Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott

painting entitled "Veteran in a New Field"
Winslow Homer 1865

"So stand where Jesus' crimson banner waves above you,
and hold fast,
for He will keep you safe while life shall last,
and then His mighty hand shall remove you to heaven's glory
So joyfully press on."

Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott
6 movement

J.S. Bach

In this simple hymn of the church it is clear that Christ’s Word is not only to comfort us by snatching us from the evil one and saving us from the pangs of death and bitter despair. We are called to joyfully ‘press on’ in this world. We are called not out of life but rather into it. We are called to joyfully press on – not to stagger around lamenting the ills of a broken world and broken hearts.

Christ’s new law is love and communion in and of him. We live under a king’s reign - whose canon and decree is for Pastors to jealously steal back hearts that go astray to an enticing and unfaithful lover – the evil one. He seeks to win hearts that were his from the beginning – which he fashioned with his own hands and sparked to devotion with his own breath.

He claims hearts through a most holy declaration ‘given for you.’ The most holy God, Lord of all creation – suffering because he loves justice and dearly wants to rectify that which is wrong, making straight the crooked paths. All to bring an unfaithful lover home. Just mere men – to us it would seem ugly bruters - yet to him the crown of his design, his divine helpers and workers whom he gave to rule the earth and seas – to name the beast of the field – and subdue that which he found pleasing.

God does not make himself known as a great and powerful magician who plays tricks in the lofty heights of heaven. He chooses that you know his very nature – a nature obsessed with loving and granting forgiveness. He makes himself known as a servant who considers his own glory to be revealed in a twisted and disfigured face suffering death from his most prized and precious possession – his most lovely man and woman – who once exchanged the joys of convivial conversation and blessed communion so long ago.

The work of God casts his very own, begotten before all worlds, to be cut from the land of the living – to violently retrieve hardened hearts and re-caste them to drink and pump about his own blood through once cold veins. Communion is not metaphysical – not psychological – not mere spiritual – but an organic reintegration of man to God and God working love and life in man. The movement of newly created hearts joyfully presses on not because they are enlivened about their new flesh and blood but because they see God’s incarnation – his flesh – and breath in a world which he still considers good – lovely enough to him that he placed himself to be handed over to the young lions to have his own hands stretched about. That God himself descends to refashion his lost lovers erring hearts shows that he chooses that they love him here – at the undying moment of death, in which death is vanquished by death.

It is only in pierced hands and feet, raggedy and knotted hair drenched in blood, weeping from a cross that an erring heart can know the meaning of “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” Jealous, because he stops at nothing to give himself, to love a lost lover, seek a wayward son, and pay the price, settle all debts, and prepare a homecoming meal where he is chef, butler, meal, and haus vater.

So Joyfully press on, as Bach’s Cantata clearly teaches. ‘Press on’ in both daily joys and sorrows because Christ was pressed to a cross that you might speak freely, without fear, to a heavenly Lord. And this God of God, light of light, whom all things were made raises the dead and finds you under the crimson banner which declares your own name and place of honor. The father runs after you and exposes himself - exposes his glory in shame – exposes indiscriminate love – ultimately exposing a pierced side in which nothing is withheld.

Press on joyfully because Christ joyfully preaches his Holy Gospel. His incarnation is joyful in the midst of the slaughter of innocents – because he is the innocent one slaughtered – in the midst of the congregation. So rest now from your labor and sing with the choruses whose song never ceases. The new imperative – new command of the Lord is to be of good cheer and go on your way. Depart in peace for glory is beheld in a God whose body is wedded to the church. We do press on because the trumpet blast has sounded - the victory march has taken place on the dusty Jerusalem road – the enemy sacked – and all assailers routed. Happy are those whose lips sing God’s praises.

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