Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rembrandt "Supper at Emmaus" 1648

Baptism is the ‘crossing over,’ the ‘crossing through’ of death and hell. We cannot understand baptism apart from the atonement, for our Lord when facing his great suffering says, “But I have a baptism to be baptized; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished” (Lk. 12:50). Baptism is therefore the entry of Jesus beginning his work as the Suffering Servant. Here a substitution and blessed exchange begins. When the Lord steps into his baptism he does not descend into waters to be washed clean as we are. He is the Son of God, without sin – holy and blessed. Therefore he is bathed and drenched in the sins of the world. In our baptisms we become one with Christ and share in his death and resurrection. We receive all that is his; righteousness and eternal life and he receives all that is ours; sin, death, and rebellion. In similar manner the suffering servant asks his disciples: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk. 10:38). The bitter wine that Jesus drank is the chalice of hell and death that he drinks for us, in turn pouring himself out in water, body, and blood for the redemption of the world.

Gustave Wingren links the first article of the Creed, that of the creator God also with the second and third of Christ’s work. He intends to provoke a consideration that the God who gives a resurrection to the corn of wheat in nature is the same God who raises Jesus from the dead. Wingren references that the early church often looked to the little miracles of nature; budding plants, withering flowers, death and rebirth as sorts of mini prophecies which point to the grander work of God in Christ. We can right say that the Word and sacraments are constitutive of the Church. When every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7) there will surely be speaking, singing, eating and drinking. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are bound up in the Word in such a way that they can never be separated. In the space between the ascension and the Parousia, the Lord’s Supper is so deeply rooted in the life of the church that we can rightly say with Luther that the altar rail is the “pulpit of the laity.” In this eating and drinking the church eats heavenly food for the remission of sins and confesses the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s work until He comes.

The time of preaching, the interim period of the Word which waits for the resurrection of the dead, casts a bridge between man’s present point in time and the resurrection of the dead. This time of the Word is where God creatively carries out the conflict with Satan. This preached Gospel includes the body in baptism and sets out on a journey where one is continuously fed the Lord’s Supper – “the food of travelers.” This body and blood holds the promise of the resurrection of the dead and grants the forgiveness of sins.

A Christian “ethic” can only be rightly understood if we confess that God has destroyed the power of Satan in and through Jesus Christ and that man may be justified. Ethics may not be understood as a right or wrong course of action or following precise moral precepts but rather the action that is born in baptism, finding its nourishment in the Lord’s Supper. Ethics can only be understood by the freedom granted by the Gospel. This alien righteousness is handed over to the sinner that he may be free from the law and serve God and neighbor in fervent love and charity. Luther believes that the sacraments actually bind Christians together in Christ’s body. It is understood that through the incarnation the world has been remade and that we encounter God in our neighbor, “When Christ approaches, our neighbor approaches as well, for humanity is something Christ in his incarnation became.” Therefore the body is very much drawn into this sacramental unity of the church so that we might be strengthened in body and soul and look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The incarnation of Christ and the sacraments reorients man that he may be opened up to creation to serve God and neighbor in love.

Wingren’s perception of the “week” and “Church Year” for preaching does not lay out legalistic customs or rubrics but is pragmatic in aim, “The Christian year is an order of salvation that does not lead men to any other stage than to that of the parish church.” The spiritual home and place to meet is simply this parish church where all blessings are given. The Christian church year ingratiates the hearer into Christ’s life and holy passion which in turn becomes his own. The preaching which proceeds during the week is a bubbling up and springing to life of a new creation born out of the forgiveness of sins. This moving out of the Word to the ends of the earth is simply the preaching in the parish church which delivers sinners from generation to generation.

It is Gustave Wingren’s observation that pietisms influence on preaching sets forth an “order of grace” – a movement which does not focus on Christ’s life and continuing work but rather a long series of actions of redemptive history. It is understood here, that the work of redemption lies in the past and is stationary and fixed. Holiness therefore lies in the past and must be returned to, here seen in such hymns as “Were you there?” There if becomes no longer Christ who advances but the individual who must reclaim holiness for himself based upon his own mystical imagination and personal discipline. The Word continually comes to us and brings everything with it, in fact all that Christ is and does. This order of salvation (Christian Year) brings people to the parish church to be bathed in both Word and Sacraments and to not only be present in all Christ does but actually to receive it. In this blessed exchange we not only receive Christ’s passive righteousness but also his active righteousness which fulfilled the law perfectly.

Wingren holds some wariness regarding an overly optimistic and prideful student of the Word who wishes to explicate law and gospel. He believes that the preacher remains subjected to the Word and letting it speak for itself rather than having lordship over it – to partition it, hastily divide it, etc. Wingren finds it sufficient to listen to the Word, rather than classifying law from gospel. It seems as though he desires that the Holy Spirit distinguish law and gospel, that God himself may chasten or comfort according to his will. His understanding is that the Word divides itself when it advances and makes an entry into the ears of hearer. Therefore it seems that the application of law and Gospel in preaching is more the work of God than the exegetical dealings of the Pastor.

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