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Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

31 July 2014
  + Joseph of Arimathea +
31 July, New Testament

Burial Spices Saint Joseph is mentioned in all four Gospels. He came from a small village called Arimathea in the hill country of Judea and was a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem. Scholars presume that Joseph was a man of considerable means, since he owned his own unused tomb in a garden not far from the site of Jesus' crucifixion (Matthew 27:60).

A man waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, he went to Pontius Pilate after the death of Jesus and asked for Jesus' body (Mark 15:43). Along with Nicodemus, Joseph removed the body and placed it in the tomb (John 19:39). Their public devotion contrasted greatly to the fearfulness of the disciples who abandoned Jesus.

The perfume flask depicted here reminds us of Joseph's hurried work of preparing Christ's body for burial, which would have included rubbing the spices brought by Nicodemus on the body and the wrapping cloths.

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30 July 2014
  + Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr +
30 July AD 1540

Robert Barnes Remembered as a disciple of Martin Luther, Robert Barnes is considered to be among the first Lutheran martyrs. Born in 1495, he became the prior of the Augustinian monastery at Cambridge, England. Converted to Lutheran teaching, he shared his insights with many English scholars through writings and personal contacts.

During a time of exile to Germany he became a friend of Luther and later wrote a Latin summary of the main doctrines of the Augsburg Confession titled Sententiae.

Upon his return to England, Barnes shared his Lutheran doctrines and views in person with King Henry VIII and initially had a positive reception. In 1529 Barnes was named royal chaplain.

The changing political and ecclesiastical climate in England later claimed him as a victim; he was burned at the stake in Smithfield in 1540.

His final confession of faith was published by Luther, who called his friend Barnes "our good, pious table companion and guest of our home, this holy martyr, Saint Robertus."

For a bit more on Barnes, please read the introduction to Lutheran Carnival 26 at A Beggar at the Table.

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29 July 2014
  + Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany +
29 July, New Testament

Jesus in Bethany Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were disciples with whom Jesus had a special bond of love and friendship. The Gospel According to Saint John records that "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (11:5)."

On one occasion, Martha welcomed Jesus into their home for a meal. While she did all the work, Mary sat at Jesus' feet listening to his Word and was commended by Jesus for choosing the "good portion, which will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:38-42)."

When their brother Lazarus died, Jesus spoke to Martha this beautiful Gospel promise: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live." We note that in this instance, it was Martha who made the wonderful confessions of faith in Christ (John 11:1-44).

Ironically, raising Lazarus from the dead made Jesus' enemies among the Jewish leaders more determined than ever to kill Him (11:45-57).

Six days before Jesus was crucified, Mary anointed His feet with a very expensive fragrant oil and wiped them with her hair, not knowing at the time that she was doing it in preparation for her Lord's burial (John 12:1-8).

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28 July 2014
  + J. S. Bach, Musician, Composer, and Theologian +
28 July AD 1750

J. S. Bach Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted of all composers past and present in the entire western world. Orphaned at the age of ten, Bach studied with various family members but was mostly self-taught in music.

He began his professional career as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant at age 19 in the town of Arnstadt. He traveled wherever he received good commissions and steady employment, ending up in Leipzig, where the last 27 years of his life found him responsible for all the music in the city's four Lutheran churches.

Johann Orycteropus Bach Acclaimed more in his own time as a superb keyboard artist, the majority of his compositions fell into disuse following his death, which musicologists use to date the end of the Baroque Period and the beginning of the Classical Era. However, his compositional ability was rediscovered, in large part due to the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn.

The genius and sheer magnitude of Bach's vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. Also, whether due to nature or nurture, he was but one of the giants in, perhaps, the most talented musical family of all time.

Christendom especially honors J. S. Bach, a staunch and devoted Lutheran, for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the Church, glorifying God and edifying His people. For an overview of the Christological basis of his work and a strong argument that he was among the theological giants of Lutheranism, please read J. S. Bach: Orthodox Lutheran Theologian?.

Today we remember his "heavenly birthday," for it was on 28 July AD 1750 that the Lord translated Mr. Bach to glory.

Soli deo gloria — To God alone the glory! These words appear on most manuscripts of Bach's compositions as testimony to his faith and his idea of music's highest, noblest use.

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27 July 2014
  + Olaf II of Norway +
29 July AD 1030; transferred to 27 July

The Death of Olaf Ólafr Haraldsson (also known as Olav, Olafe, Oláfr hinn helgi, and Olavus rex) was born in 995 to Harald Grenske and Åsta Gudbrandsdatter. While Snoore says that he was baptized in 998 in Norway, it's more likely that it was by the hand of Archbishop Robert in Rouen, France around 1010. As was common among young Norsemen, he spent much of his youth going a-viking (raiding), first in the Baltic, then Denmark, and finally in the British Isles. He was nicknamed "Digre" (physically large) and some believed him to be a reincarnation of a previous (pagan) Viking king Olav Digre. While involved in numerous armed conflicts, Olaf also developed a deep interest in Christianity.

Olaf declared himself King of Norway in 1015. Following battles with various petty kings, he ruled until 1029, although his strength was greatly reduced following his loss in the Battle of the Helgeå (1026). As monarch, he struggled to root out heathenism and make Christianity the religion of the realm. Like his ancestor Olaf Trygvesson, he frequently attacked the old faith and customs. Olaf destroyed pagan temples and built Christian churches in their place. He brought many bishops and priests from England, a practice later followed by King Saint Canute of Denmark. It appears that he based ecclesiastical organization on the Anglo-Saxon model.

The rebellion against Olaf stemmed but in part from his unflinching Christianity. Many of the nobles were also exasperated by his ongoing struggle with the old Norse method of governance and his never-ending desire for a truly united Norway. The governing clans enlisted King Canute of Denmark and England for help in ousting Olaf. Once he was banished, the clans elected Canute as King of Norway. Therefore, he became not only an icon of the Christian Faith but also one of Norwegian nationalism — an image he carries even among secular Norwegians to this day.

Norwegian Coat of Arms After Canute's vassal Håkon Eiriksson died, Olaf returned from his two year exile and met the rebellious clans at Stiklestad on 29 July 1030. Although neither King Canute or the Danes took part, Olaf — who fought courageously — was mortally wounded at that battle and died in the battlefield. His final recorded words were the prayer, "God help me."

He was disinterred a year after his death and his remains moved to the Church of St. Clement in Nidaros (current Trondhjem). There, Bishop Grimkel and Earl Einar Tambeskjelver placed his corpse in a coffin and laid it on the church's high altar. At that time, the bishop also declared Olaf a saint. Although Olaf was embraced by most Norwegian Lutherans, his remains disappeared as part of an iconoclasm that often accompanied the Reformation.

His cult spread widely in the Middle Ages, moving from Norway to Denmark, Sweden, and even parts of England. Although a rather harsh ruler and prone to rough treatment of his enemies, Olaf became Norway's patron saint. The cult of Olaf not only unified the country, it also fulfilled the conversion of the people, something for which the king had fought so hard. While divisive in life, Olaf in death held a unifying power that defied outside state and religious rulers attempts to undo his dream.

Although Olav was certainly not the first to introduce Christianity to Norway, he first codified the faith in 1024, laying the basis for the Church of Norway. So high did Olaf's legal arrangements for the Church of Norway come to stand in the eyes of the Norwegian people and clergy, that when Pope Gregory VII attempted to make clerical celibacy binding on the priests of Western Europe in 1074-75, the Norwegians largely ignored him, since celibacy wasn't mentioned in Olaf's legal code for their church. Although he continued to be known through most of his life as Olaf digre, in death he remains known by most as Olav den hellige (Olaf the Holy).

The coat of arms of Norway is a lion holding the battle-axe of St. Olaf in his forepaws.

Suggested Lection

Wisdom 10:10-14
Psalm 31:1-7
James 1:2-4, 12
Matthew 16:24-28

Collect

Almighty, eternal God, you are the crown of kings and the triumph of martyrs. We thank You for the bold confession made by Your blessed martyr, Olav We praise your greatness in his death and we pray You give us the crown of life that You have promised those who believe in Your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

See Wikipedia, the Catholic Encyclopedia, and the Christian Cyclopedia for more.

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25 July 2014
  + Saint James the Elder, Apostle +
25 July, New Testament

Saint James James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John were among Our Lord's twelve disciples. Together with Peter, these two were privileged to behold the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28). They witnessed the healing of Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31) and the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51). Jesus called them aside to watch and pray with Him in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before His death (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33).

James and John may have been from a higher social level than the average fisherman. Their father could afford hired servants (Mark 1:20), and John (assuming him to be identical with the "beloved disciple") had connections with the high priest (John 18:15).

Jesus nicknamed the brothers Boanerges — Sons of Thunder — (Mark 3:17), probably commenting upon their headstrong, hot-tempered, and impulsive natures. So they seem to be in two incidents reported in the Gospels. Once, Jesus and the disciples were refused the hospitality of a Samaritan village, and James and John proposed to call down fire from heaven on the offenders (Luke 9:51-56). On another occasion, they asked Jesus for a special place of honor in the Kingdom, and were told that the place of honor is the place of suffering (Matthew 20:20-23; Mark 10:35-41).

Saint James In about AD 42, shortly before Passover (Acts 12:1-2), James was beheaded by order of Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (who tried to kill the infant Jesus; see Matthew 2), nephew of Herod Antipas (who killed John the Baptist — Mark 6:14-29 — and examined Jesus on Good Friday — Luke 23:6-16), and father of Herod Agrippa II (who heard the defense of Paul before Festus — Acts 25:13-26:32). James was first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom, and the only one whose death is recorded in the New Testament.

James is often called "James Major" (also "the Greater" or "the Elder") to distinguish him from other New Testament people named James. Tradition has it that he made a missionary journey to Spain, and that after his death his body was taken to Spain and buried there at Compostela. His supposed burial place there was a major site of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, and the Spaniards fighting to drive their Moorish conquerors out of Spain took "Santiago de Compostela!" (Saint James of Compostela) as one of their chief war-cries. (The Spanish form of "James" is Diego or Iago. In most languages, "James" and "Jacob" are identical. Where an English Bible has "James," a Greek Bible has Iakobos.

The sword (the instrument of his death) and the scallop shell are both traditional representations of the apostle.

Lection

Psalm 56
Acts 11:27-12:5
Romans 8:28-39
Mark 10:35-45

Collect

Grant, O Lord, that as Saint James the apostle readily followed the calling of Your Son Jesus Christ, we may by Your grace be enabled to forsake all false and passing allurements and follow Him alone; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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22 July 2014
  + Saint Mary Magdalene +
22 July, New Testament

Noli me Tangere The Gospels mention Mary of Magdala as one of the women of Galilee who followed Jesus and His disciples. She witnessed His crucifixion and burial, and went to the tomb on Easter Sunday to anoint His body. She was the first recorded witness of the risen Christ and was sent by Him to tell the disciples. Thus, early Christian writings sometimes refer to her as "the apostle to the apostles" (apostle means "one who is sent").

Confusion sometimes abounds as to whether she is the same person as Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus) or the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus's feet (Luke 7:36-48). Add in the statement that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2) and you get the origins of a tradition that she was a prostitute before she met Jesus.

Following the assumption (possibly quite misguided) that Mary Magdalene truly had been a spectacular sinner whose penitential sorrow was deep and complete — and possibly because John described her as crying at the tomb of Jesus — artists often portray her either as weeping or with red eyes from having wept. This appearance (and a slight corruption in translation) led to the English word "maudlin," meaning "effusively or tearfully sentimental." Magdalen College at Oxford and Magdalene College at Cambridge (note the different spellings) — both pronounced "Maudlin" — derive their names from this Saint Mary.

Since the printing of Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code and the subsequent motion picture, ancient, heretical ideas about marriage or a less permanent sexual relationship between Mary and Jesus have gained ground. Some even twist an offhand statement from Martin Luther to buttress this argument. Contrary to these false teachings, please read Was Jesus Married and Luther, Jesus, and Mary Magdalene.

Lection

Psalm 73:23-28
Proverbs 31:10-31
Acts 13:26-31
John 20:1-2, 11-18

Collect

Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, restored Mary Magdalene to health and called her to be the first witness of His resurrection. Heal us from all our infirmities, and call us to know You in the power of Your Son’s unending life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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21 July 2014
  + The Holy Prophet Ezekiel +
21 July, Old Testament

Ezekiel Ezekiel, the son of Buzi, was a priest, called by God to be a prophet to the exiles during the Babylonian captivity (Ezekiel 1:3). In 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army brought the king of Judah and thousands of the best citizens of Jerusalem — including Ezekiel — to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-16).

Ezekiel's priestly background profoundly stamped his prophecy, as the holiness of God and the Temple figure prominently in his messages (for example, Ezekiel 9-10 and 40-48). From 593 B.C. to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C., Ezekiel prophesied the inevitability of divine judgment on Jerusalem, on the exiles in Babylon, and on seven nations that surrounded Israel (Ezekiel 1–32). Jerusalem would certainly fall and the exiles would not quickly return — the just consequences of their sins.

Especially in the early part of the book, much of what the Lord "said" to His people was delivered in the form of action prophecies. In these, Ezekiel acted out representations of coming events pertaining to the fall of Judah, the destruction of the temple, and the seeming end of the Davidic line of kings. These action prophecies included the eating of the scroll (3:1-2), being struck with dumbness (3:22-27), sketching of the city of Jerusalem (4:1-3), lying on one side and then the other (4:4-8), eating restricted rations cooked on a fire of dried dung (4:9-17), and shaving his hair and beard with a sword before dividing the hair (5:1-4). Some seem a bit strange at first glance, once we understand their meaning and context, their messages are quite easily comprehended.

Once word reached Ezekiel that Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, his message became one of comfort and hope. Through him God promised that his people would experience future restoration, renewal and revival in the coming Messianic kingdom (Ezekiel 33-48).

Much of the strange symbolism of Ezekiel's prophecies was later employed in the Revelation to Saint John. Among these are the visions of the four living creatures as seen in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4.

See Happenings for a hymn stanza written for the Commemoration of Ezekiel.

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20 July 2014
  + The Holy Prophet Elijah +
20 July, Old Testament

Elijah Ascends to HeavenThe prophet Elijah, whose name means, "My God is Yahweh [the Lord]," prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel, mostly during the reign of Ahab (874 – 853 B.C.).

Ahab, under the influence of his pagan wife Jezebel, had encouraged the worship of Baal throughout his kingdom, even as Jezebel sought to get rid of the worship of Yahweh. Elijah was called by God to denounce this idolatry and to call the people of Israel back to the worship Yahweh as the only true God (as he did in 1 Kings 18:20-40).

Elijah was a rugged and imposing figure, living in the wilderness and dressing in a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt (2 Kings 1:8). He was a prophet mighty in word and deed. The Lord worked many miracles through Elijah, including the raising of the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the effecting of a long drought in Israel (1 Kings 17:1).

At the end of his ministry, he was taken up into heaven as Elisha, his successor, looked on (2 Kings 2:11). Later on, the Lord proclaimed through the prophet Malachi that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6), a prophecy that was fulfilled in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist (see Jesus' words in Matthew 11:1-19).

See Happenings for a hymn stanza written for the Commemoration of Elijah.

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16 July 2014
  + Ruth of Moab +
16 July, Old Testament

Ruth Ruth, the subject of the book bearing her name, is an inspiring example of God's grace. Although she was a Gentile, God made her the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:17), and an ancestress of Jesus Himself (Matthew 1:1-17).

A famine in Israel led Elimelech and Naomi of Bethlehem to emigrate to the neighboring nation of Moab with their two sons. The sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, but after about ten years, Elimelech and his sons died (Ruth 1:1-5).

Naomi then decided to return to Bethlehem and urged her daughters-in-law to return to their families. Orpah listened to Naomi's plea, but Ruth refused, replying with the stirring words: "Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (1:16)"

After Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, Boaz, a close relative of Elimelech, agreed to be Ruth's "redeemer" (3:7-13; 4:9-12). He took her as his wife, and Ruth gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of David (4:13-17), thus preserving the Messianic seed. See Boaz, Ruth, and the Genealogy of Jesus at Ask the Pastor for a deeper theological examination of the account of Ruth and Boaz, including its Christological connection.

Ruth's kindness and selfless loyalty toward Naomi — and her faith in Naomi's God — have long endeared her to the faithful and redounded to God's praise for His merciful choice of one so unexpected.

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12 July 2014
  + Bo Harald Giertz, Bishop and Theologian +
12 July AD 1998

Bo Giertz
Bo Harald Giertz was born 31 August 1905 in Räpplinge, Borgholm, Öland (Kalmar), Sweden. He came from a prominent family and his father was a noted surgeon and head of one of Sweden's largest hospitals He was also an atheist. Bo planned to follow in his father's path and in 1924 he enrolled in the School of Medicine at the University of Uppsala. While there, however, theological students began challenging his belief system and, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, left the school of medicine, and entered the University School of Theology.

In 1934, Giertz was ordained in the Linkoping Cathedral. He became assistant to the bishop and was given responsibility for working with the youth. His own faith and his conviction concerning the relevance of Christianity were on display for the thousands of young people who came under his care. Even as orthodox Lutherans lauded him, he also drew attacks from modernists in the Swedish state church and secularists as his writings spread in newspapers and periodicals. The public knew him as a talented and faithful confessor of a Church doctrine that was based in Scripture, confessed in the Creeds, and expounded in the Lutheran Confessions.

Giertz became a priest in Torpa in 1938, serving that parish until 1949, when he was consecrated as Bishop of Gothenburg. While serving Torpa, he wrote With My Own Eyes, a retelling of the Gospels (1947), four theological works, Christ's Church (1939), Church Piety (1939), The Great Lie and the Great Truth (1945), and The Battle for Man (1946), the catechetical book The Foundation (1942), and two novels The Hammer of God (1941) and Faith Alone (1943). These latter, particularly Hammer of God, became popular throughout Scandinavia and then around the globe.

The attention to theology and care for souls that Giertz evidenced in Torpa continued when he became Bishop of Gothenburg in 1949. As the youngest man elected and consecrated to serve the Church of Sweden as a diocesan bishop, he combined a somewhat pietistic type of pastoral care with High Church Lutheran theology, traits that are noticeable in his novels. Following the decisions of the Swedish Parliament and the Church Assembly to ordain women in the Church of Sweden (1958), Giertz became a leader of the opposition. In that same year, he invited all confessional groups in the Church of Sweden to form The Church Movement for Bible and Confession in response to the Assembly's decision.

Bishop Bo Giertz
The demands of the bishopric and the challenges of women's ordination and modernist theology slowed his writing for a time but once he became Bishop Emeritus, Giertz returned to the printed word in full force. He wrote The ABCs of Our Christian Faith in 1971, following it with The Knights of Rhodos (1972), another best-selling novel, the devotional books To Believe in Christ (1973) and To Live with Christ (1974), a new translation of the New Testament with Commentary (1977-1982), and, as a nonagenarian, he wrote The Living God — A Guide to the Christian Faith (1995). Most of Giertz's writings are not now available in English but new translations have begun to appear as the desire to read him grows.

Giertz pioneered a return to every Sunday celebration of the Lord's Supper, something that had largely vanished in the Church of Sweden due to the erosion caused by Pietism and Rationalism. He strongly urged pastors to pray the Daily Offices, something he applied in his own devotional life. Although often rejected by the leaders of the Church of Sweden, Giertz remains popular with true Lutherans in his own country, throughout Scandinavia, and across the world. Of him, the Reverend Hans O. Andrae wrote, "In his vision of the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, Giertz integrated a vibrant Evangelical-Lutheran orthodoxy, the Church's traditional liturgy, and sincere church piety into a harmonious and powerful wholeness."

Suggested Lection

Psalm 46
Isaiah 55:6-11
Romans 10:5-17
John 15:1-11

Collect

O Lord God, heavenly Father, we pray that, as You raised up Bo Harald Giertz to lead Swedish Lutherans into a renewed appreciation of their confessional heritage and trust in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as You spoke to the entire Church through his writings, so You would continue to provide faithful pastors and leaders, keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, defend us against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on Christ's Church Militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
 
06 July 2014
  + The Holy Prophet Isaiah +
6 July, Old Testament

Isaiah Isaiah son of Amoz is considered to be the greatest of the writing prophets and is quoted in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament prophet. His name means "Yahweh [the Lord] saves." Isaiah prophesied to the people of Jerusalem and Judah from about 740 B.C. to 700 B.C. and was a contemporary of the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah.

Isaiah was a fierce preacher of God's Law, condemning the sin of idolatry. He was also a comforting proclaimer of the Gospel, repeatedly emphasizing the Lord's grace and forgiveness. For this he is sometimes called the "Evangelist of the Old Testament." No prophet more clearly prophesied about the coming Messiah and his saving kingdom. He foretold the Messiah's miraculous birth (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6), his endless reign (2:1–5; 11:1–16), and his public ministry (61:1–3), but most notably his "Suffering Servant" role and atoning death (52:13-53:12).

The apostle John's description of Isaiah, that Isaiah saw Jesus' glory and spoke of Him (John 12:41), is an apt summary of Isaiah's prophetic ministry. The seraphim's refrain of, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, (Isaiah 6:3)" during his call into the prophetic ministry (Isaiah 6) is the basis of many Christian hymns and liturgical pieces.

Hymn: Isaiah, Mighty Seer

   Isaiah, mighty seer, in days of old
   The Lord of all in Spirit did behold
   High on a lofty throne, in splendor bright,
   With flowing train that filled the Temple quite.
   Above the throne were stately seraphim,
   Six wings had they, these messengers of Him.
   With twain they veiled their faces, as was meet,
   With twain in reverent awe they hid their feet,
   And with the other twain aloft they soared,
   One to the other called and praised the Lord:
      "Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
      Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
      Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
      Behold, His glory filleth all the earth!"
   The beams and lintels trembled at the cry,
   And clouds of smoke enwrapped the throne on high. (from Isaiah 6:1-4)

Canticle: Isaiah 12

You will say in that day:
   "I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
      for though you were angry with me,
   your anger turned away,
      that you might comfort me.
   Behold, God is my salvation;
      I will trust, and will not be afraid;
   for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
      and he has become my salvation."
   With joy you will draw water
      from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day:
   "Give thanks to the Lord,
      call upon his name,
   make known his deeds among the peoples,
      proclaim that his name is exalted.
   Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
      let this be made known in all the earth.
   Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
      for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel."

See Happenings for a hymn stanza written for the Commemoration of Isaiah.

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02 July 2014
  The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
2 July, New Testament (One Year Lectionary)

Durer: The Visitation This major Christological feast commemorates the joyous visit Mary paid to her relative (probably her cousin) Elizabeth, following The Annunciation. Inspired by the amazing news that she was to become the mother of the Christ and in response to the joyous word that her old and previously barren kinswoman was also pregnant, she joined Elizabeth during her sixth month of pregnancy (see Luke 1:39-56).

After Mary declared the wondrously good news, Elizabeth replied to the Virgin, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! ... Behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (vv. 42, 44)" She concluded by giving full credit and glory to God while also commending her young cousin's hearty faith: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (v. 45)"

Mary responded with the Magnificat, the beautiful song of praise beginning, "My soul magnifies the Lord. (vv. 46-55)" It's not clear whether Mary stayed there until after the birth of John or if she left immediately beforehand; Luke merely said that the Virgin "remained with her about three months and returned to her home. (v. 56)"

And so, as we encounter God sending the Forerunner and the Messiah into the world, we see a study in contrasts. Two women stand before each other. One seemingly too old to bear children now carries the final prophet of the Old Covenant. The other, youthful and as yet unwed — completely unprepared in the eyes of the world — carries the One who brings both the Advent and the Fulfillment of the New Testament. And again we see, in the fullness of time, one age passing away while another age begins — an age that has no end but which lasts unto eternity.

The reaction of Jesus' unborn cousin and the words of his mother also serve as reminders to many Christians about the sanctity of life. Christian pro-lifers point to John's celebration as clear evidence of the humanity and the consciousness of children who are still in utero.

In Roman Catholicism, Vatican II changed the date of the observation from 2 July to 31 May in order to more accurately reflect the Bible's chronology regarding the life of Christ. Several other Western churches followed suit. In The Lutheran Church —Missouri Synod, today is celebrated in the One Year Lectionary while the Three Year Lectionary moves the feast date to 31 May.

Note: This illustration by Albrecht Dürer is from the Web Gallery of Art.

Lection

Psalm 138
Isaiah 11:1-5
Romans 12:9-16
Luke 1:39-56

Collect

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your Son and made known through her Your regard for the poor and lowly and despised. Grant that we may receive Your Word in humility and faith, and so be made one with Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Magnificat

My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
   for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
   for He who is mighty has done great things for me,
   and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
   He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
   and exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel,
   in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers,
   to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

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29 June 2014
  + Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles +
29 June, New Testament

The Confession of Saint Peter ("You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God") is commemorated on 18 January, and the Conversion of Saint Paul on his approach to Damascus a week later, on 25 January. On 29 June we commemorate the martyrdoms of both apostles. The date is the anniversary of a day around AD 258, under the Valerian persecution, when what were believed to be the remains of the two apostles were both moved temporarily to prevent them from falling into the hands of the persecutors.

Peter and Paul The Scriptures do not record the deaths of Peter or Paul, or indeed any of the Apostles' deaths except for James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:2), but they are clearly anticipated (see the readings below), and from an early date it has been said that they were martyred at Rome at the command of the Emperor Nero, and buried there. As a Roman citizen, St. Paul would probably have been beheaded with a sword. An early tradition claims that St. Peter was crucified head downward.

The present Church of St. Peter in Rome replaces earlier churches built on the same site going back to the time of the Emperor Constantine, in whose reign a church was built on what was believed to be the burial site of Peter. Excavations under the church suggest that the belief that this is the true home of his burial predates Constantine.

Lection

Psalm 46
Acts 15:1-12 (13-21)
Galatians 2:1-10
Matthew 16:13-19

Collect

Merciful and eternal God, from whom the holy apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son, grant that, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we may with like constancy confess Your truth and be at all times ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us; even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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28 June 2014
  + Irenaeus of Lyons, Pastor and Confessor +
28 June AD 200

Irenaeus of Lyons Irenaeus (ca. AD 130-200), believed to be a native of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey), studied in Rome and later became pastor in Lyons, France. Around 177, while Irenaeus was away from Lyons, a fierce persecution of Christians led to the martyrdom of his bishop. Upon Irenaeus' return, he became Bishop of Lyons.

His most famous writing is Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). This work condemned several errors but focused especially on Gnosticism, which denied the goodness of creation. In opposition, Irenaeus confessed that God has redeemed his creation through the incarnation of the Son. Irenaeus also affirmed the teachings of the Scriptures handed down to and through him as being normative for the Church.

Despite a few stray texts, very little suggests that he did not die a natural death. He was buried in Saint John's Church, Lyon — a congregation later renamed in his honor. Huegenot Calvinists destroyed his tomb and his remains during in 1522, during a period of iconoclasm.

Collect

Almighty God, You upheld your servant Irenaeus, giving him strength to confess the truth against every false doctrine; keep us, we pray, steadfast in Your Word and grant us the practice of true religion, that in constancy and peace we may walk in the way of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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27 June 2014
  + Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Confessor +
27 June AD 444

Cyril of Alexandria Saint Cyril (ca. AD 376-444) became Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt in 412. Throughout his career he defended a number of orthodox doctrines, among them the teaching that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is "rightly called and truly is the Mother of God" — Theotokos, "the God-Bearer" (Formula of Concord, Epitome, VIII:12). In 431 the Council of Ephesus affirmed this teaching that the Son of Mary is also true God.

The Council was responding to the Nestorian heresy, which distinguished so completely between the divine and human natures of Christ that claims were made that the divine Christ did some things while the human Jesus did others.

Some of the differences are quite subtle; perhaps even Nestorius himself could not have foreseen the full ramifications of his position, including a "resurrection" of only the divine nature. Ephesus condemned the title of "Christ-Bearer" (Christotokos) for the Virgin, since the Nestorians would only claim that Mary bore the Christ, but not God Himself.

Cyril receives almost as many brickbats as he does bouquets, even from orthodox Christians, because he's also known for being what one person calls "an ill-tempered, quarrelsome, hasty, and violent man." This seems especially so during his early years as Bishop of Alexandria.

A particularly acute example of his extreme rigidity comes from his closing of Novatianist churches, although the Novationists weren't particularly unorthodox. Their "fault" was as much one of pride as of theology — they descended from those who'd stood firm in the persecutions of earlier years and refused to associate or worship with the heirs of those who recanted the Faith under persecution. Their main theological aberration were insisting upon rebaptism of converts from "lapsed" Christianity and an attitude that was, perhaps, less than Christ-like in dealing with erring brothers.

Cyril also ran the Jews out of town. The reason given was that they were seditious and violent, although we're left with little evidence. This action likely contributed to an ongoing feud with Orestes, the imperial prefect. These disagreements seemingly spilled over into a quarrel with the prefect's friend, the neo-platonist scholar Hypatia, who was later murdered by a mob.

Few have directly condemned Cyril for her death but the leaders of the mob certainly claimed the bishop as their leader. In modern times, Carl Sagan, in his book Cosmos, blamed Hypatia's death (and the destruction of the great Library of Alexandria) on dogmatic Christianity's desire to root out rational paganism. However, other scholars see the whole feud as an internal Church struggle and no one has yet established a definitive cause (or date) for the final destruction of Alexandria's library.

At any rate, and despite the considerable rancor that accompanied his early years as bishop, the mature Cyril worked diligently to reconcile the Nestorian and Orthodox parties. His efforts led many of the less virulent Nestorians back to full communion.

The writings of Cyril on the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ reveal him to be one of the most able theologians of his time. Cyril's Christology influenced subsequent church councils and was a primary source for Lutheran confessional writings. He still speaks clearly to our age, especially as the old Christological heresies are trotted out under new guises.

Collect

Heavenly Father, You used Your servant Cyril to confess the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and of Your Son being one person with fully divine and human natures. Grant that we, also, might be constant in Your Word, bold in Your confession, and steadfast in Your worship, to the glory of Your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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