So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Ps. 90:12
Even in a normal year, Holy Week tends to be a time of increased reflection on death, for the obvious reason that the events of the week center on the crucifixion of Christ. In this pandemic year, we’re reminded of death even more. Every little thing we do—put on gloves, disinfect a doorknob, wear a mask, stand six feet apart—reminds us of death. People are dying. We might be spreading deadly disease. We can’t escape the topic. It dominates the news worldwide.
But that is a good thing! Did you know that many great devotional writers and pastors have said daily reminders of our own mortality can benefit our spiritual lives tremendously? For example, perhaps the most famous devotional writer in the history of Lutheran churches, Johann Gerhard, wrote a reflection called “The Daily Consideration of Death.” In it, he addresses his own soul and tells how beneficial it is for us to remember that we are pilgrims and temporary sojourners in this world. We make wiser decisions, we keep our priorities in better order, we get less discouraged by worldly setbacks and experience more peace and joy when we remember that every day might be our last.
“We deceive ourselves sadly if we think of death as only taking place with the last breath of life here; on the contrary, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, we are dying.” Those words by Gerhard simply state a fact. We are born with a finite number of heartbeats. Every beat reduces that number by one, like a countdown. He says there is huge spiritual value in waking up every day with the knowledge that this might be your last day, and going to bed at night as a sort of “practice death” knowing you might never wake up.
But isn’t that morbid? Not at all. It is simply true, and no threat at all to those who know Christ and the victory over sin, death, and hell. “….If I should die before I wake, I pray, Thee, Lord my soul to take.” That little “Now I lay me…” prayer is one way children learn to number their days and gain a heart of wisdom. It is when we forget that we are mortal, when we disregard the reality of death or ignore, that we make foolish decisions, put our faith in nonsense, and stop relying on our Creator and Redeemer for every good thing.
As you cannot celebrate Holy Week in the normal ways this year, I urge you today to be aware of every reminder of death you see—every death toll on the news, every rubber glove or mask, every mention of the stay-at-home order. Keep track. Let it help you examine your life, put your days and years in the context of eternity. And let the events we commemorate in Holy Week make that context a source of comfort and hope.
The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. Ex. 12:13
As we enter Holy Week it is good to go back and read the account of the first Passover, when God announced He would kill of the firstborn son of every household in Egypt, except those households that sacrificed a lamb died in the place of the firstborn son. God told Moses, and through him all Israel, that blood of that lamb would take the place of the blood of the firstborn son. Thus, death passed over the households of those who trusted in God’s Word and promise.
The blood on the doorposts and lintel was the effective sign. It comforted the people because it held God to His promise. Notice the verse above says it is a sign “for you,” but continues “when I [God] see the blood…” It is there for God to see and be bound to his gracious promises.
Everything comes together, the meaning, the gift, and the effectiveness of the gift, in that blood.
Salvation wasn’t just a matter of getting blood on the doorpost, though. The blood was the main, effective thing, of course, but it did not stand alone as some magically significant thing apart from the rest of the Passover ceremony. The whole Passover preparation played a crucial role in making that blood what it was. You couldn’t just skip all that other stuff and put some blood on your doorpost and call that a covenant from God.
Sometimes in confirmation class we consider goofy questions, like “What if the dog licks the blood off one of the doorposts? Will I still be safe tonight? What if our lamb had a defect we didn’t see? What if our doorpost is already red and blood doesn’t show up?” There are a million such potential questions. But if the promise is to be a sign for the household, everything has to be done, to the degree it is possible, according to God’s institution, with trust that God is faithful. The selection of the lamb, the preparation of the house, the slaughter at twilight, etc. all matter to the purpose of the blood comforting the anxious heart.
We know that Passover, along with all the OT rituals, was “a shadow of the things that were to come; the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:17) In the first Holy Week, Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, which had been going on annually since that first Exodus about 1,500 years prior. That what the “Last Supper” in the upper room was all about. The rich meaning of the firstborn son, the sacrifice, substitutionary atonement, salvation from death, and the final revelation how Jesus would fulfill his role as “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”-- it all comes together when Jesus, at the Passover meal, identifies Himself as the lamb of the new covenant, instituting Holy Communion. He gives Himself to His followers in His last will and testament before He dies to put that will into effect the next day.
Every Communion service, therefore, is, among other things, the fulfillment of the Passover ceremony. The main thing, the effective thing, is the body and blood of Christ given to us in, with, and under the bread and wine. That is the crucial part, the focal point. But like the Passover, the focal point isn’t the entirety, it is part of a larger ceremony. God gives us this new covenant of Christ’s body and blood with physical elements (bread and wine), His Word of promise (the words of institution), someone to speak for Christ (the celebrant) and at least one other person (the congregation) to eat and drink. The whole ritual goes together as one thing.
Normally, this is not a problem at all. Every Divine Service includes the proclamation of Christ in the Scriptures and preaching as fulfillment of the Law, and the distribution of the fruit of His sacrifice according to His institution of Communion. But what if, like now, we can’t get together? How can we have communion? If we start down the road of asking what “works” we end up in goofy places like our experimental classroom discussions of Passover.
“What if the pastor just consecrated the elements and mailed them to the parishioners? What if he said the Words of Institution online while I have bread and wine in front of my computer screen at home? What if I just ask God privately in prayer to give me Christ’s body and blood via whatever food I have?” The short answer is that anything that separates the eating and drinking from the consecration undermines the purpose of the covenant. Instead of building up faith, it invites uncertainty. Even when we take communion to the homebound, we have the bread and wine, the consecration, the celebrant, and the congregation of one or two eating and drinking all together.
We all desire to receive communion, especially in Holy Week. Not having our usual services is especially painful. I realize churches are doing all kinds of things, some a bit “out there” to try to offer communion during a shelter-in-place order. I have called a special meeting of the deacons for tomorrow evening (via Zoom) to discuss how we will be proceeding in the coming weeks concerning Holy Communion. Wednesday’s email update should fill you in.
In the meantime, please know that your yearning for communion is a healthy spiritual sign, that your salvation does not depend upon receiving it at any particular time, and that God does not limit Himself to only that one way of nurturing your faith. Please also know that offering communion to those desiring it is of utmost importance to us. We will do our very best to find faithful ways to feed the flock with all of God’s gifts no matter the circumstance. As the Passover pointed to Christ, Holy Week reminds us we have a God who died that we might live. He isn’t going to forget about you or neglect you. He paid too much for you for that. That Good News permeates this holiest of weeks.
Thanks to those who participated in the Bible studies via Zoom. My apologies to those who tried to log in but were unable; the error was on my end, not yours. But I eventually got it squared away, and we had a good discussion. It should be much smoother going forward. The pandemic is making this rapidly aging dog learn new tricks when it comes to pastoral practice and use of technology.
Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very helpful to me in my ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpas at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. II Tim. 4:11-13
These words of St. Paul don’t seem like the sort of thing a daily devotion normally focuses on. But they’re important because they establish that the ministry of the Word has always had a very practical, business side to it as well as a very personal side, even in the writing of Scripture itself. It isn’t all just divine, spiritual truths being received by the Holy Spirit and written down for all the ages to come. It is that, of course, but it is more. There were mundane, practical problems attending to the ministry of the Word even for St. Paul himself. St. Paul’s, Munster should expect no less.
St. Paul writes these words from prison. He is dealing with isolation, trying to keep in contact with churches from a distance, and safeguarding the future of the church for after he dies, which he suspects will be soon. Poignantly, he wants Mark; earlier in his ministry (Acts 15:37-39) St. Paul didn’t want anything to do with Mark. But things change. People change. For logistical reasons, St. Paul doesn’t do all the teaching himself, but organizes the teaching at Ephesus by sending Tychicus. He is a great apostle, but has regular personal, material needs, like a cloak. He is a mouthpiece of God, but has to attend to eternal spiritual truths via perishable parchments that need looking after. The sense of scrambling to deal with his circumstances can comfort us here as we scramble to adjust everything we do. We keep the ministry of the Word foremost, but understand that such ministry has always required practical solutions to worldly problems.
Today, too, everyone at St. Paul’s is dealing with major practical disruption, but the ministry of the Word goes on. We’re addressing practical issues as best we can. Here are the very practical things you can do today that will help the ministry of the Word go forth:
May God continue to bless His Church through every worldly circumstance, opening paths for the ministry of the Word to go forth despite every obstacle.
You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:30
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea. Psalm 46:1-2
No matter how hopeful we try to be, it is hard not to think that spring of 2020 is likely to prove a turning point for the nation. I’m reminded of the famous poem Shine, Perishing Republic, which contains the line, “And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.”
A clever servant, insufferable master. People have adapted that line from the poem to many things, most notably money and technology. They are tools and servants that have a tendency to take charge of our hearts and begin to dominate us. That’s how the first commandment gets messed up. The good gifts God gives us to possess end up possessing us instead. The creation displaces the Creator as the thing we rely on. We end up putting our faith in false gods.
Fear, panic, and despair always result when the false gods (which are often good things in themselves, just in the wrong place in our lives) fail us. The government. The economy. The scientists. The environment. Even our physical bodies—they’re all excellent servants, all terrible masters, and all prone to become the false gods of our lives. When everything goes wrong, God is still God. It is our false gods that have proven themselves incapable of saving us.
The pain of all this upheaval is real and nothing to take lightly. The things God gives us to serve us are all good gifts, and He knows all our needs. Trusting the true God does not mean disdaining good government, or treating people’s economic livelihoods as nothing, or downplaying the importance of good health. It means accepting the good things of creation as gifts, but keeping everything in its place.
We take very seriously the spread of disease, the stability of the economy (which is in unprecedented territory in terms of unemployment numbers), the ramifications of politics and elections, and so forth, without letting such things become gods. These are the mountains of our lives, the things by which we’ve always navigated and assumed would also be there. Now they’re being uprooted and tossed into the sea. Perhaps they’re just being put back in their proper place.
Money is not God. Science is not God. Physical life and health are not God. When people panic, they tend to think that you either have to treat something as the most important thing or else you’re not taking it seriously at all. Christians refuse that choice. We neither deny the goodness of, nor put our faith in, things like science, money, health, or government. We keep everything in its place, knowing that even the mountains are not eternal.
One translation of A Mighty Fortress, Luther’s great hymn on Psalm 46, it this way—“And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.” We shall have no other gods before the Creator. We receive the things of creation—government, technology, finances, health, etc. from His hand as undeserved gifts, as servants, not masters. And when they give way and fail us, we need not fear, for we know that our God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Col. 3:16
Colossians is only 4 chapters long, so the whole book is very readable in one sitting. And really, the meat of it is chapters 2-3. I encourage you all to read at least those two chapters today. In them, St. Paul writes the words quoted above, about letting the Word of Christ dwell in our hearts in teaching and in song. But he urges them to do that having acknowledged in the previous chapter that he cannot be with them in the body, at least for the time being.
More importantly, this section of the Bible includes these words: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Col. 2:16-17 We have the Christian freedom to figure how best to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in different ways suitable for different contexts.
Since we cannot be with each other in the body, and since we cannot celebrate the festivals by which we normally commemorate Holy Week (at least not in the usual way), we rejoice that we have the God-given opportunity nevertheless to ponder Christ and His Passion with the God-given freedom to do so in unusual ways given the circumstances. The main thing is that our hearts be fixed on Christ. Reading Colossians today will help that be the case for you.
Speaking of reading, have you read any good books lately? Sometimes good books (and yes, there is a difference between reading a good book and reading a book designed merely to distract and amuse) can help us ponder Christ and His Passion by explaining and illustrating the way a sermon would. Here are a few recommendations.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis is a fantasy story and Christian allegory that portrays the Christ figure as a fearsome Lion. You will note the obvious parallels in it to the Passion story of the Gospels. It is good for all ages, and a genuinely good book that also entertains.
Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Fr. R.J. Neuhaus (full disclosure, my uncle) is essentially a Tre Ore service in book form, with each chapter providing an extended theological reflection on one of the seven last words from the cross.
Grace Upon Grace, by John Kleinig is an excellent general introduction to practicing a deeper Christian spiritual life in a world obsessed with cheap, imitation spirituality.
But no book can replace Scripture. Read Colossians 2-3 today, and keep following the services online. Let other books like these help you think through and process the Word. St. Paul’s (the saint and the congregation) goal for you is that the Word of Christ continue to dwell in your richly in this time of being away from each other in the body and out of our normal rhythm of festivals. God is still with you!
March 31, 2020
The ongoing pandemic brings three things together that might not have much in common as topics-- new technology, prayer, and every Christian’s sense of being a stranger in a strange land. I want to share with you some of the good things going on here at church today that show how those three things interrelate.
First, new technology. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on our recorded church services, along with many good suggestions on how to improve them. Today we recorded a school chapel service for tomorrow morning. We used a new camera and recording system that looks extremely promising. Tomorrow morning we’ll be recording the Lenten service, and we will know how to do it with better sound and more versatile and interesting viewing.
For me, this was encouraging. I found it amazing how much potential this new system offers in terms of remote services and teaching. As I’ve aged, I’ve become less and less inclined to keep up with all the new technological innovations; we all tend to get comfortable in a groove with what is familiar. But this time of separation forced us to look at new ways of doing things, and some of those improvements will outlast the virus and the time of separation. Being forced to learn what I wouldn’t be otherwise inclined to learn has been humbling, to be sure, but also exciting. It takes away some of the helpless feeling we might get when it seems like the world is passing us by.
Which brings me to the topic of prayer. Technology certainly does amaze, but it has its limits. While it is a tempting mistake to just let the world of technological innovation pass you by, it is an even bigger temptation, and even more disastrous mistake, to look to technology and science for answers to the human condition in the long term. This is where prayer comes in. It became fashionable in recent years for people in the media to mock prayer as a do-nothing approach to our problems. That mockery, I’ve noticed, is gone. When a disaster strikes, people realize our essential helplessness. Yes, we look to scientists and technology for vaccines and cures for this virus. But dealing with the problem forces everyone to realize that there is no vaccine or cure for death itself.
Too often even Christians fall into the habit of thinking of prayer as a last resort, something to do when all else fails. It is really the first course of action given to us. I suspect and hope that this time of isolation has cause many members of St. Paul’s to refocus on prayer even as we focus more on technology. Whether we had to be forced into it or not, the fact remains that a Christian congregation filled with people active in prayer is a tremendously good and powerful thing. And I think we are one such congregation now even more than we were before this all hit. If nothing else, just that improvement can illustrate how God brings good out of evil.
The feeling of helplessness that inspires even the disinclined to learn new technology, and drives even those who don’t normally pray much to a healthier, more active prayer life, also strengthens every Christian’s yearning for home. No one will keep up with rapid changes of the world indefinitely. Everyone will at some point be able to sing “change and decay in all around I see.” And with an active prayer life, they can then sing the next line with confidence—“O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
You are a pilgrim in this world. The pageantry of history—pandemics, terror attacks, recessions, wars, elections, dangers and victories—continues to unfold in all of lives, no matter when we’re born and die. But we know this world and the whole story of it as centered in Christ and as something we pass through on our way to an eternal city. So we serve the Lord today, we take up our cross, but we always do so secure in the knowledge nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
March 30, 2020
“April is the cruelest month…”
That’s the first line of T. S. Eliot’s poem called The Waste Land. It seems appropriate for today as we approach the end of March with the news that things are going to be shut down through the month of April while this virus tries to lay us to waste and we seek to resist the spread of it. That means we will have to do everything differently for the very biggest church celebrations of the year; nothing will be normal. Cruel indeed.
But one thing that will seem very odd, but which is actually just things going back to normal, is the idea of Christian teaching taking place in the home. The first line of Luther’s catechism, which we have used for five centuries to teach the faith to the next generation, is “As the head of the family should teach in a simple way to his household…” In Luther’s eyes, ongoing, daily learning in the home was normal. By contrast, the ways we in the modern world have compartmentalized our lives in separate, unrelated spheres—church, home, school, work, sports, social life, etc. would be abnormal to him. My guess is that he would see what we consider to be normal as somewhat spiritually debilitating.
One advantage, among the many disadvantages, of teaching the catechism remotely online, is that it lets us take at least one step toward better reintegrating church, school, and family. To be clear, such integration is always one of our goals at St. Paul’s, even in “normal” times. But increasingly, modern life militates against that goal. Integration of faith into all the spheres of life is easy to have as a goal, but seemingly harder and harder for many people to have as a reality.
The Reformation itself disrupted the world’s routine in the name of getting things back to normal, to the way they should have been. The reformers saw that the way everyone was leading their Christian lives had taken a bad turn. One of those bad turns might be familiar to us—compartmentalization. Monasteries were communities of worship (meaning Scripture teaching and learning, prayer, and praise) and service of the community and the wider world. The Church had begun to teach that people who lived in such communities were earning righteousness, were on a higher spiritual plane than regular people. The reformers would know—many of them, including Luther, lived in such communities.
Luther demolished the idea of earning forgiveness with good works, no matter how good those works might be. But when he left the monastery, his point was not that the things they did were bad. The point was that those things ought to happen in the Christian home. We don’t need to flee “worldly” callings to pursue spiritual calling. We need to integrate them. We need to make the Christian home the hub of all the facets of Christian life.
Basically, your house is a monastery. I know it probably feels like that more than ever these days. But seriously, your house is nothing other than a community of worship and service (and this is true even if you live alone). Everyone in the house wakes up with a calling from God not only to be strengthened in faith via the Word, and pray, but also to serve the household and the wider world according to each person’s role within it. The idea of strict compartmentalization—church for churchy stuff, school for facts, work for earning money, home for rest and amusement—insults the dignity of the home.
Today we begin a walk through the basic teachings of Christianity via video link. I’m no tv star, but I will be posting a 5-15 minute video each day, or most days, that go through the catechism bit by bit through the month of April. The confirmands are assigned to watch them, but I hope the whole congregation will join in. But here is the key. Watch them together with anyone else who lives in your house. Don’t take turns, or watch with headphones, or sit in separate rooms. Make it something you do for a few minutes together. Doing so will bring together, that is, integrate, church, home, and school at least partially in your Christian life. You should be able to link to today’s video below, or from the website soon.
Disorienting. That’s what today feels like to me. It is hard to get your bearings when the landmarks aren’t there. By landmarks, of course, I don’t refer to the things that mark the physical landscape. I mean the things that give shape to time, the habits and rituals by which we all live.
God invented time along with everything else in Genesis 1, and He gave shape to it, a seven day pattern that has continued unbroken since the beginning of the world. Even we Christians, who are not bound by Old Testament Sabbath laws, still typically worship once every seven days, the day after Jesus’ Sabbath rest in the tomb. Church doesn’t have to take place on Sunday, but it always has. It is disorienting (especially but by no means exclusively for pastors) to get up on Sunday morning and think, “So…. What should I do today?” I read the following in an online article last night:
JERUSALEM - Adeeb Joudeh, standing in front of the now-locked Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City, had a pretty specific answer when asked when the church last closed to the public like this: "It was the year 1349, at the time of the Black Plague," he said, holding the key that had shut things down a day earlier and back in the 14th century as well.
A little over a year ago I was there at that church with some of others of our St. Paul’s family. Its huge, ancient dome encloses the traditional locations of the cross and the empty tomb. It seemed like if there were any constants in the world, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was one. It has closed for brief periods a few times in history for this or that reason, but the last time is was ordered closed for an indefinite period was 671 years ago. Wow. One comforting thing, one silver lining in that fact, is that I feel better about suspending worship at St. Paul’s, something I never thought I’d do and about which I still have mixed feelings. But hey, if they’ve closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I guess we can be closed, too. But it is still disorienting.
But anything that is disorienting demands a reorienting. You have to get your bearings. In the Milwaukee airport there is a great sign that read “Recombobulation Area.” I love that word, recombobulation, referring to what comes after the discombobulation of going through the arcane process of airport security. When you get lost, confused, or thrown off your game, you reorient.
The Gospel disoriented its first hearers. Jews and Gentiles mixing? Righteousness not by works? God becoming a man, and that man dying? And then rising? How could that be? All the old ways seemed to be collapsing. All the old assumptions, all the patterns, all the givens were thrown out the window. And yet to those with ears to hear, it was Good News. It was Good News because the massive Reorientation was based on Christ, the true, immovable cornerstone by Whom all of time gets its bearings. The wholesale disorientation caused by God making all thing new didn’t end there; it began a great reorientation on that cornerstone.
Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. The Third Commandment, insofar as it talks about a day, refers to Saturday. But that was the Old Covenant. It pointed to Christ and was fulfilled in Christ. That’s why Christians are not bound to worship on any particular day, and typically do not, like Jews do even today, worship on the Sabbath, that is, Saturday. Instead, we mark time as reoriented around the stone which the builders the rejected, the death and resurrection of Christ—Sunday, the first day of the New Creation, the day Christ rose, the eighth day of creation, when God makes all creation new.
Luther’s catechism, as usual, captures this reorientation on Christ perfectly. What does it mean to remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy? We should fear and love so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. Amazingly, the explanation doesn’t even mention a day. That was the old landmark, the Law, the thing that pointed ahead to Christ. We have the fulfillment, the proclaimed Gospel of Christ crucified and risen. We keep this commandment whenever and wherever we attend to the proclamation of the Gospel with all seriousness, reverence, and earnestness.
Reorienting. That’s what this bizarre quarantine can be for you. It gives all of us a chance to get our bearings and examine our habits, schedules, and priorities to see whether and how they are oriented on Christ. Perhaps they already were before all this. Perhaps not. But no forced change in schedule can disorient those whose lives are oriented on the immovable rock that is Christ, the cornerstone.
I hope you all partake of Matins today via the website. Matins is old. But the last closing of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is much older, predating the English language itself. Chaucer wasn’t even writing yet the last time this happened. There are no permanent things except the one thing upon which everything depends—the Word of God become Flesh and reigning forever. When you worship via the website, I hope your focus is not on the archaic words, whether you love them or don’t like them at all. Your focus should be on the words of Scripture, Pastor Stock’s Christ-centered sermon, praise of the eternal God, and the timeless Gospel that gives you life today and every day, in any circumstance, until we join in the heavenly worship of God forever.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard.
Dear St. Paul’s family,
By heart. That’s an evocative term. When we know something by heart, we keep it in our heart and it is there even when we’re not aware of it. We can call on it at a moment’s notice. Typically, what we mean when we say we know something by heart is that we know it word-for-word. Even after some time has gone by since we last said it, we can recall it with some prompting, or at least recognize it as deeply familiar.
The best way, really the only way, to know something by heart is repetition. Any instrumentalist has a long repertoire of pieces they can play almost automatically, because they’ve practiced them so often. That’s repetition. Athletes also need to know things by heart, and their practice is called “reps,” that it, repetitions.
Businesses know this. They run commercials over and over because they know you won’t really know what they want you to know unless they drive it into your head with repetition. That’s why they tell you their phone number four times. And they sing it to little jingles; melody and rhythm help the memory, and also drive the information deeper into the mind.
One of the more poignant scenes you’ll ever see is a dying person being sung to, especially songs they knew in their youth. Such singing has the power to cut through the fog of illness and anesthesia and go directly to the heart. Every Christian should be so blessed as to have a heart full of the Church’s sung Scripture to sustain them on the threshold of death.
Because we cannot offer communion to the congregation gathered in worship, our online service this week follow the service of Matins. Many generations of Christians have known this service by heart, including here at St. Paul’s. It connects the present to the past generation and the whole history of God’s people. It also has the power to connect people from many places. All over our church body, in any state, there are people who can sing along with Matins.
The beauty of liturgical worship is that it not only makes you know the Scriptures, but it puts those Scriptures into the context of worship. Rather than having a head only full commercial jingles, someone who sings the Scriptures week after week, in a congregation and wider church that sings the same things the same way, drives the words, the context, and the community of believers into our hearts.
Sunday will feel very strange for me not going to church, as I’m sure it will be for many of you. Please worship via our online service, either from the link in the email or via the website. Even as we are all apart in this time of quarantine and cannot go to church, it can be all the more meaningful to join in with “O come, let us sing unto the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation…”
March 27, 2020
This is the day the Lord has made!
First thing most mornings I use a little prayer book by John Baillie called A Diary of Private Prayer, which has a prayer for every morning and every evening the month. I’d like to share a portion of the prayer for the 27th day of the month (slightly edited, since Baillie uses archaic, King James language). After giving thanks for the work of Christ, the prayer continues as follows by giving thanks for what we have received from all those who have gone before us and asking God to incorporate us into that ongoing, glorious history:
For the power of His cross in the history of the world since He came; For all who have taken up their own crosses and followed Him; For the noble army of martyrs and for all who are willing to die that others may live; For all the suffering freely chosen for noble ends, for pain bravely endured, for temporal sorrows that have been used for the building up of eternal joys; I praise and bless You holy Name.
O Lord my God, You dwell in pure and blessed serenity beyond the reach of mortal pain, yet look down in unspeakable love and tenderness upon the sorrows of the earth. Give me grace, I beg you, to understand the meaning of such afflictions and disappointments as I myself am called upon to endure. Deliver me from fretfulness. Let me be wise to draw from every dispensation of Your providence the lesson You would have me learn. Give me a stout heart to bear my own burdens. Give me a willing heart to bear the burdens of others. Give me a believing heart to cast all my burdens on You.
During this very strangest of spring breaks, one of the blessings I’ve experienced is God forcing me to adapt, which I’m not naturally inclined to do. But I think St. Paul’s will be a better congregation next year and year after because of some of the ways we’re adapting now. We’ll be more focused on what is important, and more able to communicate and serve people in different circumstances.
Spring break ends this weekend and school starts again Monday via remote learning. Our teachers have been hustling and scrambling to learn new technology, prepare different lessons, and make it possible to keep teaching despite the circumstances. I’m going to do the same thing (lest those energetic darn teachers make me look bad!) with various Bible studies starting next week. You’ll need either Zoom or Facebook Live to participate in real time. Not ideal, but better than nothing. And I think even after this craziness ends, we’re still benefit from some of the changes we’re being forced to make today.
Keep an eye on your email Monday for instructions on how to participate in Bible study next week.
This weekend’s church service will be matins from LSB, and should be available for viewing by Saturday evening. We hope to begin live-streaming services next week.
Peace be with you!
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana