“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 cup for the laity

The communion practice of the Roman Catholic Church, up until Vatican II, was for the priests to drink the wine.  Laypeople were only given the bread.

Brian Stiller, writing on the Christianity Today site, reflects on Luther and the Reformation as he sits in the City Church of Wittenberg.

He sees a detail in Lucas Cranach’s altarpiece–one that I hadn’t noticed before– that gives him a flash of insight into the Reformation.

Now Luther would not be happy with all of what the author says about Holy Communion, since Stiller believes that the Lord’s Supper consists of symbols rather than the true Body and Blood of Christ.  Stiller even extrapolates his conclusions into meals in general.

But he does pick up the detail that Luther is sitting around the Table at the Last Supper with Christ and His disciples.  And Luther gives the cup to a servant–a layman, not an apostle.  Stiller explains why this is so significant and why offering the cup to laypeople–imaged here on the altar–is so expressive of the Gospel as proclaimed in the Reformation.

UPDATE, FURTHER THOUGHTS:  We shouldn’t take this privilege for granted.  John Hus was burned at the stake largely because he insisted on giving laypeople the Blood of Christ. For us laypeople to receive the Cup means that we are all priests (the doctrine of vocation) and that there is no spiritual superiority of one caste or another in Christ’s Kingdom. And that He poured out His blood for all.

[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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The connection between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King

342px-Martin_Luther_King_Sr,_c1977-81 (1)As the world reflects on the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, it is evident that some people–and not just the young and history deprived–confuse Martin Luther the Reformer with Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader.

One thing I learned from the new Luther documentary is that there really is a connection.  Rev. Michael King, Sr., was an African-American Baptist minister, whose son was named Michael King, Jr.   Rev. King, an early civil rights activist, attended a conference in Germany, where he became interested in Martin Luther.

When he returned home to Atlanta, he changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr.  And he also changed his 5-year-old son’s name to Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Both Rev. Kings saw Luther as an example of someone who instigated great change by non-violent methods.

UPDATE:  But is the account of “Mike King” changing his name really true?  Carl Vehse, who has developed a specialty in exposing Luther myths, gives evidence to the contrary in the comments here.

Photo of Martin Luther King, Sr., By White House Staff Photographer,  Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11753583 [Read more…]

The new Martin Luther movie

downloadMartin Luther:  The Idea That Changed the World is a film funded by Thrivent to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  First Lutheran Church in Ponca City secured a local movie theater and opened it up for free to anyone who wanted to see the movie.  (Go here to learn how to host a screening and for further information.  It will reportedly be shown on PBS.  I suspect its longer life will be on DVD eventually.)  So we attended the screening.

The movie is not a drama about the life of Luther, as earlier Luther movies have been.  This is a documentary with dramatic re-enactments.  There is a narrator throughout (Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville), with experts discussing the different facets of Luther’s life and career.  Meanwhile, we see these episodes acted out, with the requisite settings and effects.  I’m not a huge fan of this hybrid of documentary and drama, but this one works as well as I’ve seen.  Luther’s life is so interesting and so inherently dramatic that the narrative is gripping and entertaining, even though it is continually interrupted by the scholars.  (Review continued, plus trailer, after the jump) [Read more…]

Martin Luther as inventor of freedom

1024px-Лютер_в_ВормсеLutherans aren’t the only ones celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses.  Nor are Protestants or other Christians.  Luther had a monumental impact on Western Civilization, so even the secularists are taking the opportunity to study Luther’s cultural contributions, from his impact on universal education to his pioneering use of information technology (the printing press).

Time Magazine has published an article reprinted from History Today by scholar Frank Furedi entitled How Martin Luther Helped Invent Individual Freedom.

Furedi argues that when Luther stood up against Pope and Emperor at the Diet of Wurms, making his stand on his individual conscience, he, in effect, invented personal freedom.  His rejection of temporal and ecclesiastical authority would lead, Furedi says, to the undermining of all authority.  Including, eventually, to the authority of God.

Read Furedi’s argument, quoted and linked after the jump.  After which, I will explain what is wrong with what he says, while acknowledging that Luther did play an important role in the rise of freedom.

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