Forgetting what Memorial Day means

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I learned that it is not good form to wish each other “Happy Memorial Day!”  This is a day to remember service members who have died.  That is not “happy,” though it should make us feel grateful, and gratitude is arguably a part of happiness.

Veterans Day honors everyone who has served in the military.  Memorial Day honors those who have given their lives in that service.

In some regions, such as here in Oklahoma, the custom is to remember all of the dead.  It is sometimes called “Decoration Day” because this is when we decorate the graves of our loved ones with flowers and (for veterans) flags.

But today Memorial Day has become reduced to the kickoff of summer, a three-day weekend, a time for cookouts and good times.  An article excerpted and linked after the jump laments how Americans have tended to forget what Memorial Day means.

While acknowledging the point, I don’t know that we need to make each other feel all guilty over this.  Having a good time with family and friends is one of the benefits of the freedom that those military men and women gave their lives for.

But even as we celebrate, Memorial Day should be a day for memory, for remembering. [Read more…]

“Now He Is Very Near”

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Happy Ascension Day!

Some people think that Christ’s ascension into Heaven means that He is no longer with us.  Not so.  His ascension back into the Godhead means that now He can be with us, more so now than when He was in the flesh two millennia ago.

Because of His ascension, He can promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”  (Matthew 28:20).  The Ascended Lord is with us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, where two or three are gathered in His Name, in the hearts of those who believe in Him, and in His Church.

Far from being gone, Christ now “fills all things”:

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:10)

All things!

After the jump, read a profound passage from a sermon by Martin Luther on Ascension Day. [Read more…]

The day that God suffered and died

Crucifixion_GrunewaldA powerful Good Friday devotion would be to read Article VIII of the Formula of Concord: “The Person of Christ.”  It will help you to appreciate even more the magnitude of what happened on the Cross.

Luther’s dispute with Zwingli went beyond their disagreement over Holy Communion and whether “this is my body” is a fact or a figure of speech.  They had different understandings of Christ.

This question arose:  Can we say that on the Cross “God suffered” or “God died”?  No, said Zwingli.  God is “impassible.”  He cannot suffer or die.  Christ has both a divine and a human nature.  So on the Cross only His human nature suffered.  Zwingli dismissed scriptural language to the contrary as, again, a figure of speech.

Luther said that while it is true that God, in Himself, does not suffer or die, in Christ something else is going on.  In taking on human nature, God the Son could experience what human beings experience.  By virtue of the incarnation, the unity of the Trinity, the communication of the attributes, and the personal union of Christ’s two natures, we can say that God suffered and died.

Later, Chemnitz would explain it using this analogy (and it is only an imperfect analogy, since the Son of God was not simply a deity in a human body, but rather took on a human soul as well):  A human being has a spiritual and a physical nature.  If you cut your finger, it isn’t just your body that suffers.  You suffer because your two natures come together in your person.

After the jump, read how this is treated in one of the key confessional documents of Lutheran theology.  I know I trot this out every few years around this time, but it bears repeating.

For one thing, to believe that God suffered and God died helps us to understand the atonement more deeply.  It isn’t God punishing his kid for what other people did, as mockers and some liberals are saying today.  In the atonement, the Second Person of the Trinity sacrificed Himself for sinful human beings.  And in doing so, He took into Himself, by His omnipotence, the world’s evil and the world’s suffering, our “iniquities” and “transgressions” and our “griefs” and “sorrows” (Isaiah 53, a major passage of Scripture to read for today).  And this has a bearing on the problem of evil and the problem of pain, since we know that, far from looking down on the evils and sufferings of the world and doing nothing, God took them into Himself in His redemption of the world.

Illustration:  The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.  Originally at the Hospital of St. Anthony, where plague victims could contemplate Christ, depicted as bearing their disease.

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Light, darkness, & the Cross

god-1979750_640S. J. Masson, a new Patheos blogger at Hawkeye, has written a wide-ranging, thought-provoking post that you should read for Good Friday.  He begins by pointing out an allusion to the Cross made by J. R. R. Tolkien in a footnote to Lord of the Rings.  He then reflects on the symbolism of this time of year, just after the equinox, when light begins to prevail over darkness.  And he then explores the meaning of the darkness that came over the land when Christ was on the Cross.

I have some excerpts after the jump, but you need to read the whole post.

Photo from Pixabay, CC0, Public Domain [Read more…]

Eating, sacrifice, and the Gospel

640px-Good_Food_Display_-_NCI_Visuals_OnlineWhen a thale cress plant is being eaten by a caterpillar, it responds by sending out mustard oil, which is toxic to caterpillars.  Other stimuli doesn’t trigger this reaction.  Somehow the plant knows when it is being eaten.

Read about the research and watch a video about it after the jump.  One of the scientists who discovered this effect observes that plants have “behavior” just like animals do.  And they must have, in some sense, a kind of awareness.

Which speaks to us about the Gospel.  And Maundy Thursday.  As I have pointed out before, there can be no life without sacrifice of another life.  Another living being must die in order for us to live.  We call this eating.

We cannot be nourished by inorganic chemicals, minerals, rocks, or other objects.  We have to eat other living things.  It doesn’t matter whether we eat an animal or a plant.  A plant is just as alive as an animal is.  Even “fruititarians,” who will not destroy whole plants, are eating the living cells of their fruit.  No one can escape the reality that our life is sustained by death.  Or, rather, that death allows us to live.  And that life comes from death.

What is true in nature is a sign of what is supremely true spiritually.  Our spiritual life depends on God the Son’s self-sacrifice for us.  If we refuse His death for us, we die spiritually.  But His death gives us life and continues to nourish us.  Eventually, we will die physically, but, as with another natural sign that we see in plants, life comes from death.  We will be raised, just as Christ was raised.

And to sustain us with His sacrifice, on the night that He was betrayed,

Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the  covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28) 

 

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The Jewish argument for “closed” Passover meals

Seder_PlateMany churches during Holy Week hold a “Seder” meal, a version of the Jewish Passover celebration that was the context for Christ’s “Last Supper” in which He established Holy Communion.

Those Christian seders are interesting in their symbolism.  But there are problems with Christians celebrating a Jewish ritual.  Not only are there Christian reasons not to celebrate the Passover, but there are also Jewish reasons.

This is explained by two Jewish rabbis writing in Christianity Today.  Their fascinating article shows an impressive understanding of both Christian and Jewish theology.  They point out that Jesus did not, in fact, eat a Seder meal.  He ate the Passover, but not the ritual as practiced by Jews and now some Christians today, which was started long after the destruction of the Temple.  They also explain why it is disrespectful for one religion to take over the rituals of another.

Their argument is sort of a Jewish version of what Lutherans take heat for in their practice of “closed Communion,” that those who commune together should be unified in their ecclesiastical community and in their confession of faith.  Call this “closed Passover.”

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