You, the Prince of Peace, will fulfill in us Your Word and work.” (Recitative 5)
His word, His work, His saving name, His saving faith, His saving peace. All His. All gift. And so all yours. Here. Wherever the Spirit’s words bring Jesus, and with Him the victory that overcomes the world. For here faith wrestles with doubt and despair over the promises of the Gospel, and here faith overcomes.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
21 April 2023
…in Jamaica. Not long, but it was completely relaxing. The water at our resort was more like a lake than the Caribbean Sea (due to the coral reef). That meant we could look down even when it was up to our necks and clearly see the bottom and the amazing fish that swum around. All was awesome! That is, until the trip home. The only thing I’ll say is: if you get offered a deal on Frontier, run the other direction as fast as you can. I’m sorry, Southwest. Never again!
A few pics: