Lent catches on

The Washington Post has a weekend religious services directory that prints notices and advertisements from local churches.  I was surprised to see how many churches besides the usual liturgical denominations (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran) are holding Ash Wednesday services, in a number of cases complete with the imposition of ashes.

The same issue included a wire article on how Protestants are increasingly adopting Lenten fasts:  via Lent Gets a 21st-Century Update – Religiontoday – News – Christianity.com.

It cites evangelicals who are taking on Facebook fasts and online fasts.  Methodists are asking their members to abstain from alcoholic beverages.  (I thought Methodists do that anyway!)  A number of liberal mainline Protestants are joining in an “Ecumenical Lenten Carbon” fast, in which members will mortify their flesh by lowering their carbon footprint.  The article mentions Catholics who are obliged to give up meat on Fridays and also the really rigorous Orthodox fast, which cuts out all meat and dairy every day for the entire season. (Does that include Sundays, which are feast days not counted in the 40 days?  If any of you are Orthodox, please let us know.)   In effect, this is a Vegan diet, and vegetarians in England are urging Christians to adopt the Eastern Orthodox fast this year.

Why do you think, in this age of constant indulgence, the Lenten disciplines are being taken up, to a certain extent, even by those traditions that normally haven’t practiced them?  What’s the attraction?

Let’s pray the litany for Lent

LCMS president Matthew Harrison challenges everyone to join him in a Lenten project that is not giving something up, that is doing something very positive for others, and that will benefit your spiritual life:  Praying the Litany every day.

The Litany is an ancient structure for prayer that builds on Biblical texts and that covers EVERYTHING we are to pray for, in vivid and piercing language.   Yes, Catholics have a version, but it goes back before the rise of what we would recognize as Roman Catholicism, all the way to the early church of the 6th century.  The Reformation made good use of it.  (We Lutherans and hangers on at Patrick Henry College had been getting together to pray the Litany every week, though this semester we’ve been doing Vespers.)  Here are President Harrison’s comments on why the Litany is so helpful:

Left to ourselves, bereft of texts as the foundation of our prayers, we are often left praying “Dear God, give me a mini-bike,” as I was wont to pray as a 12 year old – and am prone to pray even today!!!!!! Texts of the scriptures Lords Prayer, Ten Commandments and scriptural texts Creed, Litany! lay down Gods thoughts as the foundation of prayer, the tarmac if you will, from which our meditations may gently or quickly rise, aided by the Holy Spirit. The fulsome petitions of the Litany take us out of ourselves, to pray for the church, pastors and teachers, our enemies, women with children, the poor, the imprisoned and much much more. And all for mercy, growing out of the great petitions of the blind, the lame and the ill who comes to Jesus in the New Testament, “Lord have mercy!” “Kyrie eleison!” The Lord loves to have mercy. The Lord came to have mercy. The Lord continues to have mercy.

You’ll find the litany in any standard Lutheran hymnal worth its salt. Pray it daily with me for Lent won’t you?

via Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison: Lets Pray the Litany Daily: Kyrie Eleison!.

Here it is.  (Other versions going around have what must be an accidental omission, the grounding of the prayer in Christ — “by the mystery of your holy incarnation. . . .by your agony and bloody sweat.”  The version in the Lutheran Service Book is even better to use because it adds the Lord’s Prayer and closes with a collect, which can be a time for individual petitions.  Also, the format is really good and easy to use,whether with a group, your family, or individually.)

P: O Lord,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Christ,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Lord,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Christ,
C: Hear us.

P: God the Father, in heaven,
C: have mercy.

P: God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
C: Have mercy.

P: God the Holy Spirit.
C: Have mercy.

P: Be gracious to us.
C: Spare us, good Lord.

P: Be gracious to us.
C: Help us, good Lord.

P: From all sin, from all error, from all evil; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from sudden and evil death; from pestilence and famine; from war and bloodshed; from sedition and from rebellion; from lightning and tempest; from all calamity by fire and water; and from everlasting death;
C: Good Lord, deliver us.

P: By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity; by Your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and Passion; by Your precious death and burial; by Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter;
C: Help us, good Lord.

P: In all time of our tribulation, in all time of our prosperity, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
C: Help us, good Lord.

P: We poor sinners implore You
C: To hear us, O Lord.

P: To rule and govern Your holy Christian Church, to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living, to put an end to all schisms and causes of offense, to bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived, to bless the Church’s life-giving message that Jesus is Lord, to bring comfort to the sorrowing and hope to those living in fear, to beat down Satan under our feet, to send faithful laborers into Your harvest, and to accompany Your Word with Your grace and Spirit,
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

P: To raise those that fall and to strengthen those that stand, and to comfort and help the weakhearted and the distressed,
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

P: To give to all peoples concord and peace, to preserve our land from discord and strife, to give our country Your protection in every time of need, to direct and defend our president and all in authority, to bless and protect our magistrates and all our people, to keep in safety the members of our armed forces and to give wisdom to those in command,
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

P: To forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers and to turn their hearts; to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth; and graciously to hear our prayers;
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

P: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
C: We implore You to hear us.

P: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: Have mercy.

P: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: Have mercy.

P: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: Grant us Your peace.

P: O Christ,
C: Hear us.

P: O Lord,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Christ,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Lord,
C: Have mercy. Amen

Praying the Litany would be a good activity for our blog community.  Do it every day, but if you forget or miss a day, don’t worry.  We aren’t being legalistic about this.  Just start again when you can.  The point is, it will benefit us all and those we pray for.  Knowing that we are joining in prayer with other people, who perhaps we know only as commenters on this blog, will be especially meaningful.  So I’m going to do this.  Who’s with me?

Romantic love and marriage

For St. Valentine’s Day. . . .

Did you realize that romantic love, as it blossomed during the Middle Ages, was originally nearly always outside marriage (e.g., Dante and Beatrice) and often adulterous (e.g., Lancelot and Guinivere)?

And did you realize that romantic love was brought into marriage, both as a precursor and as a fruition, by the Reformation?

See C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1958), pp. 13-15, , and  Justin Taylor, “Martin Luther’s Reform of Marriage,” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 2005), pp. 239ff.

When Christmas was Epiphany

The Lutheran Witness, under the new editorship of my former student Adriane Dorr, has gotten to be a really good magazine.  If you are one of the many former subscribers who stopped taking it, renew your subscription.  Anyway, a recent issue has an article on Epiphany that was quite an epiphany for me.  We had discussed the origins of Christmas.  Epiphany, it turns out, was celebrated long before Christmas in the church.  Actually, the birth of Christ was one of the “epiphanies,” or revelations of the Son of God, that the season celebrated.  From the article by Terence Maher:

Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, but it’s largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did that happen?

By the late fourth century, Epiphany was celebrated on Jan. 6. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the kings—epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning “appearance” or “manifestation”—but also the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including His birth.

It’s not that there wasn’t Christmas. This is Christmas as well as a celebration of all the other events in the life of the young Jesus up to and including His Baptism and first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. In short, it’s a big day!

via The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – The Lutheran Witness.

The article also says how Vatican II changed Epiphany into a moveable feast–one of those floating holidays–so that in the Church of Rome, there are no longer necessarily 12 days of Christmas!  (Would that  Roman Catholics would be more catholic in their practices!)  And other interesting and illuminating facts.

The “I have a dream” speech

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Clarence Jones, an aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., recounts the background of the famous “I have a dream” speech, which really is a spectacular piece of oratory.  According to his account, Dr. King worked on a policy-type speech, showing it to a number of different individuals and getting their input.  But when he actually got up there at the Lincoln Memorial to speak, the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was in the crowd and said, “tell them about the dream!”  Dr. King then improvised the speech, turning it into a sermon, which gave it its power.

See On Martin Luther King Day, remembering the first draft of ‘I Have a Dream’.

I remember, growing up in small town Oklahoma in the 1950s and 1960s, seeing side-by-side water fountains, one with a sign for “whites” and one with a sign for “coloreds.” The town swimming pool was only open to black people on Wednesdays, after which the water would be changed for white people to swim in the rest of the week. I don’t know if black people were allowed to vote, but they certainly were not in much of the South.

I also remember the Civil Rights Movement and the change in the sentiments of that small town. It was, first of all, an application of transcendent morality to the treatment of black people. I recall vividly the appeal to Christian ethics and how churches of all stripes were exerting leadership. I remember how moved people were by Dr. King’s principles of non-violence and non-resistance. The Civil Rights Movement triumphed by simply winning people over.

The Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King was not just a political fight; rather, it was a moral crusade. It changed both political parties. It was predicated on moral principles being objectively valid. Churches exerted moral authority.

So Martin Luther King Day is a holiday that conservatives, as well as liberals, can celebrate.

Epiphanies

When I first became a Lutheran, it was Epiphany that taught me to really appreciate the church year. Not just the first day with the Wise Men on January 6 but the whole Epiphany season.

I’m a literature professor by trade, and the term “epiphany” is an important one in the analysis of literature, especially short stories (that being one of the many theological words, such as “inspiration,” “creativity,” “canon,” and “hermeneutics” that have been appropriated in secular fields). An epiphany in literature is a moment of recognition or realization, on the part of a character or the reader. “Aha! So that’s who committed the murder!” “Aha! So now she knows she married the wrong guy.” “Aha! So now he realizes what his life is all about.”

So then what I saw in the church calendar was a series of epiphanies about Jesus. The wise men worship Him. The prophets in the Temple recognize Him. He is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends and the voice from Heaven proclaims Him. The devil tempts Him and meets his match. The first miracle. The series of Sundays in Epiphany culminates in His most explicit revelation, the Transfiguration. Each Sunday gives us an epiphany: “Aha! So that’s who Jesus is!” And each Sunday reveals different things about Him: He is God’s Son. He is the promised Messiah. He has power over nature. He is our Savior. He is God in the flesh.

So happy Epiphany, everybody. And may you each experience a personal epiphany of Jesus in the weeks ahead.


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