Archive for November 13th, 2017

The Four Luther Tracts

Today I had the privilege of viewing and holding in my hands the 4 Luther tracts in the possession of Washington and Lee’s Leyburn Library, Special Collections.  I have never had a selfie with a piece of Reformation history! I got my geek on today and I have goosebumps. You can read about these tracts, discovered in W and L’s Special Collections only four years ago(!) here. 

This tract is entitled “An Order of Worship for the Community” (1523) and it’s artwork has been authenticated as executed by Lucas Cranach the Elder.  The blog’s header is a close-up of this tract:

IMG_0114Here are all four of the tracts:

Luther tract

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Text: St. Matthew 25: 1-13

A marriage, as at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and in many cultures, was a contract between two families.  Once the families agreed, the couple was considered married.  But the couple would go to their respective homes and the groom would build a house, or add to his parents’ house.  After that the consummation of the betrothal would occur:  the wedding Day!  The groom and his friends would go to the bride’s home.  She waited with her wedding party (today’s parable, the ten virgins) and she would not know when he would arrive: morning, noon or even midnight!  Back then, the groom could not text about his ETA. The cry would come forth, the Bridegroom is arriving!  Make haste!  Sheer joy!  Contrary to the usual conception of our Lord’s coming as only a dread event, this Gospel is joy, sheer joy, joy, as in blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.  These wedding customs are the backdrop for this verse, John 14:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

The couple would come together under the chuppah, wedding canopy. The couple and their families would sign the marriage contract.  The couple would drink from a cup of wine, sealing their marriage signifying the joy of their new life together.  The wedding feast would last a week and may the wine not run out!  See Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana!  Marriage is until death do us part and the wedding feast of the Lamb is until death us do  unite eternally and as the death and resurrection of the Bridegroom unites us and washes his bride pure.  St. John Chrysostom:  “(In marriage) you  are sacrificing yourself for  someone  to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself  up for the one who turned her back on Him and  hated  Him.” 

The bridal wedding party were to wait for the arrival of the bridegroom. The foolish virgins knew the groom was coming at any time, even at midnight.  Why oh why did they not have extra oil, for light in the darkness?  We trust all too often lesser lights for the darkness, but against the darkness of sin, death and the power of the devil, human flashlights of worldly wisdom will not do.  Foolish people have no self-control as they look to what they want right now.  We do not know how to wait. We are not prepared as maybe we once were for the bridegroom to come. For instance government passing all the gun laws in the world will not stop unspeakable murders.  The root problem is not gun control but self-control.  Looking at our bulletin cover (see picture above), a painting by William Blake of “The Parable of the 10 Virgins”, he depicts the foolish virgins as out of control, in a panic for they have no oil and such is the world.  The five wise virgins are in harmony, for as the lead woman points her sisters and us to the arrival of Christ for which our whole lives are pointed, as John the Baptist did as well.  Our hearts are empty until they are filled with the oil of faith, hope and love in Christ and He is leaven in this world.

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians

  • He taught this parable that we may  watch for His coming. He taught this parable that we be the wise Church, not the foolish church.  The foolish church puts human opinions, theologies and the like center.  The wise Church knows Who is the Center of the Church:  Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom.  

  • He taught this parable for hope.   For in this hope we were saved(Romans 8: 24).  Hope is for us individually and together as His Body the Church.  Our Lord’s parable is not for some eternal stat that 50% will be saved, 50% damned, in some sort of non-Biblical double  predestination.

  • He taught the parable of the virgins for us, His teaching is the Word of God, the Scriptures, “…which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’ (2 Timothy 3: 15).  He taught the parable that we be wise for salvation in Him, carrying the oil of faith in His Word of promise to us all. 

  • He taught this for hope in Him, who soon after He taught this parable in the Temple would be cast out of Jerusalem to bear the hopelessness of sin and death, yours and mine upon the Cross.  Paul wrote we Christians grieve but as those who have hope.  The hope is His salvation for the soul and the body, that when He comes all the living and the dead, judged and saved in Him, will be caught up with Him as He leads us home, the new heavens and the new earth.

The foolish virgins went out into the darkness, at midnight to buy more oil!  The dealers in the darkness and of the darkness, do not have the oil of God’s Word and with his word, faith, hope and love. The oil would have been given already!  You cannot buy God’s Word, you cannot buy salvation.  And then out in the darkness, the bridegroom says to the foolish virgins:

 “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

“Harsh. But that’s the way it is. When our Lord returns, we know not. When our soul is required of us, we know not. And so, the key is to be prepared. It’s a lesson we take to heart in other areas of our life. A nation must be militarily prepared to defend itself. We should plan for our retirements. Whether it’s sports or business, preparation is key. A student will likewise fail apart from preparation. Why then are we so thoughtless about things eternal? So lackadaisical?”*

How might we prepare? For number one, two, and three on the list, I’d say, go to church, go to church, go to church. And make it a good one. Not a self-help church but a church that preaches Christ Crucified. Oh, and yes, one where you actually confess your sins, and receive absolution. One that treasures Baptism, which is your wedding garment. (See Matthew 22:11) One that proclaims Christ’s death by partaking of his Supper.”*

The oil was there for the taking by all ten virgins, the bridal party. The 10 virgins symbolize the Church. Someone amply supplied the oil for the virgins to meet the Bridegroom who came at an hour no one suspected. The oil was given for that purpose. In that time, oil was used for three purposes

  • for lamps, as in today’s Gospel

  • for medicine, as we read that the Samaritan took care of the man robbed and beaten on the Jericho road by pouring wine and oil upon his  wounds

  • for the face to make it shine, as it is written, Psalm 104: 15 , the Lord gives to us,

“…wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

Oil was used for lamps, for medicine, for the face, that is,  for light, healing and joy.  And oil was used for special and unique purpose:  the anointing with oil marked the investiture of the Kings of Israel, as Samuel anointed Saul and David as the Kings of Israel. Oil was administered by anointing. Remember that the title “Christ” means “anointed one”.  Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew, Messiah. Behold, One is here who is greater than the prophets!  

  1. God’s Word is light:  His Law a light unto our path that may know His way and as Jesus is the Way, the only  Way, we are led by Jesus the Anointed, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. 

  2. His Word is healing and the balm of healing for broken and contrite hearts, which O Lord, you will not despise. 

  3. His Word is the joy, of not only knowing the truth, but knowing He who knows us better than we do ourselves.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  Ephesians 3:  20-21

*From a Facebook posting by Prof. Peter Scaer, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN

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