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“Glorious is God with His saints and angels: Oh, come let us worship Him.”

 

About Ignatius: He was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ’s bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper, the supreme authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church.  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

The Apostle Paul was probably martyred between A.D. 64-67. Ignatius became the 2nd Bishop of Antioch in A.D. 69.   Antioch was the city from which Paul and Barnabas began their great missionary journey as recorded in Acts 13-14.  Ignatius is a direct link to the apostles and the apostolic doctrine.  (information from The Apostolic Fathers, edited by Jack Sparks)

Some have written that Christian doctrine evolved from the original sayings of Jesus  into the Christianity we have today. But given the chronological proximity of Ignatius to the Apostolic era, this can not be so and especially when we read his letters.  In them,  it is clear that Ignatius and the earlier Church were continuing the apostolic doctrine as taught verbatim by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, as the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament.

One of first great crises of the earlier Church was when the last of the 12 Apostles died.  Who could ever replace them?  Already the Lord provided the answer: bishops.   When I hear the word “bishop”, visions of church finery come to mind:  croziers, mitres, elaborate vestments and the like.  Not in the 1st  century nor for next 2-3 centuries!  Bishop is the word used  to translate  the New Testament Greek:  episcopos which means “overseer”, one who provides oversight to the doctrine and faith of the congregation.  An “episcopos” preached and administered the Sacraments which means a bishop is  a pastor.  He presided at the Table of the Lord…and he was a target when persecution arose.

In the Roman Empire, there were many gods and goddesses and their temples and shrines were massive and impressive and they held elaborate and overwhelming services in them. A Christian episcopos presided over a simple meal of  bread and wine, announcing this is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  He preached the Word of Law and Gospel to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.  Nothing outwardly impressive, yet by such the Lord spread His Word as He had promised He would “to the ends of the earth”.   The Word of Jesus Christ was so spread against overwhelming odds without gimmicks, strategies, mission models, massive denominational budgets, etc.  (insight courtesy of Rev. Prof. Hermann Sasse)

For Ignatius the central  aspect of the Church was unity with the bishop, the pastor in the preaching and teaching of the Scripture and administration of the Sacraments, according to the Apostolic Doctrine set forth in the Holy Scriptures.:

“…it is fitting for you  run your race together with the bishop’s purpose–as you do.  For your presbytery–worthy of fame, worthy of God–is attuned to the bishop  like strings to a lyre.  Therefore by your unity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.”

The episcopos was to give oversight to the true saving doctrine of justification but not to overlook false doctrine. Case in point:   Ignatius warns the Church in Smyrna about  the docetists. ‘Docetist’  means ‘appearance’ and they said that Jesus only appeared to be a man but was only God  and so they changed the clear meaning of Scripture and they denied the Body and the Blood. And so Ignatius warns the Smyrnaens about them and their teaching on Holy Communion:

“They abstain from Eucharist and prayer because they do not acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, which the Father raised by his goodness. Those who deny God’s gift are dying in their squabbles; it would be better for them to love so that they may rise. It is fitting to keep away from such men and not to speak about them either privately or publicly, but to pay attention to the prophets and especially to the Gospel, in which the passion has been explained to us and the resurrection has been accomplished. Flee from divisions as the beginning of evils.”

What is the Biblical and evangelical understanding of the Lord’s Supper in relation to our lives and souls in His Church?

“Be eager, therefore, to use one Eucharist–for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup for union with the blood (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 16), one sanctuary, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow slaves–so that whatever you do, you do in relation to God (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 31;  Col. 3: 17)

Furthermore, the docetists believed Jesus was purely “spiritual” and He could not give us His Body and Blood.  Using an oft-used phrase in our day, they were not religious but ‘spiritual’. Sound familiar? Maybe Ignatius was too negative?  Maybe he should have ‘dialogued’ with them and formed a Bishop’s Study Task Force of Ecumenical Dialogue with Docetism?  Of course not.  Ignatius did a pastor’s work.   The heretics are actually the ones who want Christian doctrine to ‘evolve’: actually devolve into something totally different and more to their liking and their flesh and so it is no longer saving doctrine. Heresy is dividing;  orthodoxy is uniting.  It is as old as Israel finding more suitable deities in the Baals.   This is the devil’s work.   The only conversation is to warn and  call to repentance in the true Faith, clinging to Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father in His Church. As Ignatius wrote to the  Magnesians:

As, then, the Lord did nothing apart from the Father [cf. John 5:19; 8:28], either by himself or through the apostles, since he was united with him [cf. John 10:30; 17:11,21,22], so you must do nothing apart from the bishop and the presbyters. Do not try to make anything appear praiseworthy by yourselves, but let there be in common one prayer, one petition, one mind, one hope in love, in blameless joy—which is Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better [cf. John 10:16; Eph. 4:3-6]. 2. All of you must run together as to one temple of God, as to one sanctuary, to one Jesus Christ, who proceeded from the one Father and is with the one and departed to the one [cf. John 8:42;14:12,28; 16:10,17

Let us pray…

Almighty God, we praise Your Name for Ignatius of Antioch, pastor and martyr.  He offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might present to You the pure bread of sacrifice. Accept the willing tribute of all that we are and all that we have, and give us a portion in the pure and unspotted offering of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given to Your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth Your glory in his music. Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your  creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives,and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Bio:  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted composers in the Western world. Orphaned at age ten, Bach was mostly self-taught in music. His professional life as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant began at age nineteen in the town of Arnstadt and ended in Leipzig, where for the last twenty-seven years of his life he was responsible for all the music in the city’s four Lutheran churches. In addition to being a superb keyboard artist, the genius and bulk of Bach’s vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. A devout and devoted Lutheran, he is especially honored in Christendom for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the Church to glorify God and edify His people. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

When I was at  Concordia Junior College, Milwaukee (now Concordia University, Mequon Wisconsin), I took the one credit course on Lutheran Hymnody.   Professor “Ollie” Ruprecht pointed out that Bach’s library had around 80 volumes in it. Prof. Rupprecht pointed out that books were quite expensive and about 60  of those volumes were books of orthodox Lutheran theology.  Orthodox Lutheran theology is all about proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God.  And so did Bach through music in the beauty of holiness.

One of Bach’s most marked set of volumes was Abraham Calov’s 3 book set of Luther’s Bible, with Calov’s commentary.  Bach, spending a large part of a year’s salary, purchased a 7 volume edition of Luther’s writings which Calov has based his commentary.  Calov wrote regarding Luther:

“It hinders a preacher greatly if he wants to look around and concern himself with what people want to hear and not hear.”

Bach double-marked that sentence for emphasis (Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines).  We need to double-mark that quote today.  

That sentence also sums up Bach’s understanding of music.  He would mark on his scores AMG, ad mairorem Dei, to the greater glory of God. He has been called, after Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the 5th evangelist.  In his day, he was not known beyond Germany. After his death,  his music was rediscovered.  His output for 27 years in Leipzig for 4 churches was massive.  Bach’s music still preaches.Bach’s texts usually were the Bible as he put the Scripture to music. This is true Christian music.

In his day, the Enlightenment, ‘modern’ music was suppose to reflect how the composer felt and what the people wanted to hear.  Sound familiar?  On NPR, they will have a segment that I call OMS, the obscure musical segment when the artist intros his/her work and tells us what “he is trying to do”, or what he was feeling at the time of composition. Not for J. S. Bach:  it was to proclaim the Gospel which is the sheer beauty of the Lord. Bach did not listen to what people wanted, but what he heard was the Lord’s commands and promise fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and he knew the Lord’s second best gift, music.  “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise” (Luther).   Bach’s talent at the organ and as a composer was wanted by the Church and he was not popular in the courts of public taste, but being popular in the world is never the goal, Christ is.

Only two of Bach’s works were ever published in his life time. In the age of the Enlightenment, Bach was considered a ‘has-been’ and not well-received.The Word of the Lord endures forever and the Lord gave Johann a gift that he did use to His greater glory  and the joy of the Church, which is always,  “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. In an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar falls for a nurse who is quite cultured and loves classical music.  He goes to Hawkeye and Trapper for lessons about classical music.  Hawkeye gives Radar the names of some composers and then says, “…then if she mentions Bach, just say, ‘Ahhh, Bach’”. We also can say, Ahhh, Bach! And better:  thank you Lord for music!

Thank-you Lord for Bach and all church organists, choir directors, choirs and musicians who also through music, especially Bach’s, proclaim the eternal Gospel. Open the ears and hearts of church councils, parish councils and sessions to pay their organists well as they lead Your holy people in the Divine Service.  Amen.

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Three seemingly disparate events are associated together on this date:  

1.  On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the armistice was signed ending World War I and this date became Veteran’s Day.  We remember all military, soldiers and sailors, who have defended our nation in war.  We thank them for their service and the best way to do that is, as is rightly encouraged in the media: THANK A VETERAN TODAY!

2. On this date, Martin of Tours, Pastor and Bishop was buried in the city of Tours, France:

Born into a pagan family in what is now Hungary around the year A.D. 316, Martin grew up in Lombardy (Italy). 

When he was  fifteen, being the son of a soldier, he was drafted to serve in the army. He was apparently a good soldier and popular with his comrades. One winter night when he was stationed in Amiens, Martin saw a poor old beggar at the city gate shivering in the cold, and, having nothing else to give him, he drew his sword, cut his own cavalryman’s cloak in two, and gave half to the man to wrap himself in. The next night Martin dreamed of Christ in heaven wearing his half-cloak and saying, “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.” The young soldier, however, found it increasingly difficult to combine his own ideal of a Christian life with the duties of the military. Eventually he decided to be baptized and asked to leave the army, since he was no longer willing to kill. Like his modern counterparts, this fourth century “conscientious objector” had difficulty proving he was not a coward, but finally he was released, now about twenty years old.

Sensing a call to a church vocation, Martin left the military and became a monk, affirming that he was “Christ’s soldier.” Eventually, Martin was named bishop of Tours in western Gaul (France). He is remembered for his simple lifestyle and his determination to share the Gospel throughout rural Gaul.

3.  On November 10th, 1483, Eisleben, Germany,to a miner and his wife a son was born.    Baptisms were done quickly due to infant mortality. The next day Hans and Margarette brought their son for Baptism on  St. Martin’s Day.  So they named him Martin, as was the custom, after the saint’s day he was baptized.  The son baptized today was Martin Luther.

What do these 3 commemorations have in common? 

They are all about being a soldier, faithful, true and bold.  

2 Timothy 2:  You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

This day is about soldiers and sailors in our armed forces defending our nation, yes, but primarily defending the nation’s charter of freedom, words on paper, the Constitution of the United States of America, as the oath of a soldier or sailor clearly states:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

This day is about soldier Martin of Tours left one army and joining the militia Christi, the army of Christ for the salvation of souls.  Christ enlisted him. As bishop  in the army of Christ he did battle against the heresies of his day and served his people the green and eternal pasture of the Word of God.  He fought against the powers and principalities:  sin, death and the power of the devil.

This day  is about the baptized in the army of Christ and the man named after Martin of Tours, Martin Luther.  Martin Luther was likewise a soldier in Christ. Martin and Martin bore the weapons of the Spirit to defend the charter of our eternal salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth. They both did so without jihad, killing others and wreaking destruction.  Martin and Martin did their duty, lived their callings in the peace of Christ, defending Words on the pages of Holy Scripture, and that very Word defends us. 

As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he was enlisted by the Lord so are you!  Soldiers have a clear discipline and as Christians, disciples have a discipline to not get entangled in civilian pursuits, that is in the world, but for the world to fight the good fight of faith, so that souls are saved.  Paul focuses Timothy and us on the Lord.  When a superior officer comes into the room, all the soldiers come to attention as we do when we stand to hear the Gospel in the Divine Service.  And all soldiers suffer, as did Paul, Timothy, Peter and all the army of Christ, and as our armed forces do in combat, and even in peace.  We fight for freedom’s sake Christ has set us free and in Christ to not submit again to a yoke of slavery, see Galatians 5:1.

This day is united in thanksgiving for our freedoms, political and spiritual, and for all those who have fought the good fight.  The armies of darkness are on the move again in our nation and amongst the nations.We are freed from  the tyranny of political and spiritual despots and so freed to serve our neighbor, our nation and church, as free citizens of both that  tyranny is defeated, finally by the Lord’s weapons:  the weapons of the Spirit, cf. Ephesians 6: 10-20.

We pray:

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

 Lord God of hosts, Your servant Martin the soldier embodied the spirit of sacrifice. He became a bishop in Your Church to defend the catholic faith. Give us grace to follow in his steps so that when our Lord returns we may be clothed with the baptismal garment of righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns With You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

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Gracious Lord, in every age You have sent men and women who have given their lives for the message of  Your Gospel and all the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.  Inspire us with the memory of those martyrs for the Gospel, like Your servant Lawrence, whose faithfulness led them to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to Your Son’s victory over sin and death, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

About Lawrence:  Early in the third century AD, Lawrence, most likely from Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage Church property and finances. The emperor at the time, who thought that the Church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the ‘treasures of the Church.’ According to tradition,  Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He was then jailed and eventually executed in the year AD 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. His martyrdom left a deep impression on the young Church because he was a Roman citizen tortured and executed by Roman authorities.  Almost immediately, the date of this death, August 10, became a permanent fixture on the early commemorative calendar of the Church.  (adapted fromThe Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH).

The particular persecution that led to Lawrence’s execution began in anno Domini 257:

“…the Roman emperor Valerian began a vigorous persecution of the church, aimed primarily at the clergy and laity of the upper classes. All of the properties of the church were confiscated and assemblies for worship were forbidden. On August 4, 258 the Bishop of Rome, Sixtus II who had just become bishop the year before, and his deacons were apprehended at the cemetery of Callistus where they were celebrating the liturgy, and all except Lawrence were summarily executed and buried in the same cemetery…Lawrence, who knew of the location of the Church’s treasure, was tortured and then executed on August 10. (Festivals and Commemorations by Pr. Philip Pfatteicher)

Reflection:   Deacon Lawrence knew the location of the Church’s treasure! He knew exactly where it was as in the old pirate maps: when X marks the spot, that is the Cross of Jesus Christ.  He knew that the treasures of Christ’s grace is for the  poor, the lame, the orphans and the widows, for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, that is, the poor in spirit.   In the midst of Watergate in the 70s, Bob Woodward was told by his informant, “to follow the money”.  All of the world follows the money.  Lawrence did not “follow the money”: he followed His Lord and yours.  As a steward of Jesus Christ, His deacon, Lawrence maintained earthly treasure probably well but gold does not make the Church, only the blood of Christ makes the Church.  The Emperor lived under the Roman equivalent of the dollar sign.  Lawrence and “the communion of saints” live eternally under the sign of the Cross.

When the Church and her Christians think the true treasures of the church are in the offering plates/big budgets  or our “creative ministries” or our programs, and not the Cross and Sacraments, Scripture and Service in His love, then,

“…we are in danger of losing the things that make the Church in favor of those who claim to make the Church.  Church leaders only gain legitimacy when they are the delivery point of the divine gifts.” (Pr. Murray, A Year with the Church Fathers, CPH)  

Lawrence and many others so delivered the divine gifts and were delivered up as martyrs and their witness heartens us.

The Commemoration of St. Lawrence is our time quite timely, to say the least, given the martyrdoms that have occurred and are happening in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria.  It is hard to contemplate Lawrence being killed by being roasted live on fire.  No longer. Two years ago  a 5 year old boy being cut in half by ISIS.   Since then, the martyrdoms, including crucifixions of Christian children,  have gone apace with no let up. We hear in the media that ISIS is full of anger and hatred…but are they?

Were the Nazis full of hatred and anger when they murdered 6 million Jews and 5 milion Gypsies, Communists, homosexuals and Christians?  Probably at one time…but eventually it all became rational political policy.   In a seminary seminar course on the Holocaust we studied the fact that initially the Nazis  took Jews in train cars to isolated areas and then gunned them down burying them in mass graves. The Nazi State soon realized this was using too much ammunition, time and effort, too many vital war assets. Eventually they improved the ‘extermination’ of Jews and others with the invention of Zykon-B gas and high tech ovens to burn the bodies efficiently into ashes.  There was no more anger and hatred, just cold-blooded technological efficiency and they filmed their deeds.

Could St. Lawrence, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Mother Theresa, or countless unnamed Christians have made this distinction that many of our politicians do:

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ISIS can cut a boy in half with disinterested efficiency and have done many other brutalities.  We exterminate over a million  infants a year in abortion with medical technology that is suppose to save lives and then ‘harvest’ the organs and sell them over dinner and cocktails. The specter of Dr. Mengeles is active in our country daily…from Kermit Gosnell to the closest abortuary.  The Roman Emperor probably executed many others by grilling them alive without batting an eye.

 Just think of the depth of depravity of sin!  Animals do not kill each other for ideology or sport or enjoyment, but man does.  When the Church is driven out by a government, eventually the State becomes god and will not tolerate the one true God, but Lawrence served the poor in Jesus Christ.  We remember Lawrence but not the tyrant who had him murdered.  I have known Lawrences but I have never met anyone named Valerian or Nero, though maybe someone would name their dog ‘Nero”. We remember what the Lord said to Saul on the road to Damascus:   “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9: 4-5) As Pr. Fiene ended an excellent article,

“May God turn the hearts of all who are abusing, raping, terrorizing, and killing our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May God bring them to faith in Christ, who has put away their murderous sins and won every gemstone of His Father’s love for them. May God fill our enemies with the Holy Spirit, that they may put down their swords and share the treasure of Christ’s kingdom with those whom they once sought to destroy.”

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Suggested Lection:

Psalm 45:1-9
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 23:54-24:11 or Mark 16:1-8

Joanna, Mary, and Salome:  Known in some traditions as “the faithful women,” the visit of these three persons and other women to the tomb of Jesus on the first Easter morning is noted in the Gospel records of Matthew (28:1), Mark (16:1), and Luke (24:10). Joanna was the wife of Cuza, a steward in Herod’s household (Lk. 8:3). Mary, the mother of James (the son of Alphaeus), was another of the women who faithfully provided care for Jesus and His disciples from the time of His Galilean ministry through His burial after the crucifixion. Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Mt. 27:56), joined with the women both at the cross and in the bringing of the spices to the garden tomb. These “faithful women” have been honored in the church through the centuries as examples of humble and devoted service to the Lord.

Writing

Why was Christ’s resurrection revealed to these women first? There are several answers.

  • First, God was keeping His ancient custom of choosing what is foolish, undistinguished, and despised in the eyes of the world in order to put the strong and lofty to shame. (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-28) These women were despised not only due to the weakness of their gender but also because of Galilee, their homeland. (see John 1:46But God exalts them by revealing to them the resurrection of His Son, which is an excellent article of our faith.

  • Indeed, He even sends them to the apostles to share the message of Christ’s resurrection with them, so that they become, as the ancients say, like “apostles to the apostles” …

  • Third, in this way God wanted to prevent the accusations of the Jews. The high priests lied, saying that Christ’s disciples had stolen the body of their master. In order to provethe shamelessness and absurdity of this lie, it happened by God’s marvelous providence that these women came to the grave before the apostles. Now, it is highly unlikely that these few women could have stolen the body from a grave guarded by soldiers and closed by a large stone.

  • Fourth, through the woman Eve, death came to all human beings. On account of this, Christ wanted His resurrection, which brings us righteousness and life, to be told to others by women. At the fall of the first human being, these three worked together: the devil, who deceived; the woman, who proclaimed his talk further; the man, who ate and corrupted human nature. So also,Christ’s resurrection, these three worked together: Christ, who rose and redeemed human nature; the angel, who proclaimed the resurrection; and the women, who carried the joyful message further.

Now if Christ was pleased with the zeal of these women, which was yet bound together with significant weaknesses of faith, and did not let them come away from the tomb empty, how much less will He let those go away empty who in true faith seek Him who rules at the right hand of the Father!

Martin Chemnitz (He has been called the “second Martin”, the first being Martin Luther;  all of the above from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  They brought myrrh.  We remember myrrh every Christmas as the magi brought”gold, frankincense and myrrh”. The magi were hard-core pagan magicians and unexpectedly they bring expensive gifts for the King!  Myrrh was a costly ointment used for fragrance.  In the Song of Solomon myrrh is used to scent the marital bed.  It was also used for burial of the dead to cover the smell of death, but it is finally only perfume, a cover up and sin and death “stink to high heaven”.   The faithful women bear myrrh to the tomb and unexpectedly they find out:  He is risen!  O Lord, the holy women came to anoint Your Body in the Tomb and You did anoint them, and us, eternally with Your Risen Life!  You anoint us with the grace of Your forgiveness in the anointing of the Holy Ghost! They did not have to anoint His Body!  As  Christ Jesus is the sweet fragrance of His Resurrection by which He has conquered death, no cover-up of death  but swallowing  up death: Christ the death of death our foe, Christ the life of all the living.  Along with Joanna, Mary and Salome, we are joined with Paul and all the Church to be the “aroma of Christ”:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. 15For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2)

Let us pray…

Mighty God, Your crucified and buried Son did not remain in the tomb for long. Give us joy in the tasks set before us, that we might carry out faithful acts of service as did Joanna, Mary, and Salome, offering to You the sweet perfume of our grateful hearts, so that we, too, may see the glory of Your resurrection and proclaim the Good News with unrestrained eagerness and fervor worked in us through our Lord Jesus Christ, who rose and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Appointed Scripture Readings:  Acts 15: 1-21   Psalm 46   Galatians 2: 1-10   St. Matthew 16: 13-19

 

About this Feast Day and St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles:   The festival of St. Peter and St. Paul is probably the oldest of the saints’ observances (dating from about the middle of the third century). An early tradition held that these two pillars of the New Testament Church were martyred on the same day in Rome during the persecution under Nero. In addition to this joint commemoration of their deaths, both apostles are commemorated separately: Peter on January 18 for his confession of Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:13-16) and Paul on January 25 for his conversion (Acts 9:1-19).

The confession of St. Peter did not arise in the imagination of Peter’s heart but was revealed to him by the Father. The reason this confession is important is seen in Jesus’ response: “You are Peter [Greek Petros], and on this rock [Greek petra] I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). As the people of God in the Old Testament began with the person of Abraham, the rock from which God’s people were hewn (Isaiah 51:1-2), so the people of God in the New Testament would begin with the person of Peter, whose confession is the rock on which Christ would build His Church. But Peter was not alone (the “keys” given to him in Matthew 16:19 were given to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:21-23). As St. Paul tells us, Peter and the other apostles take their place with the prophets as the foundation of the Church, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The confession of Peter, therefore, is the witness of the entire apostolic band and is foundational in the building of Christ’s Church. Thus the Church gives thanks to God for St. Peter and the other apostles who have instructed Christ’s Holy Church in His divine and saving truth. 

St. Paul’s life-changing experience on the road to Damascusis related three times in the Book of Acts (9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). As an archenemy of Christians, Saul of Tarsus set out forDamascus to arrest and bring believers toJerusalemfor trial. While on the way, he saw a blinding light and heard the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In Damascus, where Saul was brought after being blinded, a disciple named Ananias was directed by the Lord in a vision to go to Saul to restore his sight: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts9:15). After receiving his sight, Saul was baptized and went on to become known as Paul, the great apostle.

Reflection:  Those who would remake the Church into what they want and desire, will eventually have Christ Jesus remade into their own image, that is, an idol.  Too many build the Church upon men’s opinions of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord’s question to the disciples, Who do men say that I am? was never intended by the Lord to be an eternal discussion question for so-called Bible studies in too many congregations. Every year, before Christmas and Easter, come the articles debunking some portion or portions of the Bible about Jesus, like clockwork.  The Lord’s question to Peter surfaced the rumors about Him and they were just that rumors, conjecture, innuendo. Peter and Paul knew that Christ  is the only Cornerstone of His Church and that all who were being baptized, were being built onto the Cornerstone,not the cornerstone upon them! See Acts 4:11,Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2: 5-7.  The Holy Spirit conforms us to the Lord’s specs in the blueprint of His Church,  by His mercy for sinners, not according to our specs and schemes for His Church.

Peter and Paul had differences between them and much in common.  Both Peter and Paul were Jews.  Peter was an uneducated fisherman, while Paul was a highly educated Pharisee who was taught at the feet of the great rabbi, Gamaliel. Peter was with Jesus from the beginning, the first of the Apostles.  Paul, as he said, was the last of the apostles.  Both were zealous for the Law. Yet, Peter denied Christ.  Paul persecuted the Church and consented to the murder of Stephen, the first martyr of “followers of the Way”.  Both knew they were sinners whom the Law could not save and that Christ alone does atone.  Peter,
 
61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him,“Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”62 And he went out and wept bitterly.” 
 
“Behold of a sudden the lover is a liar. (Peter) finds out what he is; he who had thought too highly of himself” (St. Augustine).  Peter’s tears were of godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.   Paul was blinded by his sin in the glory of crucified Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Paul finds out what he is and like Peter, Paul also thought so highly of  himself and Christ taught him well:
 
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12: 3)
 
Paul’s confession of sin was also of the godly sorrow. Called by Christ Jesus, Peter and Paul both knew by faith His forgiveness of them and each and everyone of us. Both confessed Jesus is Lord. Both built up the Church through the Word of God, as St. Paul wrote:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
As the Apostle Peter wrote:
1 Peter
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Both built well with the Word of God upon the sure Cornerstone Jesus Christ. Neither Peter or Paul built the Church upon themselves, their spiritualities or the fads and fashions of this vain world. Both were martyred, tradition says on this day, in Rome. Remember and rejoice that  Peter and Paul, and all Christian martyrs, unlike the Islamic variety, do not try to take people with them in death, but ever preached and taught, the Way to heaven, in faith, not to kill the infidel, but that the infidel come to faith and  live eternally in Jesus Christ.

 

Prayer of the Day

Merciful and eternal God, Your holy apostles Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son. Strengthen us by Your Holy Spirit that we may confess Your truth and at all times be ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

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