Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It is four in the morning, but I want yesterday's date to mark this post, so I back dated it...

First, I would like to shout with joy the glad tidings that Pastor sent me all six hymns for Sunday this afternoon!  I listened to the first three hymns at work, choosing to replay At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing many, many times while doing some design work.  It's funny, but I tease Pastor about how Lutherans sing all the verses in hymns, no 1st, 3rd, and 5th only ones for them.  Yet though this hymn has 8 verses, it ends all too soon for me!  Too soon!

At the Lamb's high feast we sing
Praise to sacred blood for win
Gives His body for the feast--
Flowing from His pierced side.

Praise we Him, whose love diving
Gives His sacred blood for wine,
Gives His body for the feast--
Christ the victim, Christ the priest.

Where the paschal blood is poured,
Death's dread angel sheathes the sword;
Israel's host triumphant go
Through the wave that drowns the foe.

Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
Paschal victim, paschal bread;
With sincerity and love
Eat we manna from above.

Mighty Victim from the sky,
Hell's fierce pow'rs beneath You lie;
You have conquered in the fight,
You have brought us life and light.

No no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
You have opened paradise,
And Your saints in You shall rise.

Easter triumph, Easter joy!
This alone can sin destroy;
From sin's pow'r, Lord, set us free,
Newborn souls in You to be.

Father, who the crown shall give,
Savior, by whose death we live,
Spirit, guide through all our days;
Three in One, Your name we praise.

For me, this hymn mirrors that which I feel about the Lord's Supper and gives me a glimpse of the joy of Easter.  My Easters, as a child, were not joyous.  That both major Christian holidays were nothing to look forward to, nothing to celebrate, is hard for me to shed.  In this hymn, for a moment, I was able to set that aside and focus on what Christ did for me those three days.

The hymn is playing right now.

When he sang these hymns, it was with a bit more passion than the other ones.  You see, this Sunday is All Saints Day, is one of his favorite Sundays of the year.  Now, he explained this to me, but I fear that I am not so clear about it.  I shall, however, bumble my way through it.  Some saints are celebrated throughout the church year, but this day is sort of a catch all for the rest.  However, all the rest also includes me!  Okay, back up.  A saint is not someone who did good works, such as Mother Theresa, who admittedly poured out her life for others, but for those who are made holy.  The only way sinful humans are made holy is through Christ.  So, saints are all those who are in Christ.  All Saint's Day celebrates both those in Christ who have gone before us and those in Christ now.  It is a day to celebrate what He has done for us and to celebrate that we are all made one in Him.  We are one body, one church, one family of God. 

Such joy was painted on his face while telling me all this...

Tonight, at confession/absolution, Pastor said something important, that I didn't write down, but I would like to share nevertheless, for I have had a bit of delayed reaction to the Word. 

Last Wednesday at bible study, he had mentioned the parable of the unmerciful servant who, when his large debt was forgiven by his master, responded by throwing one of his own debtor's into prison over a much smaller amount.  At the time, he did not address the end of the parable specifically.  When I read it for myself, I was crushed.

Jesus Christ concluded the parable with verses 34-35:

"And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.  My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Oh, the Law!  I labored mightily beneath these verses for I know my sin.  I know it!  I struggle with forgiveness, knowing it, understanding it, walking in it.  Knowing how I have sinned against God, the depth of it, grieves me.  All I could think about was to worry what the "do" meant...that I would be handed over to torturers or that He wouldn't forgive me.  For I know my sin.  I know it!

That is, in part, why I am so very thankful for confession/absolution.  He came over tonight, after bible study, to make for a late night the day before he has graduate school class, because it is a gift he wants to give.  Sometimes I wonder which one of us understands my need for forgiveness more.

If I can say this correctly...Pastor's response to my confession of my terror at those verses, at my confession of my battle with trying to forgive my family who has wounded me so, was that if we choose to live by the Law, then that is what we get.  That is the wrath of the Law.  But...[pay attention Myrtle]...if we are in Christ, the wrath has already been poured out.  Christ was handed over to torturers until the debt was paid.  My debt was paid.  My debt for the forgiveness I struggle to give was paid.

He told me that it is good for the Law to pierce my heart for we should know our sin, confess our sin, and receive His blessed forgiveness.  Yes, I am pierced by the Law, but so was Christ.  He bore my wrath.

He read to me from Ephesians 5...twice...inserting my name in the passage:

"...Christ also loved [Myrtle] and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself [Myrtle] in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless..." (v. 25-27)

I could have listened to it thrice more.  Had I asked, I believe Pastor would have complied.

I also asked him what it means, really means, to say, to pray, Lord, have mercy.  Oh, how I wish I could repeat what he said.  But, again, I did not take notes. The one bit I do remember, I think, is that it means we are standing with the lepers and tax collectors because we know our sin makes us inwardly as they appear outwardly...diseased...swindlers.  We stand with them as beggars and cry out for mercy because we have nothing.  That is who we are before Christ.  We cry out for mercy because we know that, just as He did with the lepers and the tax collectors, Christ will give it to us, cleansing us, healing us.

We finished the liturgy, and then Pastor prayed the Prayer on Wednesday from the Treasury of Daily Prayer with me and gave me a blessing before he left.  [Absolution and a blessing at the same time!  Such sweet consolation!]  He had read that he had forgotten on Saturday.  What he didn't hear, I think, is why I mentioned it.  I could have reminded him, could have asked him to come back.  I know he would have in a heartbeat.  It is hard for me to do so.

After he left, I sat on the couch for a while, just thinking on his words and re-reading the passages he read.

One of my laments is that I am quite greedy with his teaching.  I am.  I am not exaggerating or speaking lightly about this.  I am greedy for I am hard pressed for time.  The MS.  The cognitive decline.  I feel as if I have tried again and again and again to speak of this only to have my words fall on deaf ears.  Oh, how I long for someone to hold my hand for a while and tell me that it will be okay, if only because God knows and God understands my fears over this.

Perhaps this might convey the mental loss I battle to cope with and to hide:  Several times, not once but several times, I have found myself scrubbing my finger tips, trying to get the dirt off of them, not understanding how they got so dirty.  They are not dirty.  What I am trying to scrub off are the tiny pin pricks from the blood sugar testing I have to do, tiny blood-marked pin pricks.  I also regularly find myself trying to figure out why I have small bruises on my finger tips.  Again, I struggle and puzzle my way to remembering that I am sticking a needle in my fingers several times a day to make blood rise to the surface.  [Of course, if I could remember to change the needle more often, I think it would be easier on my fingertips.]  I scrub and try all sorts of cleansers only to finally figure out what those spots are.  And then, a while later, I am scrubbing again.  Given that this is a problem when I am putting in my contacts and think I am putting a contact on a dirty finger and given that I put in my contacts every I making myself clear?  I have lost so very much.

So, I want him to teach me NOW, to help me untangle all the lies satan has woven around me, before I cannot remember why doing so is important, before I forget the cross.  I want to shed all that works teaching, all those lessons on the bits and pieces of law I must keep so that I cling only to the pure teaching of the Gospel.

I have been reading the bible and studying doctrine for hours on end, not as a work, not as a plan to gain something, but because I am compelled to read, because I am satiated in a way I cannot really explain or describe.  Last night, I read through the book of Galatians, speaking the words to myself, to the bird on my head, the one on my shoulder, and Kashi at my feet.  On a dark, dark night, two months ago, when I cried out for help, Pastor, though he was not sure what to do, gave me a precious gift.  He came over and read through the Compline liturgy.  For the scripture reading, he read through the book of Philippians from beginning to end.  I recommend that you do the same.  My hurt was not lessened, nothing had really changed, but I was consoled in a way I would not have thought possible.  Last night, I remembered his gift and thought to try the same for the turmoil that wells within me and chose Galatians.

The Living Word is mighty and precious and a never-ending vault of riches.  But reading it does bring about so very many questions.  Sometimes I think it would be better to stop reading, to stop studying, for some of  the questions bother me greatly, wanting to understand or laboring beneath the burden of finding oh so much more Law than Gospel, even though I am learning that Gospel permeates the pages of the bible from beginning to end.  I ask Pastor about my questions and feel guilty for doing so and yet I ask nonetheless.  I feel guilty because I pile them high about him and want him to plow through them, if not immediately, then by the end of the day or perhaps by the time I awake the next morning.  I put my heart out there in the questions and tremble in vulnerability.  I dare to try, to trust, and am not very patient with a man who has worked so very hard to teach me and to help me.

This came up again tonight and Pastor read me a third passage from the tenth chapter of Romans, verses 14-15.  Basically, this question-filled passage is saying that we need pastors, that God gave us them so that we might understand.  The Holy Spirit reveals to us His Word, but God has called forth undershepherds to help guide us on our pilgrimage.  I found this comforting.

After a while, I turned on the computer so that I could listen to the other three hymns.  On the last one, Pastor started the recording with a helpful message for me to note the stanzas were on different pages.  I cannot figure out a way to describe it, but the hymn is split across two pages.  His verbal note made me smile.  After listening to all three twice, I turned back to At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing and set it to repeat.

And I turned back to Ephesians.

Pastor told me Saturday that when I find the Law and begin to crumble beneath its weight, I should remember the cross.  Ah, but Pastor, I am not so good at all that for me stuff, was my lament. How can I cling to that which confuses me, that which conflicts so markedly with that which experience has taught me?   

The Spirit will teach you, was his reply.  You will learn by His gifts, by the waters of your baptism, by the Living Word, by the body and blood of Christ, by the forgiveness of absolution. Just as Christ is saving me daily, hourly, He is forgiving me daily, hourly.  Give it time; the Holy Spirit will work these gifts into your heart.

When?  I cried.

When the Spirit reveals it to His perfect timing.

Tonight, the moment came and passed without can that be..but I find that I understand.  It was not a lightening bolt, but a slow sunrise that dawned within me.  In the words of Ephesians and the joy of that hymn, He used Pastor to speak to me in a way I could finally understand, in a way through which I could understand what it means to cling to the cross.  A certitude echoed back and forth between the two until it bloomed within me.  My certitude.  Here.  Now.  In this moment, I understand.  I still hurt.  I still struggle.  I am still confused.  But I understand and believe and I have tasted freedom.  Even as I was crying because it seemed as if, once again, what he was saying was not for me.  Even then, God was working allowing His Word to take root in me.  I am crying once more, but not from sorrow...not from sorrow.  Oh, I believe!

For me...

"...Christ also loved [Myrtle] and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself [Myrtle] in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless..." 

For you...

"...Christ also loved [you] and gave Himself up for  [you], so that He might sanctify [you], having cleansed [you] by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself [you] in all [your] glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that [you] would be holy and blameless..." 

Lord, have mercy upon this poor sinner. Lord, have mercy.

Holy Lord God, holy and mighty God, holy and most merciful Redeemer; God eternal, leave us not to bitter death. Lord, have mercy.

Holy Lord God, holy and mighty God, holy and most merciful Redeemer; God eternal, allow us not to lose hope in the face of death and hell. Lord, have mercy.

Holy Lord God, holy and mighty God, holy and most merciful Redeemer; God eternal, keep us steadfast in the true faith. Lord, have mercy. Amen.

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