Friday, July 23, 2010

I have too many words in my head and not enough Word.  It is very difficult to set aside what I have read, what I have heard...and all my bloody failures of late....

God willing, I shall make my membership at the new parish public August 1st.  Pizza Man, his Lovely Bride, and their cherubs will be there to support this next step in setting my face toward the future and not the past.  I am humbled that they will be there; I am thankful that I will not be alone on such a day.  Brother Goose likes to remind me that around the altar we are never apart. I suppose that will have to be my comfort that day.

That day and some other things of late have me thinking about why it is I feel the interloper so much in Church.  It is more than my utter social ineptitude (is that better than saying failure?).  At least I think it is.

So much of confessional Lutheranism is in the heritage of our faith.  Pastor E's most interesting lecture on Traditional Lutheran Worship (in the links to the left and one I have watched many times over) highlights how Christ Himself traditioned, handed over, His death and resurrection to the Church. 

Part of what has been bothering me is how little I know, how little I understand 13 months later.

Wednesday was a Divine Service.  I know that feasts and festivals are opportunities for extra Divine Services during the week, but not really why celebrating them is important.  Pastor E once tried to explain it and his explanation made sense at the time, but I had not brought my lessoning notebook to holy absolution, so I did not remember what he said.  What I remember is thinking that there is this whole culture I do not understand.  That is, in itself, perfectly understandable, given that I did not grow up Lutheran.  But where am I supposed to gain that culture?  I mean, trying to absorb things through "experiencing" them truly can only take you so far.

Two nights ago, I sat in the back pew, by the door.  It is a pew that does not have a kneeler, so I do not have to worry about needing to bend over and help someone move it during the service.  But on Wednesday evening Divine Services, it does not make much sense to do so when there are only about 20 of us sitting in the pews.  By this I mean I do not believe it would be very thoughtful to make the new pastor come all the way to the back to bring me the Eucharist in the pew.

This Wednesday, I sat up front, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.  I saw many things that I did not understand.  Chief among them had to do with reading the Gospel.  Why stand for the Gospel reading but not that from the Old Testament and the New?  Why raise the Bible (if it was a bible) up before the congregation?  Why make the sign of the cross on his forehead, mouth, and heart before he started reading?  And why is it that the pastor processes into the congregation with the crucifix sometimes, but remain standing up by the altar at others?  SIGH.

I know from Brother Goose that, for deeply confessional Lutheran pastors, there is a reason for every gesture and word.  Pastor E is truly confessional, having great love for the Lutheran Symbols.  So, I am sure there is a purpose for all that I saw.  But I know it not.  However, still being confused over a year later truly serves to underscore that not-belonging-being-an-outsider feeling.

Anyhow, this whole really knowing nothing about the traditions of my faith got me searching for some information on such. I came across Pastor E's thoughts on annunciation from last year.  First, I had to Google annunciation.  But after I figured out what it was, I read his blog entry, trying to move beyond the fact that it is the day marking the announcement that Mary was to bear Jesus into the world to the why of celebrating such.  It is observed March 25th, nine months before the date His birth is celebrated.

I found his blog rather interesting, an intriguing look at how it is that the Gospel is sweet!  Beside the main theme that He makes our bitter waters sweet, I was struck by the following:  He was born for the purpose of coming to that tree, to bearing the awful load of the cross. By that wood, by that wonderful tree, the bitter waters are made sweet; human nature is in Him redeemed, restored. It was for this reason that He was born – that He might take man’s bitterness, lostness, sinfulness, anger, sorrow, and dismay, and by means of that tree, convert the bitterness to sweetness.

I am actually too exhausted from not sleeping all week, from lying in bed thinking about those words, to explain well.  But, reading this, is the first time I ever thought about human nature being on the cross or it being restored through the cross.  Human nature.  Wow.

Son of God and Son of Man.  Fully God and fully man.  What a puzzle!

I think of the promise that no temptation has overtaken us that is not common to man and that we are told Christ was tempted by the devil for forty days in the desert.  How is it that He can know and understand this life, having lived it, when the life He lived is nothing like mine?  I mean, we both eat; we both drink; we both sleep.  We both cry.  We both love.  But is that the beginning where our existence separates?  For His love is perfect, mine flawed.  His anger righteous, mine unjustified.  After all, Christ never struggles with Romans 7; I practically live there.

Yet, reading Paster E's blog, I caught this glimpse, this flash of what it means that God took human form, limited Himself within our frame that He might know us and we Him.  How good, meet, and salutary for Him so to do.  What mercy!  What grace in that!

I cannot explain why it is that the Gospel below moves me so, but it does.  Human nature restored...

At the Easter Vigil, we heard again how our spiritual fathers crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. The readings for the days immediately following Easter continue the narrative; freed from bondage, on the other side of the Red Sea they found themselves in a wilderness. They grew thirsty, but the waters they came to were bitter. They called the place Marah – Hebrew for “bitter.”

The people complained, blaming Moses and Aaron for their problems. But the Lord showed Moses a tree. When the tree was cast into the bitter waters of Marah, the waters were made sweet.

That event was a type, a biblical foreshadowing of what we celebrate today on this important, but often neglected, feast – the Annunciation. Marah—bitter waters—are made sweet by a tree. The blessed virgin to whom Gabriel comes is named Mary. Like every woman, her maternal waters are bitter, for every child born of woman is born under the law, born under the curse; we are sinful from the time we are conceived in our mother’s bitter womb.

But Mary – the woman of bitterness – is not like other women in her childbearing. Her Child is not born of blood, nor of the will of a husband, nor of the will of the flesh; her Child is born of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Her bitter waters are made sweet by grace, by the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit that overshadows her and brings about the conception, the incarnation of the Son of God.

He was born for the purpose of coming to that tree, to bearing the awful load of the cross. By that wood, by that wonderful tree, the bitter waters are made sweet; human nature is in Him redeemed, restored. It was for this reason that He was born – that He might take man’s bitterness, lostness, sinfulness, anger, sorrow, and dismay, and by means of that tree, convert the bitterness to sweetness. The sweet thing about Easter is not the chocolate and candy, but the resurrection. By the wood of the cross, human nature is brought to the resurrection, prepared for the Ascension, where our own High Priest goes with His blood into the Holy Place, and our human nature is brought into the presence of the Heavenly Father, the Living God.

So they all hang together – conception, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension. All actions by our loving God designed to turn the bitterness of our world, the bitterness of our lives, the bitterness of our hearts, into sweetness. That sweetness we taste in the blessed Sacrament. In that holy, wondrous food and drink, the wood of the cross is cast upon the bitter waters of our souls, and they are made sweet – cleansed, restored, forgiven. 

Happy annunciation day! Merry Christmas! Blessed Easter! Alleluia! He is conceived! He is born! He is crucified! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

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