What Is the Christian Life?

These two are the first elements of Christian life: Repentance or contrition and grief, and faith through which we receive the forgiveness of sins and are righteous before God. Both should grow and increase in us. The third element of Christian life is the doing of good works: To be chaste, to love and help the neighbor, to refrain from lying, from deceit, from stealing, from murder, from vengefulness, and avenging oneself, etc.

Philip Melanchthon & Martin Luther, Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony (LW 40)

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The Journey Of The Magi

One of my favourite Epiphany poems, by T.S. Eliot. I learned last night from John Drury that its famous opening lines are lifted virtually verbatim from this sermon by the great Lancelot Andrewes.

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Source: http://allpoetry.com/The-Journey-Of-The-Magi

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A Carol Treat

Wow!

For the first time, Our Saviour Lutheran Church and the “little church”, St. Francis’, Funtley, joined forces for a carol service. Not quite 9 lessons and carols—but we did have 6 of the traditional nine.

The church is little, so with a tad fewer than 60 people in attendance, there was standing room only for the last half-dozen arrivals. The roof very nearly lifted off with the singing.

And then there was the choir.

Formed especially for this occasion, the children’s choir—12 children between the ages of 6 and 12 from our local Junior and Infant schools—sang their three numbers beautifully and confidently. “The Angel Gabriel”, “The Calypso Carol” and “In Dulci Jubilo”. Despite only having had four rehearsals, the children managed to get their mouths round the Latin and the Thees and Thous very well indeed.

I do hope this was the first instalment of a long and happy tradition!

P.S. I have no pictures of the occasion, but here is what St. Francis looks like.

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True worship and heathen worship

This is as true today as it was in the Old Testament and in the first century.

The church of Jesus Christ embraces people who were Jews and people who were heathen. Until the apocalyptic dawn of the last things heathen-Christianity will typify the church of Jesus Christ. Israel was elected from the midst of heathendom. The heathen-Christians came into the church of Jesus Christ directly from heathendom. Membership in the people of God always implies a rupture with the heathen past and the heathen cultus. The relationship between heathen cultus and the church’s worship can never be defined as a transition from a preliminary stage to a crowning maturity. There is an unbridgeable gulf fixed at all levels between the heathen cultus and the church’s worship. There is nothing whatsoever to join them. They are as different as God and devil (2. Cor. 6:14–18). Therefore the conversion from heathenism to the church rightfully involves a renunciation of the devil, which as such is simultaneously a renunciation of the pagan cultus.

Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus (St. Louis: CPH, 1968), 49.

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Chants for the Reformation Lessons

After the lecture on Music and the Reformation last Friday, we celebrated choral vespers. To get a sense of an earlier time in the Lutheran church, the readings (Epistle & Gospel for Reformation Day) were chanted according to Luther’s directions in Die Deutsche Messe. Here’s the music (text from ESV®).

The Epistle:

image

 

The Gospel:

image

 

Click here for a PDF version

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Seven theses on church music

From a presentation I was honoured to give yesterday at Luther-Tyndale Memorial Church in London, as part of their annual Reformation Festival.

I. Music is the chief vehicle for the proclamation of the Word of God in the Church.
II. Therefore, the task of church music is to proclaim the Word of God.
III. As such, the music used to proclaim the Word must be appropriate for the task of proclamation.
IV. There is no one kind of music that is appropriate for the proclamation of the Word.
V. By the same token, not all music is appropriate for proclaiming the Word of God.
VI. What is appropriate at a certain time in a certain place is not necessarily appropriate at all times and in all places. But all times and places should be heard in the Church.
VII. Therefore, church music in all its forms must be judged, and used, in such a way as best to communicate God’s Word to those who hear it—including those who make music.

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Sinai, the Land and Liturgy

Profound words from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (as was). This forms the foundation for his discussion of the ‘spirit of the Liturgy’.

Now it becomes clear that what took place on Sinai, in the period of rest after the wandering through the wilderness, is what gives meaning to the taking of the land. Sinai is not a halfway house, kind of stop for refreshment on the road to what really matters. No, Sinai gives Israel, so to speak, its interior land without which the exterior one would be a cheerless prospect. Israel is constituted as a people through the covenant and the divine law it contains. This and this alone is what makes the land a real gift. Sinai remains present in the Promised Land.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), 19.

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How to sing the faith, and how not

Have I told you lately that I’m no great fan of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’?

What strikes me about that, and some other famous and very popular hymns by Cecil Alexander, is that they were written to help her young godchildren to understand the Creed. A laudable goal indeed. Setting anything to rhyme, rhythm and music is going to be a great way to teach it. And if you are going to teach only one thing to a child, the creed is that one thing.

But it has to be done well. And I don’t think Mrs. Alexander did it all that well. What she produced was frequently trite, often moralistic, and occasionally plain false (but in fairness, not always).

Another British hymn writer of the same era, the Rev. Samuel Stone, also gave himself the task of expounding the creed through hymn, though this time in response to a theological controversy. Let’s compare and contrast their efforts.

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”

C. AlexanderS. Stone
1. All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

2. Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.

All things bright ...

3. The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

All things bright ...

4. The purple headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning,
That brightens up the sky;−

All things bright ...

5. The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,−
He made them every one:

All things bright ...

6. The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
We gather every day;−

All things bright ...

7. He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

All things bright ...
None else but Thee, for evermore,
One, All, we dread, believe, adore:
Great Earth and Heaven shall have their day
And worn and old shall pass away,
But Thou remainest, on Thy throne
Eternal, changeless, and alone!

None else we praise! in every form,
In peace of calm and power of storm,
In simple flower and mystic star,
In all around and all afar,
In Grandeur, Beauty, Truth, but Thee
None else we hear, None else we see.

None else we love! for sweeter grace
That made anew a ruined race:
The heirs of life, the lords of death,
With earliest voice and latest breath,
When days begin, when days are done,
Bless we the Father for the Son!

None else we trust! our flesh may fail,
Our heart may sink when foes assail,
But Thou art strength to be our stay,
And Glory not to pass away:
None else in life and death have we,
But we have all in all with Thee!

Yea, None but Thee all worlds confess,
And those redeemed ones numberless:
None else, from everlasting One,
And evermore beside Thee none.
Of all that is, has been, shall be,
Father of Life, None else but Thee!

“I believe in Jesus Christ … who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the  Virgin Mary …”

C. AlexanderS. Stone
1. Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

2. He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.

3. And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

4. For he is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

5. And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

6. Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.
THE Son forsook the Father's home
For mercy to lost man,
And did not scorn the Virgin's womb
To bear the sinner's ban.

Meekly the Maiden pure believed
The great Archangel's word,
And by the Holy Ghost conceived
The Saviour Christ the Lord.

The Word made flesh creation sees,
Its mighty God in Man:
Great mystery of mysteries
Since ever time began!

That we might gain a second birth
The Holy Son was given:
T'was God Himself came down to earth
To win us back to heaven.

Lord! we believe with love and praise
This wondrous truth of Thee:
Thereby in all our troublous days
How strong henceforth are we!

So near art Thou, so strong are we,
For now, if we are Thine,
Our Brother in humanity,
Thou makest us divine!

We see with peace in times of fear
Serene Thy human Form
Thy human Voice with joy we hear,
Sweet-toned above the storm.

So dread we not the deathly strife,
Knowing that Thou hast died:
It can but bear us into life,
Since nearer to Thy side!

“I believe in … the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints …”

C. AlexanderS. Stone
LITTLE children must be quiet,
When to Holy Church they go,
They must sit with serious faces,
Must not play or whisper low.

For the Church is GOD'S Own Temple,
Where men go for praise and prayer,
And the Great GOD will not love them,
Who forget His Presence there.

They were little Jewish children,
Who within the temple cried,
" Honour to the Son of David,"
Standing at our SAVIOUR'S side.

How much more should Christian children
Know His Name and praise Him too,
Who of His Own Church are members,
Sons of GOD, and born anew.

They must walk in reverent order,
Stand for praise and kneel for prayer,
For the Church is GOD'S Own Temple,
And His Presence dwelleth there.
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one Holy Food,
And to one Hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against or foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s Hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!

Now, this isn’t entirely fair. Mrs. Alexander wrote for little children, Mr. Stone for adults. All the same, as I have suggested before, what children learn to sing as children has a very profound influence on their whole lives.

So here’s my advice for hymn writers: if you are going to set the creed as a series of hymns, you do well. But please can you make sure that the hymns are worthy of the creed they paraphrase!

And here’s my advice for teachers of little children: there aren’t better resources than Luther’s Small Catechism.

Finally, justice demands that I add also that Mrs. Alexander was quite capable of writing a good hymn. Here’s one:

1. When, wounded sore, the stricken soul
Lies bleeding and unbound,
One only hand, a piercèd hand,
Can heal the sinner’s wound.

2. When sorrow swells the laden breast,
And tears of anguish flow,
One only heart, a broken heart,
Can feel the sinner’s woe.

3. When penitence has wept in vain
Over some foul, dark spot,
One only stream, a stream of blood,
Can wash away the blot.

4. ‘T is Jesus’ blood that washes white,
His hand that brings relief,
His heart that’s touch’d with all our joys,
And feeleth for our grief.

5. Lift up Thy bleeding hand, O Lord!
Unseal that cleansing tide;
We have no shelter from our sin
But in Thy wounded side.

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Forgiveness: the end of regret

Today, I have had cause again to dwell on the nature and the destructive power of regret. Lives lived facing backwards, full of what-if and if-only, are at best deprived of freedom and sapped of the fullness of joy.

For all of which the Gospel offers a simple alternative: forgiveness. God takes your sins to one end of an infinitely long straight line in an eastwardly direction, and your life to the opposite, western end of the same line. Or drops the lot into the bottom of the sea. Drowned in the blood of Jesus, they vanish, disappear. If you say to omniscient God, remember that sin I confessed last week, He replies, “What sin?”

And so, freed to live forward-wise, we go from opportunity to opportunity, promise to promise, until the fulfilment of every promise appears, with the fulness of joy.

I wrote on the subject at greater length and from another angle some time ago here: Non, je ne regrette

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For the children’s funeral

HT: The following thought process was triggered by a series of tweets by Kathryn

Because the church I serve is very small and not very well known, and it’s part of a denomination that no one in this country has ever heard of, my ministry has a slightly unusual shape. Unlike my CofE colleagues, I do baptisms once in a blue moon, weddings never, and funerals only occasionally. In fact, most of the ‘Official Acts’ I do carry out are funerals, so if I have any expertise in the baptisms-weddings-and-funerals line of clergy life, it’s with funerals.

Thankfully, most of the funerals I have taken have not been of members of my congregation. Rather, I get called on mostly either because the deceased had some sort of link to Lutheranism (say, Nordic or German background) or because of the work our church does in local nursing homes. And so I find myself often planning funerals of people I have never met, with family members whom I haven’t previously met.

Again, given the circumstances, frequently these are people with limited personal contact with the church, any church. Which gives me considerable freedom in suggesting what ought to, or has to, be included and what ought not, or cannot.

But the real fun starts when it comes to hymns. Now, if you are planning a funeral for a loved one who grew up in England in the last 100 years and you don’t go to church much and they didn’t either, let me put you straight out of your misery: we will sing All Things Bright and Beautiful and Abide with Me. No, seriously, no need to discuss. That is what we will end up singing.

Because if you don’t know many hymns, and love even fewer, I will suggest Abide with Me as one that you will know (from watching the FA cup final at least, as well as funerals in TV dramas), and because it’s a fantastic Christian hymn to sing at every opportunity,  especially at funerals.

And we will sing All Things Bright and Beautiful, not only because everyone knows it, but because it’s Granny’s or Grandpa’s, or Mum’s or Dad’s, or your, favourite hymn.

Why? Because they/you sang it loads at school (and possibly Sunday school), and so you learned to love it as a child. Every time you sing it now, it takes you right back, like the smell of roast turkey or a Christmas tree on fire takes you back to the memory of childhood Christmas (for me, it’s walnuts and tangerines).

Which would be OK if All Things Bright and Beautiful wasn’t such an inept piece of Christian hymnody. There’s nothing as such wrong with it—no obvious heresy or anything really offensive after you have left out that stanza, as everyone since the 1890s has done. The problem is that it says nothing much, and still manages to say it in a twee, shallow and trite fashion. And I don’t think much of the tune either. Or the other tune.

I’m also quite convinced that no adult who likes All Things Bright and Beautiful likes it because they appreciate the theology, or the art in the poetry and music. They like it chiefly because they sang it as children. And why not? I still like ‘The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock’, especially in Finnish, plus a whole host of Sunday school songs. And the Finnish folk songs we sang in primary school, accompanied on a wheezy old harmonium (which is probably why I’m so fond of Dvořák’s Bagatelles). Because I sang them as a kid, and they take me right back.

Nostalgia rules (though not like it used to when I was young).

Which brings me to Kathryn’s point, one I would like to shout from the rooftops. It really matters what songs our children sing as children. Because the songs they sing now—at home, at school, in Sunday school, in church—are the songs that will be sung at their funeral.

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