By Bishop Ann Svennungsen
Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a fellow Concordia College alum, I attended last Saturday’s world premiere of “The Passion of Jesus Christ” by Rene’ Clausen. Commissioned for the 125th anniversary of the college and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the composition draws the listener into the profound emotion, the moral complexity, and the deep intimacy of Christ’s suffering and death.
Throughout 2017 – this 500th anniversary year – we will be offered a variety of experiences to celebrate the Reformation. Sitting in the audience last Saturday, I was overcome with the sense that this focus – on the cross of Jesus Christ – would likely be the emphasis Martin Luther would have chosen.
More than anything else, Luther was a theologian of the cross. Today, as we prepare to enter deeply into the story of Christ’s passion – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil – it is good to recall some of Luther’s wisdom in how to approach these days.
FIRST OF ALL, LUTHER makes clear that the proper motivation for contemplating Christ’s passion is not to engender pity for Christ nor anger towards those who betrayed him. Instead, true to form, Luther invites us to enter this story as both law and gospel. Meditation on the Passion serves the law’s purpose: to convict the conscience of sin and sin’s dire consequences. He refers to Christ as “this earnest mirror” (dißer ernster spiegel), which reveals how we fall short.
Once we are aware of our sins, Luther instructs us to cast them upon Christ, seeing in Christ’s wounds and sufferings our own transgressions, which are overcome by Christ’s resurrection. This is pure gospel. And, what is more, Luther urges that, if we struggle to believe this resurrection miracle, we ask God for faith, as “this too rests entirely in the hands of God.” It is all grace.
As we prepare to enter deeply into the story of Christ’s passion – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil – it is good to recall some of Luther’s wisdom in how to approach these days.
Finally, Luther counsels us to refrain from too much contemplation on Christ’s suffering and instead to meditate on “Christ’s friendly heart and how this heart beats with such love for you that it impels Christ to bear with pain your conscience and your sin.” Further, Luther invites us to look from Christ’s heart to God’s heart, the true source of the savior’s love. “We know God aright when we grasp God not in God’s might or wisdom (for that proves terrifying), but in God’s kindness and love. Then faith and confidence are able to exist, and we are truly born anew in God.”
I invite you to join with me in prayer for all who lead worship this week – that the Spirit will draw all who gather into the God whose heart beats with such love for us and all creation.