Monday, October 17, 2011

Gottesdienst Central

Last week, I had the awesome privilege of again attending the annual Gottesdienst Central conference at St. Paul's in Kewanee, IL, where Fr. Burnell Eckardt serves.  Wow!  What an absolutely delightful and most edifying trip this was, as I knew it would be, this being my fifth consecutive year of attending.  I wasn't able to make it there in time for the Autumn Choral Vespers or Oktoberfest banquet on Sunday evening, but was there for both full days of the Conference on Monday and Tuesday.  We began both of those days being fed upon our Lord in Word and Sacrament at Holy Mass (on Monday, Fr. Eckardt served as Celebrant, Fr. Mark Braden served as Deacon, and Dr. William Weinrich served as Preacher; on Tuesday, Fr. Eckardt served as Celebrant and Preacher).  We also gathered together on both days at Noon to pray the Office of Sext, and concluded each day with Vespers.  I know I've said this before, but I do cherish those opportunities to sit in the pew and be fed, especially when the Services are as beautiful and reverent as were these.

The Keynote Speaker this year was Dr. William Weinrich (Prof. at Concordia Theological Seminiary in Ft. Wayne).  I hadn't had the opportunity to sit at Dr. Weinrich's feet and learn from him since I had him for Early Church History back in 2001, but I was quickly reminded of the brilliance I encountered back then.  As Adriane Dorr wrote on her blog the other day, "he’s (1) brilliant, (2) engaging, and (3) brilliant and engaging."  I seriously cannot remember when I have had my brain exercised so thoroughly.  I learned a ton and was given much to ponder as Dr. Weinrich spoke on the theme, "Baptism in the Gospel of John."  Here are just a few of the things given us to ponder during his presentation:
  • More occurrences of "Father" in John than in the rest of the NT combined.  
  • Marriage is the controlling metaphor for God's relationship with man throughout Holy Scripture - already in Gen. 2:24, we see what St. Paul draws our attention to in Eph. 5, namely that the Son of God, the Eternal Word of the Father, unites Himself to His Bride (His Church) in a One-Flesh Union, which shall never be rent asunder.  Just as Eve was made from the rib taken out of the side of Adam, so it is that Christ's Bride is made from the water which flows forth from His (the New and Second Adam's) side on the Cross into the baptismal font.  There, in Holy Baptism, we are made One Flesh with our Bridegroom, Christ - as St. Paul says time and again, we are "in Christ."  No wonder the first sign in the Gospel according to St. John happens at a wedding in Cana, where water is turned into wine (hmmm - water and wine - sounds Sacramental, doesn't it?).  We are brought into a One-Flesh marriage with Christ by water (Holy Baptism) and kept in that marriage by blood (Holy Eucharist), which, of course, we're told by St. John flowed from the side of our Bridegroom when He was pierced upon the Cross.  Beautiful stuff - and tons more could be fleshed out here (pun intended)!  
  • Cannot separate Christ from His Bride (Church) - thus, all Ecclesiology is Christology.  Where Christ is, there is His Church; where His Church is, there is Christ.  Perhaps we should consider this truth before we go messing with the Church, as if it is ours to do with, and change, as we please.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and since He and His Bride are One, His Church is the same yesterday, today, and forever, too.  Those who busy themselves with "creating a church for people who don't like church" are, at the same time, presenting a Jesus for people who don't like Jesus.  Those who live by the motto, "The Church must change or die," are, at the same time, living by the motto, "Jesus must change or die," which is absurd, since Jesus utterly defeated sin, death, and the devil on the Cross, which is validated by His glorious resurrection from the tomb on the third day.  Jesus lives.  Sin, death, and the devil threw everything they had at Him, and He emerged the Victor.  And since Jesus unites Himself in a One-Flesh Union with His Bride, His Church, the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.  So much to ponder here.  
  • All the "signs" given in the Gospel according to St. John point to, and are connected with, the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They are not simply "miracles" provided to direct us to the truth of Jesus' Divinity, but deliberate "signs" pointing us to His redemptive work, the point being that our God doesn't save in secret, but out in the open - His redemptive work is seen by all, though not all see it for what it is.  Again, much to ponder here.
  • Read the accounts of Jesus' Baptism alongside of Isaiah 11.  Cool stuff.
  • "You don't read the New Testament; You eat and drink the New Testament.  And, thus, YOU (being united to Christ) are the New Testament."  Wrap your mind around that nugget for a spell. 
  • "When the Father speaks, He speaks Jesus" - this is an eternal truth, for Jesus is the Eternal Word of the Father.  The Prologue of John does not merely refer to the beginning of this created universe, which was spoken into existence by the Word, but to the reality of the pre-existence of the Eternal Word, through Whom all things were made, and by Whose becoming Flesh and Tabernacling among us, we are re-made in Him.   
  • "Jesus is the Enfleshment of Divine Will."  
  • "'The Salvation of the World' is a Name for Jesus."
  • "Jesus' Baptism is the Eschatological fulfillment of John's water baptism."
  • Paschal Lamb of OT is a main symbol in John's Gospel (and in the Synoptics), but it is not the best symbol for the Church to employ to point to Christ, since when we think of the Paschal Lamb today, we do not think of a four-legged lamb, but a two-legged Man.  Dr. Weinrich noted that, for this reason, the Early Church banned symbols of a lamb.  Had never thought about this - very interesting.  Best symbol for the Church is, of course, the Crucifix, for there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  An empty cross is NOT a symbol of the resurrection, as many seem to believe.  Without the corpus (body) of Christ, it is, really, just a symbol of Roman execution.  
  • Read chapter 24 of Sirach alongside of Prologue of John.  I did this.  Wow!
  • In OT, Glory of God in tablets of stone; In NT, Glory of God now in Flesh.  The Torah becomes Flesh and dwells among us.  Gives one furiously to think upon Jesus coming not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, and upon all of those Scripture passages which speak of the heart of stone becoming heart of flesh, and how the stones would cry out regarding the salvation which comes in Christ.  
  • John 4 - the Samaritan woman at the well - is not a "how-to" lesson on evangelism (as is so often thought of today), but catechesis on who Jesus is, and how one gets in on the salvation He brings - it's all about Baptism - go figure! 
  • John 19:30 - "He gave up His Spirit" is a bad translation.  Should be, "He handed over the Spirit."  I already knew that much, but I had never really pondered the importance of this to the extent that I should have.  These three testify:  Spirit, Water, Blood.  Water and Blood pour forth from Jesus' side on the Cross.  He hands over His Spirit, who will work through that Water and Blood to create out of Jesus' side His Bride, the Church.  This verse is packed with immense sacramental theology and is not simply an indicator that Jesus died.  Our salvation comes from the Cross, from where the Spirit is handed over to dispense the fruits of this Tree of Life which flow out of Christ's side.  Changes the way we read "from above" in John 3.  That "from above" has a specific reference - the Cross!  Great stuff!
  • "Father, glorify Your Name" = "Father, Crucify Me."  The Cross is not "plan B," but is God.  
  • "God doesn't reveal Himself in miracles, but in Man."  Deep!  
  • And so much more . . . 
I so look forward to Dr. Weinrich's commentary on John, which will be issued in three volumes.  From what we heard of him on Monday, it promises to be exceptional.

And, we had the added joy of spending the afternoon and early evening at Fr. Eckardt's house, sitting and chatting some more with Dr. Weinrich and each other over beer and snacks.   Simply sublime. 

On Tuesday, Fr. Eckardt led us in a study of the rubrics and approach to the Liturgy to confess the Real Presence of Christ.  Great presentation and discussion.  A few thoughts from that include:
  • The OT formula, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," is Trinitarian (Abraham representing the Father, Isaac the Son, and Jacob the Holy Spirit).  Very interesting.  
  • The Divine Name "I AM" (verbal form of YHWH - Yahweh) is not complete until the Son of God is named Jesus, where "I AM" is Fleshed out (literally) and becomes, "I AM (the God who) Saves" (Jesus means, "Yahweh Saves").  
  • The Hebrew word "Manna" means, "What is it?"  The answer comes when Jesus says, "This is My Body; This is My Blood."  
  • The Greek word "estin" ("is") in the Verba is not needed, but is included for emphasis - "This IS My Body; This IS My Blood."  
  • There is a long history in the Church of using specific rubrics to confess the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament.  Elevation and genuflection at the Consecration are a part of this history.  One need not elevate the Host and Chalice or genuflect before our Lord on the altar, but this is done both in adoration of our Lord and to confess the reality of His Presence, over and against the abomination of false teachings (e.g. the bread and wine merely representative or symbolic of Christ's Body and Blood; the abomination of Receptionism, which falsely teaches that Christ's Body and Blood are not Present until it is received by the communicants).  Employing specific rubrics/ceremonies to confess the Real Presence of our Lord agrees with what we confess in our Lutheran Confessions, namely that ceremonies are employed to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.  The most important thing they need to know about Christ is that He IS there among them in His very Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.  
  • We discussed several of the practices we witness today which present problems or potential problems for teaching and maintaining what we confess about Christ in the Sacrament, such as:  Infrequent celebration of the Sacrament, mishandling the reliquae, laymen distributing, use of individual cups, indiscriminate use of vestments (or no use at all), free-standing altars and poor architecture, use of cheap, overly sweet wine, etc.  We ran out of time and were not able to cover all of these thoroughly, but the point is that our practices surrounding the Sacrament of our Lord's very Body and Blood are vitally important.  This isn't about being "liturgical pietists" or riding favorite "hobby horses," but about putting into practice what we say we believe about the Sacrament for the sake of the people we serve, that they may know that their Lord IS Really Present among them.  Those who are wont to be critical of us Gottesdiensters need to ask themselves if the lack of specific rubrics and ceremonies regarding the Sacrament has served our people well over the years.
Anyway, it was a fantastic conference and, as the people I am blessed to serve would testify, I came back fired up, ready to share what I had learned and been given to ponder.  Already looking forward to next year!

In addition to being fed upon our Lord in Word and Sacrament, and in having my brain exercised to the max by all the wonderful teaching, discussion, and conversation over those couple of days, I was blessed to get to see, greet, and visit with, several brothers and sisters in Christ.  As a special treat, I got to meet and get to know one of my Polycarpian brothers, Fr. Jay Watson, who made the trip from Kansas.  And, I got to sit and chat with a couple of wonderful ladies I had met at past conferences and with whom I have remained in contact via the interwebs, Michele Keehner and Susan Fink.  I even got to experience an Adriane Dorr sighting, but wasn't able to chat with her, since she had to leave early to head over to Ft. Wayne, and there were just too many people lined up to talk with her while she was there.  Oh well, maybe next time. ;)


    Peter J. Eckardt said...

    Well said!

    Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

    Thanks, Peter. I enjoyed reading your blog post this morning. Glad you made it over to the Fatherland safely - blessings on your studies, brother. (I almost used an exclamation point, but thought better of it :).