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The following quotes are from a section of Pr. Johann Gerhard’s sermon, Invocavit Sunday on fasting, the text is: St. Matthew 4: 1-11.  Our Lord said, “When you fast…”, not “if you fast”,  but He nor the Scriptures give times and days for fasting.  When churches have done so, then it tends to be legalistic and a religious work that people consider as saving.  Further, considering that when you fast, as in individual prayer and giving to the poor, it is to be done in private, because the aim of fasting is the Lord (see St. Matthew 6: 4, 6, 18).   Fasting is a good discipline for Christ’s disciples and I think Pr. Gerhard’s preaching and teaching teaches the evangelical way of fasting:

Fasting from the lusts of the flesh:

Christ wanted to teach true fasting with His example: It does not consist of a person refraining from certain foods at certain times and regarding that as being meritorious and as a satisfaction for sin. Instead, the following is a true, God-pleasing fast, namely, “The primary, great universal fast,” as Augustine calls it, is a person abstains from the lusts of the flesh which strive against the soul, I Pet. 2:11, where a person then does not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, Gal. 5:16. Also, all members can fast in this manner if they do not give in to the servitude of impurity, but instead to the weapons of righteousness, Rom. 6:13 and 19.

Daily fasting:

Following this there is a daily fast: moderation. With it is observed an appropriate restraint in eating and drinking in order that one becomes adept at praying, skillful at his calling, and in the exercise of godliness. Also, this is of such a vital, essential necessity that Christ speaks with words worthy of reflection and contemplation: However, you be on guard so that your hearts do not become burdened with gobbling food and boozing, lest this final Day comes upon you like an ensnaring trap, Luke 21:34-35. If it were not of the utmost importance, Christ never would have used such stern words.

Fasting for Prayer and Reception of the Holy Communion:

Finally, there is a mourning and prayer fast, especially for when a person amidst general or specific misfortunes—or also when confronted with imminent common need—initiates a fast so that he may all the more be humbly devoted to prayer in acknowledgment of his sin. So also it was a fine practice with the ancient fathers that prior to the high Festivals and prior to the observance of the most worthy Lord’s Supper they would abstain from food and drink on the day before, or only ate one meal. They did this in order to become all the more adroit at prayer, at repenting and pondering the divine Word. Yet, here one dare never prescribe any specific, general rule, nor designate any specific times. Each person has to examine himself and thereby see to it that he also attend to the body so that he does not become lascivious, cf. Rom. 13 and 14.

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Joel 2: 12—19  Psalm 51: 1—13   2 Corinthians 5: 20b—6: 10       Sermon Text:  St. Matthew 6: 1—6,   16—21

Carly Simon’s 1972 hit song, “You’re So Vain” and this is the refrain:

You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you 
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this song is about you 
Don’t you? Don’t You? 

Changed for Lent:

You’re so vain, you probably  think that Lent is about you

You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think that Lent is about you

Don’t you?  Don’t you?

I’m of sufficient age (60) that growing up Lutheran we never ‘did ashes’ or “give some thing up for Lent”.  It was deemed too “Catholic”, but of course Lutherans are catholics, reformed catholics or evangelical catholics.  But now when I hear a bunch of Lutherans stand around jibber jabbering about  what they “gave up the Lent”, as if they’re talking about the weather or sports, and then say, Oh, no I can’t have chocolate for Lent, first I want to scream, Yes, you can!  The Lord God has not inspired any Scripture passage,  ‘Ye shall give up chocolate for Lent, lest ye get spiritual pimples.’  The way “giving up something for Lent” has devolved, yes, churches and Christians seem to be teaching just this:  Lent is about us.  About our vows, our spiritual discipline, maybe even with the intention of giving up something so I will make me better, or I can make me more spiritual,  and it’s like spraying Bactine on a melanoma, it’s like putting a spiritualized band aid on the wounds of sin, death and the power of the devil,

Yet, let’s get straight, though,  what the Lord teaches, when you give alms, when you pray, when you fast, and He did not teach, if you give to the poor, if you fast, if you pray.  When not if.  If my purpose is to be seen by people, teaches Jesus, with giving to the poor, literally blowing my own horn, seen by others with my long verbal prayers or how somber and noble I am in fasting, then Jesus said:  you have your reward.  The Lord is clear He is our reward. The Lord is our reward.  Prayer, fasting and alms-giving are about three things very dear to us all:  words, food and money, all of which we get pretty passionate about and with.  The fasting, praying and almsgiving redirects their use toward the Lord our reward.    Lent is not about what we are passionate about, and if that’s the case, then Facebook is Lent 24/7.  Lent is all about the Lord’s Passion.

I have a series of black and white photos that I purchased from a well-known artist in East Northport, Long Island.  In 1952, the artist was in France.  France has many roadside shrines and one life size depiction of the Crucifix needed repair work. When the workers took down the “corpus”, that is the metal statue of the crucified Lord, they discovered a beehive inside and fled the site and so the artist came along and took the series of photos of the dead Christ on the ground.  One of those photos can be seen on the top of this post.  In the Lutheran Confessions, those who are hyper-spiritual are called in German the “schwarmer”, translated as “enthusiasts”, those who teach that by their vibrant spirituality they can give the Lord God Almighty a helping hand to save them.  He doesn’t need it.  He has in His nail-imprinted hands.  And schwarmer literally means “swarming”, as in bees.  Those bees that day in France drove the workers away and so does all of our spiritual enthusiasms.  Or the despair that I am not that schwarmer, enthused and the word “enthuse” literally means in God and so because I am not that spiritual, then there is despair. Those enthusiasms can drive people away. And so, You think that Lent is about you, don’t you?  It’s not about our passion but His Passion, His Word to you and I.   We can be very passionate about a great deal.  Some of it’s good as in love of a job well done, taking care of those we love, but our passions go overboard as in those three aspects of life most dear to us:  words, food and money.  Words used to damn someone, to trivialize life and a friend’s reputation in gossip.  Can you imagine a Christian of old seeing TV shows which have one purpose:  to watch people eat?  But of course, by God’s grace knowing sin and the Savior, they wouldn’t be too surprised.  Money is the number 1 idol on earth.  People watch the Oscars because it’s a parade of pretty  rich people we want to be.  A pastor noted that the Oscars are, “The idolatry of Americans watching their idols win actual idols.”. 

Words are also the Word of God in our prayer to the Lord. It is by food, bread and wine, He gives us His body and blood for famished souls in His forgiveness, in His Passion.  With money, even if we gain the whole world, we lose our souls and so He has bought us, not with silver or gold but His precious blood.  The Lord redirects our use of words, food and money, to Him and our souls and our neighbors in need.  On our own, our use of them is ashes and death. 

The only reason we can return, repent is “…He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:13) When you know you are alarmed over your sin and terrified by the thought of your sins, when you know you justly deserve the Lord’s temporal and eternal punishment, that the Lord is angry with you:  this is godly sorrow.  When you realize that anything that you can do on your own, in your spirituality, will not cover the sin of your soul. When I  realize that giving up, say, chocolate or  whatever for Lent and again it’s like putting a band-aid a corpse, there is nothing I can do, save say, Lord, have mercy. When you despair over your misdeeds, not because civil law has caught you, but God’s Law has, this is godly sorrow.  The only reason for the reality of our return is the Lord, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The sign of the cross on your foreheads remind us of sin, dust we are and dust we shall return, the Lord’s just judgment.  And it is the sign of the One who died and rose for you, who lives to intercede for us all, who so loved the world that He gave Himself, and He is the Beloved of the Father before all worlds.   Fasting, praying, giving to the poor is to focus our communion with the Only One Who ever was crucified, died and rose for you and Who could and has.  The discipline of Lent is not to look into your soul to save yourself, but to look to the Lord who is your salvation and this is  the Faith,  and so to serve your neighbor in love.   Godly grief, good grief leading to repentance as is the repentance  which, “…leads to salvation without regret”.  (2 Corinthians 7:10) Just think:  Salvation without regret, without sorrow and the positive of that negative is one thing only:  joy.  No “I should haves”, “I could of”…that’s regret.  The Law of God shows us what we have done and not done, and the Gospel gives what He has done:  this is what Lent is all about.  He did in His costly sorrow, His good grief, the sinless One becoming sin that we become His righteousness (from tonight’s Epistle reading), His Life. In this sense Lent is about us because we are so vain and His paschal song is about us and our salvation.   “Get used to believe that Christ is a REAL Savior and that you are a REAL sinner…He was deadly serious when He sent His own Son into the world and sacrificed Him for our sake” (Luther)  The devil wants you to look inside, the Lord turns out to Himself in true repentance, it is a daily joyful repentance. This is Lent.    For in this Christian Church He fully forgives your sin and the sins of all believers.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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During the current crisis in the Ukraine, after the Russian invasion of Crimea, the Secretary of State said that Vladimir Putin was, “… on the wrong side of history”.  This has also been said about us who are for the sanctity of marriage between man and woman, that we  are,  “… on the wrong side of history”.  So as a Lutheran and a pastor I, and with many orthodox Christians, are on the same side of history,’ the wrong side’,  as Vladimir Putin, former head of the KGB, and petty tyrant.  Those who are  for the sanctity of marriage are considered to be on the same as a cold-blooded killer according to these self-esteemed estimators of all that is ‘good’.

Who determines which is the “wrong side of history”?  Answer:  Those who are in control…or so they think.  There is only way to know the right and the wrong side of history:  the 10 Commandments.  It does not really matter if one is on the wrong side or the right side of history as this is currently determined by the cultural elites.  There is only one judgment, God’s:  we are on the wrong of God.  Again, see the 10 Commandments.  Jesus Christ, and the forerunner, John the Baptist, both preached the sanctity of marriage, so they also are on the “wrong side of history” with Vladimir Putin? Hardly.

Ash Wednesday and Lent is about the Lord who fully entered the wrong side of human history, the whole megillah.  He entered our history of warring against God and all that is right and good, to make us right by faith through His grace, mercy and peace, for sinners, everyone.  The real and actual wrong side of history is marked with the cross of ashes. The Lord Jesus was quite specific in teaching and sending the Apostles and the apostolic, catholic and evangelical Church: you too will be considered to be on “wrong side of history”. This entails persecution. Lent is about repenting and returning to the Lord our God, to be more purposeful in being on the world’s “wrong side of history” for the life of the world:  Jesus Christ.  This is good.  The world will do it’s best to stop you.  But,

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” St. John 16:33

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Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Joel 2:13

The Divine Service with Imposition of Ashes, 7:30pm at the Hillel House, Jewish campus ministry center, 204 W. Washington Street, Lexington, VA.  

Ash Wednesday Reflection:

The following quotes are from  For the Life of the World (1963) , chapter 6, ‘Trampling Down Death by Death”, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983), Orthodox priest and professor.   A blessed Ash Wednesday and Lent, Pr. Schroeder

We live today in a death-denying culture. This is clearly seen in the unobtrusive appearance of the ordinary funeral home, in its attempt to look like all other houses. Inside, the “funeral director” tries to take care of things in such a way that one will not notice that one is sad; and a parlor ritual is designed to transform a funeral into a semi-pleasant experience. There is a strange conspiracy of silence con­cerning the blunt fact of death, and the corpse itself is “beautified” so as to disguise its deadness. But there existed in the past and there still exist—even within our life-affirming modern world—”death-centered” cultures, in which death is the one great all-embracing preoccupation, and life itself is conceived as being mainly preparation for death…Christianity is not reconciliation with death.  It is the revelation of death, and it reveals death because if is the revelation of Life.  Christ is this Life.  And only if Christ is Life is death what Christianity proclaims it to be, namely the enemy to be destroyed, and not a “mystery” to be explained…A martyr is one for whom God is not another-and the last-chance- to stop the awful pain;  God is his very life, and thus everything in his life comes to God, and ascends to the fullness of Love…And if to  love someone means that I have my life in him, or rather that he has become the “content” of my life, to love Christ is to know and to possess Him as the Life of my life…The great joy that the disciples felt when they saw the risen Lord, that “burning of heart” (see  Luke 24) that they experienced on the way to Emmaus were not because the mysteries of an “other world” were revealed to them, but because they saw the Lord.  And He sent them to preach and to proclaim not the resurrection of the dead-not a doctrine of death-but repentance and remission of sins, the new life, the Kingdom.  They announced what they knew, that in Christ, the new life has already begun, that He is the Life, Eternal, the Fulfillment, the Resurrection and the Joy of the world.

When I first read the above, I thought of this Lutheran Hymn:

1. Christ, the Life of all the living,
Christ, the Death of death, our foe,
Who, Thyself for me once giving
To the darkest depths of woe,–
Through thy sufferings, death, and merit
I eternal life inherit:
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

2. Thou, ah! Thou, hast taken on Thee
Bonds and stripes, a cruel rod;
Pain and scorn were heaped upon Thee,
0 Thou sinless Son of God!
Thus didst Thou my soul deliver
From the bonds of sin forever.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

3. Thou hast borne the smiting only
That my wounds might all be whole;
Thou hast suffered, sad and lonely,
Rest to give my weary soul;
Yea, the curse of God enduring,
Blessing unto me securing.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

4. Heartless scoffers did surround Thee,
Treating Thee with shameful scorn,
And with piercing thorns they crowned Thee.
All disgrace Thou, Lord, hast borne
That as Thine Thou mightest own me
And with heavenly glory crown me.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

5. Thou hast suffered men to bruise Thee
That from pain I might be free;
Falsely did Thy foes accuse Thee,–
Thence I gain security;
Comfortless Thy soul did languish
Me to comfort in my anguish.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

6. Thou hast suffered great affliction
And hast borne it patiently,
Even death by crucifixion,
Fully to atone for me;
Thou didst choose to be tormented
That my doom should be prevented.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

7. Then, for all that wrought my pardon,
For Thy sorrows deep and sore,
For Thine anguish in the Garden,
I will thank Thee evermore,
Thank Thee for Thy groaning, sighing,
For Thy bleeding and Thy dying,
For that last triumphant cry,
And shall praise Thee, Lord, on high.

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #151 
Text: Matt. 26:64-67
Author: Ernst C. Homburg, 1659, ab.
Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1863, alt.

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Hillel House Washington and Lee University 204 W. Washington Street Lexington, Virginia 24450

I found out this past week that the Library will not be available for us this Sunday, 2 March,  so we will be meeting this Sunday, Transfiguration,  at the Hillel House, 204 W. Washington Street, Lexington (across from Sweet Things): Bible Class @ 9:30am, (on 1 Corinthians) and the Divine Service @ 10:30am. 

On Ash Wednesday, 5 March and likewise we will be at the Hillel House, Divine Service with Imposition of Ashes @ 7:30pm.

 During Lent on Wednesdays, beginning March 12, a Lenten Bible Study on the 6 Building Blocks of Faith and the Church from Luther’s Catechisms, 6:45pm-7:45pm, @ the Library, in the Conference room.

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From the website of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS)

Read a few reflections on Lent and fasting from the Rev. William Weedon, LCMS Director of Worship: Fastenzeit kommt!

We call it Lent in English. Good to remember, though, what it is called in our old service books (and still in the service books of Germany today): Fastenzeit, that is, fasting time.

And fasting is not first and foremost about avoiding mechanically a certain kind of food while stuffing yourself with other tasty treats. Recall the words of Martin Chemnitz about such fasting:

“A well-filled or richly treated belly, whether it is done with fish or vegetables, certainly is not fasting” (Examen IV:275).

He reminds us that fasting can be like this:

“When we do not abstain altogether from lunch or from dinner, but remove something when we lunch or dine, either in the quantity or the quality of the food, or do not take as much or also as rich as could be done even while maintaining temperance” (IV:259).

There is also, of course, abstaining totally from lunch or dinner:

“It is that that is most properly called fasting” (IV:260).

Anyway you slice it, real fast simply involves hunger. It involves not stuffing one’s self and so letting the hunger of the body discipline us. For we are sad creatures who are used to filling our bellies with the first grumble. Or even worse, I think of mother’s motto (truly the very opposite of fasting!): “You don’t eat because you’re hungry; you eat to keep from getting hungry!” She meant it humorously (I think!), but of course that’s the pathway to gluttony and indulgence. Rather, the fast, the hunger, helps us train the body and keep it under subjection. For there is a hunger greater than the hunger of the body, and that is the thirst and hunger of the soul for God. And while food and drink can mask that inner hunger and help you to ignore it, there is nothing like the fast itself, going hungry, to unmask the inner hunger and remind us that in the end there is nothing that satisfies the ache of the human being, but God alone. “One thing have I desire of the Lord, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27).

One way that the Church has guided her children in fasting is to suggest that the days of Lent, during Fastenzeit, food be significantly pared down. Nothing for breakfast, a regular but plain meal for lunch, and a very light meal at supper. Sometimes during Lent people make the shocking discovery of how little it takes to keep the body going, how it is possible by God’s grace to go hungry and NOT obey the stomach’s dictates and orders, and how freeing it is to have more time for prayer and Scripture and acts of love. This is possible when food is intentionally and joyfully set “on the back burner” of one’s life. One discovers that Deuteronomy is right: Man doesn’t live by bread alone! Man lives from every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Fastenzeit kommt! Now is the time to begin planning on how you will observe it yourself and to discuss the implications of observing it for your home life.

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Post-Ash Wednesday

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Sermon Text:  1 Corinthians 15:

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 

“Image is everything” was an ad slogan a few years back.  We bear two images, literally icons the Scripture tells us:  the icon of the man of dust and the icon of the man of heaven.   Those images are everything. We bear these images at the same time.

The Lord formed man out of the dust, literally in the Hebrew, the “adam”, the man from the “adamah”, soil.  He breathed into the man the breath of life.  He still does.  “After God had so bountifully offered proof of His goodness, our first parents behaved as though the Devil intended only good and God intended only ill.” (Franz Delitzsch)  They bought that lie after the dialogue with the father of all lies.  And the Lord said to our first parents:

for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

The very words this ancient practice of the Church cites on this day. The same words spoken at a graveside as the casket is lowered into the adamah.   This is our “natural body”, a “living being” that was meant to live days without end, but now in sin it now returns to an end: dusty death.  The natural is first, the icon of the man of dust.

We live by the Lord’s promise alone, His Word alone, His Word who became flesh, the last Adam, life-giving Spirit:  Jesus Christ.  He is from heaven.  He became entirely as the first man:  dust, a natural, fleshly body… and He became the now fallen and sinful and disgraced natural body.  We heard again on Transfiguration Sunday He shone like the light of heaven, un-borrowed, uncreated light of heaven so that it is unmistakable:  God in man made manifest.  The man and the woman were created by the Lord in His own image, in His own image He had them, male and female, the stamp of His divinity.  Jesus Christ was and is this image before the Fall, yet would on Golgotha become utterly broken and debased image of the man of dusty sin and death. He became sin. He is risen.  He is the life-giver bearing in His hands the marks of the Cross.

Too oft  we say, oh it’s just natural to do such and such.  To eat, yes, but not to over-indulge.   To drink beer and wine, yes, but not to become wasted.  To love, yes, but not to love outside of marriage.  To speak, yes, but not to curse and swear.  To earn money, yes, but not to lust after more and more. To live, yes, is natural, but not to die.  If it were then even when the oldest die, we should not grieve, but we do because of love, because to live is Christ.  We oft say something is “natural’, we  mean the  fallen human nature not the human nature God intended, which man upended and which Christ Jesus has amended.  Christian, in John Bunyan’s famous allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, said, The wages of sin is death, so why work for such lousy wages?  Lent, literally means spring-time, this spring time of the Church is for a renewed struggle between the man of dust and the Man from heaven, a spring cleaning by the Holy Spirit in body and soul, in our use of words, money and food in daily living.  Not that the fallen can gain salvation  by such but to love ever more the Savior and do His will as His blood–bought people.  The reward is the Father Himself, taught the Son, in bodies and souls clean by His Word in faith to pray His Word., not the vain-glory of self-admiration in this world of sin and dust.

I came across in the internet, a USA Today article about Episcopalian priests offering “Ashes to go” on the street.  I can’t make this stuff up. There is a website, of course, Ashes to go and from that site:  “It’s Ash Wednesday, and you’re invited to wear your ashes, to claim repentance, grace and deep relationship with God for the challenges of your daily life.”  No!  We have these ashes to remind us what wears us down:  the flesh, the world and the devil.  We do not wear them and so “claim repentance, grace…” etc.  The Lord never says we are to wear ashes and so gain grace!  That’s not faith, that’s a man-made work. By grace given we gain faith, we gain Jesus Christ and the Father in the bonds of the Holy Spirit.  But He has told us, in a more literal translation of the last verse of the sermon text:  “And as we wore the image of the man of the dust, we will also wear the image of the man of heaven.”  In the meantime, which is a mean time, we are clothed in Christ Jesus through baptism and repentance as it says in Galatians:  that’s His promise day by day, today is the day of salvation.

.IN our spiritualized Christianity, which denies the goodness of the body created by the Lord, relegating it to a playground of our lusts, the refreshing hope in Jesus Christ, risen bodily from the dead, is the hope of the new heavens and the new earth and the resurrection of the body.  We were made body and soul, and the “and” in “body and soul” is a connective and not an additive.  We were redeemed body and soul in Jesus Christ, true man and true God;  and that “and” is likewise not a additive but a connective. This is our hope in the Valley of the Shadow that we will be fully clothed:  4For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”  5He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.(2 Corinthians 5:  4-5) So that by faith in His grace, we obtain more and more of His Life in the midst of death and be of good courage, walking by faith, not sight, to please the Lord Who has redeemed us.  Image is everything, everything we have and will have in the icon of the Man from heaven.

On my heart imprint your image,
Blessed Jesus, king of grace,
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
Never may your work erase;
Let the clear inscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope’s foundation,
And my glory and salvation!

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IN our spiritualized and gnosticized Christianity, which denies the goodness of the body created by the Lord, the refreshing hope in Jesus Christ, risen bodily from the dead, is the hope of the new heavens and the new earth and the resurrection of the body.  We were made body and soul, and the “and” in “body and soul” is a connective and not an additive.  We were redeemed body and soul in Jesus Christ, true man and true God.  This is our hope in the Valley of the Shadow that we will be fully clothed:  4For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5: 4)  Helen Joy was reborn in Christ Jesus.  I think this poem, adapted from another poem by her husband, is a confession of our hope in Christ Jesus in these Lenten Lands.5He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.(2 Corinthians 5:  5) So that by faith in His grace, we obtain more and more of His Life in the midst of death.

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