Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dependent Spirituality

“I’m just not able to do anything anymore. I feel like a burden to my congregation because I can’t help out the way I could before.”

Such was the lament of an aging member of a sister parish. The older she got, the less she could contribute. Most of the time we look forward to old age and the frailties it brings with anxiety. “I don’t ever want to be a burden on my family,” people wish. “I don’t ever want to be that dependent on others.”

More often than not, God leads us out of this life the same way he brought us into it: completely dependent on others. As infants, we relied on others to give us food, change our messy diapers, bathe us, clothe us, keep us safe from harm every minute of the day. We were completely dependent.

Then, as we grow into adults, we treasure our burgeoning independence. We can dress ourselves, bathe ourselves, feed ourselves. The more independent we get, we can cook for ourselves or even grow and gather our own food. We can transport ourselves wherever we need to go. A significant part of the American Dream is independence. So, naturally, growing older and more dependent upon others is looked on with shame by the world.

But not the church.

In fact, that God brings us down from our illusions of independence to reveal how truly dependent on others we are is a healthy lesson in humility. To learn to be dependent it to learn to be a Christian. When people were bringing infants to Jesus—yes, infants, the helpless, completely dependent, constantly-needing-to-be-fed-and-changed kind of people—He extolled them as model Christians: “To such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)

So whether at the beginning of your life, at the end, or numerous times in the middle, God is teaching you through dependence on others to be a Christian, a child of God, to inherit the kingdom of God. You did not make yourself a Christian; God made you one. You did not produce faith; God gave it to you. You do nothing to earn God’s favor; He gives it to you completely as gift. You are completely dependent on Him for every spiritual need.

So as your faculties decrease, as your strength wanes, as your ability to contribute to your congregation diminishes, rejoice. God is teaching you away from independence to complete dependence on Him.

When speaking of God, the old adage is false: it is not better to give than to receive. Faith receives what God gives. It is always better to be receiving from God than to be giving to Him. That’s what happens in the Divine Service: God comes to lavish His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation on us. We respond, giving Him our thanks and praise, of course. But the most important thing is that we receive what God gives.

In this season where giving is so highly exalted, don’t neglect the most important things: to be receiving from God. It’s a season chocked full of services, times when God and His Church interrupt your regular routine to bless you with more of His gifts. Don’t get so caught up in all the giving that you neglect the receiving.

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints' Day Reflection

To the cemetery or to the Altar? I found this from Lutheran pastor Berthold von Schenk while preparing for tonight's service. I'm reposting it from Pr. Petersen's and Pr. Cwirla's blogs.

It's from The Presence: An Approach to the Holy Communion, 1945, p. 130-132, reprinted in For All The Saints, v. 4, 1996.

When we are bereft of dear ones, it is a tremendous shock. For a time we are stunned. Not everyone, can feel at once their continuing companionship. We should not for that reason despair. An adjustment must take place in our lives, reaching deep into our habits, emotions and thoughts. Some souls may make this adjustment quickly. For most of us it comes slowly and hard; many an hour is filled with loneliness and agonizing doubt.

By ourselves we can never make this adjustment. We must come to a sense of the continuing presence of our loved ones, and we can do this if we realize the presence of our living Lord. As we seek and find our Risen Lord, we shall find our dear departed. They are with Him, and we find the reality of their continued life through Him. The saints are a part of the Church. We worship with them. They worship the Risen Christ face to face, while we worship the same Risen Christ under the veil of bread and wine at the Altar. At the Communion we are linked with heaven, with the Communion of Saints, with our loved ones. Here at the Altar, focused to a point, we find our communion with the dead; for the Altar is the closest meeting place between us and our Lord. That place must be the place of closest meeting with our dead who are in His keeping; The Altar is the trysting place where we meet our beloved Lord. It must, therefore, also be the trysting place where we meet our loved ones, for they are with the Lord.

How pathetic it is to see men and women going out to the cemetery, kneeling at the mound, placing little sprays' of flowers and wiping their tears from their eyes, and knowing nothing else. How hopeless they look! Oh, that we could take them by the hand, away from the grave, out through the cemetery gate, in through the door of the church, and up the nave to the very Altar itself; and there put them in touch, not with the dead body of their loved one, but with the living soul who is with Christ at the Altar!

Our human nature needs more than the assurance that some day and in some way we shall again meet our loved ones "in heaven." That is all gloriously true. But how does that help, us now? When we, then, view death in the light of the Communion of Saints and Holy Communion, there is no helpless bereavement. My loved one has just left me and has gone on a long journey. But I am in touch with her. I know that there is a place where we can meet. It is at the Altar. How it thrills me when I hear the words of the liturgy, "Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven," for I know that she is there with that company of heaven, the Communion of Saints, with the Lord. The nearer I come to my Lord in Holy Communion, the nearer I come to the saints. to my own loved ones. I am a member of the Body of Christ, I am a living cell in that spiritual organism, partaking of the life of the other cells, and sharing in the Body of Christ Himself.

There is nothing fanciful or unreal about this: Indeed, it is the most real thing in my life. Of course, I miss my loved one. I should miss her if she took a long holiday trip. But now. since she-is what some people call “dead,” she is closer to me than ever. Of course, I miss her physical presence bitterly. I miss her voice and the sound of approaching footsteps. But I have not lost her. And when my sense of loss becomes too great, I can always go to our meeting place at the Altar where I receive the Body and Blood of my Lord that preserves my body and soul just as it has preserved her unto everlasting life.

Do learn to love the Altar as the meeting place with your beloved who have passed within the veil. Here again the Sacrament is the heart of our religion. The Blessed Sacrament links us not merely to Bethlehem and Calvary, but to the whole world beyond the grave as well. For at the Altar the infinite is enshrined in the finite, heaven stoops down to earth, and the seen and the unseen meet.

Oh, God the King of Saints, we praise and magnify Thy holy Name for all Thy servants, who have finished their course in Thy faith and fear, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the Holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, for all Thy other righteous servants; and we beseech Thee that, encouraged by their example and strengthened by their fellowship, we may attain to everlasting life, through the merits of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rev. Berthold Von Schenk (1895 - 1974)