Bishop and Christian*, July, 2011

One of the most common concerns I hear as a pastor, either first- or second-hand, has to do with the Lord’s Supper being offered on a “non-Communion Sunday” (though such a Sunday would have been an oxymoron for the vast majority of Christian history, and still is in the Roman Catholic West and the Orthodox East). At Trinity, we occasionally offer the Lord’s Supper on major festivals such as The Holy Trinity, Christmas, Palm Sunday, or Easter, even when these festivals do not fall on the second or last Sundays of the month. This sometimes means that we have the Lord’s Supper on three consecutive Sundays. I know that there are whispers or groans when people enter the sanctuary on a “non-Communion Sunday” and see the sacred vessels on the altar and the pastor in Eucharistic vestments (and yet, few people are upset that during months with five Sundays, people are deprived of the Sacrament for the three weeks between the second and fifth Sundays). There may be more than one reason why people are concerned about this: e.g., a non-Lutheran family member is present, and they may have to explain our Communion practice. But I suspect that the majority of the complaints have to do with time (although I would be happy to be corrected on this point).

We are concerned, especially in an age of fast/faster/fastest download speeds and information-in-an-instant, about how we use our time. That, in itself, is a good thing. But when our concerns about time trump the giving out of the Lord’s Gifts, then we must ask ourselves whether or not time has become an idol, to which we will offer up hours for our favorite sport or hobby, but to which we begrudge the Divine Service of the Lord God. The question of time on a Sunday morning is directly related to the question about what the Divine Service is actually for. Why are we even in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day? If we complain about the fact that on 52 out of 365 days, we spend an hour and a half (at most) receiving the Lord’s gifts, we simply have to ask ourselves why we are there at all. There is no command that the Divine Service must last exactly 60 minutes. Even if we have become accustomed to such a length, why would we want to set a firm limit to how much time we’re going to allot the Lord? If we do not rejoice that the Lord has humbled Himself to give His Word and His Body and Blood to sinners such as us, in what else could we possibly rejoice? If we complain about how long the Divine Service (that is, God’s serving of us) takes, are we not breaking the implication of the Third Commandment, which, as Luther puts it, commands us to “hold [the Word of God] sacred and gladly hear and learn it”?

No, we must confess, we do not hold God’s Word sacred; we do not gladly hear and learn it. We despise it, and we are happy to have its preaching and hearing over and done with. The only thing to do is to repent. Confess that our sinful natures would rather be elsewhere, doing something else, with other people.

That confession signals that the Word of God has done its damning work. And in that confession is implied the absolving work of God’s Word: that even when—even while—we despise God’s Word, He has not forsaken us. He has not taken it from us, but He continues to pour out His holy Word and Sacraments upon ungrateful, complaining, idolatrous sinners such as us. That is what we are celebrating this year, and especially this month, as we observe Trinity’s 125th Anniversary: God’s Word is Our Great Heritage. Take some time to meditate on Lutheran Service Book 582, our theme hymn: “God’s Word is our great heritage/And shall be ours forever;/To spread its light from age to age/Shall be our chief endeavor./Through life it guides our way,/In death it is our stay./Lord, grant, while worlds endure,/We keep its teachings pure/Throughout all generations.” It can remain pure for future generations if the current generation holds it pure and sacred, and gladly hears and learns it.

Time is a giftto us from our God, just as our money, our food, our homes, our children, our jobs. When we enter His House, He removes us from the profane time of our everyday lives, and He places us squarely in the sacred time of Christ’s life and our lives in Christ. This is a foretaste of eternity; in the Divine Service, we are joining the song of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, practicing now for the day when there will no longer be any separation between us and them. In that vein, now is the time to re-consider, each of us, what Sunday mornings are for, and what time itself is for; maybe, even, what we are for.

Pr. Winterstein


*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”



2 responses to “Bishop and Christian*, July, 2011

  • Mary Johnson

    I agree wholeheartedly. As a matter of fact, I’m excited that I get to have communion 3 Sundays in a row due to the pastor being away ( his first week back both services had it), then last week was the fifth Sunday and the upcoming one is the first. I began attending the early services just so that on those 5th Sundays I will have one more opportunity to come to the table. I’ve been tempted to show up on alternating Sundays at the later service so I could have it weekly. I think it would be pretty obvious though…

    I am a new Lutheran and can’t fathom why in the world folks are not jumping for joy with the opportunity to do this. Perhaps I’m a bit off, but I even wrote as much on my blog a while back that we give 40+ hours to work, countless hours on the computer/internet and tv. Why do we begrudge the Lord an hour? A WEEK??? Maybe I was born in the wrong era, a throw back to the early days of many hours of worship, home for a meal and back again for more.

    This is the one time during the week I get to stand with all my brothers and sisters in the Lord to receive from Him the most precious gift there is aside from baptism. I eagerly look forward to it and anticipate it. I don’t think it’s the newness. I’m an “old” Christian. Even in my Baptist days, I looked forward to church. Now, I have so much more for me there. My zeal is from knowing what it is and how important that service is to all of us.

    I envision folks walking away from the throne of God saying “that’s nice, but i’ve got a date with my X-Box.” How can we be so callous to the one who died for OUR SINS and loved us enough to wipe it all away. The one who stands there at the altar with His outstretched arms longing to hold us, heal us, strengthen us. How can we be so selfish?

    Sorry….I got caught up in it. It means the world to me.

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