Watch with your mind, brethren, that the mysteries of this season may not pass away without profit. The blessing is plentiful. Provide clean receptacles; display devout souls, watchful senses, sober emotions, and chaste consciences for such great gifts of grace. In good truth, not only does your confession of faith admonish you to take care in this matter, but it is the practice of the universal Church, whose sons you are. For all Christians cultivate holiness in observance of these sacred seven days, display modesty, pursue humility, put on gravity, either according to or beyond what is usual, that they may in some way seem to suffer with Christ’s suffering. For who is so impious as not to be sorrowful? Who so proud, as not to be humbled? Who so angry, as not to forgive? Who so luxurious, as not to abstain? Who so sensual, as not to practice self-restraint? Who so wicked, as not to repent during these days? And rightly so.
For the passion of the Lord is at hand, even now moving the earth, rending the rocks, and opening the tombs. Near also is His resurrection, in which you will celebrate a festival to the Most High, entering with enthusiasm and eagerness into the most glorious deeds which He has accomplished. Nothing better could be done in the world than that which was done by the Lord on these days. Nothing more useful or better could be recommended to the world, than that it should by perpetual ordinance celebrate year by year the memorial of these things with longing souls, and show forth the memory of His abundant sweetness…
Marvelous is Your passion, O Lord Jesus, which repelled the passions of all of us; made propitiation for our iniquities, and is found effectual for every one of our plagues. For what is there of death that is not destroyed by Your death?
–Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 24
Aside from Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz (1522-86) is regarded as the most important theologian in the history of the Lutheran Church. Chemnitz combined a penetrating intellect and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and the Church Fathers with a genuine love for the Church. When various doctrinal disagreements broke out after Luther’s death in 1546, Chemnitz determined to give himself fully to the restoration of unity in the Lutheran Church. He became the leading spirit and principal author of the 1577 Formula of Concord, which settled the doctrinal disputes on the basis of Scripture and largely succeeded in restoring unity among Lutherans. Chemnitz also authored the four-volume Examination of the Council of Trent (1565-73), in which he rigorously subjected the teachings of this Roman Catholic Council to the judgment of Scripture and the ancient Church Fathers. The Examination became the definitive Lutheran answer to the Council of Trent, as well as a thorough exposition of the faith of the Augsburg Confession. A theologian and a churchman, Chemnitz was truly a gift of God to the Church. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)
Every Wednesday, we pray Matins at church. We usually read an Old Testament selection from a daily lectionary. Then I usually comment on the Epistle from Sunday. Today, we commemorated the Lutheran hymnwriters Nicolai, Heermann, and Gerhardt and sang the Queen of Chorales. The other thing we regularly do is pray by name for the members of the congregation.
But every week I look forward most to singing the Te Deum Laudamus. Today, this sight gave me all the more reason to sing, and I think the angels, apostles, prophets, martyrs, and Church throughout the world rejoice at this, too.
Praying together is better than praying alone. My favorite hour of prayer is at the close of day, and the prayers of Compline just can’t be beat.
I usually pray these alone. If I’m at church late, I’ll do it in my study. When we have an evening meeting I invite others to join me, but I usually still end up alone.
At home, I will often sing the closing portion to some of the kids before bed, “Guide us waking, O Lord…,” the Nunc Dimittis, and blessing them with “The almighty and merciful Lord—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—bless you and keep you.”
It was an uncommon delight, then, to lead the praying of Compline at this summer’s Return to Wittenberg conference. There is something so mutually consoling about these bedtime prayers of the Church, when some portion of the Church gathers at the end of a day to speak to one another, to listen, to sing, and to pray.
The setting of the beautiful chapel at Wisconsin Lutheran College certainly didn’t hurt! The back and forth responses, the unison, acapella singing. The final night of the conference we also sang Paul Gerhardt’s “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow.”
It was significantly better than praying alone.
And yet, it is true that Christians never pray alone. Because our Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father,” even when we pray by ourselves, we are never alone. Christian prayer is always corporate. Our voice always joins with the whole Church in addressing our heavenly Father, trusting that he will hear our voice. Together, even if we pray alone. In addition—even if there were no one on the planet to pray with us, even then we would not pray alone because Jesus himself prays for us and with us.
Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Today our Lydia turns four. As many of you know, I have had the practice of creating a slideshow of pictures from the previous year for each of the kids’ birthdays. Unfortunately, I got behind last spring and didn’t make one for Isaiah (April) or Andrew (May).
But in the last three days I finished the boys’ videos and I did Lydia’s this afternoon. Unfortunately, Lydia’s isn’t very long, since I haven’t had the time or opportunity to take many pictures recently. But doing this work has motivated me to find the time and make some opportunities. The links to the kids’ videos are below.
This morning I listened to a segment of the radio show "Issues, etc." with an interview of WELS President Mark Schroeder. The topic was the current state of Lutheranism in America, with special attention to the role of the WELS and LCMS in maintaining confessional Lutheranism today.
I realize that it's been pretty quiet here on the blog lately. I don't know where the time goes. But I do have a few ideas that I hope to write about shortly. In the meantime, here are a few quick updates on what we've been up to here.
- Military Contact Pastor's Conference — was held here in El Paso at the beginning of November. Especially valuable to have that held here. We got to tour Fort Bliss and meet with the installation chaplain. Ministry to the military is a large part of our work here, and will only increase as Fort Bliss expands by 300% in the next few years.
- Year of Jubilee — Last Sunday we took the time to give attention to the synod's Year of Jubilee celebration/offering. It was a nice opportunity to study something that many people didn't know much about.
- Scenic Drive — Last Friday we took the kids for a little drive to a little park up on Scenic Drive that overlooks El Paso. You can see some of the pictures from that here.
- Thanksgiving — We held a service this evening. Tomorrow we'll be having dinner at a member's house.
- Advent —I'm pretty excited to start another church year. I realize that it means that busy times are ahead, but I wouldn't trade Advent for anything. I've been thinking lately about how much the church year reflects our life in Christ. Someday I'll write a post on that.
Late last night I returned from Minnesota, where I spent the week at the Nation Worship Conference. For several days now I have been thinking about how I could possibly describe the event. It’s so hard, because the experience of being at this event is really quite overwhelming. It was more than I could even take in while I was there. How could I capture it and put it into words? I can’t re-create the powerful sermons. Even a recording couldn’t reproduce the sounds of the instruments and voices. It’s hard to summarize the content of the many interesting and informational presentations.
But it is precisely because our worship is such an important event (even when it’s a smaller group with more modest accompaniment) that we give this event our attention. That’s what makes it so important to learn about worship and music—so that in our worship the gospel predominates, the people of God can participate, the history of the church is honored, and that the best gifts of God are employed.