Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Luther's love letter...

To me, perhaps some of the most loving, consoling teaching of our Confessions lies within the teachings about the Sacraments in the Large Catechism. In brief, this is because we learn that God understands our need for the tangible, for our bodies to experience by sense that which we are receiving in our heart and in our soul. "Now these 'new spirits' are so crazy that they separate faith and the object to which faith clings and is bound, even if is something outward, so that it may be grasped by our senses and understood, and that by them brought into the heart.  For indeed, the entire Gospel is an outward, verbal preaching" (LC, IV, 30).

Or put another way:  "When we are baptized, when we eat the Lord's body, when we are absolved, our heart must be firmly assured that God truly forgives us for Christ's sake.  At the same time, by the Word and by the rite, God moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, 'Faith comes by hearing' (Rom. 10:17).  But just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart.  The effect of the Word and the rite are the same.  It has been well said by Augustine that a Sacrament is a visible Word, because the rite is received by the eyes and is, as it were, a picture of the Word, illustrating the same thing as the Word." [AP, XII (VII), 4-6, emphasis mine].

And this is also because Luther makes ever so clear that we will doubt, we will struggle, we will drown in anguish because we are sinners who have an implacable foe who never fails to cease his assault against us.  "Therefore, the Sacrament is given as a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so that it will not fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger.  The new life must be guided so that it continually increases and progresses.  But it must suffer much opposition.  For the devil is such a furious enemy.  When he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man, and that he cannot topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides.  He tires every trick and does not sop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient.  No to this purpose the comfort of the Sacrament is given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, so that it may gain here new power and refreshment" (LC, V, 26-27).

And not only are the Sacraments given to us to create faith, they are given to us to sustain and renew faith, even in our darkest moments. "But if you say, 'How can I come if I feel that I am not prepared?' Answer, 'That is also my cause for hesitation, especially because of the old way under the pope.'  At that time, we tortured ourselves to be perfectly pure that God could not find the least blemish in us.  For this reason we became so timid that we were all instantly thrown into fear and said to ourselves, 'Alas! We are unworthy!' Then nature and reason begin to add up our unworthiness in comparison with the great and precious good.  Then our good looks like a dark lantern in contrast with the bright sun, or like filth in comparison with precious stones.  Because nature and reason see this, they refuse to approach and wait until they are prepared.  They wait so long that one week trails into another, and half the year into the other.  If you consider how good and pure you are and labor to have no hesitations, you would never approach" (LC, V, 56-57).

To me, the very wild and wonderful part of this is that Luther further teaches that our struggle, our battle with feeling as if we dare not approach the altar, dare not receive the feast before us is actually good!  "Such people must learn that it is the highest art to know that our Sacrament doe snot depend on our worthiness.  We are not baptized because we are worthy and holy.  Nor do we go to Confession because we are pure and without sin.  On the contrary, we go because we are poor, miserable people.  We go exactly because we are unworthy.  This is true unless we are talking about someone who desires no grace and Absolution nor intends to change" (LC, V, 61).

Simply put, the Sacraments are the certitude we crave that is still outside of us, outside of any work, effort, achievement or merit in and of ourselves, outside any failure, flaw, or foible, outside the sin that haunts us, hinders us, clings to our very nature.

To me, these words of Luther are a love letter to us from God.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!


ftwayne96 said...

Deja vu all over again!

Myrtle said...

Uhm...what does this mean????