Bishop and Christian*
From the Pastor
The month of November gives another occasion to reflect on the meaning of the Church. November 1st is All Saints’ Day in the Church’s calendar. On this day, we remember all those who live and who have died in the Faith, including saints from Biblical times up until today. Why do we remember saints, and what is that remembrance good for? As Philip Melanchthon (a colleague of Martin Luther) wrote in the Augsburg Confession, “Concerning the cult of the saints our people teach that the saints are to be remembered so that we may strengthen our faith when we see how they experienced grace and how they were helped by faith. Moreover, it is taught that each person, according to his or her calling, should take the saints’ good works as an example” (Augsburg Confession XXI, K/W 58:1).
For us, the saints of all times and places serve as examples of faith and good works. Fathers, mothers, rulers, teachers, pastors, etc., can all find examples of people recognized in the Church whose faith and life provide models to follow. Pastors can see a pattern of life in how St. Paul instructed Sts. Timothy and Titus to act as pastors. Mothers can look to Stes. Hannah (1 Samuel 1-2) and Mary (Luke 1:38, 46-55; 2:19, 51; John 19:25-27). Fathers can look to Sts. Jethro (Exodus 4:18; 18:1ff.) and Joseph (Matthew 1:16, 18-25; 2:13-15; Luke 2:4-5, 16, 22-24). There are, of course, non-Biblical saints who can also serve as examples of faith and life for those of any calling.
If these saints were not regular believers, we could not see in them an example to follow. None of them were believers in God, the Father of Jesus Christ, except by grace through faith. None of them were holier by nature than any one of us. Instead, they function as examples precisely because they were humans who faced the same temptations and the same struggles that each one of us faces. God gives grace as He wills, so that many of them had special insight into the Christian Faith, but this insight was also not in them by nature. All that they did, they received from God. My guess is that if you asked them about their extraordinary gifts, faith, and works, none of them would point to him- or herself as the source of those things. Rather, they would point to their God as the source of anything that makes them worthy patterns of faith and life. And this is what makes them saints. It is what makes us saints: the God-given faith and trust that despairs of anything good within ourselves, and looks to God in Jesus Christ alone.
Finally, we do not pray to saints or ask them for help in our daily callings, even if we look to them as examples. We approach the very throne of God because of Christ and His sacrifice, not because of the intercession of the saints. However, there is one point at which we and they are joined intimately. That time is the celebration and the sharing of Holy Communion. In what is called the “Proper Preface” prior to the Communion, I pray, “therefore, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name….” Because they are joined to the Lord Jesus by His Body and Blood, and because they have been made part of His Body by the same crucifixion and resurrection by which we are joined to and made part of His Body, we gather with them around the altar of the Lord. As it says in the Proper Preface for All Saints’ Day, “In the communion of all Your saints gathered into the one body of Your Son, You have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, encouraged by their faith and strengthened by their fellowship, may run with perseverance the race that is set before us and, together with them, receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (LSB Altar Book, 240; see Hebrews 11:39-12:2).
With the saints of all times and places, “we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23, ESV), even as we follow on earth the example of those who have gone before us in the Faith.
*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”
The only festival that we celebrate in November is All Saints’ Day on November 1st. But we also remember some other saints in November. Usually we remember Martin Luther on his death date, February 18, but his birthday is November 10. The birthday of the “second Martin,” Martin Chemnitz, is on November 9. It has been said that if the “second Martin” had not been, the “first Martin” (Luther) would not have lasted. You may want to find out more about Martin Chemnitz and what he did in the Seventeenth Century. Finally, a third Martin (Martin Luther’s namesake), Martin of Tours, is remembered on November 11. You can find information about Martin of Tours on the internet or in a reference book.
If you have not been able to make it to our Sunday Bible study recently, we talked a few weeks ago about the issue of every Sunday Communion. As one person noted, “If Communion really is what we say it is, how come we don’t have it every Sunday?” Good question! One saint, St. Ambrose, put it this way, “Because I always sin, I ought always to take the medicine [the Lord’s Body and Blood].” Although many of us are not used to this practice, it has many benefits (besides being the practice of the Church of the Augsburg Confession [Lutherans] for most of its history). First, Jesus wants to give us all His gifts of forgiveness every time we meet with Him in His House. Second, once we recognize our sin and that we always sin, we realize that we always need the medicine, as St. Ambrose pointed out. Third, since Holy Communion is a meal of unity, and because it really is the Body and Blood, with the bread and wine, of the Head of the Body and the Lord of the Church, it cannot help but strengthen the unity of those who eat and drink in faith. Fourth, there is no occasion when our Lord encounters us so personally and intimately as when He give us His very Body and Blood to eat. There are also other benefits, but these are a few to think about.
My goal is to move to every Sunday communion at the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord, but I do not want to change the practice until everyone who wants to has had a chance to ask questions and discuss the practice. If you have questions or comments, please come and talk to me or give me a call. I would love to talk with you about this great gift from our Lord to us!
Quote for the Month
“Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? Answer: It is the true body and blood of the LORD Christ, in and under the bread and wine, which we Christians are commanded by Christ’s word to eat and drink. And just as we said of baptism that it is not mere water, so we say here, too, that the sacrament is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine such as is served at the table. Rather it is bread and wine set within God’s Word and bound to it. …
“With this Word you can strengthen your conscience and declare: ‘Let a hundred thousand devils, with all the fanatics, come forward and say, “How can bread and wine be Christ’s body and blood?” etc. Still I know that all the spirits and scholars put together have less wisdom than the divine Majesty has in his littlest finger. Here is Christ’s word: “Take, eat, this is my body.” “Drink of this, all of you, this is the New Testament in my blood,” etc. Here we shall take our stand and see who dares to instruct Christ and alter what he has spoken…For as Christ’s lips speak and say, so it is; he cannot lie or deceive.’ …
“Therefore, it is appropriately called food of the soul, for it nourishes and strengthens the new creature…There are so many hindrances and attacks of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faint and at times even stumble. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger. …
“In conclusion, now that we have the right interpretation and teaching concerning the sacrament, there is also great need to admonish and encourage us so that we do not let this great a treasure, which is daily administered and distributed among Christians, pass by to no purpose. What I mean is that those who want to be Christians should prepare themselves to receive this blessed sacrament frequently…Indeed, precisely [Jesus’] words, ‘as often as you do it,’ imply that we should do it frequently. …
If you are burdened and feel your weakness, go joyfully to the sacrament and let yourself be refreshed, comforted, and strengthened” (Luther, Large Catechism, K/W 467:8-9; 468:12-13, 14; 469:23-24; 470:39; 471:47; 474:72).
Pr. Timothy Winterstein