What is the Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism?


Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, CPH

Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, CPH

Luther’s Small Catechism consists of the Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine (Section 1): the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It also includes daily prayers (Section 2), a table of duties for Christians (Section 3), and a guide for Christians to use as they prepare to receive Holy Communion (Section 4).

This is sometimes referred to as the Enchiridion. When we confess “the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know if from the Small Catechism to be faithful and true” (Rite of Confirmation, LSB Agenda, p. 29), it is only to this that we are subscribing.

An explanation section has regularly accompanied editions of Luther’s Small Catechism since the early days of Lutheranism. Luther was not the author of this explanation, instead, others wrote it while commenting on Luther’s catechism. Ultimately, the root of most current forms of the “Explanation” can be traced back to the work of  Johann Konrad Dietrich in his Institutiones catecheticae, published in the 17th century. That foundational work has been updated over the generations to meet the needs of Christian educators who use the “Explanation” as the basis for catechetical training. Due to the number of contributors and to the constant editing of the text over the centuries, the work cannot be attributed to one or even a few contributors. However, on page 45 of the current edition offered by Concordia Publishing House, you will find,

This explanation has been based upon and largely includes the work of Johann Konrad Dietrich (1575–1639), Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811–1887), Heinrich Christian Schwann (1819–1905), and the committee that prepared the synodical catechism of 1943.

Concordia Publishing House has updated the catechism in cooperation with the LCMS since at least 1943.

What is a Lectionary?


In Brief

Someone asked, “Why do we use the pericopes that we do; who chooses them?” An interesting question that gave me the opportunity to dig up some old notes and dig into some documents. This doesn’t go too deep, but gives a brief overview of how the Church’s lectionary developed and the choices that were made that has led to the lectionary being used by the majority of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod today.

 A lectionary gives the Church a framework for the most important task she has been given by her Lord: proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

A lectionary is a set of appointed readings from Holy Scripture used in congregational worship. There are lectionaries appointed for use on Sundays, as well as appointed readings to be read on the major feast and festival days of the Church Year. A lectionary permits the preacher to preach through the counsel of God in an orderly manner, in a way that is both instructive and thematic. The Church Year, with its thematic structure of seasons, is central to the lectionary. Liturgical churches that use a lectionary take it totally for granted, but it comes as quite a revelation for those who know nothing about it and learn of it for the first time.

Generally, the lectionaries used today include a reading from the Holy Gospels, a reading from some other book in the New Testament, generally the Epistles, a reading from the Old Testament, and a Psalm. The Gospel reading is considered the main reading and sets the theme for the worship service. In the majority of Lutheran  lectionaries, the other readings (especially the Old Testament) are intended to support the preaching on, and explanation of, the content of the Gospel reading.

Origins of the Lectionary

St. Jerome

St. Jerome

It is generally accepted that what we know today as the historic lectionary was first established by Jerome (lived c. A.D. 342–420). Having the name of Jerome attached to the lectionary made it influential on its own, but when it was later included in the Leonine Sacramentary, it became a standard text for the Western Church. At this time, the lectionary only provided assigned readings for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, with the rest of the year covered by optional Propers or by the choice of the local

bishop or pastor. Three hundred years later, when Charlemagne decided to standardize liturgical practices in his do

main, his religious advisor, Alcuin (c. 735–804), did a revision of Jerome’s work. This standardized worship in the Western Church and put everyone on the same page, at least for the festival part of the year.

The next major change to the lectionary would not come until the thirteenth century with the establishment of Holy Trinity as a major festival in the Church. Holy Trinity soon came to dominate the second half of the Church Year, and with that came the establishment of assigned Propers for the entire year. By the end of the thirteenth century, the liturgical practice of the Western Church, year round, was governed by the historic lectionary, though it wouldn’t be until the Council of Trent (1545–1563) that the Roman Church actually enforced and stabilized its use.

Johannes Bugenhagen

Johannes Bugenhagen

During the Reformation the question wasn’t, “Should the lectionary be changed?” only whether it should be used at all. While Zwingli and others abolished the use of lectionaries along with the observation of the Church Year, Calvin substituted a lectio continua for the lectionary, since he saw homiletical value in having some sort of assigned reading. The Lutherans judged that the lectionary did not promote false doctrine, and they retained the historic lectionary with only slight revisions—the most notable being the added Propers for Trinity 25 and 26. Additionally, they moved Transfiguration from August 6 to the last Sunday after Epiphany.

Luther prescribed the use of the historic lectionary in both the Formula Missae and Deutsche Messe (LW vol. 53 p. 23ff), and all Lutheran altar books continued in their use of it. Even the Augsburg Confession and the Apology testify to its official use in Lutheran congregations (Article XXVI and Apology XXIV.1). For the next four hundred years, Lutheran retained this common historic lectionary, along with Roman Catholics and Anglicans. It served as the basis for preaching and devotional books, hymnody and church music, and even until the mid-twentieth century was the index for every Lutheran hymnal.

There certainly is a history of other lectionaries being prepared. Even in Luther’s day, it is recorded that among the Lutherans there were different lectionaries beginning to be used. It is important and useful to note that these were not individual undertakings, but that all the churches in a district or area would be using the same “variation.” In 1896 the Eisenach Conference churches of the Prussian Union produced a lectionary, popularized in the United States by Lenski and his notes on the series. The Synodical Conference produced a series that was adopted in 1912 and included by the framers of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) as a “Second Series” available for use on Sundays (TLH p. 159ff). In 1868 the Scandinavian Lutheran Church produced a Three-Year Lectionary for their use. Most often these alternate lectionaries were produced, not to supplant the historic lectionary, but to supplement it, often adding Old Testament Readings or offering alternate texts for preaching. For the most part, the patterns and themes of the historic lectionary were maintained.

Already fifteen years after the production of The Lutheran Hymnal, American Lutheran church bodies were seeking a revision. In 1965 the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod resolved to appoint a commission that would work with other Lutheran church bodies to produce a new common hymnal. In February 1966 representatives of the LCMS, the American Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church in America met in Chicago and formed what would become the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW). Later, representatives of the Slovak Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC) joined the Commission. Among other issues, the ILCW dealt with the Church Year calendar and proposed a multi-year lectionary, citing a “widespread restiveness with the appointed readings, a great deal of experimentation, and a desire for either reform of the pericopes or a completely new lectionary,” resulting from “a variety of influences in current theology, social-ethical involvements, developments in worship practice, and especially the influential biblical theology movement of recent decades” (Contemporary Worship 6: The Church Year Calendar and Lectionary. Prepared by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House; Philadelphia: Board of Publications of the Lutheran Church in America; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1973. p. 13).

Rembrandt's Mother reading a lectionary

Rembrandt’s Mother reading a lectionary

One of the outcomes of Vatican II was the publication of the Ordo Lectionum Missae in 1969, the new Three-Year Series that supplanted the historic (One-Year) lectionary in the Roman Catholic Church. The next year the Protestant Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church, and United Church of Christ adopted the Ordo as a basis for new lectionaries in their churches. Having already set aside concern for loyalty to the received heritage and reverence for Western tradition, the ILCW simply followed suit when, in 1973, the ILCW published its version of the Three-Year Roman Ordo. The ILCW Three-Year Series established a lectio continua of synoptic Gospel assigned to each year: “Year A” focuses on Matthew, “Year B” on Mark, and “Year C” on Luke. John is featured in all three Series during the Sundays after Easter, and appears extensively along with Mark in Year B, especially in Advent, Christmas, and Lent. The Three-Year Series assigned a First Lesson, usually the Old Testament, to coordinate with the Gospel Reading. A lectio continua Reading of the Epistles was assigned to each year with no special effort to coordinate the Epistle with the Gospel selection.

Contemporary Lectionaries, Especially Lutheran

With the inclusion of the ILCW Three-Year Series in the LCMS’s Lutheran Worship, the ELCA’s Lutheran Book of Worship, WELS’s Christian Worship, and the ELS’s Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, this Series quickly became popular in Lutheran circles. Even though the ILCW had offered a revision of the historic (One-Year) lectionary to be included with the Three-Year Series, within fifteen years its use had sharply fallen.

However common and widely used it was among Lutherans, the ILCW Three-Year Series become one of the most short-lived lectionary series. Two years after the formation of the ILCW, representatives of the ELCA, ELCIC, and LCMS had joined an ecumenical group called the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT). Composed of biblical, linguistic, and liturgical scholars from various Christian denominations, their purpose was to prepare worship texts and materials for use in North America, including lectionaries. In 1978 they sponsored a meeting in Washington DC whose purpose was to form a committee that would reconcile the differences between the various denominational uses of the Three-Year Series. Ultimately the LCMS withdrew from this group. In 1983 the remaining members published the Common Lectionary.

The biggest change in the Common Lectionary over its ILCW predecessor was the revision of Old Testament Lessons. The framers of the ILCW lectionaries had selected texts with reference to their New Testament fulfillment (typological approach). The CCT questioned the validity of imposed typology on the Old Testament Scriptures. Instead, the Common Lectionary used a pattern of semi-continuous readings, which were essentially independent from the Gospel. The CCT also included an appointed Psalm in the Sunday Readings. Another notable change was the adoption of the Episcopal Church’s practice of replacing the “Sundays after Pentecost” with “Propers” keyed to the civil calendar.

The Common Lectionary was first used on a trial basis by a number of Lutheran and Episcopal congregations. The first to officially adopt it for use in their congregations was the Anglican Church of Canada in 1985. Early on, the Common Lectionary received a number of criticisms. These criticisms were directed especially from Lutheran, Episcopal, and RomanRCL Catholic sources. Ultimately, and in response to those criticisms, the CCT published the Revised Common Lectionary (RLC) in 1992. In addition, three versions of the RLC were framed in response to the criticism of the Old Testament selections. There is a Roman Catholic version, which at times used readings from the Apocrypha for the Old Testament Lesson. And then there are two Protestant versions, one in which the typological approach to assigning the Old Testament Lesson matched to the Gospel is used, and the other where the semi-continuous Old Testament Readings of the Common Lectionary are mostly retained. The increasing influence of social issues on the selection of texts is seen in the revisions of the RCL, as more stories of women of faith are added and texts deemed to appear anti-Semitic when taken out of their cultural and religious context of the Ancient Near East are eliminated.

The RCL has become the lectionary of the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, and ELCIC. It is the official lectionary of the United Methodist Church, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ.

The Lectionary for Lutheran Service Book

The LCMS did not adopt the RCL. Beginning in 1999, seventeen years after the introduction of Lutheran Worship, the LCMS Commission on Worship began work toward a new hymnal. In the 2006 Guide to Introducing Lutheran Service Book (p. 49, 50), the Commission’s Lectionary Committee summarizes the approach taken toward the lectionaries to be included in the new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book (LSB):

From the beginning of the development of LSB, the Lectionary Committee determined that both the three and one-year lectionaries would be included in LSB. Since the introduction of the three-year lectionary in the Lutheran Church in the early 1970s, the great majority of congregations have made use of it. Though the number of congregations currently using the one-year lectionary is relatively small, the committee believed it essential to retain this historic lectionary, though with some modifications.

 Three-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xiv–xix)

The committee’s work concerning the three-year lectionary centered on the extent to which it would make use of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which was published in 1992. The committee studied the issue carefully and, at the direction of the Commission on Worship, endeavored to bring considerable commonality with the RCL, especially during the Sundays after Pentecost. During festivals such as Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter, however, the lectionary reflects greater commonality with the one-year lectionary.

Among some of the features of the revised three-year lectionary are the following:

  • Some Old Testament readings have been changed so that they are more closely connected to the Gospel for the day.
  • Most of Acts 1–2 is read consecutively every year according to the following schedule:

Ascension Day Acts 1:1–11 (First Reading)

Easter 7 Acts 1:12–26 (First Reading)

Day of Pentecost Acts 2:1–21 (Second Reading)

Holy Trinity Acts 2:14a, 22–36 (Second Reading)

  • Following the original intentions of the three-year lectionary, the Psalm of the Day is not understood to be a separate reading but rather a response to the Old Testament/First Reading. With the inclusion of 107 psalms in the Pew Edition, the selections for Psalm of the Day have been completely revised. Every effort has been made to use whole psalms. When a portion of a longer psalm is appointed, the committee endeavored to make the selection of verses as straightforward as possible to avoid causing confusion for the worshiper.

lectionaryAs explained above, the Sundays after Pentecost follow the system that is used in the RCL. In this system, specific propers are assigned to a period of seven consecutive days, each being given the designation “Proper” with a number following. Unlike the current system in Lutheran Worship, where Sundays are skipped at the end of the church year, the new calendar places the “skip” at the beginning, right after the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. The designation “__________ Sunday after Pentecost” is retained as a more churchly way of identifying the Sunday, rather than by the “Proper” number. Though a bit different than our current practice, this new calendar is quite easy to use, partly because it is so logically conceived.

One-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xx–xxi)

The committee quickly determined that the historic one-year lectionary, together with its calendar, would be retained. Benefits of using this lectionary include an annual repetition of key biblical texts and the ability to consult historic resources, such as Martin Luther’s various series of sermons on the Gospels and Epistles. Among the features of the LSB one-year lectionary are the following:

  • The traditional Gospels and Epistles are retained. In a few cases an alternate Gospel is provided. More frequently, an alternate Epistle is also included.
  • The Old Testament readings were completely revised with the goal of providing readings that are closely related to the Holy Gospel for each day.
  • The pre-Lent season, also known as the “gesima” Sundays, is retained.
  • A minor adjustment from the historic calendar occurs in the weeks following Easter. Whereas the earlier calendar referred to these as the Sundays “after” Easter, the revised calendar mirrors the three-year lectionary in designating them as the Sundays “of Easter. The traditional Latin names for the Sundays have been retained, as have the appointed readings.

At the time Lutheran Service Book was being planned, the Lectionary Committee acknowledge a small but loyal following for the historic liturgy. In reality there is increasing interest in the older historic (one-year) lectionary. For the first time since The Lutheran Hymnal, there is again support for the historic lectionary, with a separate LSB One-Year Lectionary book being published.

Concluding Thoughts

Now, I apologize in advance if what follows sounds preachy. You will never find the perfect lectionary, yet even the worst of them is probably better than no lectionary at all. What is hugely obvious is that just as there is no such thing as a theologically neutral translation of the Scriptures, so, too, there is no such thing as a theologically neutral lectionary. The RCL lectionary(s) often display an agenda that at many points finds itself at cross-purposes with confessional Lutheranism. (So stick with the LSB lectionaries—end of plug.) While the question of which lectionary we use (or whether we use a lectionary at all, for that matter) is certainly an adiaphoran, this does not make it an unimportant matter. In choosing a lectionary for use in the Divine Service, we should remember that we are choosing a catechetical tool. A lectionary is to be more than a means to dole out little parcels of Scripture, it gives a framework for the most important task the Church has been given by her Lord: proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. It sets the hearer on the path toward understanding the purpose and meaning of Holy Scripture, and serves as a guide for both pastor and congregation through the whole counsel of God. Understanding the history behind the lectionaries is important, especially for pastors called to these tasks of preaching and teaching God’s people.

It should be noted. Much of this article was first put together several years ago when several of us pastors in the circuit were keenly interested in the historic lectionary, and there was not talk yet of a new hymnal (probably 1997—1998). Back then I was involved in several listservs and while I can’t say for certain, I am fairly sure that some of this was picked up from posts and/or papers that we would circulate to start or lubricate discussion. Living in the world that I do now, I am more conscious of acknowledging sources and giving credit for seminal thoughts that have been incorporated into subsequent work. Sixteen or so years ago, when this was put together for my own use, my tracking and acknowledgement of sources was virtually none existent. This also leaves facts somewhat unverifiable. Had I meant to publish it, hopefully I would have done better at the time. Now, I have no idea how to reconstruct those sources.

Subsequent to the posting of this article I was contacted by the Rev. Alexander Ring. Much of the article is a condensaton and gloss of his paper The Path of Understanding:The Development of Lectionaries and their use in the Lutheran Church, presented to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod General Pastoral Conference, Bloomington, MN, January 6­8, 1998. It was later published in Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol 38, #2, 90–124. This version is now posted with Rev. Ring’s knowledge and consent.

An Eastertide Reflection from Martin Luther


From Concordia Academic blog.
LW 58: Selected Sermons V

LW 58: Selected Sermons V

Martin Luther’s preaching during Eastertide in 1544 and 1545 provided his listeners with four sermons on 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter of St. Paul. “It would be better,” Luther wrote, “to give this season its due and, between Easter and Pentecost, for the instruction and comfort of the people, to give a thorough exposition of the article concerning both Christ’s resurrection and our own—that is, the resurrection of all the dead—on the basis of the preaching of the apostles, such as the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, all of which deals with the resurrection of the dead” [WA 21:349–50]. The sermons emphasized the assurance of the general resurrection; the ways in which Christians can “read” nature and be assured of God’s miraculous power to bring life out of death; and the unity of Christ’s resurrection with the resurrection of Christians, which means Christ’s victory over death also belongs to Christians.

For your Eastertide reflection, the following is a condensed version of the third sermon, on 1 Cor. 15:51–53. Here Luther contrasts the “bearable” divine speech in the present preaching of the Word with the unbearable sounds of the Last Day: the shout of the angel and the trumpet of God. The Christian should always keep the Last Day in mind, Luther says, as they fulfill their vocations in the world faithfully, remembering the last trumpet while enjoying the “eating, drinking, good cheer, and happiness” that God grants as a benevolent Father—but not mocking God and the last judgment with security amid unrepentant sin.

The complete text of this sermon and the other three sermons on 1 Corinthians 15, including the detailed annotations not included here, are available in LW 58: Selected Sermons V. Click Luther’s Works for information on becoming a subscriber to the extension of the American Edition of Luther’s Works.

On the Last Trumpet of God

[1 Corinthians 15:51–53]
Translated by Mark E. DeGarmeaux

…It is fitting in this time after the Easter festival to preach and deal with the article concerning the resurrection, not only the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead for all our sakes, just as He also died for all our sakes, but also our own resurrection, so that we may be firmly grounded in faith and completely certain that our own body will come forth again and live. For the resurrection of Christ is of no use to us at all if we, for whose sake Christ rose again, do not follow after Him and rise again from the dead just as He did. But we will not be able to follow after Him and rise to life with Him unless we believe that His resurrection happened for our good. Neither will we believe it unless we preach about it continually and proclaim this article without ceasing, so that it may take root in our hearts. Continue reading. . .

Ember Days—Lent 2013


The Lenten Ember Days are soon upon us.

ember-days-promo

The Lenten Ember Days comprise the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the week following the first Sunday in Lent. This year that is this coming Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (2/20, 21, and 23).

Oh, want to know more about Ember Days?

The handy shortcut for remembering the holidays that herald the Ember Days is “Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross:

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

Which for those of us who don’t think in Latin:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost,
are when the quarter holidays follow.

And these propers are supplied by the Brotherhood Prayer Book and can be added to your daily prayer and devotions

Ember Wednesday:

Morning Prayer – Matthew 12:38-50
Evening Prayer – 1 Kings 19:3-8

V. God shall give His angels charge over thee.
R. To keep thee in all thy ways.

Antiphon for Benedictus:
An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.

Antiphon for Magnificat:
For as Jonas was three days and nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of Man be in the earth.

Collect:
We beseech Thee O Lord that Thou wouldest graciously hear our prayers, and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defence against all adversities; through Jesus Christ…

Ember Friday:

Morning Prayer – John 5:1-15
Evening Prayer – Ezekiel 18:20-28

V. God shall give His angels charge over thee.
R. To keep thee in all thy ways.

Antiphon for Benedictus:
An angel of the Lord went down from heaven and troubled the waters; and whosoever did step therein was made whole.

Antiphon for Magnificat:
He that me whole, the same said unto me: Take up thy bed and go in peace.

Collect:
We beseech Thee, O Lord: mercifully to have compassion on Thy people, that they, which by Thee are enabled to serve Thee, may ever be comforted by Thy gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ…

Ember Saturday:

Morning Prayer – Matthew 17:1-9
Evening Prayer – 1 Thessalonians 5:14-23

V. God shall give His angels charge over thee.
R. To keep thee in all thy ways.

Antiphon for Benedictus:
And Jesus taketh his disciples, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart: and was transfigured before them.

Antiphon for Magnificat:
Tell the vision which ye have seen to no man: until the Son of Man be risen again from the dead.

Collect:
We beseech Thee O Lord: graciously to hear the prayers of Thy people, and of Thy great goodness turn aside from them the scourges of Thine anger; through Jesus Christ…

Want to know more about Ember Days?
Check out What are Ember Days?

Lent


lent WordCloud_2

The resurrection of Jesus is our great salvation. To prepare to celebrate the feast of the Resurrection (Easter), the Church sets aside a season of preparation. In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea recorded the first reference to the specific number of days for Lent: forty. This forty-day preparation was first prescribed for baptismal candidates and became known as Lent (from the Old English word for “spring”). During this period, the candidates were examined in preparation for Baptism at the Easter (or Paschal) Vigil. Later, these forty days were associated with Jesus’ forty days in the desert prior to His temptation. The forty day period is is symbolic of other periods of 40 in Scripture: the forty years Moses and the children of Israel were detained from entering the Promised Land, Elijah’s forty days spent in the wilderness, Noah had rain for forty days and forty nights, the Israelites wondered forty years to the promised land, and Jonah gave the city of Nineveh forty days to repent.

ChurchYear

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of  a 40-day season of repentance and preparation called Lent. The name is derived from the practice of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of penitence and a reminder of human mortality. The color for Ash Wednesday is black, while the liturgical color for Lent is violet. Lent is a season of forty days and concludes on Holy Saturday–the Saturday before Easter. During Lent the Church takes to opportunity to focus on our need to repent of our sins and our need of a Savior from sin. The Sundays during this season are not counted as a part of the forty-day season; the Sundays are not “of Lent” but “in Lent.” Thus even during Lent, while the worship services that congregations typically offer are penitential and solemn, the the Gospel appointed to Sundays in Lent do not speak of Christ’s Passion, rather they prefigure the great Easter victory. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s proof that our salvation has been completed and that the promise of life forever with our God and Father has been secured. The ritual observances of Lent are concrete reminders of the greater solemnity of this season, yet in all things, Lutherans emphasize the Gospel of Christ and the hope of Easter as central even to this penitential season.

The Lent Quarantine

The observation of Lent is characterized by the liturgical omission of the joyous Alleluias in the Divine Service. After the Epistle we hear the Tract or Verse instead.  The Gloria in Excelsis also is not sung. Some congregations choose to silence  the organ or limit its use to accompanying congregational singing, thus there are no instrumental preludes, postludes, or anthems. Though less enforced today, it has been traditional to not schedule weddings during Lent. Some congregation honor the Lenten quarantine by choosing  to not place flowers in the chancel and some will cover crucifixes and crosses with veils of violet or unbleached white linen. The quarantine sets the tone for the liturgy of Lent which is patient preparation and waiting for the climactic liturgies and services of Holy Week.

Altar_Lent

Ash Wednesday 2013


confess

Repent!

Man, yesterday was great. I went out early to that supermarket that bakes fresh 7 days-a-week and picked up Pączki for the family for breakfast. Friends introduced us to this Polish Tuesday-before-Ash Wednesday tradition and we have enjoyed Pączki Day for over 30 years. In a similar vein German Americans have traditionally celebrated with a traditional doughnut called Faschnacht. If you background leans a little more to being English, yesterday would have been Pancake Day.

Whatever the cultural variation, the day had a purpose, eating rich foods on the Tuesday-before-Ash Wednesday was a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter, which were traditionally fasted from during Lent.

And then let’s not forget those who celebrate Fat Tuesday with a party or carnival—for two weeks St. Louis French quarter, Soulard, has been host to the second largest Mardi Gras in the country—and Mardi Gras is simply French for ‘Fat Tuesday.’ Just about wherever Lent is celebrated, Fat Tuesday traditions have grown up.

Like many traditions, while the ‘fun’ and ‘traditional’ aspects endure and are celebrated far and wide, the reason for the tradition is largely forgotten or set aside as no longer relevant. Why would Christian households commit the day before Ash Wednesday to emptying the pantry of butter, fat, and sugar? The answer is not in the donuts or the pancakes, or the rich Mardi Gras foods—as much as we like them. With the pantry cleaned out, the Christian family is prepared for the traditional fasting that is associated with Lent.

A few of the liturgical traditions still remember or use the old term Shrove Tuesday. ‘Shrove’ means to have been shriven before Lent, an old English way of saying to [be prepared] to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession. Here then is the other traditional aspect of Lent: that is confession so that one may obtain absolution for sin. Lent prepares us to approach the Cross on Good Friday, approach shriven, approach having contemplated our sins, not just to have made a list of them, but to have pondered anew the great need we have for a Savior from our sin; to contemplate the gravity of our sin—sin so deep, so dark, that it required nothing less than that the Son of God would die that we could be reconciled to God.

Ash Wednesday is set aside yearly as a day of repentance, a day to contemplate your sins and to be sorry for your sins. Not matter your Christian tradition, it is not too late to be shriven—and it doesn’t require you to go to IHOP or Drive-In Donuts. Repent! Hold up your life, your thoughts, your pet sins before the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments and see how far we are from His holy will.

But to recognize sin is not enough, to make a list of all our sins, even if we could, is not enough. Repentance, true repentance, requires that you turn away from your sin. To turn away from excess during Lent just to pick it up again in spades after Easter is no true Lenten discipline. In the same way, to confess your sin, but not turn aside from it, to not change your life, your actions, your sinful behavior, but to return to them—that is not true repentance. Empty ‘sorrys’ come so easily off our lips. Like many who celebrate Fat Tuesday with no intention of being shriven, we throw ‘sorrys’ around with no understanding or intention to do anything really different. Your “I’m sorry,” no matter how heartfelt, is insufficient if it is not joined with the change needed to not commit that sin again.

God despaired of our sin. Yet, instead of acting in righteous judgment against us, He sent His Son to die for our sin, so that we might live with Him forever. The weight of your sin–my sin, the heavy yoke of it, crushed the Lord on the cross, so that we would not have to be crushed into the grave forever. He drank to the dregs the bitter cup of God’s wrath against our sin, so that in true faith we receive the sweet cup of blessing in Christ.

While we turn our attention to confessing our sin on this Ash Wednesday, all the more let us turn our lives to lives of repentance-lives where we continually hold ourselves accountable to God and to each other, lives where we sorrow over sin AND seek the God-given strength to turn from our sins. This is the work the Holy Spirit does in us, the daily drowning of the old sinful man and the bringing forth of the New Man—this is the daily remembrance of our Baptism that strengthens us.

Confession has two parts, first, to confess our sins, and second to receive absolution. Absolution, the sweet word of God that announces that your sins are forgiven. Absolution, the sweet Gospel that on account of Christ, God sets aside the punishment of your sin.

It’s Ash Wednesday. Repent! Then hear the Word of forgiveness with the assurance that your sins are truly forgiven by God in heaven.

Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (L22)

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