“Why We Don’t Do Ashes on Ash Wednesday”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  I love the rite of the imposition of ashes, when the pastor marks our foreheads with the sign of the cross made in ashes, with the words “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  We need to remember that fact.

But what I want to post for the occasion is a classic piece by Rev. William Cwirla from a few years ago, on “Why We Don’t Do Ashes on Ash Wednesday.”  It’s not what you might expect.  It’s a different kind of remembrance of death, and a reflection on the pastor’s vocation.  He even goes deeper into the symbolism in a way that will help those who do “do ashes on Ash Wednesday.”

UPDATE:  Don’t get me wrong.  Most of us Lutherans do impose ashes.  See this rejoinder to Rev. Cwirla’s piece from Rev. David Petersen, via Trent David.
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Muslims dreaming about Jesus

A recurring theme in the Muslims’s conversions to Christianity, as documented by Uwe Siemon-Netto, is that individual Muslims are saying that they have had dreams about Jesus, who, in turn, directs them to the Bible and to a Bible-believing church.

Charismatics would have no problem with this, but we Lutherans (who are getting a lot of these Muslims) tend to be skeptical about such private visions, insisting that it is by means of the Word and the Sacraments that God comes to us.  But Siemon-Netto, quoting another Lutheran theologian, says that these visions of Jesus are not self-contained but follow the pattern of those in Acts (e.g., that of Saul of Tarsus and Cornelius), whose visions sent them to someone who would baptize them and teach them the Word of God.

What do you think about all of this? [Read more…]

God the Giver

I came across one of those stunning and paradigm-shifting quotations from Luther, this one about how God–the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–is always giving.  Above all, God, in all of His persons, is always giving Himself. [Read more…]

Epiphany and epiphanies

Today is Epiphany!  Have a merry and happy Epiphany!  It isn’t just about the wise men.  It’s the beginning of a whole season in which the scheduled Bible readings on Sunday deal with “epiphanies” of who Christ is:  His baptism, in which the voice from Heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mathew 3:17); His first miracle; then other Gospel stories, culminating in the Transfiguration, in which the voice from Heaven again says, ““This is my beloved Son,with whom I am well pleased”  (Matthew 17: 5), bracketing Jesus’s ministry with the Father’s identification and favor.

I’m interested in the word “epiphany,” which is also a literary term (meaning a character’s or the reader’s moment of realization in a story) and a term referring to experiences of ordinary life, in which we suddenly see the significance of something.

After the jump, I post an excerpt from a dictionary on the various meanings and uses of “epiphany.”  Read them and reflect on how even the seemingly non-religious uses of the term can apply to Jesus.

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Bonhoeffer on Christmas

Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for plotting against Hitler, is in vogue today.  Much of what people are so excited about in his writings is simply Lutheran spirituality.  Michael Gerson writes a fine column about Bonhoeffer’s reflections from a Nazi prison on Christmas.  What Bonhoeffer is saying–the inversions, the paradoxes, the repudiation of power (of great interest in a postmodern apologetic)–is an application to Christmas of Luther’s theology of the Cross. [Read more…]

Santa Claus, Confessor

St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra back in the 4th century.  He has become one of the most popular saints among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the patron saint of sailors, children, prisoners, pawnbrokers, to name just a few.  He also mutated into the emblem of Christmas, Santa Claus.  (Say “Saint Nicholas” real fast.)

But what is the connection between the bishop of Myra and Christmas?  Stories about the saint supplying poor women’s dowries by putting money in stockings drying by the fire give us an explanation of the custom of hanging stockings for Santa to fill, but they don’t have a connection to Christmas, as such.

I think the connection is that the bishop was reportedly a member of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., which affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ and authored the Nicene Creed.  A number of years ago, I wrote a piece for World Magazine about the role that St. Nicholas reportedly played at the Council of Nicaea, including slapping the heretic Arius who insisted that Jesus Christ was merely human and not divine.

The St. Nicholas Center has posted that column on its website, along with other supporting material and everything else you might like to know about St. Nicholas, including a forensic reconstruction of what he looked like. I also need to report that the St. Nicholas center has also posted the song parodies written by you Cranach commenters when we discussed my World column here.  Those songs, playing on the image of Santa Claus slapping heretics, were quite creative and funny.

After the jump is a fuller account of St. Nicholas at Nicaea, which I will then discuss in terms of our need to recast Santa Claus as a Confessor of the church. [Read more…]


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