Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

Islam for Lent?

From getreligion.com.

I’m still here in Israel on an Act For Israel media fellowship. After many days, packed with meetings, yesterday we visited the Golan Heights. On our way from there, we stopped at Yardenit, a site on the Jordan River where, in honor of Jesus’ baptism near there, some are baptized into the Christian faith.

While there, a young woman was wearing a white robe indicating she was to be baptized. I overheard a conversation she was having with someone else. She said she was going to be baptized but “not really” as she’s not very religious and just wanted to do it for her own interest. I’m not easily offended but I was sickened and saddened by this behavior. I thought of that incident as I read this fascinating report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Episcopal cleric tries Islamic rituals for Lent”:

The Rev. Steve Lawler should have just given up chocolate or television for Lent.

Instead, Lawler, of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson, decided to adopt the rituals of Islam for 40 days to gain a deeper understanding of the faith.

On Friday, he faced being defrocked if he continued in those endeavors.

“He can’t be both a Christian and a Muslim,” said Bishop George Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. “If he chooses to practice as Muslim, then he would, by default, give up his Christian identity and priesthood in the church.” (more…)

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What to give up for Lent?

An interesting post from getreligion.com.  There’s an old joke that Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants don’t recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian faith and Baptists don’t recognize each other at the liquor store.

I thought of that tidbit of religious humor as I read a Religion News Service feature on some United Methodists giving up alcohol for Lent.

The top of the story:

(RNS) The Rev. James Howell knew he had a problem on his hands when several teenagers arrived at a church dance drunk and had to be taken from the church by ambulance for treatment for alcohol poisoning.

Starting in 2009, he urged his flock at Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C., to give up drinking for Lent and donate the money they would have spent on booze to a “spirit fund.”

It’s a timely, interesting story filled with excellent history and background on Methodists and their positions and beliefs on drinking and temperance.

However, the 800-word piece falls short when it comes to explaining how other faith groups treat the alcohol issue:

From teetotaling Baptists to Episcopalians who uncork champagne in the parish hall, what to do with the bottle can be a tricky question for religious groups to answer — especially during holy periods or holidays.

Catholics are not supposed to drink on Fridays in Lent, while Muslims are called to abstain from alcohol during the holy month of Ramadan. But to celebrate Purim, Jews are encouraged to actually get silly drunk, and what Christmas Eve would be complete without spiked eggnog?

Unlike prohibition-minded Mormons or Catholics who belly up to the bar at a Friday fish fry, Methodists — the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination — have a more ambiguous stance. Now, the denomination’s General Board of Church and Society is following Howell’s lead and is pushing a churchwide Alcohol Free Lent campaign.

Overgeneralizations seem to plague that section of the story.

I wish the report had included more details from named sources (actual Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, etc.) on what the various faith groups teach — and practice — concerning drinking.

I am a lifelong Church of Christ member and don’t drink. Our fellowship is pretty united on the belief that the Bible forbids drunkenness. We are less unanimous on whether social drinking that does not lead to drunkenness is a sin. In fact, in my travels to different parts of the nation, I have found myself at social gatherings with Church of Christ ministers and elders who drink wine with meals. In other cases, Church of Christ members take the Baptist approach. (See joke above.)

Given the nuances in my own faith group, I can’t help but suspect that there’s more diversity in other religious circles on this issue than the RNS story indicates.

Among my questions:

— Are most Baptists really teetotalers, or do they face the same issue as the Methodists in that the church officially frowns on drinking but many congregants do it anyway? (See joke above.)

— Unless I’m wrong (wouldn’t be the first time), aren’t Muslims called to abstain from alcohol all the time, not just during Ramadan?

— Is “silly drunk” the actual term a rabbi would use in relation to the Purim celebration? (If so, then I think that would make a terrific direct quote!)

— And why are Catholics bellying up to the bar at a Friday fish fry if they can’t drink on Fridays during Lent? (Must be a non-Lent fish fry …)


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Now that we are through Holy Week, let’s reflect on a few practices that have arisen in recent years and examine to what extent they truly do serve the best interest of the Gospel. One of these is Christians having a Passover Seder.  I would say that while perhaps some kind of demonstration with explanation of a Passover Seder is an interesting teaching tool, I think that a congregation that institutes a regular practice of having a Passover Seder during Holy Week is making a mistake. We have no indication from the New Testament that after Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Church continued to observe the Passover. The whole point of the “new” testament is precisely that, in Christ, everything the Passover pointed toward, has been fulfilled. Rev. Dr. Daniel Gard raises a number of very valid objections that I think are well worth our time and attention. Let me know what you think of this practice, in light of Dr. Gard’s concerns.

“Is it appropriate for a Lutheran congregation to celebrate a Passover Seder?  This is not an unimportant question since the practice has become rather widespread in our Synod.  In fact, it has even been promoted (complete with Eucharist!) by the Synod’s Board for Evangelism (A Passover Haggadah for Christians , ed. Bruce J. Lieske, no date).  But can it be historically or theologically sustained?

“The historical question is rather complex, as the history of liturgical forms generally are.  To begin with,  we have no manuscript of a Seder Haggadah  which is early than the tenth century A.D. (Siddur Rav Saadya Gaon ).  Nearly a millennium exists between the time of Jesus and the earliest extant text.   Passover Haggadoth  have never been standardized but have always been shaped and reshaped by circumstances and time.  The ritual has been extraordinarily versatile since the tenth century A.D. and in all likelihood was just as versatile in the preceding centuries.  The claim that any ritual now in existence is identical with that used by Jesus is both anachronistic and historically suspect.

“The theological questions are equally complex.  Even if it were proven (which it has not been) that a specific extant Haggadah  is identical with that used by Jesus,  these problems remain.  The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus with the words “the blood of the new  covenant.”  He commanded that we “do this in remembrance of Me.”  But, to do what?  Celebrate a Seder?  Or celebrate His Sacrament?  The two are simply not the same.  On the night in which He was betrayed,  the Blessed Savior gave His disciples something new.  All that came before converged and found fulfillment in Him.  All that has happened since that night has grown from that same point of convergence and fulfillment.  The Galatian Christians failed to understand the radical nature of the new order found in Christ;  as a result, St. Paul found it necessary to correct their Judaizing error.

“It makes no more sense for Christians to gather around a Passover Seder than it does to gather around another sacrificial lamb.  The very Lamb of God has been slain, once and for all.  We would not and could not offer another sacrifice.  The final Sacrifice was offered on Calvary.  We now celebrate only that Lamb’s own feast as instituted and commanded by Him.  It is the Passover of Jesus, and only the Passover of Jesus, which the Church legitimately celebrates.
One final question might be asked.  Why, given the historical and theological questions,  do some parishes regularly or even occasionally sponsor a Seder?  Two responses have sometimes been given.  First, to teach Christians about the context of the Last Supper.  But given the historical uncertainties of the Haggadah , what anachronisms are being taught as historic facts?  Simply teaching our people a biblical and Lutheran Sacramentology and Christology is difficult enough;  why confuse the issue?

“A second rationale is to reach out and build bridges to the Jewish community.  But is a “Christian” Seder not as offensive to Jewish people as a “Jewish” Eucharist would be to Christians?  Communication with any group of people is rarely enhanced by misappropriating their beloved traditions.  Those Lutherans who use a Seder do so with commendable intentions.  But the inherent problems of the practice result in more harm than good.”

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– A post from Cyberbrethren.com –

Not saying Alleluia during Lent is stupid!

There I said it, and I’m glad I did. While pastors might think that we in the pews view the fact that we don’t say Alleluia with any degree of attention or interest, they are wrong. It is stupid, silly, ridiculous and entirely fabricated out of whole cloth. But I am not the only one who thought it silly, so did Martin Luther. It’s a shame those obsessed with liturgical-trivia were able to foist the “no alleluia” rule on the Lutheran church.

Dr. Luther, in an Invocavit sermon in his House Postil wrote:

“The general duties and works of love need no new command; they are already laid down and ordered in the Ten Commandments.  We are all enjoined of God to hear His Word, to love Him, to pray to Him, to be obedient to our parents, to love our neighbor, to shun all lasciviousness and to hold matrimony in high esteem.  All this is God’s will and institution; therefore no especial call of the Holy Spirit to enter matrimony, to become father or mother, is needed.  Such matters have all been arranged and commanded of God.  But we nowhere find a command or word of God, which would demand of us to run into cloisters for the purpose of serving God, or to avoid eating meat, eggs or butter during the Lenten season, or to sing no Hallelujah in that time; and therefore all such observances are no true service of God.”

He expresses the same thought in Formula Missae (AE 53:24):

“For the alleluia is the perpetual voice of the Church, just as the memorial of His passion and victory is perpetual.”

My good friend Pastor Weedon feels strongly there is deep meaning in all the liturgical trimming during Lent. He takes his cue from O.P. Kretzmann who, in my view, indulges in rhetorical and romanticized puffery, not substance. I can’t agree, but he makes his point well.

OK, now that I have a few people thoroughly exercised, please note that I am not saying we should ignore this rubric and that we should not follow it, I’m simply saying why I think it is stupid. But since it is adiaphora, I am happy to give up a bit of my freedom and personal opinion for the sake of unity. We’d all be better off if we did that.

For instance, some might think throwing themselves on the chancel floor is a great way to observe Good Friday, but we don’t do it, that is, if we care about unity. Some think putting the Lord’s Supper away in a Tabernacle on the altar and claiming it is perpetually the Lord’s body and blood and adoring it is a good thing, but we don’t do that. We know better. Some think that ignoring the rubrics and the liturgy and swapping out for it something that looks like the local non-denominational church is ok, but it is not. As much as possible, we must all give up our freedom and our right to exercise that freedom, for the sake of unity. The wisdom of the adage “Say the black, do the red” is still very much holds, and I wish it were everywhere observed.

So, you are free to disagree with a rubric, but in love, you follow it. If we follow rubrics for the sake of rubrics, then that is a problem. When doing the liturgy “just so” becomes an end in itself, we have a problem. Rubrics are a means, to an end, not the end itself. There’s something more important here than rubrics. And this is precisely why we follow them!

Now you know the point of this blog post.

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Prayers for Ash Wednesday

Prayer of the Church
Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2010

P  O almighty and everlasting God, Your people come to You with weeping and mourning over all our sins, yet we give You thanks that You are gracious and merciful to us. Grant to us Your Holy Spirit that our hearts may be contrite, our faith steadfast and immovable, and our hope built securely upon Your cross.

We praise You for all Your loving care over our lives; for Your Word which accomplishes Your purpose and manifests Your saving glory to the whole world; for those who bring Your Word to us–all pastors, missionaries, church workers and church leaders. Keep us in Your Word that we may rightly divide Your Law and Gospel and hold fast to the doctrine of the apostles all our days.

We remember before You those who stand against Your Word and the reign of Your kingdom–both among the nations and their leaders, and those who have closed off their hearts to the voice of Your mercy. Bring them to repentance, and restore all those who have fallen away or been overcome by error.

We pray for good weather and good harvest, for good government and good leaders, for good schools and good teachers, for good service from those in the armed services of our nation, police, firefighters, medical and emergency personnel. Protect us against all enemies and from natural and man-made disasters.

We invite You into the homes where Your people dwell that they may be places of blessing and faith and love. Help husbands and wives to live in holy love and to be faithful in the vows and promises they have made. Bless the children in these homes that they may grow up to know You and to love You. Be with the widowed, the families broken by divorce, and the orphans.

We ask You, O Lord, to teach our hearts gratitude for all Your gifts and generosity toward those in need. Help us to support the poor, to feed the hungry, to assist the unemployed and to care for the hurting. We pray [especially for . . . names of the sick and those in need] that the suffering may find relief, the sick may find healing, the mourning may find comfort, and the dying may find peace in the arms of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

We beg You to keep us from being distracted by the things of this world, to keep us from being overcome by the chances and changes of this mortal life, and to be firmly anchored in the arms of Your mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. As He came among us to walk in holy life to the suffering of the cross, help us as we walk with Him in this Lenten journey, that we may learn to trust in Him evermore and to rejoice in what He has accomplished for us and for our salvation.

We look forward to the day when all our troubles and trials will be ended and we shall dwell in Your presence forevermore. Until that day comes, keep us faithful and guard us against all our enemies. And when that day comes, O Lord, receive us into the fellowship of all Your saints, in the blessed reunion with those who have gone before us with the sign of faith and now rest from their labors; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be glory and honor, now and forevermore.
C  Amen.

Source: LCMS Commission on Worship

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Ash Wednesday Thoughts

Right now I’ve been thinking ahead to Ash Wednesday.  As I edited my church’s service folder for this week, I updated and included an old article about the imposition of ashes and other customs associated with Ash Wednesday worship.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the Christian’s 40-day journey (excluding Sundays) to Jesus’ cross and his tomb to await the proclamation of Easter.  Ash Wednesday begins the Christian’s Lenten journey with a reminder of our mortality and a call to repentance.  The ancient practice of imposing ashes on the foreheads of Christians gives Ash Wednesday its name.  The church father Tertullian (c. 160-215 AD) writes of the practice as a public expression of repentance and of our human frailty that stands in need of Christ.  The imposition of ashes has never been an exclusively Roman Catholic practice, but today is observed widely by Christians of many traditions.

Today, midweek evening services for Lent have become the norm in Lutheran congregations, and the repentance theme of Ash Wednesday is often replaced by a focus on the Savior’s Passion, a focus at one time reserved for Holy Week alone.  In popular practice, Ash Wednesday has become the first in a series of six services that include the reading of the Passion history and a review of one or another aspect of the Savior’s suffering and death.  Most of our Lenten sermon series as well as most of the worship resources produced in our circles have placed Ash Wednesday into the regular set of midweek Lenten services.

In recent years there has been renewed interest to return to a confession and absolution focus for Ash Wednesday worship.  That confession and absolution focus will be emphasized in our service at Redeemer on Ash Wednesday evening.  The resources that support the use of The Lutheran Hymnal  also highlight that distinct theme for the first day of the Lenten season.  For example,TLH suggests black, the color of sorrow and death, rather than purple as the preferred liturgical color for the day.  The Ash Wednesday Holy Communion service reflects the serious tone of the day in its restrained use of music and the omission of festive parts of the service (for example: the Song of Praise, the Creed, and all uses of “Alleluia”).  Several congregations in our Synod have also reinstituted the use of ashes.

We will include the imposition of ashes this week.  The service will begin with an extended corporate confession of sins (identical to our Ash Wednesday services in recent years).  Near the end of this opening rite, worshippers who want to receive the sign of ashes will be ushered forward via the center aisle.  Participation is voluntary.  Children are welcome to participate at their parents’ discretion.  Guests are also invited to participate.

The traditional custom for the imposition of ashes is that the minister places the ashes on each person’s forehead in the shape of a cross.  If you prefer, the minister will place the ashes on the back of your hand instead.  As the ashes are imposed, the minister says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return” (see Genesis 3:19).  Worshippers then return to their seats via the side aisles.

The goal of a custom like the imposition of ashes is to proclaim God’s law in several ways (in the confession of sins, in hymns, in the sermon, and with the use of ashes), just as we proclaim the gospel in several ways (in absolution, in hymns, in the Creed, in the sermon, in the Lord’s Supper, through visual art such as banners, and in various worship ceremonies).  Many worship scholars, both within and outside of Lutheranism, have observed that we have entered a more visual and tactile generation.  That observation has led many Christians and churches to seek visual, tactile ways to proclaim law and gospel in worship.  The Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes is one example of a tangible way to proclaim God’s Word in our worship.  May its message impress our hearts and minds with our need for Christ’s salvation!

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