Thursday, March 24, 2016

Absolution - So How Long Does Forgiveness Last?

The following is an item written by my pastor, Pr. Kevin Martin, for a recent monthly newsletter. I thought it was a really good response to the question many have when it comes to Holy Absolution.
A church member asked me recently: “Pastor, after you pronounce absolution in the divine service, uhm… how long does… the ah, forgiveness last?” I thought that was a great question and I also thought there might be others who’ve wondered the same thing but were afraid to ask. It lasts forever! That’s the short answer. But the (only slightly) longer answer is even stranger and better…

All our sins were forgiven, all people’s everywhere for all time when Jesus died on a cross outside Jerusalem, April 6, 30 AD, 3 pm. Whether they know it or not. Whether they want to be forgiven or not. We all are and were forgiven completely on Good Friday (which we recently celebrated). Easter Sunday (while it is the larger day, festival-wise) is actually the icing on the cake, the results of what Jesus won in the darkness of that terrible Friday afternoon. But that’s what (Who!) did it: Jesus forgave the world’s sin by dying in our place that Great Friday. And the great thing about that death of His that day is that it didn’t just forgive sins people were committing then. His death reached back, the previous week, previous month, previous year, previous century, previous millennia, reached back all the way into the distant past, all the way to another garden, where Adam and Eve had just eaten an apple and had lost a great deal. That original sin was forgiven that Friday afternoon by Jesus too. And His forgiveness reached for-ward, centuries ahead, to cover over your sins and mine. It reaches forward to cover everyone’s sins who will ever live until that day when He returns in glory and there is no need for anymore forgiveness. Jesus’ death covers and forgives all sins, of all people of all times and places. Always.

So what happens at the beginning of the communion service when the pastor stands up, (after we confess that we are poor, miserable sinners) and says “As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins.”? If Jesus won forgiveness for all of us for all time, what’s up with that? Well, it’s the Department of Redundancy Department (sort of). Jesus, through His servants, is doing the forgiving thing all over again, or more exactly applying the effects of that forgiveness like a fresh coat of paint on a peeling and cracked wall.

Why? Because we are people of little faith. Because our sins keep coming back to haunt us like Scrooge’s ghosts (only not so kind-hearted!). We keep seeing the stain re-appearing on that wall we thought we’d painted and made sparkling white. Here’s where it gets a little weird (a little sci-fi): the wall (us!) really is sparkling white. There are no cracks, no peeling paint. Jesus’ death has made us just like Him, pure and holy. But instead of just telling us we are fine, pure and clean, and demand we believe it better, because we really do see and feel the stains, the damage, and so do our neighbors, Jesus repairs the damage we perceive all over again just as He did that Friday afternoon in the 1st century in Jerusalem. Another coat of paint on the wall, another wrapping in the robes of His righteousness. The death of Christ really was the end of the world and the beginning of a new age, a new time. But faith is required to live in that new world, that new time, and when faith falters, even a little bit, so do the good effects of Jesus’ death—from our perspective at least.

So Jesus keeps fixing the unbroken wheel—the wheel of our bodies and souls, because to us it is bent and out of round, really broken, even though it was repaired perfectly even before we were born or even did the damage. We simply have trouble living into the life Christ gives, living as we truly are in Him. This is the mission of Christ He carries out through His holy, catholic, orthodox, and apostolic church: He continually continues, by the forgiveness of sin, to make us over in His image; He makes us grow up into His image, to become true human beings at Last.

Our lack of faith keeps us from seeing this, experiencing this, living this. So the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism, Holy Preaching, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion continually makes right all that we get wrong, really, truly, physically, eternally, spiritually, ontologically, and metaphysically. Because we need it. Because we live in a fog of unbelief that clouds everything. At His Return in Glory, we will see Him as He is and so be like Him and will never have need of any more “touch-ups”. Till then, Jesus doesn’t mind forgiving what He’s already redeemed, over and over 70 times 7, times 7 times 7 times… well, you get the picture.

So when I tell you this Sunday: “As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins” that will last forever. Even when you walk out of church and bark at your wife, it’s already been “pre-forgiven” if you will. You’re good (and so is she, though if you tell her and show her how good and lovely she really is, life will be better for both of you, I would judge). But because you will have trouble believing that, because other sins will mount up, we’ll see each other again next week and go over it all again, until one Day, the Last and Great Day, Jesus will show up and real Life will begin in earnest…

                                        - Pr. Kevin Martin
                                          Our Savior Lutheran Church (Raleigh, NC)

Friday, March 18, 2016

CS Lewis on Longing...

Joy. Longing. Restlessness. Yearning. Desire. Heaven-sick. Sehnsucht.

CS Lewis writes in the Pilgrim's Regress: “[T]he longing for that unnameable something, the desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of, The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”  This is sehnsucht.

Further, CS Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory about "this desire for our own far-off country… the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience…Our commonest expedient is to call it Beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter." Lewis argues that what we call nostalgia or romanticism is rather a deep yearning, or longing, for “our own far off country.” Upon reflecting on 1 Corinthians 13:12, Christians believe explains the future reconciliation of all things in Christ as a getting beyond what St. Paul called “looking through a glass darkly.” At that future point, St. Paul states, “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Lewis believes, however, that our lives are already haunted by this longing and desire. As a new creation we yearn to possess that reality here and now.

The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to “enormous”) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire, but desire for what? Not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past… And before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison. - CS Lewis (Surprised By Joy)

More from Lewis.  The following is Psyche talking with her sister, Orual, in Till We Have Faces:

"Ah, Psyche," I said. "Have I made you so little happy as that?" "No, no, no," she said. "You don't understand. . . It was when I was the happiest that I longed most. . . Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche, come! But I couldn't (not yet) come and I didn't know where I was to come to . . . I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home.

Here's a song I'd like to leave you with. Andrew Peterson does a masterful job of appealing to this idea of sehnsucht, of longing and yearning, in the following song.  A song I'd heartily recommend.

Don't You Want To Thank Someone

Can't you feel it in your bones
Something isn't right here
Something that you've always known
But you don't know why

'Cause every time the sun goes down
We face another night here
Waiting for the world to spin around
Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun
Burning through a silver mist
Don't you want to thank someone?
Don't you want to thank someone for this?

Don't you ever wonder why
In spite of all that's wrong here
There's still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

'Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother's kiss
Don't you want to thank someone?
Don't you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he's haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged
It's glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from prophets' lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
Eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

'Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It's howling in the snowy peaks
It's blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on

And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it's a better thing
A better thing

To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it's waking up
And I'm waking up

'Cause I can hear the voice of one
He's crying in the wilderness
"Make ready for the Kingdom Come"
Don't you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Come back soon
Come back soon

By His grace, may we all follow the sound of the megaphone that rousing a deaf world back to childlike longings for Him and for our home.

And this world is truly bent, but I pray we are waking up...