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 (more…)

Why April is the cruelest month

A_view_across_the_desert_landscape_of_Big_Bend_National_Park,_Texas“April is the cruelest month.”  That snatch of poetry always comes to mind when the calendar turns to April Fool’s Day.  But surely April isn’t the cruelest month!  April showers bring May flowers!   April marks the time when Winter is over and Spring has sprung!  So why would the poet T. S. Eliot say that April is the cruelest month?

Well, that is the first line of a long, difficult poem called “The Waste Land.”  It plays off of the legend of the Holy Grail.  When the chalice Christ used for the first Holy Communion was lost, due to a terrible sacrilege, the whole country turned into a waste land.  Vegetation died, turning the land to desert.  Nothing would grow.  Animals stopped giving birth.  Life became barren, sterile, dry.

Eliot was using that legend to explore what he saw as the spiritual wasteland of modern times.  Here too we have lost what is sacred.  He describes our emotional wasteland.  He writes about the sterility and lifelessness of the Waste Land in terms of uncommunicative marriages; a bored typist and a house-agent clerk who engage in unloving, dehumanizing sex; a woman who casually talks about her abortion.

April is the cruelest month, to people like that, because they don’t want the new life that Spring heralds.  They are happy to be spiritually dead.  They don’t want to be born again.  They feel threatened by the rain that could bring new life to the desert of their lives.  They think the prospect of new life is cruel.

In the course of the poem, amidst many other patterns of imagery, we find the motif of “death by water.”  At the end of the poem, a quester is walking in the desert towards the ruined grail chapel.  He has the sense that someone is walking beside him.  (Eliot’s footnote identifies the allusion as pointing to Christ on the road to Emmaus.)  At the very end of the poem, it is thundering and starting to rain.  Soon after he published the poem, T. S. Eliot was baptized.  Water brought life to Eliot’s own personal wasteland.

The most acclaimed, innovative, and radical poet of the modernist movement, who knew the waste land in his own heart, converted to Christianity.

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Trump threatens opponents of his health care bill

AHCA changesPresident Trump is pressuring conservative Congressmen who are opposed to his health care bill.  The “repeal and replace” response to Obamacare, which retains many of the elements of that program, is facing a vote on Thursday.

The president says that representatives who vote “no” may not get re-elected.  He said that he would campaign for those who vote “yes.”

This time President Trump is on the same side as Republican leaders such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who are usually branded as the “establishment” by Trump supporters.  Still wanting a government role in health care, the GOP leadership is also leaning on bill opponents, implying that they might face primary opposition if they do not get on board.  But they have also added “sweeteners” to win more votes.

While conservative Republicans, especially members of the “freedom caucus,” oppose the government’s continued involvement in citizen’s health care decisions, liberal Democrats object to any changes at all to Obamacare.

The vote will be close.  Some 20-25 House Republicans either oppose the bill or are undecided.  Trump can only afford to lose 21.

UPDATE:  Conservative organizations, some of which distribute campaign money, are threatening supporters of the bill, saying that a “yes” vote will brand lawmakers to be insufficiently conservative to earn their support.  The health care bill is shaping up to be the first major policy conflict between Trump and conservatives.

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The checks & balances of Federalism

scale-307346_640Obama’s executive orders and side-stepping of Congress provoked opposition from the states, whose attorney generals filed lawsuits against his administration.  Now, under President Trump, states with Democratic attorney generals are doing the same thing.

Those attorney generals went to the courts to stop President Trump’s first executive order on immigration, and now a group of states is trying to do the same to his revised order.

That may be annoying to Republicans, who did the same against Obamas’ executive orders, but it is an example of federalism reasserting itself against the dictates of the central government.

Charles Krauthammer says that whatever you think of the outcomes, this is a remarkable “organic” development of our constitutional system.  When Congress is not fulfilling its role to check and balance the Executive branch, the states are moving into that role. (more…)

An online, social media Lenten observance

Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent, a time for reflection and devotion. Christ Lutheran Church (LCMS) of Topeka, KS, has devised an ingenious online, social media observance, built around specific words for each day of Lent. The idea is to post a picture that captures each word, posting it on FaceBook, tagged with @christlcms, or Instagram, tagged with @christ_lutheran_topeka, and the hashtag #hearingthegospel.  Then people can contemplate all of the pictures that have contributed.

There was a story about this on Religious News Service.  I contacted the pastor, asking if this is just a congregational activity or if I could put it out there on the Cranach blog.  He gave me permission to do so, so spread the word.  More details after the jump.

2017+pic-a-day+calendar

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