Archive for March, 2019

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And they have conquered (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Revelation 12:11

About Perpetua and Felicitas and their Companions:

At the beginning of the third century, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity. Among those disobeying that eo their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus. No saints are more uniformly honored in all the early calendars and martyrologies than these African martyrs. In 202 the emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity and harsh per­secution ensued. Arrested in Carthage were Vibia Perpetua, a noble­woman from Thuburbo, twenty-two years old; her infant child; Felic­itas, a pregnant slave; Revocatus, a slave; Saturninus; Secundulus.  There were ­all catechumens. Later their catechist, Saturus, was arrested also. While under house arrest they were baptized.After making arrangements for the well-being of their children, Perpetua and Felicitas were executed on March 7, 203. Tradition holds that Perpetua showed mercy to her captors by falling on a sword because they could not bear to put her to death. The story of this martyrdom has been told ever since as an encouragement to persecuted Christians. Here is the record of the martyrdom:

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sit­ting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side.. . . but the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to go, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway, was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetua. Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Reflection: An early Christian writer, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220) famously penned “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  The first church buildings were erected over the sites of martyrdom, as was the case of Perpetua and Felicitas  after Christianity became a legal religion after AD312.
We erect church buildings in our day after a church building committee has taken in consideration all sorts of factors but this one is major: visibility with good parking.  Now parking is important and convenient. But it is a sobering reminder that the first basilicas, etc. were not built according to convenience, but to honor the witness of the martyrs. Martyrdom is not convenient, only expedient for the persecutor, or  so such a person, government etc. thinks.

For a long time now we have marketed convenience in our churches. This convenience Christianity was to make it easier for a person to join. I remember an eastern European Lutheran pastor, who served under the atheistic, Communist East Germany, saying he was rather shocked by padded pews here in our country. Now we are shocked that ‘all of a sudden’, Christians are no longer welcome to the world’s table. We issued convenient entreaties for our churches and our services, and ‘ministries’, only to discover no one cared.

Why? As we made church life a bowl full of cherries, so we made convenient the Lord’s precious truths. The invitation on many church street signs has, “Everyone Welcome”. It’s is true, but it became “everyone welcome” without repentence and catechesis (education). The Lord’s Supper became a happy meal, not the giving of His Body and Blood for forgiveness and strengthening of faith and sanctification. Would anyone risk martyrdom for our inalienable right to pot-lucks, picnics and positive experiences? We wanted to fit in and found out we were not faithfully fit. We put the light of the Lord under a bushel basket. Biblical illiteracy is at an all time low.

Perpetua and her companions were bright with Christ’s own light, that is the joy of the grace of forgiveness in the God who died and rose for us all: this is the heart of Lent. I heard a janitor in a Lutheran church in East Berlin, under the thumb of Communism, state that at that time Church does not leave the four walls of the church building. We still do not have those constraints. Maybe Perpetua and her companions were bringing the light of the Gospel outside of their Services where it was lit. Lord, bring forth in our lives a witness to your Gospel, your salvation , to You, O Savior of mankind.

Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honors, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less signifi­cant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages. Amen.

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What is Lent?

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“Shrove” is not a word in much use these days except for today. is the past tense of shrive: Shrive: verb (used with object),  shrove or shrived, shriven or shrived, shriving:

  • impose penance on (a sinner).
  • grant absolution to (a penitent).
  • hear the confession of (a person).
  • to hear confessions.
  • to go to or make confession; confess one’s sins, as to a priest.

Several years back, people in droves bought the book about Christian ‘spirituality’, The Purpose-Driven Life, but I suppose that few would buy a book titled, “The Shriven Driven Life”. So many supposedly ‘Christian’ books are about how to be deliriously happy, your “best life now” without the reality that life in the Lord is a shriven life:  repentant, confessing sins and the need for the Lord’s absolution. The old 11th Century Hymn, “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” to the point, third stanza:

Alleluia we deserve not
Here to chant forevermore;
Alleluia our transgressions
Make us for a while give o’er;
For the holy time is coming
Bidding us our sins deplore.

Shrive is from the German, “to write”.  His Word written into our hearts and souls so to repent and live in Christ  We are in a spiritual war.  When we heard of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on the Libyan shore, or any of the martyrs in Christ, then “your best life now” is  shown to be  a shallow narcissistic idea. When the thief on the cross, to Jesus’ right, confessed and then prayed, Jesus, remember me when me when You come into Your Kingdom, he was shriven.  Jesus said:  Truly, today you will be with Me in paradise. When we dwell on our own faults, we despair and the Lord says, Lift up your hearts: penitent, pained…and He holds His promise to forgive you and bring you close to His heart.  

“Beat down Satan lower and lower and lift up Christ higher and higher” That is part of a hymn sung by Lutherans in Papua, New Guinea.  We can sing it because Jesus Christ has done the heavy lifting:  our sins in His Body on the Tree of the Cross.  It is ashes on the forehead but it is the Sign of the Cross.  Shriven and forgiven. There is only One Who could literally cross the abyss from the Holy LORD to sinners in rebellion:  The One Who became our dust and ashes.  Jesus Christ is the second Adam, the man from Heaven.  (See 1 Corinthians 15:  45-49)  “In this Christian Church, He fully forgives my sins and sins of all believers.” (From Martin Luther’s explanation of the 3rd article of the Creed). 

And when sin weighs you down, the mirror of the Law shows a less than a pretty picture.  When sin weighs you down, come to Jesus Christ where and when He said He will be:  This is My Body, This is My Blood.  When sins weighs you down, (and Satan wants to beat you lower and lower to drive you away from the Lord), pastors are called to hear confession in utter confidentiality. Per the Lord’s charge then to offer the Lord’s own forgiveness to you personally in your ears and in your hearts (see St. John 20:  22-23;  1 John 1: 8-10). When sin has undone you, cast it off and then flee to the Lord for refuge for His infinite mercy given in His Son. 

2 Peter: 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lent is about that growth in virtue, not to be redeemed, as we are the Lord’s redeemed by His Passion alone.  Who we are is Who’s we are.  Who’s we are is who we become which is maturing in Christ, or sanctification. We are shriven and forgiven. The life in Christ is His forgiven driven life. We will fail in sin and so shrive because in the middle of the ashes, there is the Cross.  In the midst of death, there is Life. In the midst of sin, there is the risen Savior.

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“Over the darkling world the demonic powers had drawn a veil, to keep men from realizing that this was still God’s world. But God had pierced the veil by coming in Christ, who was “light from light” and the very radiance of the Father. By Him God had saved and illumined His darkling world, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

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