28 November 2008

The Pastor's Children

Today the oldest daughter, age 3, was supposed to be taking a nap. My wife heard the child's bedroom window open and the little girl yell out, "Don't do that, it isn't even Advent yet."
The next door neighbors were putting out their Christmas decorations.
Upon returning home from a hospital visit and hearing the story, I must say I was a bit proud of my daughter's traditional sensibility regarding Christmas decorations. Of course she has been hearing this from me for the past week as decorations have been going up all around our neighborhood. But I wonder, do all pastor's children do such things?
We are attempting by God's grace to raise our children as Christians; of course they will be a bit different because they are the children of the pastor. As such, they are continually being filled up with all kinds of ideas that will seem strange or weird to some, not only the neighbors but perhaps even within the congregation.
While we are giving them things that are strange to the world, the Gospel of Christ most of all, I suppose I take some pride in what my oldest is already able to confess with her mouth. This is probably sinful, but it is hard not to be that way. Perhaps I should simply be thankful to the Lord for what He is doing. Berating the neighbors about their Santa display is, I know, not the chief thing to be thankful for; by God's grace she confesses much more.
At the same time, I worry about not spending enough time with them; not teaching them more of Christ and His gifts, instructing them in the Scriptures and also doing dad stuff. The oldest now doesn't like it when I have another meeting to go to or even an evening bible study to teach. Will the time quickly come when she won't be sad that dad is gone, but simply be resigned to the fact that I'm at church and not at home playing after dinner?
Anyway, any thoughts on the rearing of weird little Lutheran pastor's children?
BT Ball

13 November 2008

Do This in Remembrance of Me

It was in February of 1998, at a small convocation in St. Louis that essentially kicked off the Lutheran Hymnal Project, that Dr. John Kleinig made a comment on the Institution Narrative and the Verba Domini (the Words of our Lord) that stuck with me and subsequently made a significant impact on my understanding of those most precious Words. It was in the course of discussion and debate on the topic of "eucharistic prayer," when Dr. Kleinig simply offered the suggestion that we should not allow ourselves to be misled by the conflated version of the Verba that we know from the Small Catechism and the Liturgy of the Holy Communion. In his usual manner, he let the observation speak for itself; he just laid it out there for any of us to discover his point on our own. I think it took me a year or two to give it my full and serious attention; not that it was all that difficult to look at the four different accounts of our Lord's institution of His Supper, but it is amazing how powerfully the conflation that we hear all the time and know so well by heart holds our thinking. It was probably another year or two more before the impact of what I found in my comparison really began to shape a new way of thinking in me.

The insight to which Dr. Kleinig's comment led me centers in this phrase of our Lord: "Do this in remembrance of Me." Surely, these are some of the most significant Words of the New Testament (to which, properly speaking, they refer quite directly). Along with the so-called "Great Commission" (the sending of the ministers of Christ to catechize and baptize), these Words, "Do this in remembrance of Me," establish the liturgical foundation of Christ's Church. They are quite as fundamental to the life of the children of God as are the words, "Be fruitful and multiply," to the life of Adam's sons and daughters. Yet, these Words of our Lord's New Testament have been subject to rather diverse interpretations and controversy.

Identifying the referent of "Do this" was a point of contention in the development of, and in responses to, the proposed eucharistic rites of the Lutheran Book of Worship in the 1970s. There are a number of points in those eucharistic rites with which I also take exception, and in many ways I remain sympathetic to the concerns that were expressed by critics of the proposal. On this particular point, however, I think that the proponents of the LBW may have been closer to the truth, even if not in their final conclusions concerning the larger picture of the Sacrament. The argument that "Do this" refers to the eating and drinking is one that was frequently made in opposition to the "Great Thanksgiving" of the LBW. It is an argument that I have not only heard but have also made, myself, on more than one occasion. But I don't believe that is the case; the texts don't support that argument.

Here is the interesting fact that Dr. Kleinig's comment led me to discover: It is in St. Matthew's account that our Lord Jesus Christ says, "Take, eat," and "Drink from it, all of you." St. Mark's account is similar, though he doesn't record either the "eat" or the "drink" as a Word of Jesus. In any case, neither St. Matthew nor St. Mark record the Words, "Do this in remembrance of Me." Those Words come to us from St. Luke and from St. Paul; but neither of them include "Take, eat," or "Drink from it."

When the four different narratives are conflated, as in the Catechism and in the Divine Service, we hear: "Take, eat" and "Drink from it," followed shortly by "Do this in remembrance of Me," and the natural conclusion is that we as communicants are to do the eating and drinking in remembrance of Jesus. Never mind for the moment that there's been any number of different interpretations of what that means; the assumption is that "Do this" refers to the eating and drinking. If one reads the actual texts of the Holy Scriptures, however, the "Do this" seems clearly to specify the verbs that have immediately preceded this Word of Jesus: verbs that Jesus is doing, rather than His communicant disciples; that is, taking the bread and the cup, giving thanks, and distributing His gifts with those particular Words that are basically the same in all four accounts: "This is My Body," "This is My Blood." Which is to say that, as it now seems clear to me, "Do this in remembrance of Me" refers not to the reception but to the administration of the Supper.

This distinction is underscored by the fact that St. Matthew (explicitly) and St. Mark (by implication of the preceding verses) write of the disciples at the Last Supper, whereas St. Luke writes of the Apostles reclining at the table with Him; and St. Paul is addressing the Church concerning the way in which the Supper ought to be administered. St. Matthew and St. Mark address the Institution Narrative toward those who are given to receive, to eat and drink the Sacrament; whereas St. Luke and St. Paul address those who are given to hand over the Sacrament to the disciples of Jesus. These are matters of emphasis, not of exlusive distinction, but I believe the difference is instructive to a proper understanding of the Holy Communion.

The Sacrament is to be administered "in remembrance of Me." What does this mean? It really is remarkable how many different ways the "remembrance" has been interpreted, and I'm not inclined to suggest that those various interpretations are mutually exclusive of one another. Löhe speaks of our Lord first of all remembering us by giving us His body and His blood, by which we, in turn, remember Him. Luther speaks of these Words in a variety of ways, too, depending on the context in which he is addressing the matter. Historically, the remembrance has been clarified by way of the ritual anamnesis, following the Verba, in which the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and coming of our Lord for judgment are confessed with the lips. Such things are meet, right and salutary, but the heart of the matter is deeper and more comprehensive.

St. Paul's account in 1 Corinthians is perhaps most helpful, especially in following the second "Do this in remembrance of Me" with the explanatory Words: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." I should certainly acknowledge and point out, to begin with, that both the doing of "this" and the "remembrance" are indeed to be connected to the eating and drinking, even if that holy consumption is not the referent of "Do this." Rather, "this" is to be done "as often as you drink it." In contrast to the convoluted meals that the Corinthians were having, they were to eat the bread and drink the cup according to the rubrics of the Lord Jesus Christ, who instituted His Supper in His own way. Instead of one man taking for himself and leaving others hungry, and another man getting drunk, the Christians are to come together as the Church and to give and receive the gifts of Christ Jesus as He has given.

Luther has somewhere interpreted the phrase, "you proclaim the Lord's death," not as an indicative but as an imperative. To paraphrase the point, "as often as you celebrate the Lord's Supper, you must proclaim the Lord's death." This coincides precisely with my observation: the administration of the Sacrament is done "in remembrance" of Jesus by the preaching of Christ the Crucified, which is the good work of the Church and Ministry in giving out the gifts. Thus, I would say that the "remembrance" is rooted, first and foremost, in the preaching of the Gospel; and the Sacrament should never be administerd apart from that preaching.

In connection with the preaching, I believe the "remembrance" characterizes the entire eucharistic rite: in the confession of the Creed, in the Prayer of the Church, in the Preface and Post-Sanctus, in the Anamnesis, the hymnody, etc. That is to say, the entire celebration of the Sacrament is encompassed within the confession of Christ, dependent upon the preaching of repentance in His Name, and given voice in prayer, supplication, intercession, praise and thanksgiving to the Father in His Name.