Singing the faith

Presentation of the Augsburg ConfessionI seem to remember that part of the civil war that was the Arian controversy in the early Church involved rival hymnody. The Arians, with Arius leading from the front, wrote hymns that dressed the heresy in a musical form in order better to drive the doctrine into people’s hearts. Their orthodox opponents then wrote their own hymns for the same reason.

This practice was an essential part of the Lutheran Reformation as well. Witness Luther’s catechetical hymns, or indeed the many fine Psalm paraphrases by Lutheran hymn writers (and even Isaac Watts in England at a later time), setting the Psalms in their Christological context, etc.

The miraculously prodigious hymn translator Matthew Carver has added to his many services to the English speaking church by translating a hymn paraphrase of the entire Augsburg Confession. It goes nicely with “Now Thank We All Our God”. It may not be the finest German poetry ever written, but who cares.

Jaroslav Pelikan once wrote, “No doctrine is a doctrine of the Church unless it can be prayed.” And if it can be prayed, it can be sung. So go ahead, check it out, and start singing! You can find it here.

The Futile Church

The Baptist had preached repentance, but it didn’t help. The Church has done the same for two thousand years, and it still doesn’t appear to have helped. It looks like other means are necessary to get people to listen. Shouldn’t we show others that we can do something really impressive? That’s a temptation that has pursued the Church throughout its history. Many times it’s been tempting for the Church to get politically involved or interevene in society in an effort to make an impression, create good will, gain sympathy, and win support.

Jesus again answered from Scripture: “You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test”. God knows what He wants. He has His boundaries. There are things He keeps for Himself. His thoughts are far beyond ours and can’t change them. That’s why Jesus abstained from doing a lot of the things His disciples and His adversaries thought He should do. His friends weren’t allowed to fight when He surrendered to His enemies. He commanded Peter to put his sword away. He didn’t step down from the cross. He didn’t ask His Father for legions of angels that would have gladly hurried to His rescue. Even Christ’s Church has to continue to preach repentance and faith, although the world says it should take the completely different position that it’s better to get with the times and engage all resources in a cause they say is closer to the hearts of the people than the salvation of their souls.

Bo Giertz, To Live with Christ, CPH 2008 (translated by Richard Wood and Bror Erickson), pp. 197–198.

There is life without …

… not sailing!

Lost in silence, saved in song

As part of my Isaiah's lips cleansedpreparation for preaching on Isaiah 6:1–13 next Sunday, I was reading Luther’s lectures on Isaiah. I was intrigued that the translation (presumably Vulgate) he was using rendered Isa 6:5 as, “Woe is me! For I was silent”, rather than the usual “I am lost”. Well, some digging around ensued, with the following discovery: the Hebrew word normally rendered `I am lost’ (niphal  of DMH) can mean (1) be brought to/obliged to be silent; (2) be destroyed; (3) be ruined or undone. Well, I never!

No doubt the almost universal translation “I am lost” is the best translation of the Hebrew. However, I’m prepared to wager a pair of cotton socks that the Hebrew is also a pun: “Woe to me, for I am lost—and so I am silenced.” A prophet who is perishing because of his unclean lips—and rendered speechless because of his unclean lips.

But when the seraph touches his lips with a burning coal from the altar, his lips are cleansed. His guilt is taken away, his sins atoned for—and his mouth opened to proclaim God’s word.

Which is precisely what happens to us, especially in the Divine Service. Our lips are touched, not with a burning coal but with the body and blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Our lips are cleansed, our guilt taken away, our sins atoned for—and our mouths are opened by the Lord to declare His praise to one another and to the whole world.

This is why I think Luther was so spot-on in switching the place of the Sanctus in the Liturgy of the Sacrament, so that it came after the Words of Institution, and not in the Preface (even though this move is almost universally condemned as amateurish, ignorant and cackhanded). The song of the seraphim was a spontaneous reaction to the presence of the Lord of hosts in the Temple. With the Consecration, the Lord of hosts, Jesus Christ, becomes truly and bodily present in the Temple of His Church—so what better way to confess that than to join in the song of the angels, the archangels and all the company of heaven!

Having been cleansed, the Church is saved from sin and rescued from silence, to proclaim the wonderful deeds of Him who saved her.

Non moriar sed vivam et narrabo opera Domini

­—

I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.

The ending and the beginning

Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834 – 1890), "Casting out the Money Changers"

I don’t know what it’s like from an author’s point of view, but as a reader of books I have got the impression that the two hardest things in writing a book are the beginning and the ending. The story might write itself, but how do you open it? I suppose that’s why there we have “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after”. There is no substitute for a solid opening—”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” comes to mind.

Or, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.

But how to end it?

Well, as I was reminded while reading today’s OT reading in the Treasury of Daily Prayer, in the case of the penultimate book of the  Old Testament canon, this is how:

And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day. (Zech. 14:21, ESV)

The wider context is Zechariah’s prophecy of the humbling of the enemies of Israel, the bringing in of the nations to worship the Lord, and the consecration of everything from the bells of the horses to pots and pans in the kitchen “so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them.”

I have read Zechariah before, more than once. However, I hadn’t paid close attention to this closing sentence before. For some reason, as I was reading it this morning, however, it hit me right in the face: Jesus in the Temple.

All the Gospel writers relate the incident of Jesus entering the Temple, almost certainly soon after his triumphal entry—i.e., some days before his crucifixion. Once in the Temple, he drove out the traders and money changers, incurring the wrath of the Temple authorities.

Rightly, much has been made of the incident. The corruption of late second Temple worship, the narrowing of Jewish exclusivism at the expense of Gentiles coming to the Temple, Jesus’ authority over the Temple and its guardians, his zeal for true worship of the Father, setting himself up as the true Temple, etc. All good and true, there in the text. Since the Holocaust, several scholars have pinpointed this incident as a clear indication that Jesus deliberately orchestrated his own martyrdom (thereby lifting the blame from the Jewish authorities, whose hand Jesus allegedly forced). Not so good and true…

However, I hadn’t made the link to Zechariah before (and, it seems, I’m not alone in that). By driving out the traders from the Temple, Jesus was signalling the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy. And sure enough, within a week or so, Jesus had died and risen again, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. And a few weeks after that, the Holy Spirit came upon his disciples, making them into temples for the Holy Spirit. The division between Jew and Gentile, sacred and profane space, gone. All who worship the Lord, who come to the Father through the Son, are holy to the Lord and their whole lives sanctified, holy to the Lord.

And so in Holy Week, Jesus started a new beginning—just where Zechariah and the Old Covenant had left off.

Get a Lutheran Study Bible in the UK at a US price

There is a limited number of Lutheran Study Bibles available for sale at the CPH list price, plus p&p (within the UK). Mostly the basic hardback edition (£21.60—or half the Amazon.co.uk price), but also some others, including the Genuine Leather Larger Print at a mere £52.40 a piece.

Look here for more details, including information on why you should get one if you haven’t already.

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Don’t miss this opportunity. I can guarantee its a one-off.