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Spiritual Violence. Martyrdom of John the Baptist (Altar Guild Service) 2018.

john baptists head.PNGThe Martyrdom of John the Baptist/ Altar Guild Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 6:14-29, Revelation 6:9-11, Romans 6:1-4

August 30, 2018

Spiritual Violence

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

An altar is furniture for an older type of worship that has mostly gone extinct.  It is necessary equipment for worship that is a matter of life and death.  In this older type of worship one did not worship by talking, singing, feeling, or thinking.  Worship was killing.  It was holy violence.  Whether you worshipped idols or the true God, the worshippers understood that a death was necessary to approach the holy.

 

God did not reject this kind of worship.  He mandated it.  He told His people to build an altar and prescribed the types of animals to be killed, the times when they should be killed, what parts of the animals should be burned, what parts should be eaten by the priests, what parts by the other worshippers, and where the victim’s blood should be poured—usually on the corners of the altar and on its base.

 

Being on the altar guild in those days was much dirtier work.

 

Why was killing and violence not only part of worship, but the center of it, even in the Old Testament?  Because without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)  The wages of sin is death, and worse than death.  For the God of justice to forgive sins and dwell with His people there must be blood.  There must be a death, an atonement for the sinful.  There must be a sacrificial victim.

 

Only then can singing and praise and prayer ascend before God as a pleasing aroma—only together with the smoke of the flesh of the victim being burned on the altar.

 

It is no accident that front and center in the church is not a pulpit, not a stage, but an altar.  It reminds us that killing, violence was necessary to bring us near to God.  When you go about the altar and put white linen on it, and lights, and colors, you are dressing a monument and a reminder of the spiritual violence without which we cannot have a relationship with God.

 

The reading from Revelation pictures for us another altar, this one in heaven.  It is startling.  Surely in heaven there is no need for an altar, a place for ritual killing, because in heaven all sin has been removed.  There is no more need for a sacrifice to take away sin.  But what is true in heaven is also true here in the church on earth.  There are no more sacrifices being made to take away sins.  That has already been done, once for all, not on an altar but on the cross that stood outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

 

Yet Revelation 6 pictures an altar in heaven.  Underneath it are those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne (Rev. 6: 9). 

 

In the ancient church there was a tradition of burying the bones of those who had been killed for their witness to Christ—the martyrs—under the altar.  Many superstitions arose about this, but the picture was that the martyrs had shared in the death of Jesus.  Each Sunday as the Church remembered the death of Christ by receiving the Lord’s body crucified for them and His blood shed for them once on the tree, they knew that they were participating in the sacrifice of Jesus that takes away the sins of the world; they knew that that sacrifice covered them and their sins, and it also covered the martyrs who had died confessing Jesus.  They knew that they were joined with God the Father, with His Son, and with all the saints in heaven as they ate and drank the body and blood of the victim that had removed sins once and for all.  They knew that the same sacrifice of Jesus that had enabled the martyrs to win the victory and be faithful unto death would work in them to share the sufferings of Jesus and His glory.

 

The altar in our church, just as the one in heaven, is no longer one at which victims are slain physically and physically burnt up as offerings.  It is the place in which we participate in the final sacrifice that takes away sins forever.  And when we participate in it in faith we also engage in real sacrifice.  Not a physical shedding of blood, but a spiritual offering of our bodies to God.  We offer our bodies together with our money, our voices, our time, and our hands.

 

God’s name cannot be honored and glorified by mere talk and mere feelings.  This is why a person who says he worships God out in nature or on the golf course doesn’t know what he’s saying—unless he worships God at the altar on Sundays.  God is honored and worshipped by those who receive the sacrifice He prepared—the sacrifice of His Son.  Only then can we thanks and praise Him acceptably at all times and in all places.

 

For the example of this, see John the Baptist.  John honored God’s name by preaching repentance, which means a death, an acknowledgement that we are God’s enemies, and a desire to forsake all our sin and service to the devil.  He preached it to the common people.  He preached it to the priests.  He preached it to the king.  He preached general repentance and He preached the particular sins particular sinners had to repent of.  He told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brothers wife.”  He told Herod that he could not sleep with whoever Herod was in love with.  And now that he had quote unquote married her, he couldn’t say, “What’s done is done,” and move on.  He had to repent or be damned, put Herodias away or die in his sin.

 

This is spiritual violence.  It was not violence against Herod and Herod’s wife, but violence against himself.  John was offering Himself to God—head, hands, and inner parts.  Body and soul.  A whole burnt offering.

 

It would of course be painful to Herod and Herodias to part and be baptized, but not nearly as painful as the refusal to listen to God who spoke through John.

 

We live in a world of Herods and Herodiases who are raising their children to be like Herodias’ daughter.  Not that the world is different now than it has ever been.  People have been slaves of sin and enemies of God since the beginning when Cain murdered his brother for offering true worship to God, worship that arises from faith in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

 

No one is rescued from being an enemy of God by sensible worship that fits in with their lifestyles.  If Herod is going to be saved, it will only be through spiritual violence, through bloodshed.  If our Herods are going to be saved, it will only be through the blood of the Lamb, witnessed to them through His faithful martyrs who are willing to faithfully witness to Christ and suffer for it.

 

John was a witness to Herod.  A few years later, another witness came to Jerusalem and stood before Herod, another martyr who offered Himself to God, proclaiming unconditional repentance and the unconditional forgiveness of sins.  And they slaughtered this martyr too by nailing Him to a cross.’

 

By this violent worship, by the shedding of this victim’s blood, the world’s sins were taken away, and by no other.

 

The altar you care for is a memorial to this one sacrifice.  It is the place where we participate in the one sacrifice that took away sin forever.  You are testifying that there is no other way for a world of Herods and Herodiases and their children to be saved from the wrath of God than through Jesus’ violent attack upon our sins.  He did not wish them away or talk them away.  He took them and died for them.

 

When we were baptized, we took part in His death.  We took our leave of a life in which we do what we want and follow the course of this world.  We died with Jesus to this world.  We were baptized into Him for the remission of sins.

 

Now it is our life not to encourage Herodias and Herod in their fornication, or to praise Herodias’ daughter as she grows up to be like her mother.  It’s not our life to seek their approval and to make things easy on our flesh.

 

Our life is a life of spiritual violence, because our life is in Christ.  We partake of the death of God’s Son from this altar and we offer up our bodies as we do so.  We put to death our flesh that wants to banquet and boast like Herod and marry illegitimately like Herodias and to silence whoever criticizes us.  We put to death our flesh that wants to soften God’s law and thereby take away the forgiveness of sins from those who listen to us.  We offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices because we are covered by the altar of Jesus who was slain to redeem us.  We return to our baptism in which we were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  We are carried away to a tomb, like John, so we may rise with Jesus and His faithful witnesses in victory.

 

And then we come down to the altar and take our place with the martyrs who are resting, in their white robes, beneath the altar of Jesus Christ.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Comforting Reassurance of the Holy Supper. Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

Comforting Reassurance of the Holy Supper (322)

Martin Luther, 1483-1546

 

Be gracious to me, O merciful God.  I am indeed a poor, sinful person and have merited nothing besides wrath.   But even though I have lived however I wanted, I hold on to this: that I know, and will not doubt it, that I am baptized for the forgiveness of my sins and am called as a Christian, and that my Lord Jesus Christ was born, suffered, died, and rose again for me.  His body and blood has been given to me for the nourishment and strengthening of my faith.  Lord Jesus Christ, I am absolved and loosed from my sins in Your name.  Therefore nothing evil can befall me, nor can I be lost; as little as God’s Word can fail or be false.  Because God Himself is to me a refuge and fortress through His Word.  Amen.

Worthiness is Unworthiness. Maundy Thursday Tenebrae. March 29, 2018

jesus last supper cranach.PNGMaundy Thursday—Tenebrae (9:15a)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Lamentations 1:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

March 29, 2018

Worthiness is Unworthiness

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The service of shadows, called Tenebrae, began with readings from the first chapter of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah mourned over the destruction of Jerusalem, the capital city of the people of God.  She has become lonely, like a widow.  Once she was a princess, but now a slave.  The lovers with whom she has committed adultery—the false gods, the idolatrous worship—have abandoned her.  No one comes to the festivals of Passover and the other holy days of Jerusalem.  She has been stripped naked.  Her dignity has been taken away.  So have her sacred things, her treasures.  And she mourns as she remembers the good things she once had.

 

Jeremiah’s description of Jerusalem sounds very similar to the way people describe the decline of this congregation, St. Peter.  It is also a description of the degradation of all human beings from the dignity we had when we were created in the image of God.  And Jeremiah says clearly why this happened to Jerusalem:  God gave them over to punishment because of their sins, because they had turned away from Him.

 

We read about the suffering of Jerusalem on these three days at the end of Lent because the suffering of God’s people is the suffering of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  On Thursday night, after celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples, He went out to the garden called Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.  There He pleaded with His Father that the cup He had to drink might pass from Him.  The cup He gave His disciples was the New Testament in His blood for the forgiveness of sins.  The cup that His Father gave Him was the cup of woe and punishment for the sins of Jerusalem and of the whole world.

 

The desolation of Jerusalem became the desolation of Jesus.  His sweat in the garden became like great drops of blood as in agony He experienced what it is to be the subject of God’s burning anger against lawlessness and evil.

 

He was led away from the garden as a captive.  His followers deserted Him; His enemies laid their hands on Him.  His dignity was taken away.  He was beaten as a wrongdoer, a slave, held up to mockery and stripped naked.  And after being nailed to a cross and lifted up to die a death of shame, He was forsaken by God to die alone with His sins.

 

His sins.  Because He had taken them as His own, not because He had done them.  The sins of Jerusalem, of God’s people; the sins of the world; the sins of this congregation; your sins.  He made them all His sins.  Our desolation became His desolation.  Our destruction became His destruction.

 

When we eat the bread of the Lord and drink the cup of the Lord we are to do it “in remembrance of Him”—in remembrance of His death and desolation for us.  Christ shows us the greatness of His heart, the wealth of His love, in instituting this Supper before His suffering, and turning the yearly Passover meal into the Sacrament of the Altar.  He was not content merely to suffer for us, but even before He suffered for our sins, embraced our destruction, He instituted a memorial meal by which we would be comforted and assured that His suffering and death applies to us.  That we also have the forgiveness of our sins through His desolation on the cross.

 

It is not only on Good Friday or in Holy Week that we are meant to remember His death.  Every Sunday is a commemoration of His death and resurrection from the dead, along with every other day we eat His body and drink His blood.

 

In the epistle to the Corinthians, Paul faults the church in Corinth for misusing the Supper of the Lord.  The Corinthian Church is not recognizing that they eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood in the Supper.  They have made it into a mere eating and drinking of bread and wine, or perhaps some mystical divine feast that is supposed to unite them with God.  But they have forgotten the death of Jesus in shame and agony, the death which made this Sacrament.  So Paul warns: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  This is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  1 Cor. 11:27-30

 

A person who drinks the cup of the Lord worthily, in a worthy manner, is a person who is like Jerusalem in the reading from Lamentations.  A person who eats the Lord’s body worthily is a person who knows himself to be unworthy of God.  You are worthy when you know yourself to be unworthy.  When you find yourself to be weak in faith and afraid of hell and death; when you have failed to keep God’s law and have fallen into sin; when your heart is cold toward God and you know that you have not been living as His servant but as a servant of yourself—then you have the first part of what makes you worthy to be a guest at the Lord’s table.  That is, you know yourself to be a sinner, worthy of God’s wrath and destruction.  Because it is unworthy sinners Jesus came to serve and for whom He came to suffer, whom He came to call to Himself.

 

The second part of receiving the Lord’s Supper that He instituted on the night of His betrayal in a worthy fashion is this: that you believe that Jesus’ body and blood are given for you, as He said on that night.  That you believe that He made your destruction and your punishment His own.  That He received the cup of God’s wrath that belonged to you when He sweat blood in the garden, and that He drank that cup to its bitter dregs when He cried “It is finished” from the cross.

 

This is not so easy to believe as we imagine.  In fact, for flesh and blood it is impossible to believe.  That God our judge would be punished to free us from our sin and its condemnation?  That God Himself would endure the hell that He threatens us with for our sins?  But this is the Gospel.  This is what Jesus clearly said when He instituted this Supper: “This is My Body, which is given for you.”  And this is what we confess in the creed when we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, who was crucified, died, and was buried.”  We are not confessing simply that Jesus died and that He rose again, but that I believe that Jesus died for me, for my sins, to take away hell for me and to make me an heir of God.

 

When you come wanting to receive a public declaration that Jesus was abandoned and forsaken for you and that you have the forgives of sins through Him, then you come to the Lord’s Supper worthily.  And so you should come.  Jesus wants you to come and eat His body and drink His blood.  He wants you to come with your desolation and affliction, your weakness of faith, your poverty of good works, and eat His body that He gave for you, and drink deeply, not of the cup of God’s wrath, but of His blood of the New Testament, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

 

He wants you to come so that you may become strong in faith and grow until you do not fear death and hell.  He wants you to come so that you may become strong, and die to sin, and rise to new life.

 

If for years you have been His guest at His table but have seen no change, and you seem to be just as weak in faith and loveless as you were years ago, Jesus calls you and me today, as this Lententide ends.  He calls us to remember His death during the Holy three days ahead and as we receive His holy Supper.  To remember His sufferings, His death, and believe that these sufferings were for you.  And to take our weakness of faith and lack of good works and lay them before Him as we receive His body that He gave to be pierced and bruised for our transgressions.

 

He who was willing to suffer to redeem you will by no means despise your prayer when you ask Him to strengthen your faith and increase your love.  He has provided everything necessary for your salvation and your sanctification when He offered up His body and blood for you.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Made Clean. 14th Sunday after Trinity, 2017.

September 20, 2017 Leave a comment

cleansing 10 lepers.jpgFourteenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 17:11-19 (Gal. 5:16-24)

September 17, 2017

“Made Clean”

Jesus

If someone asks you, “What is the Lutheran Church?  What makes it different from other churches?”—and you had to give a quick answer—the answer would be this: the doctrine of justification.  We say that a sinner is declared righteous by God for Jesus’ sake, solely through faith in Him, without any works.

 

But the Bible has other ways of describing what God has done for us in sending His Son into the flesh.  One is what we see Jesus doing in the Gospel reading today—He purifies the ten lepers, or makes them clean.

 

Jesus is headed down to Jerusalem.  As He goes through a town, a group of men with leprosy stand at a distance from Him and shout, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!  They are a long way off from Jesus because God’s Law commanded that they be.  It condemned people with leprosy as unclean or impure.

 

God is not only righteous and just; He is also pure and clean.  So He commanded that the impure were not allowed among the people with whom He dwelt.  The unclean were not allowed into His house.  Lepers had to live outside the camp with their clothes torn, in mourning.  Whenever an Israelite came by who didn’t have leprosy, they had to shout “Unclean, unclean!” to warn them.

 

Uncleanness and impurity separated lepers from God and His holy community.  They stood far away from Jesus, yet from far off they cried to Him: Have mercy on us! 

 

They must have heard about Jesus—how He had healed many others who were paralyzed, who had fevers, who were blind, how He cast out demons.  They believed that Jesus, who had overcome the devil’s power over other people, could and would take away their impurity.

 

And Jesus didn’t disappoint them in their trust.  He heard their cry and told them, Go, show yourselves to the priests. 

 

The Law commanded that if a leper was healed, he had to go to the priests at the temple and be examined by them.  If the priests found that the leper had been cleansed, they would perform two rites: one to purify him, and the other to reinstate him as a member of the holy people.

 

So when Jesus says, Go, show yourselves to the priests, He is telling them to believe that He has granted what they called out for even though they don’t see it.  Even though you don’t see it yet, I have granted your prayer.  I have mercy on you.  You are cleansed.  Go to the priests and let them acknowledge it.

 

And as they went, says the Holy Spirit through St. Luke, they were cleansed.

 

Jesus purifies us from the leprosy of sin and brings us before God’s face.

 

Leprosy has mostly been rooted out of the modern world.  But our sense of impurity hasn’t gone away.  Look at how people carry around little bottles of hand sanitizer to kill any germs they may get from contact with other people!  Look at how obsessed our society is with bodily perfection and health, and how increasingly we eliminate babies with physical defects, aborting them so that they never see the sun!  We don’t do these things from religious impulses.  But the fact that we are so preoccupied with them shows how people continue to recognize intuitively the need for purity and wholeness, at least in regard to the body.

 

That feeling that we need to be pure, to be clean, is correct.  Uncleanness, sickness, deformity is a manifestation of the corruption and death at work in our bodies.  And the reason why corruption and death are at work in our bodies is because of the impurity of our souls, even our whole natures.  Original sin, in which we are conceived, passed down to us from Adam and Eve, makes us impure and unclean before God even before we think or do anything sinful.  And just like skin diseases break out in boils, scabs, or running sores, so original sin breaks out in impure thoughts, words, and actions against God.

 

We were all born with this leprosy.  It is not something we have any power to cure.  It corrupts everything we think, everything we do.  And it separates us from God.  We cannot come into His presence when we are unclean with sin; we can’t be numbered among His holy people.  Behold, (A)the Lord‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,  or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;2 (B)but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. (Is. 59:1-2)It isn’t just our evil words and evil deeds that separate us from God, but the evil nature with which we are conceived, so that all that by nature provokes the wrath of God.

 

Yet we sit here this morning not defiled, but clean.  Not alienated from God, but reconciled to Him, and brought near to Him.

 

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, (BC)doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled (BD)in his body of flesh by his death, (BE)in order to present you holy and blameless and (BF)above reproach before him (Col. 1:21-22), says St. Paul in Colossians 1.  We were brought near to God and cleansed of our sins when Jesus was cast out as the one who bore the impurity of our deeds and thoughts and even of our nature.  As He bore that impurity on the cross and the sun was darkened, He cried out that God had forsaken Him.

 

That was the purification of our uncleanness.  It says in Hebrews 10: 1But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he (Q)sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time (R)until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering (S)he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.  By a single sacrifice He perfected sinners; by that one sacrifice He purified us of sin.

 

Jesus was going down to Jerusalem to do this very thing when the lepers cried out to Him.  When our parents brought us to the church as little ones, seemingly innocent yet already impure and alienated from God in our minds, through the pastor Jesus received us and cleansed us in the washing with water through the Word (Eph. 5).  He baptized us, putting us to death with Him and raising us up with Him.  We died to the old life of Adam.  We rose in Christ to a new life as children of God, free from condemnation and sin.  Our sins were covered.  We were brought into the communion of saints, the holy people of God.  We were purified from the uncleanness of sin, and God came to dwell, not in a tent near us, but in our bodies.

 

It is true that we still feel the old nature working in us, making our conscience dirty again, making us think evil thoughts and provoking us to do evil deeds.  But the thrashing around of the old Adam is not counted to us, as long as we are led by the Spirit, as long as daily we resist and crucify the flesh and return to our Baptism to die in repentance and rise through faith in Jesus alone.

 

So as often as we feel the old nature and its impurity, Jesus comes to us through the pastor in holy absolution.  We confess our sins, and Jesus testifies that our sins are forgiven—which means that they are loosed from us, they are not counted to us, and we are not cast out as unclean, but we are pure and clean and brought to our Father in heaven.

 

This is what the letter to the Hebrews is talking about when it says: 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts (AA)sprinkled clean (AB)from an evil conscience and our bodies (AC)washed with pure water.  (Heb. 10:22)  Jesus sent the lepers to the temple.  They did not yet see that they were clean, but they went in faith.  We draw near to God in faith that Jesus has made us clean, trusting His cross, where He provided purification for sins, trusting His promise in Baptism, where He applies that purification to us.   We see that impurity is still at work within us.  It seems, sometimes, overwhelming.  But we don’t believe in it.  We consider Jesus’ promise greater than what we see with our eyes, and His work more powerful than the works of our flesh.

 

Jesus purifies us from the leprosy of sin, and brings us to stand with confidence before the face of God.

 

But in the reading, something awful happened.  Jesus cleansed ten lepers.  Nine of them were Jews, who were descendants of Abraham and heirs of God’s promises.  One was a Samaritan—a foreigner.  Yet out of the ten men for whom Jesus did this amazing miracle of cleansing and restoration, only the Samaritan came back to thank Him!

 

Was it because the others thought they should thank God in the temple and not at the feet of Jesus?  Was it because the priests at the temple convinced them Jesus was a false prophet?  We aren’t told.  We only hear Jesus faulting them for not thanking God at His feet.

 

How awful it is to face the reality that the same thing happens among us!  Jesus has cleansed many people of something worse than leprosy in this place.  When He baptized them, He washed away the uncleanness of original sin that separates people from God forever.

 

Yet most do not come back to give thanks here where Jesus is present in flesh and blood.  So many baptized babies we never see again after their parents bring them to be baptized.  They bring them to Jesus to be baptized, but not to hear His Word or receive His body and blood.

 

But some are brought back long enough to be confirmed and admitted to the sacrament of the altar.  Then, after their confirmation day, a few months or years later, they too are gone.

 

And others keep coming.  Yet though they thank Jesus with their lips, it is just lip service.  They do not cast themselves facedown at the feet of Jesus, thanking Him for making them clean.  They come as those performing a religious duty, not with the joy of those who have been made clean and pure by Jesus’ blood, but as those who think they have kept themselves pure.

 

How do we know that we are not one of the nine who were cleansed and then fell back into spiritual death?

 

Because we trust in this only: that Jesus has purified us from the leprosy of sin and brought us into the presence of God.  When we see the thanklessness and unbelief in our hearts, we turn our eyes and our ears to His promise.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness…If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2).  Jesus made purification for our sins on the cross.  It is done.  He bestowed that purification on us in Baptism.  That too is done.  That is what we cling to in faith.  And as we continue to put to death our impure flesh, we come to Jesus for help.  We draw near to God through Him, who alone can help us.

 

And He helps us.  He spreads before us the blessed feast of thanksgiving, the Sacrament of His body and blood.

 

When the leprosy of your old nature seems to have broken out again, and you fear that you have relapsed into death and alienation from God, come to the table the Lord spreads.  Pay attention only to His words: “for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  He is telling you that it is done.  You are purified.

 

As you eat and drink, believing these words, you also lay your body and soul at His feet, that your life from then on may be for the praise of His glory.  Then you go out from here, believing you are pure in God’s sight, and eager to glorify Him for this great mercy.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Thanksgiving after Receiving the Holy Supper–Luther

lutheran-painting-liturgyOh my God, even though I am without doubt a poor sinner, nevertheless I am no sinner.  I am a sinner in myself and outside of Christ, but in my Lord Christ and outside of myself I am no sinner.  For He has paid for all my sins with His blood, as I firmly believe.  I also have been baptized and received in it the true mark of Your salvation.  I have been absolved of all my sins through God’s Word and declared free of sin, loosed and unbound.  I have also been fed the true body and given to drink the true blood of my Lord Jesus Christ, as certain signs of grace.  I have received forgiveness of sins, which my dear Lord Jesus Christ merited, won, and received for me through His precious blood.  For this I thank Him in eternity.  Amen.

Martin Luther 1483-1546

Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

The Church’s Sacrifice at the Lord’s Supper. Luther.

Luther communing John the Steadfast.

I will gladly agree that the faith which I have called the true priestly office is truly able to do all things in heaven, earth, hell, and purgatory; and to this faith no one can ascribe too much. It is this faith, I say, which makes us all priests and priestesses. Through it, in connection with the sacrament, we offer ourselves, our need, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving in Christ and through Christ; and thereby we offer Christ to God, that is, we move Christ and give him occasion to offer himself for us and to offer us with himself. And as I have said above, if Christ promises to two persons [Matt. 18:19] the answers to all their prayers, how much more may so many obtain from him [in the mass] what they desire!

…Therefore my advice is, let us hold fast to that which is sure and let the uncertain go. That is, if we would help these poor [departed] souls or anyone else, let us not take the risk of relying upon the mass as a sufficient work. Rather let us come together in the mass and with priestly faith present every urgent need, in Christ and with Christ, praying for the souls [of the departed], and not doubting that we will be heard. Thus we may be sure that the soul is redeemed. For the faith which rests on the promise of Christ never deceives or fails.

So we read that St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, desired on her deathbed to be remembered in the mass. If the mass were sufficient of itself to help everyone, what need would there be for faith and prayer? But you might say: If this is true, then anyone might observe mass and offer such a sacrifice, even in the open fields; for anyone may indeed have such a faith in Christ in the open fields, and offer and commit to him his prayer, praise, need, and cause, to bring it before God in heaven; besides he may also think of the sacrament and testament and may heartily desire it, and in this way receive it spiritually (for he who desires it and believes, receives it spiritually, as St. Augustine teaches)—what need is there then to observe mass in the church?

I answer: It is true, such faith is enough and truly accomplishes everything. But how could you think of this faith, sacrifice, sacrament, and testament if it were not visibly administered in certain designated places and churches? The same is true in the case of baptism and absolution: although faith is sufficient without them, where nothing more can be done, still, if they never existed anywhere, who could think of them and believe in them or who could know or say anything about them? Moreover since God has instituted this sacrament, we must not despise it, but receive it with great reverence, praise, and gratitude. For if there were no other reason why we should observe mass outwardly and not be satisfied with inward faith alone, then this is reason enough, that God so instituted it and wills it. And his will ought to please us above all things and should be sufficient reason to do or omit anything.

There is also this advantage: since we are still living in the flesh and are not all so perfect as to govern ourselves in spirit, we need actually to come together, by example, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to enkindle in one another such a faith, as I have said above, and through the outward seeing and receiving of the sacrament and testament to move each other to the increase of this faith. There are many saints who, like St. Paul the Hermit, remained for years in the desert without the mass and yet were never without it. But such a high spiritual example cannot be imitated by everyone or by the whole church.

But the chief reason for holding mass outwardly is the word of God, which no one can do without. It must be used and inculcated daily, not only because Christians are born, baptized, and trained every day, but because we live in the midst of the flesh, and the devil, who do not cease to assail us and drive us into sin. Against these the most powerful weapon is the holy word of God, which even St. Paul calls “a spiritual sword” [Eph. 6:17], which is powerful against all sin. This is shown by the fact that the Lord, when He instituted the mass, said, “Do this in remembrance of me” [1 Cor. 11:24-25], as if he were saying, “As often as you use this sacrament and testament you shall be preaching of me.”

…And had there been no preaching, Christ would never have instituted the mass. He is more concerned about the word than about the sign. For the preaching ought to be nothing but an explanation of the words of Christ, when he instituted the mass and said, “This is my body, this is my blood, etc.” What is the whole gospel but an explanation of this testament?

Martin Luther. “ A Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass.” Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 35. Pp. 102-106.

Christ Offers Us As a Sacrifice in His Supper. Luther.

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We should, therefore, give careful heed to this word “sacrifice,” to that we do not presume to give God something in the sacrament, when it is he who in it gives us all things.  We should bring spiritual sacrifices, since the external sacrifices have ceased…What sacrifices, then, are we to offer?  Ourselves, and all that we have, with constant prayer, as we say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” [Matt. 6:10].  With this we are to yield ourselves to the will of God, that he may make of us what he will, according to his own pleasure.  In addition we are to offer him praise and thanksgiving with our whole heart, for his unspeakable, sweet grace and mercy, which he has promised and given us in this sacrament.  And although such a sacrifice occurs apart from the mass, and should so occur—for it does not necessarily and essentially belong to the mass, as has been said—yet it is more precious, more appropriate, more mighty, and also more acceptable when it takes place with the multitude and in the assembly, where men encourage, move, and inflame one another to press close to God and thereby attain without any doubt what they desire.

 

For Christ has so promised: where two are gathered in his name, there he is in the midst of them; and where two agree on earth about anything they ask, everything that they ask shall be done [Matt 18:20, 19].  How much more shall they obtain what they ask when a whole city comes together to praise God and to pray with one accord!  We would not need many indulgence letters if we proceeded properly in this matter.  Souls would also be easily redeemed from purgatory* and innumerable blessings would follow…

 

To be sure this sacrifice of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and of ourselves as well, we are not to present before God in our own person.  But we are to lay it upon Christ and let him present it for us, as St. Paul teaches in Hebrews 13[:15], “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess him and praise him”; and all this “through Christ.”  For this is why he is also a priest—as Psalm 110 [:4] says, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”—because he intercedes for us in heaven.  He receives our prayer and sacrifice, and through himself, as a godly priest, makes them pleasing to God…

 

From these words we learn that we do not offer Christ as a sacrifice, but that Christ offers us.  And in this way it is permissible, yes, profitable, to call the mass a sacrifice; not on its own account, but because we offer ourselves as a sacrifice along with Christ.  That is, we lay ourselves on Christ by a firm faith in his testament and do not otherwise appear before God with our prayer, praise, and sacrifice except through Christ and his mediation.  Nor do we doubt that Christ is our priest or minister in heaven before God.  Such faith, truly, brings it to pass that Christ takes up our cause, presents us and our prayer and praise, and also offers himself for us in heaven.  If the mass were so understood and for this reason called a sacrifice, it would be well.  Not that we offer the sacrament, but that by our praise, prayer, and sacrifice we move him and give him occasion to offer himself for us in heaven and ourselves with him.

 

Martin Luther, “A Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass.”  Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 35, pp.98-99.

 

*  “A Treatise on the New Testament” was published in 1520. In 1518 (according to the footnote in the American Edition”) Luther affirmed that he believed in the existence of purgatory. But already in the same document he insisted that “every matter concerning the souls in purgatory is most obscure.” By 1521 he would say “Those who do not believe in purgatory are not to be called heretics.” The first time he wrote a treatise directly on the doctrine of purgatory was in 1530 where he attacked the traditional arguments in support of the doctrine.

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