Category Archives: Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

The Church is NOT an Organization… it is an Organism…

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:
9  Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10  Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11  Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12  Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13  Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14  Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 15  Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16  Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. 17  If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. 18  Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:9-18 (TEV)

Christ exists only in his body, not just as an ideal; that means: with all those others—with the permanent, time-transcending community that is his body. The Church is not an idea, but a body, and the scandal of the Incarnation, on which many of Jesus’ contemporaries came to grief, continues in the vexations of the Church, but here, too, the saying is applicable: Blessed is he who is not scandalized in me. This communal character of the Church necessarily means, then, her we character: she is not just somewhere; we ourselves are the Church. Certainly, no one can say: “I am the Church”; each must and may say: We are the Church. And “we”—that is not just a group that isolates itself, but one that belongs to the whole community of all the living and deceased members of Christ. Thus a group can really say: We are the Church. The Church is here in this accessible we that removes boundaries—not just social and political boundaries, but also the boundary between heaven and earth. We are the Church—from this proceeds our co-responsibility, but also the privilege of being co-workers; from this comes our right to criticize, but we must always begin with self-criticism. For Church—we repeat—is not just somewhere, someone else; it is we who are the Church.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Church appears and truly is dysfunctional.

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a Bible study of 6, or a congregation of 60 or 1000, or the Church as the entire Body of Christ, throughout the world, and throughout time. We are dysfunctional; we are broken, we argue and fight, we try to one-up each other.  We allow politics to divide us, then complain about the division.

Sociologists have fun studying us.  

And yet we need, desperately need to be part of such a dysfunctional family.   As much as we need each other, as much as we need to realize the “we” of the church, we struggle with it. 

Pope Benedict XVI wrote of this, trying to help us realize that we need to remove the boundaries. No easy task there.  But it is needed.  We need to picture the Church as the Church.  We need to picture ourselves as more “we” at every level.  We need to be able to weep and laugh with others who are part of this magnificent, beautiful, incredible, dysfunctional family.  No, not just a family, a body.  We aren’t an organization, we, the church are an organism. 

St. Paul gives a great description of what the church should look like in the passage quoted above… the loving sincerely, full of respect, devotion, hope, and joy.  What an incredible idea, to live like this.

Some will reply, how can we do that?  Others more theologically trained will determine this description is law, and they will use that determination as an excuse not to live this way, ignoring how the chapter started, because of God’s great mercy…..

I think Pope Benedict hits on the key, how this dysfunctional group of spiritually immature people become the “we” of the church when he talks about removing not just boundaries here on earth, but the boundary between heaven and earth.   As that boundary is removed, as we realize we dwell in the presence of God, as we are in awe of His love, we are transformed, and those things Paul talks about, those things beome who we are. The more our attention and focus is drawn to God and His glory, the more His presence is revealed and overwhelms us.. The greater this unity is realized as well.  

This is the mystery that Paul refers to in Col. 1:27-28, the idea that Christ dwells in us!  (The “you” there in Greek is plural), It is the blessing of the description of the Body in 1 Cor. 10-13, it is the picture of the redeemed, resurrected united people of God in Ezekiel 36-37.

It is the truth of this, “we” are the church, the people God called out to make His own.  And He has. 

WHich is why the people of God know peace that is beyond explanation, for we dwell, our hearts and minds safe and secure in Christ.  AMEN

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Our Life in the Christ: revealed in our Church’s liturgy, music, artwork..

Concordia Lutheran ChurchDevotional Thought of the Day:
10  And he gave these orders: “At the end of every seven years, the Year-All-Debts-Are-Canceled, during the pilgrim Festival of Booths 11  when everyone in Israel comes to appear in the Presence of GOD, your God, at the place he designates, read out this Revelation to all Israel, with everyone listening. 12  Gather the people together—men, women, children, and the foreigners living among you—so they can listen well, so they may learn to live in holy awe before GOD, your God, and diligently keep everything in this Revelation. 13  And do this so that their children, who don’t yet know all this, will also listen and learn to live in holy awe before GOD, your God, for as long as you live on the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.Deuteronomy 31:10-13 (MSG)

Christ has died.   
Christ has risen
Christ will come again
We were dead in our sins
Now we’re buried with Him
We are risen in Christ
We are given new life
And Christ will bring us home
Making us his own
Christ has died
Christ has risen
Christ will come again!

The Christian images, as we find them in the catacombs, simply take up and develop the canon of images already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence. The individual events are now ordered toward the Christian sacraments and to Christ himself. Noah’s ark and the crossing of the Red Sea now point to Baptism. The sacrifice of Isaac and the meal of the three angels with Abraham speak of Christ’s Sacrifice and the Eucharist. Shining through the rescue of the three young men from the fiery furnace and of Daniel from the lions’ den we see Christ’s Resurrection and our own. Still more than in the synagogue, the point of the images is not to tell a story about something in the past, but to incorporate the events of history into the sacrament. In past history, Christ with his sacraments is on his way through the ages. We are taken into the events. The events themselves transcend the passing of time and become present in our midst through the sacramental action of the Church.
The centering of all history in Christ is both the liturgical transmission of that history and the expression of a new experience of time, in which past, present, and future make contact, because they have been inserted into the presence of the risen Lord. As we have seen already and now find confirmed anew, liturgical presence contains eschatological hope within it. All sacred images are, without exception, in a certain sense images of the Resurrection, history read in the light of the Resurrection, and for that very reason they are images of hope, giving us the assurance of the world to come, of the final coming of Christ.

324 Looking at his mercy, faith comforts and consoles us. Our opponents teach wrongly when they praise merits in such a way as to add nothing about this faith that takes hold of mercy

The readings this morning were just crammed full of thoughts that I needed to hear.  I could have doubled the amount I quoted, and foregone writing.  Except that I need to, for as I’ve said before, my devotions have to be thought through, meditated upon, and brought together in my writing.  It used to be called spiritual journaling, and someone once suggested i put it out there to be shared.

Today, it seemed like a lot of my readings were set up to talk about living within the story.  About faith is a life of dependence on God, living in harmony with Him, rather than a statement of what theological statements we hold to be true.

We see that in the words from the Lutheran confessions, as we take hold of mercy. That is faith, this incredible love of God that is revealed to us, that floods our lives so that we can hold onto it.  For faith is an engagement with God with not our mind at first, but our heart and soul.

Pope Benedict in the longest quote talks about this in the imagery in the early church and the synagogue, when visuals made our sacramental life part of the narrative poured out in visual representation.  And all of that representation is reflected in the resurrection, the very summit of our being made one with Christ.  For we are united to Him in His death, in order that we can rise to our new life with Him.

That is the reason for the reading of the entire community of Israel, over 2 million people, plus the foreigners that make their home among them.  (Note that part about the aliens!) They were to know the covenant, so that they could be in awe of God’s love and provision for them!  Even more than that, this awe was lived out before Him. In other words, not just in His are of vision, but right before Him, in His presence.

As I was reading all of this, I thought of my friend’s version of the liturgical hymn, the Memorial Acclamation.  Chris is not only an incredible musician and professor of worship but has a great understanding of sacramental covenant theology.   So when he recomposed this ancient part of Christian worship, he not only told Christ’s story, but he made clear what was inferred.  That we share in that death, and in that resurrection, and in Christ’s coming again.  What has become veiled and vaguely visible, Chris revealed in a glorious way. ( You can hear a rock version of it at the link!)

Every aspect of our ministry, from the music to the artwork and images, to the words we speak and lessons and liturgy are geared to help us make this transition.  We are not just people reading about history, we aren’t just witnesses to the story, we are the characters in the story, living and interacting in great awe with God.  Just as people have done since Adam and Eve walked through the garden.  Our people may not realize this, so we need, like Israel, to teach them more and more.  They need to know it, they need to experience His love. as do we, as do our communities.

May the Lord make this happen, opening our eyes more and more to His love!

AMEN!

 

The Memorial Acclimation by Rev. Dr. Christopher Gillette
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSOPkjcqfF4

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

For Unto Us A Child Is Born/I Want to See You – A thought about encountering Christ

nativityDevotional Thought for our seemingly Borday Days

6  “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. 7  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. 8  “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. 9  Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Isaiah 58:6-9 (NLT)

The beauty offered the Child of Bethlehem is dedicated to all, and we need it like daily bread. Those who would rob a child of beauty to make something useful out of it do not support but destroy; they take away the light, without which all our calculations turn cold and trivial. Of course, if we truly join the pilgrimage of the centuries, which was anxious to lavish the most beautiful things of this world on the newborn King, then we must never forget that he still lives in a stable, in a prison, in the favelas [South American slums], and that we do not praise him should we refuse to find him there. Yet such an awareness will not enslave us under the tyranny of usefulness, where joy becomes a stranger and somber seriousness a dogma.

During our Advent and Christmas services, my congregation started singing a mash-up of an incredible Christmas hymn (For Unto Us A Child is Born) and an older contemporary praise song (Open the Eyes of my Heart).  It is a striking combination, proclaiming the joy and glory of Christ here, among us, and our desperate need to see Him lifted high up on the cross, and in our praises.  

It came to my mind immediately as I read the words from Pope Benedict XVI ( Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote them)  Taken from an article in my devotions, the part above shows a truth we cannot ignore.  

That Christ is found, now as much as then, with those who need Him.

For Jesus always comes to those who cannot provide for themselves. 

That is the interesting thing about the Magi, about these wisest of men, they realized they needed Him too, and they searched him out.  They didn’t hesitate when they found out hi humble origins when they didn’t find him lying in a castle or on some grand estate. They knew they needed to find him and honor Him, for He was their hope.

I think the former pope is right in this, that it is among the needy that we find Jesus, but as we go there, we don’t just find those we can help, we find out we are just as in need of a Savior. just as in need of someone to minister to us.  And so Jesus brings us together, all with different gifts, all broken in different ways and therefore needy, but all in need of Hi love, a love which will heal and transform us all. 

Isaiah notes this as well, as He writes of our needing to fast, to break away from the life that is all about us.  For then we find God answering our prayers, we find His presence and His work that transforms us into saints, into something righteous.  To break apart from what Benedict XVI calls the Tyranny of usefulness. 

We need to find ourselves with those we thought more broken, and the realize the reality of our common need, we find joy, for we hear Hi answer to our call, “I AM HERE.”

For He is, He is Immanuel  God with Us!  AMEN!

 

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

He Makes His Home with US! A Sermon on John 1:1-14


Ratzinger on the IncarnationHis Presence Blesses Us as

He Makes His home among us

John 1:1-14

† In Jesus Name †

May you realize the joy and peace God gives you, as Jesus comes and makes His home, right here, with you!

Home for the Holidays

Maybe it is a certain smell, or perhaps an ornament you take out of the box, or it’s a Christmas Carol being sung in a certain way, but most of us have something that takes us back “Home” for the holidays.  You know, that place that exists in time, that defines what your heart knows as being home, as life is perfect.

For me, it is sitting at the piano that now sits in my aunt’s basement, much as it sat in my grandfather’s basement. It was there, playing Adeste Fideles and the First Noel that was a moment I define as being “home”. There are things that remind us of those precious days. And for those who are blessed, you can find more than one example of them.  Maybe it is this year that you will find the scene of home that will etch itself in your memory as being “home for the holidays” The time where being with friends and family when peace reigned and was so real

In our gospel reading this morning, we see an incredible statement about being home.

So Jesus became human, and made his home among us.

God became man and found a place to live. Here, among us.

Not just with the apostles back in the day, but here, with you and me.  He in our lives, where He still lives and reigns today.

In these incredible deep and complex words that start John’s sharing of the good news of Jesus, these words are the ones we most need to hear, the words that are the most mind-blowing, the hardest to make sense of,

Jesus became man, and made His home among us.

The Theology.

There is a lot in the passage, from the teaching about the Trinity to the description of the world rejecting Him.  Theologically, we could spend weeks going over the first five verses.  And the “who is God?” questions would still not find answers to satisfy everyone.

The next few verses, talking about some not recognizing and rejecting him, while others would be born again, not a physical birth but something more incredible, being born as children of God.
Theologians have talked and argued and wrote about such things since the first century.  Words longer my arm have been used by experts to determine exactly how God did what He didn’t describe.

These verses are all important – please understand me, we have to struggle with them, we need to work them, but tonight, we need to realize this.

God came and made His home among us.
His Home.

Other translations use the word dwelt with us, and that isn’t a horrid translation, but it doesn’t quite give the passage the full incredible joy that should overflow as we hear this.

First, because the word isn’t just dwelt, it is to tabernacle, to set up a residence with us.  For someone in the first century, this was setting up the permanent tent residences in which you would live.  It is setting up a home.

There is another sense to this, the idea that the verb is aorist tense.  It doesn’t have a definite time period, and in this case, not a specific end.  It’s not just about the day Jesus was born, or end the day He was crucified and died.

What this means is that we can say this.  Even as He came and made His home among the apostles, He is still coming and making His home among us.

And like the apostles, we behold His glory, we get caught up in His love, we find healing for our hearts and souls in His mercy, we find hope for our tomorrows, for He is present, and promises to never leave or forsake us.

He is here. He has made His home in our lives.

This is the place He calls home.

As we come to the altar, may you realize the glory you behold and the peace of God that will make you realize that you are home with God!  AMEN!

Joy and the emotional rollercoaster of Christmas

Canobie CannonballDevotional thought for our days:

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth h in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You! 
12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. t 13 He was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted u by Satan. v He was with the wild animals, w and the angels x began to serve Him.  Mark 1:9-13  HCSB

Thus we are told that only through Christ did real joy appear and that in our life, in the last analysis, nothing matters more than coming to recognize and to understand Christ, the God of grace, the light and the joy of the world. Only then will our joy be true, when it no longer relies on things that can be snatched away from us and can perish, but when it is rooted in the innermost core of our existence, which no power in all the world is able to take away from us. And every outward loss ought to become for us a pathway into these innermost realms and to prepare us ever more for our true life.

Christmas is an emotional rollercoaster of epic extremes.  To go from the pressure of rushing around, trying to find perfect gifts, to the moments where a hug from a friend or relative means everything, to the loneliness that occurs, as we realize who we are missing in our life. Like being on the roller coaster, we are not in control, and we don’t always know how to prepare for the next drop or the corkscrewing turn.

For those in ministry, the roller coaster includes our ministry, as well as our own “private” lives.  Often we go from trying to reconcile a divided family, to celebrate a service with joy, to worrying about a friend in surgery or recovery, to being there while another friend mourns.  And we get to tell everyone that there is JOY in this world!

The reading from Mark’s gospel helps this morning, as we see Jesus going from His miraculous baptism, from hearing the Father’s cry of delight, immediately into the desert, to be assaulted by Satan. From the purity of a sacred moment, into the assault and oppression of Satan himself.  

Jesus knows our roller coasters, he knows all too well our brokenness, our struggle with our emotions trying to keep up with the moment’s challenge. In revealing His love, in dying on the cross and rising again, He comes into our lives. and brings peace.

This is what Pope Benedict is talking about as he teaches about joy, this joy that comes from realizing that we are in the presence of Jesus. as we are given the hope of glory, as we are comforted by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The roller coaster doesn’t disappear, but we realize there will be a time when this ride ends, and we will share in His glory. 

If I have learned anything about Christmas and its emotional rollercoaster, it is this.  In order to survive it, I need to spend some time, looking at the manger, trying to put myself there, realizing that the Lord came into our lives because He loves us.  Then, hearing Him reveal HIs love, we find the deepest peace, and in that peace, joy.  

God has given Himself to us, fully.  Think on that, focus on it, as we prepare to celebrate it, together. 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

 

 

 

Making Prayer Profitable…

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

5  “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6  But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. 7  “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Matthew 6:5-7 (NLT)

Sometimes I ask myself: “To whom do you pray?”And it is not hard to find the answer: “To God”, the Father or Jesus. There also are many people who pray to God as divine essence.  This is not prayer, of course. Christian prayer is primarily a person to person event; we pray to the Father or to the Son or to the Holy Spirit.

90. The divine office, because it is the public prayer of the Church, is a source of piety, and nourishment for personal prayer. And therefore priests and all others who take part in the divine office are earnestly exhorted in the Lord to attune their minds to their voices when praying it. The better to achieve this, let them take steps to improve their understanding of the liturgy and of the Bible, especially of the psalms.
In revising the Roman office, its ancient and venerable treasures are to be so adapted that all those to whom they are handed on may more extensively and easily draw profit from them.

One of the hardest and yet profitable lessons I’ve learned over the years is about prayer.  And that prayer is not just conversation, it is an intimate conversation with God. 

Back in Junior High, my friends and I would say the rosary or pray through the stations of the cross, and we would make it a race, thinking that it was simply the saying of the prayers themselves that resulted in a blessing.  Later, when I was a Protestant, training for the ministry, we only prayed “from the heart”. These prayers were full of words, especially “Lord” and “if it be Your will” and other phrases, spoken more because we didn’t know what to say, or how to say it.  And so a prayer over a meal would last well into the time a normal family would be having dessert!  In many ways, though perhaps heartfelt, they were babbling, as Matthew’s Gospel tells us the prayers of those who don’t know God pray.

Prayer is anything but vain, and it shouldn’t normally be incoherent babbling ( unless in the midst of trauma – but that is another conversation)  And whether the prayer is one written by some other pilgrim or our own, it needs to resonate with both our brokenness, and the hope we have in the God who will heal. 

This is something Vatican II was obviously trying to address, as it looked at the various services throughout the day,  We need to know what we are saying, we need to realize that God is hearing these words, personally. It is not a formula, nor an algebraic equation to work out, nor the vain babbling of someone struggling to think of something to say.  ( it is usually at that point when we should be listening, rather than just babbling – again – another blog sometime)

it is when the conversation is personal, in the midst of the deepest, most intimate relationship we have, with the Lord who created us, that we are actually praying.  A prayer that is beneficial, because it is sacred, a time set apart just for us, individually and in a group, to walk with the God we are learning to love, as He reveals to us how much He loves us.  This is when prayer is beneficial, when it is profitable, when we realize how much we are sustained.

So, my friends, I urge this, take the time, savor not just His word you hear and meditate on, but savor the words you say to Him, hear them, and know He is responding.  For you are His children, and He is your Father and your God.  Amen!

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

O Come! O Come, Emmanuel! ( are you ready for this?)

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:
14  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. 15  John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” 16  From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17  For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18  No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:14-18 (NLT)

When we feel the presence of God in our daily lives, we can only say “God is here”and the first thing to do is to fall on our knees.

In the closing prayer of the [former Christmas Vigil] Mass, the faithful ask God for the grace, through the celebration of his Son’s birth, to “draw new breath”. Why and in what sense they wish to “draw new breath” is not explained, and so we are at liberty to understand this expression in the human and simple meaning of the words. This feast ought to let us draw “a breath of fresh air”. Admittedly, given the way we have burdened this feast with busyness nowadays, it much sooner renders us breathless and suffocates us in the end with deadlines

I wonder how clearly we hear the words we sing?   

Are we ready to be thrust into the presence of God, to be in awe, and even tremble as we gaze upon as beauty, are we ready to be overwhelmed by the sight of His glory, and humbled by the purity of His love? 

Are we ready to be so overtaken in that moment that our knees weaken and our bodies collapse?  

How can we prepare for that moment?  Can we be better prepared than Herod, the shepherds, and the angels were the first time Jesus came?  Only two elderly people were well prepared for that, ready to behold the glory of Christ incarnate.  Two old people who spent their days in prayer, and yet, they were still in awe of God with us. 

There are ways to build our expectation, and to get a glimpse of what we are about to encounter.  We find that “preview” in the Eucharist, the Feast of Christ, where we commune with His Body and His Blood.  That moment we realize how much He is present in our lives, preparing us, cleansing us, setting us apart for this incredible eternity He planned for us. 

Church should remind us of this, giving us that “new breath,” that fresh air that we need!  It does when the love of God, in all its height and depth, width and breadth is revealed to us in Jesus. 

O Come to us, Emmanuel!  And until you come in all your glory, fulfill your promise to come to us through your word, to draw us into yourself in the sacraments, and sustain and prepare us as you never leave us alone!  AMEN!

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Do We Still Need Christmas?

nativityDevotional thought for our seemingly broken days:

3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. v 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.
“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”
5 So he threw the silver into the sanctuary w and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.  Matthew 27:3-5  HCSB

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.

In so saying, we finally discover the answer to the question with which we started. After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image”, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.

In many ways, life would be easier without the celebration of Christmas.

For one thing, my cynical nature could use the rest.  It gets tiring, seeing people spend millions on decorations (which Costco was selling in September this year!) and gifts and clothes for all the parties, while people they should know are living on the streets.  In talking to other pastors, people who used to come to church on Christmas and Easter hardly do anymore, because they are too busy with celebrating Christmas!

It’s hard, all the extra work all the extra services ( 4 in 25 hours this year and add another on the prior Wednesday night ) 

And we know it all right?  We all know Jesus was born in a stable, and the angels sang to him, and the wise men didn’t visit him in the manger that night, but later at the house where they were staying. ( Hmm you didn’t know that? )

So why not give everybody so more time to rest, some more time to spend with families? 

I find the answer in the odd (given the season) reading in my devotions this morning.  When Judas, torn up with guilt and shame, tried to find hope, tried to find mercy and was denied. The very elders ( read pastors) who were supposed to point him back to God instead they threw his sin back in his face.  The very men who were supposed to give him a message of grace didn’t care. 

He needed Christmas.  he needed to know God would come to Him, forgive his sin, reveal His love for Judas, reveal that this was the very reason for the cross.  

Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict XVI) had it right, we, like Judas, need to be given the capacity to know the mystery of God, reveal in the heart of Jesus, the one who embraced the manger and the crucifixion, for us.   Or as Luther pointed out, we need to realize that this life is full of sin and trouble and Satan is at work to steal our peace.  Just as that is done as we approach the altar, as God shares Christ’s body and blood for us, so we need Christmas. 

We need to celebrate, even if it is sappy or too utopian in its portrayal, the fact that Jesus shattered the darkness by coming into our world, not just 2000 odd years ago, but today, now, here.  That He is with us, that He loves us, that He is merciful toward us, cleansing us of all sin.  Our world needs to know this, we need to celebrate it, we need to find out that God has found us.

Rejoice, for unto us a Child is born, and He shall be called Wonderful!  Counselor! Almighty God!  Everlasting Father!  The One who Reigns with Peace…

the peace we are invited into, for that is why He came.

So celebrate Christmas, and see what is revealed to you this day.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1991. Print.

An Interesting Look at the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharistic.

church at communion 2Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

15  I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. 16  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 10:15-16 (NAB)

4  We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. 5  For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. Romans 6:4-5 (NAB)

The Lord could say that his Body was “given” only because he had in fact given it; he could present his Blood in the new chalice as shed for many only because he really had shed it. This Body is not the ever-dead corpse of a dead man, nor is the Blood the life-element rendered lifeless. No, sacrifice has become gift, for the Body given in love and the Blood given in love have entered, through the Resurrection, into the eternity of love, which is stronger than death. Without the Cross and Resurrection, Christian worship is null and void, and a theology of liturgy that omitted any reference to them would really just be talking about an empty game.

As much as I appreciate the Lord’s Supper, as much as I’ve meditated on it and studied it, I’ve never thought about it as I read the blue quote above. I have read the great book by Pope Benedict, (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) several times, in fact, I’ve used it as a supplemental text when I teach on the liturgy. And yet, I’ve never considered the point that is offered above.

That not only do we share, participate, fellowship, become partners with Christ’s body during the celebration of the Eucharist (Communion/Lord’s Supper) we are also because He is risen, a partner in the resurrection, drawn into His resurrected life, and into the “eternity of love.”

This is a mind-blowing thing to me, and be patient with me while I process it.

As someone formally trained in non-denominational theology, and then in Lutheran theology, I tend to think of the Lord’s Supper given His death, His offering of His body as the hilasterion, the sacrifice of blood that covers and cleanses us from our sin.   I know well the implications of that and am in awe to think of it. 

When I lead people to the altar, with the cross overhanging it, when we commune together in front of the New Testament version of the mercy seat  (Lev. 6:14) my thoughts are almost always on the love of God poured out on the cross.  There we meditate on the Body was broken, and the Blood was shed.  By no means am I saying that this is still not true!

There is something there, in these words of Pope Benedict, that I have witnessed so many times at the altar, the incredible, glorious mystery that happens as people come and are joined again to the death of Jesus, and that is that they come alive in that moment.  You can see their bodies change, as they enter into this blessed moment, this feast, ( I want to use the old word “repast” ) as the brokenness is shorn away from them, as the wait is lifted. As they are revived in their spirit, it shows physically. 

This is the missing key, the idea that not only are we given the gift of His death for us, but the gift of His resurrection, the gift of life in the resurrected Christ!  

This is something that we don’t understand, if we only think of the Lord’s Supper as in sharing in His death (though it does certainly proclaim it so strongly )  We don’t see it if we only see our sharing in the dead, lifeless corpse.  But our souls get it, as this feast is one of incredible joy, one of peace that shatters the chaos of life. 

This feast, which is a foretaste of the feast to come is just like baptism, a joining with Christ’s death, and with the hope, the promise, the reality of our resurrection, because He is risen.  

You have been united with His death, and sin has been dealt with, but in His giving you His body and blood, He also gives you life!

Hear again the blessing that is given, as people stand and kneel form the altar…and know it is for you.  ( It might make even more sense now!)

Now, may the precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen your faith, your confidence in the God’s work in your life; and until we are all before God throne, dwelling in His glory, may you know you dwell, kept secure in His peace!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

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