How to vary the liturgy

Why should the same musical setting be used on Advent Sunday, on Christmas Day, on Good Friday, on Easter Sunday, and on a Day of Humiliation and Prayer, when in each case the spirit and character of the day varies so greatly. Thoughtful Christians thus realize that it is not the text but rather the musical setting of the Liturgy which needs variety.

Walter E. Buszin (Chairman of the Commission on Worship, Liturgics, and Hymnology, Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), ‘Introduction’, The Order of Holy Communion(Healey Willan, 1959).

Coming Soon: Sunday Cantata

As you ought to know by now, Lutheran Radio UK, the ELCE’s round-the-clock English-language Lutheran radio station, has been running for quite a few months. If you haven’t, have a listen on the website, through an internet radio, or on your portable device (e.g. via TuneIn Radio).

Starting this coming Sunday, I will be presenting a new weekly show calledSunday Cantata. Each Sunday, I will introduce a cantata written for that Sunday by J.S. Bach.

The church cantatas of Bach are one of the most extraordinary artistic achievements in the history of Western culture. For several years, Bach produced a cantata a fortnight, or more, for the churches of Leipzig, beside all his other duties.

The music is outstanding, the theology profound and thoroughly Lutheran. What better way could there be to spend 15 minutes on a Sunday?

All the recordings come from the award-winning and most outstanding cycle of complete Bach cantatas by Bach Collegium Japan directed by Masaaki Suzuki.

Find out more by visiting the programme page.

I look forward to your company some time this Sunday!

P.S. If you want to buy the BCJ recordings, I can recommend eClassical, who sell them as high-quality downloads at a very reasonable rate.

The world just changed — did you notice?

Not very long ago, the Book of Concord was published in Swahili. This is one of the most significant positive developments in the recent church history.

Bet you didn’t know about it!

Read about it here (make sure you watch the slideshow at the bottom of the page: watch the clergy and laity queue up for their copy!).

And listen to an interview of the editor-in-chief here, Lutheran Radio UK (the episodes for 5 and 12 November) for the background, history and significance of the project.

Swahili is one of the major languages of the world, spoken by more people than German. There are millions of Lutherans in Africa, including several million who speak Swahili. This is truly historic.

And do spread the word.

The people in the preacher’s study

Wise words on preaching from Pr. Christopher Esget:

When I have writer’s block in preparing a sermon, I try to think about explaining the text to particular members of my congregation, mentally bringing before me a child in our school, a young mother, an elderly person approaching death. I shouldn’t wait until I have writer’s block.

Read the whole thing here: The people in the preacher’s study | Esgetology.

Non, je ne regrette

[Health warning: the first part is mildly technical and a little dry, but ‘contemporary application’ follows further down!]

In today’s NT reading in the Lutheran Service Book Daily Lectionary (Matt. 27:1–10), the ESV tells us that Judas, seeing that Jesus was condemned to death, “changed his mind” and attempted to return the 30 pieces of silver he had been paid for betraying the Lord.

Reading this, I was intrigued by the weakness of the expression. He merely “changed his mind”, yet this was enough for him not only to throw away the considerable sum of money but his very life. For he went and hanged himself.

The earlier translations in the tradition to which the ESV places itself, namely the Authorised (‘King James’) Version and the RSV, as well as the NRSV, plump for the opposite end of the spectrum, by telling us that Judas “repented [AV adds the reflexive ‘himself’]”. That doesn’t seem right, either: repentance is within the NT and consequently in Christian theology a technical term with connotations that are incompatible with Judas’ subsequent actions. In short, repentance properly understood will never lead to suicide.

So ad fontes it was: what does Matthew actually tell us? Well, he tells us that Judas returned the pieces of silver, μεταμεληθεὶς (metameletheis).
Now that word can mean a change of mind (as in Mt. 21:30 ff.), and it can mean repentance (several places in the Septuagint, for example). But its root meaning is something different. According to Liddell & Scott, the basic meaning of the verb is to regret or to rue something.

Hence, the NAB rendering of this verse: “Judas deeply regretted what he had done”. Which, to my mind, is right on the money. He regretted, rid himself of his unjust wages, and, full of regret, tragically took his own life.

Had Judas not merely regretted (μεταμέλομαι, metamelomai), but repented (μετανοεῖν, metanoein), the story would have ended very differently. Judas wasn’t the only one who messed up with Jesus. Peter did, too. Later, Saul played an even more directly violent part against Jesus. Judas regretted what he had done. Peter and Paul repented. He died. They were resurrected.

When it comes to human sin, to the errors of which people are guilty against one another and against God, the worse thing you can do is to harden your heart and deny your guilt, and thereby declare black white and white black, and call God a liar and yourself a god.

But spiritually, you are no better off if you recognise your faults, but your only reaction to them is regret, guilt. Because regret is only a recognition of the problem, but it can offer no way out of it. If you merely regret, you are faced with your guilt, and then left to wallow in it. It is wholly negative.

This is presumably why it has become so fashionable for people to look back on their lives, in autobiographies, on Desert Island Discs, and in casual conversation, give a frank description of the follies of their past, and then conclude that of course “I have no regrets—all those things have made me who I am”. Frank Sinatra, who surely had much to regret, speaks for whole generations of moderns.

And I agree: we should not regret the past. I would like to encourage you to sing with that rough-edged sparrow, Édith Piaf, Non, je ne regrette rien.

Do not regret. Repent!

Confess your sins, and receive absolution! Move on, not in spite of your guilt, but without it.

When Peter explained to the people of Jerusalem that they were guilty of the death of God’s Messiah, they were horrified, cut to the heart: “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) As well they should have been.

What Peter didn’t say was, “Feel guilty, very guilty.” He didn’t tell them to feel or express mere remorse and regret. Nor did he tell them to pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes and move on, like some modern-day politician caught with his pants down.

Instead, he told them: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Repent! Acknowledge your sin. And then run to the Lamb of God who deals with the sin of the world. He deals with your guilt by removing it. Not just the feeling of guilt, but the actual guilt. So that you are no longer guilty but innocent. With a colourful past, but no regrets, because your past is buried with Christ, and your present is the resurrected life His forgiveness gives you.

What does such baptizing with water signify?
— Answer: It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever. (Small Catechism: Part IV, Question 4)