Baptism, Good Friday, & Easter

Have a blessed Good Friday, everybody, and a joyous Easter.  Towards that end, I give you two remarkable texts from God’s Word, which detail how Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, is OUR death, burial, and resurrection, and how each of us was and is intimately involved in His Cross and in His empty tomb.  From Colossians 2:

8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. [Read more...]

The Crucified God

For Lent I’ve been reading Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God.  It’s sophisticated theology, interacting and often agreeing with radical and liberal theologians, and yet there are treasures on virtually every page.  Here are some quotations:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” [Read more...]

Why the Lord’s Supper

Some years ago, I, as a Lutheran, was invited to write about the Lord’s Supper in Tabletalk, a magazine with mostly Reformed readers, which was doing special issue on the sacraments.  I didn’t want to argue, just explain what Holy Communion means and can mean in the life of a Christian.  I offer it to you, whatever your theology, for Maundy Thursday:

As far as I know, I am the only Lutheran who writes regularly for Tabletalk, so please bear with me. Inviting a Lutheran to write about the Lord’s Supper is like asking a grandmother if she has any pictures of the new baby. So much affection for the subject matter can easily outpace other people’s interest. However, the Lord’s Supper is at the heart of a Lutheran’s piety. Calvinists too, as well as other Protestants, are rediscovering their own sacramental heritage, which has become somewhat forgotten. We Lutherans have never lost the Reformation’s emphasis on the sacrament, so perhaps this description of what it is like might prove helpful.

I do not intend here so much to argue for the Lutheran theological position on the sacrament, but rather to describe — in a way that I hope is helpful for non-Lutherans who are also trying to regain an evangelical sense of the sacrament — what it is like to believe in it. I will then make some cultural connections, showing why the Reformation emphasis on the sacrament is a bracing tonic against today’s highly-internalized pop-Christianity. [Read more...]

Jonathan Swift and the Jesus stompers

You have doubtless heard about the college that had students stomp on the name of Jesus as an exercise in a class on cultural understanding.  I noticed the parallel to something that happened in Gulliver’s Travels in which the satirist Jonathan Swift portrays Dutch traders as being willing to trod on a Crucifix as a way to convince the Japanese that they weren’t Christians so that they could trade with that country.  Of course, the Dutch, being Calvinists, considered the Crucifix to be an idol, so stepping on it didn’t bother them.

I wondered how much of that was true and how much was Swift’s lampoon.  The Dutch were the only Europeans the Japanese would trade with.  Whether that was because they would trod on the Crucifix because of their iconoclastic theology, I’m not sure, but Swift, an Anglican priest, lambastes them.  Anyway, I was glad to see that Anthony Sacramone, who has taken up blogging again, makes that same connection and tells us more about the requirement for blasphemy in the context of Christian persecution, now showing up in a college classroom.

(There was only one student who objected, by the way, and he was a Mormon.  Did the Christians in the room just go along with it?  Surely, desecrating the name of Jesus would bother even iconoclasts whose distaste for physical images never extended to the use of language.)  [Read more...]

The woman who anointed the feet of Jesus

Thanks to Frank Sonnek for introducing me to this sonnet about the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50.  It’s by the son of the great Romantic poet Samuel T. Coleridge!  (Just as the great hymnwriter Christopher Wordsworth was the nephew of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth.  Both Romantic poets, who together penned the revolutionary Lyrical Ballads, would become conservative Christians.)   The title of this poem is Latin for “she loved much,” since, as Jesus said, “he is forgiven little, loves little,” and vice versa.  This makes a fine meditation for Holy Week.  (If you know of others, give a link in the comments.)

“Multum Dilexit”
Hartley Coleridge (1796–1849)
SHE sat and wept beside His feet; the weight
Of sin oppress’d her heart; for all the blame,
And the poor malice of the worldly shame,
To her was past, extinct, and out of date:
Only the sin remain’d,—the leprous state; 5
She would be melted by the heat of love,
By fires far fiercer than are blown to prove
And purge the silver are adulterate.
She sat and wept, and with her untress’d hair
Still wip’d the feet she was so bless’d to touch; 10
And He wip’d off the soiling of despair
From her sweet soul, because she lov’d so much.
I am a sinner, full of doubts and fears:
Make me a humble thing of love and tears.

“We must save our gods”

In church on Palm Sunday, our pastor gave another powerful sermon, with a great missionary story:

“Where are their gods? . . . Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection!”  [Deuteronomy 32:37-38]

Those are the words of God through Moses to the people of Israel on the border of the Promised Land about the gods of the Canaanites. They reminded me of a story I once heard from a missionary who visited my church in New York. He was working somewhere in the far east, I don’t remember exactly where, when an earthquake struck. The people, of course, were very frightened and running out of their houses. But then, he said, something very strange happened. They started rushing back into their crumbling, tottering houses. He couldn’t figure out why, so he stopped one of the people and asked what was going on. And this was the answer he got: We have to save our gods. They were risking their lives to save their gods which were sitting on the shelves and altars of their collapsing homes.

What a starkly different picture we hear today and this Holy Week. The one, true God doesn’t need saving – we are the ones who need saving! And it is the one, true God who rushes into our crumbling, tottering world to save us. [Read more...]