This year, March is the month of Ash Wednesday. As I write this we are looking forward to the “Gesimas”, Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. The largest part of the Synod around us, and the church in general, I suspect, is celebrating the modern, longer season of Epiphany - seven weeks long this year, almost as long as it can get. Then they have Transfiguration Sunday on March 3, which we will celebrate on February 10. This time in the church year holds a special place in my mind, and it brings a mixture of emotions. The one that struck me as I sat down to write this article was sorrow over how the Church Year we have all known is soon to be passing into history, and we must say “good -bye”.
The Gesima’s are going, slowly but surely. Time Marches On. The historic lectionary, used by our Fathers back to the time of Luther (and beyond), is also being supplanted by those three-year series. They were first created by the ecumenical movement people who wanted all of the Christian churches – so called – to use the same lessons every week and so show us that there is ‘really no difference between the denominations’ so we could all get together and forget all that doctrine-stuff that divides us and be one big happy family. Happily, very few were deceived by that ruse.
The point is, everything is changing and the old things are quickly passing away. That is inevitable, I guess. It is just a sorrow. But it reflects a theological truth and can teach us something of value even if we don’t enjoy watching it happen. Those wonderful old things are passing away, and among those old things, we must count ourselves. We are passing away too. We may even beat the Gesima’s into history!
Change is the hallmark of the world we live in. Some change is even good. In the faith, however, change is not usually a positive thing. Truth never changes, and when we change our truths, we are running the risk of losing touch with the faith once delivered to the saints. Unfortunately, we can also run that risk by uncritically refusing any and all change. As the world changes about us, we have to make some changes to keep our place in the world and to hold onto what we already have.
That sounds so strange - you have to move to stay in the same place - but it can be true. It helps to think of the world as floating on the stream of time. If you want to hold your place in a river, you have to move against the current, or you just drift away. In this world, language and customs and the conceptual framework of the culture around you is always changing, moving like a stream, and if you don’t move against the current, constantly adjusting yourself to keep your place, so to speak, you will drift away from where you think you are and where you want to be just as surely as you would in a boat on a river.
Think about the changes in technology around you. They make a good marker for the flow of change. Our cars have changed. Our telephones have changed. Our televisions have changed. How we approach most everything we do in daily life has changed along with the technologies we use to do them. We have, for example, gone from party lines to individual phones for each person, and they are not connected to a place, but to a person now. Many people have done away with home phones as redundant and unnecessary expenses. I didn’t want a cell-phone at first. I avoided getting one. Now I cannot imagine what I would do without it, and I worry about how I am going to contact people when I leave my phone at home.
Computers are another example of how technology has changed our lives. I know very few people who don’t have a computer. Some people who like to think that they don’t need a computer would be amazed at how many computers they actually use – in their cars, in their appliances, banking, and shopping. They simply have avoided the step of owning a personal computer or learning how to use one, and limited their options in a number of ways by doing so.
With life changing so radically, does it seem realistic to expect that church and worship and the ways we exercise our faith will remain unchanged? People are already looking to podcasts for Bible studies, and even my sermons are on the internet, both in print and in sound, so some things have changed to a degree already. But as things change, we have to approach change with our eyes wide open and shape how change effects what we do and what we believe, teach, and confess.
In point of fact, what we believe, teach, and confess ought not to change, even while the vehicle for sharing the faith or learning it is undergoing certain unavoidable changes. The more things change, they say, the more things stay the same. Mankind doesn’t change. Sin continues to dog our steps. We continue to face frustrations, sorrows, loneliness, fear, and so forth. We still need the Gospel, and we still need the gifts of God through Word and Sacrament, and we still need - even though some may have stopped feeling the desire for - the fellowship of the saints. Just as the Church in every age gone by has had to figure out how to be church and do church in the face of their society and their culture and their technology, we have to figure it out for our age and time. The challenge of our time is the nature and the speed of the outward changes, while we meet the same old needs of the inner man and inner realities.
Among the changes that we cannot make, are changes in doctrine. That is all God-given, and we cannot let go of anything God has spoken to us. We can look for better ways for sharing it with people who are caught up in our changing world, but we have no desire to see a single ‘jot or tittle’ lost or altered. We also do not want to lose the wonderful fellowship we have when we gather for worship. Our age prizes individuality and independence, but the Church prizes our mutual love and support for one another. We need the precious face-to-face time of the congregation and the worship service. We delight in not just the familiarity of the liturgy, but in its commonality. We share it. We know it and one another and are encouraged and strengthened by the sharing together of our faith and confession.
These are things that we have to fight to hang onto. The world around us is trying to pull it away, and the church around us is sometimes too willing to set it aside and move on to whatever is next. Before we let go of anything, however, we must be sure that we are not losing something precious and good and wholesome. goodby to something old and familiar, or saying goodbye to the new and the modern. It also means that we have to face saying goodbye, at least for a time, to one another, as our time of departure from this life approaches. The changes of this life keep forcing that reality before us too. It makes sense to prepare for that goodbye too. But that is one goodbye we can welcome because it isn’t permanent. It is only until the Lord returns and raises us up again. Time marches on, and this month it is marching us toward Lent where we will celebrate and solemnly observe the crushing reality of our sins and the overwhelming reality and depth of the love of God for us. So, hello, Lent, and goodbye worldly comfort and ease. Don’t you just hate saying goodbye?
Yours in the Lord,
So, we have a balancing act to do. We have to say goodbye to anything that stands in the way of the Gospel - whether that means saying