Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Ritual of the Body

By Larry Beane

[Note: This essay was previously published in Gottesdienst, the print journal, in the Trinity 2014 issue.]

Although I had never met William Cox, whose funeral sermon appears in this issue, presiding over his funeral drove home important points concerning the blessings of traditional ritual and its general disregard by our modern American culture.

Earlier that week, the local funeral home asked if I would preside over a chapel funeral of a deceased octogenarian who called himself a Lutheran, but who currently had no church affiliation.  In the past, I have been reluctant to conduct such funerals - and even now, I would not conduct such a service in the sanctuary of the parish itself.  But as our culture drifts further and further away from Christianity, as biblical ignorance and indifference become more and more common, I am increasingly inclined to look upon such opportunities for not only proclaiming the Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation, but also as catechesis: to confess and teach what Christianity is all about, to explain who Jesus is, and to do so to a captive audience.  They may listen reluctantly, or perhaps not at all, but some may hear and have faith by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).  

Such funerals are opportunities to plant seeds.

This funeral was not the typical funeral home service with impatient young people, either dressed like sex workers or attendees at a barbecue, chomping on gum and looking at facebook during the service, with the older people wiggling in the pews, huffing, and looking at their watches.  This service was far different.  This funeral was for an 86-year old distinguished U.S. marine, a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  His widow is an elderly and dignified Japanese lady.

His daughter is a middle-aged Japanese-American named Mika - not a name one often encounters in the United States.

By God's providence, just the day before, I watched an interesting movie (a rare treat for a busy parish pastor).  It is a Japanese film called "Departures", a magnificent story about a young cellist named Daigo who loses his orchestra job, and in desperation, takes a job advertised in the newspaper, working for a company called "Departures".  Based on the name, he thought the job had something to do with travel.  In fact, it was a mortuary job.

In the film, Daigo's wife's name was Mika.

The movie portrays the ritual used in Japanese funeral services - ritual that transcends religious tradition.  Daigo and his mentor are shown treating a Christian body with the same level of ceremony, dignity, and compassion as done in non-Christian rituals.  According to this film, in Japan, the body is washed, laid out, and dressed in front of the relatives, who kneel on tatami mats during the formal ceremony.  The body is treated not only with respect, but even affection and gentleness.  The deceased is modestly draped as the mortician carries out his work.  The body is finally dressed in finery, the face is made up beautifully, and the mortician takes his time to make everything perfect.  It is formal and carried out with diligent and deliberate slowness.

The onlookers kneel at attention, reflecting, mourning, and showing respect.  After the body has been unhurriedly prepared with precision so as to make the deceased as beautiful as possible, the family members come forward to pay their respects, stroking or even washing the face of the deceased.  Finally, the body is put gently into the casket, which is then closed.  In one scene, immediately after the closing, the casket was rolled into the crematorium and incinerated then and there, just after the long ritual had been completed.

Toward the end of the film, Daigo observes a different approach to treating a body - which was the body of his own father.  The morticians who rush into the room are wearing rubber gloves.  They are slovenly and casual.  They make it clear that their job is governed by clinical efficiency, without affection nor awe of what is happening, with no sensitivity to the family, and with no sense that the ceremony has any lasting significance.  Daigo dismisses the ceremonial hacks and proceeds to carry out the ritual himself - in a dignified and loving manner.

At Mr. Cox's funeral, the American marine's elderly Japanese widow lovingly stroked the face of her beloved deceased husband just prior to the closing of the casket, in a manner compatible with the movie that I had just watched.

But given that the Chief (the deceased was a Chief Warrant Officer, CWO-4) was a marine, his funerary ritual included additional military honors.  In that ceremony, I found a similar lesson as taught by the film "Departures."

First of all, the marines (honor guard and band) were courteous and respectful of the rites of the church.  We spoke before the service, and they agreed only to play Christian hymnody during the service.  Their instrumentation and arrangement was strictly traditional.  There were no guitars and drum kits.  They were not only deferential to the churchly rite, but cheerfully so.  There was no sense of pushiness or arrogance.  Of course, they were dressed not only in a ceremonially correct way, but in a formal way that looked sharp, precise, clean, and fitting for an important event.

Although the attendees of the funeral were largely unfamiliar with the rites and texts of the church, they were listening during the sermon and attentive during the readings.  It seems that they were used to ritual and its importance.  I did not see squirming and looking around, no arms folded, and no whipping out of smart phones.  There was propriety and polite attention.  Obviously, inside they may or may not have been paying attention, but the ceremony itself demanded attention, and precluded rude interruptions that have sadly become the norm in not only funerary rites, but in parish life as well.

Following the Lutheran funeral service, the marines conducted the ceremonies of taps, the firing of volleys (just outside the door of the chapel), and the folding of the flag and its presentation to the widow.  The ritualistic elements were carried out with precision, affection, and without hurrying.  The folding of the flag was a case in point.  This is a ritual that cannot be rushed.  Each step takes time and must be checked.  Even as the flag was being handed to the officer in charge, the marine folding the flag took a liberal amount of time to ensure the final folds and tucks were perfect.  The entire assembly - including the widow - waited patiently for this level of precision and propriety to be reached.

Of course, a military funeral is a special occasion.  Perhaps people were more patient because this was an unusual and profound event in their lives.  But think about what goes on every Sunday in the Divine Service, the Gottesdienst, of the parish.  The Mass is a funeral of sorts: a funeral of funerals, the death of death, in the presence of the Author of Life, who comes to us in the Church Militant.  It is the physical manifestation of our God and King.  It is of higher ritual importance than even the funerary rites of an honored member of the U.S. Marine Corps.  Why shouldn't our Divine Service be conducted with the same precision, affection, and unhurried way as military ceremony?  Why shouldn't our treatment of the body of Christ (both in the sacrament and in the assembled church) reflect the same loving dignity, adornment, modesty, reverence, and affection as Japanese morticians demonstrate in their treatment of the bodies under their care?

Why do we tolerate ritual hacks displaying slovenliness, casualness, or antiseptic indifference as they conduct our liturgies?  And why do some of our parishioners (and even some pastors) so often complain of all the "sit, stand, and kneel," looking at their watches to make it to the kickoff or to get a lunch table at the restaurant?  Why do some of our parishioners (and even some pastors) complain that we have too much ritual, that they prefer the "old timey" simple way without chanting, without the sign of the cross, without chasubles, and in some cases, without the Holy Sacrament itself, that is, without even the body present?

Why do some parishioners and pastors pine for rock and roll services, dancing girls, gimmicks, drama, cup-holders, casual attire, polka services, and other such things that would be shocking in the context of a Japanese ritual of the preparation of a corpse, and would certainly not be done at the funeral of a member of the U.S. Marine Corps?

I think the problem is faith.  

We know that the death of a war hero is something special, even dramatic, something that demands dignity and respect.  But what many of our fellow Lutherans do not seem to acknowledge is that the Divine Service is also something special, even dramatic, something that demands dignity and respect.  
And maybe it isn't only the unbelieving world that is in need of catechesis.  

The Augsburg Confession tells us that ceremonies are used in order to teach the faith (AC 24:3).  It seems that Christians are also in need of catechesis about just what is on their altars and on their lips, to confess and teach what Christianity is all about, to explain who Jesus is to a captive audience, who may listen reluctantly, but will listen nonetheless.  Such dignified celebrations of the liturgy are opportunities to plant seeds.

Although I never met Chief Cox in life, I am grateful that through him, the Lord provided me not only the opportunity to proclaim Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23) to a captive audience, I also rejoice that I was a captive audience, placed into this confluence of events by divine providence, so that I might reflect upon the blessings of the treasures of our traditional Divine Service and the reality that how we ritually conduct our services is also a rich confession of faith.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Out of the barn!


The Trinity issue of Gottesdienst is out of the barn! It may take a week or more to reach your mailbox, but that depends on how fast the pony runs. Our part is done, the printers are done, and the matter is in the mailman's hands. We know it's a little past Trinity, but, well, we've been busy, as you may know.
Yesterday we released our film, The Form of the Divine Service: an instructional video for pastors and seminarians 
(available for viewing online for free; just click here), and in just 24 hours we got over 5,000 hits. In LCMS terms, I'd say that's already close to going viral.

Anyhow, in the meantime we have now finished the Trinity issue, a little behind, but here you are.

Not a subscriber? Well, that's easy to fix. And why not get a bulk subscription: share wealth with your congregation. The contents of the current issue are listed here, to whet your appetite.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Video at Last! The Form of the Divine Service


The video is finally done! Over a year in the making, we have at last completed our work of preparing our instructional film, The Form of the Divine Service: an instructional video for pastors and seminarians. This is footage of an actual Divine Service with voice-over of how-to commentary. This service shows a full contingent of Celebrant, Deacon, Sub-deacon, and servers, with an acknowledgment that services having less than this full contingent may easily abridge these instructions accordingly. Better to show too much than too little, we thought.

To view the video online, right now, click here! We hope to have DVDs of this available soon as well.

As the opening words accompanying the video declare,

"The editors of Gottesdienst are pleased to present this video recording of a Divine Service, together with rubrical instructions to assist men who are preparing for the ministry and pastors who might desire further assistance in these matters. In 2014, the editors were collectively musing on how we might better serve the churches and pastors who wanted to know in some greater detail how to conduct a reverent observance of the ceremonies of the Divine Service, and this project was begun. We thank the people at Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Worship, at the Office of National Mission, who agreed that the project would prove a blessing to many pastors and seminarians. They have been generous and gracious in providing funding for this project. This is a video recording, with commentary, of a Divine Service held in May of 2016 at St. Paul’s in Hamel, Illinois, during a Gottesdienst conference."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sacramental Order


By Larry Beane

I recently drove a festive couple of Uber passengers who were trying to remember the mnemonic for Beverage Order: Was it "beer before liquor" or "liquor before beer"?  There are different opinions on this matter, but there is indeed an old adage concerning this order that has apparently been debunked as a myth.

Unless I'm quite mistaken, it's a universal practice in the Christian Church across denominational lines that Holy Baptism precedes the Holy Eucharist, that disciples are made by the former rather than by the latter, and that only the disciples are to participate in the Lord's Supper.  

Of course, admittance to the table is a thorny and contentious issue in our Synod, which has historically - with some limited pastoral exceptions - endorsed Eucharistic fellowship only with members of LCMS congregations and of those church bodies in altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS.  This practice is sometimes called "closed" or "close" or "close(d)" communion - although I find these distinctions hard to understand.  Actual admission practice varies widely, as any visitor to other LCMS parishes will conclude just by looking at various communion statements.

In the above Facebook post, a non-baptized visitor has taken part in the Eucharist on Good Friday at an LCMS congregation.  He is now ready to take the "next" step by being "signed up" for the next "baptism."

Of course, keeping track of communicant visitors from other LCMS congregations is difficult at times (and this is exacerbated during festival services), and certainly any pastor who has served for any amount of time in the parish has, no doubt, accidentally and inadvertently communed people whom he mistook for someone else, or mistakenly believed should have been communed.  The best construction is that this is the case here.

However, this post does raise an interesting question: are we bound by the traditional Sacramental Order: "Baptism before Supper is proper, Supper before Baptism is schism"?  Or is this just a New Wives' Tale that Snopes and Mythbusters will denounce as Fake Sacramentology?  Is there good reason to retain the traditional Sacramental Order?  What would the ramifications be of communing people prior to Holy Baptism?

By the way, the old saying goes:

Liquor before beer, you're in the clear.
Beer before liquor, never been sicker.

To my knowledge, Gottesdienst has never taken an official position on Beverage Order, nor have the Scriptures, the Confessions, the COP, the CTCR, nor the CCM... though it is quite possible, if not probable, that the issue has been taken up in conventions.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Out of the barn

Oh, and by the way, the Easter issue is out of the barn. Coming to a mailbox near you, hopefully just in time. Unless you're not a subscriber, which you can easily fix.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Calling all subscribers: APB

Dear subscribers and friends of Gottesdienst

This, as you may have heard, is our 25th anniversary year. Our Christmas issue will be our 100th.

In the course of looking the last 25 years over, we discovered that there is a missing issue. So, we're putting out a BOLO, an All Points Bulletin.

We need your help!

And here's an offer: the first person who can come up with this missing issue and provide us with the issue itself, or photocopies of its pages, or a pdf or Word or some other version of it receives a prize: 


we are prepared to offer a four year subscription, or addition to your subscription to this helpful Gottesdienster.

Here's the missing issue we need:

Advent - Epiphany 1994 - 1995 (Volume 3 Number 1)

Anyone finding this, please let us know!

Friday, February 24, 2017

A New Heart

a guest editorial by Pfarrer Dr Gottfried Martens
translated by Dr. John Stephenson

God says, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26 RSV): comments on the ecumenical text (Losung) chosen for the year 2017, which happens to be the Five Hundredth Jubilee of the Reformation.

When we engage in electronic communication with other people these days, we often employ so-called emojis, symbols that aim to give non-verbal form to feelings. By this point there are so many emojis that we can even find an Emojiwiki on the Internet where we can look up the meaning of all the many emojis. We there find explanations of what a yellow heart stands for in an electronic message; it stands for optimism, encouragement, and joy in life.

We see nearby a yellow heart on the image with which the artist Ulrike Wilke-Müller interprets the Text for the Year (Jahreslosung). And yet we would completely misunderstand this picture if we saw in it only an emoji offering a brief and instantly comprehensible message that could be put in words as “Hold your heads up high and think positively!” No, it would be worthwhile to subject this image to a much more precise inspection.

Whatever may be the case with emojis, a yellow heart is and remains unusual; we are much more familiar with a red heart as a sign of love. And yet Holy Scripture makes it abundantly plain that our human heart, that which stands for our inmost essence, that which pushes us on and defines us, has a radically different colour. From our first heartbeat on it is black, closed to God’s love, hard, and turned in on itself. And this black heart has no future, it cannot endure before the eyes of God when He examines and judges our hearts, our inmost essence, that which defines and stamps our lives.

And yet in the Losung for this New Year 2017 we hear a grandiose promise of God: He Himself removes this black heart and replaces it with a new heart; with us as the patients, He undertakes a lifesaving heart transplant. Let us pay close attention to what God promises here. He doesn’t say, “You must make an effort to purify your hearts”! He doesn’t say, “I’ll give you tips how to change your hearts”! He doesn’t say, “You have to take a decision for Me, and then I’ll give you a new heart”! On the contrary, God Himself sees quite clearly that we ourselves can do nothing to get a new heart and a new spirit; we can do zilch to cooperate in our own salvation.  He Himself really must do the whole thing for us, He must turn us into people who are open to Him and His Word, to Him and His love.

Yellow indeed, as a sign of God’s presence, as a sign of something completely new that God creates. A yellow new heart bestowed by God and suffused with His presence—what  a marvellous promise! And now it behoves us to look more closely at Frau Wilke-Müller’s artwork.

We see as it were rays that shine fom above into this heart and suffuse it: God places His new spirit in us and suffuses it with His own Spirit. Shades of blue surround the heart on the left side, a reminder of Holy Baptism in which God carried out this heart transplant upon us, in which God gave us a new heart and bestowed His Spirit upon us.

We see here how a Cross shines above the heart and reaches into it. The new heart is determined by the love that God Himself has proved to us by surrendering His own Son to the Cross.  Our heart only becomes luminously bright through the Cross, only through the forgiveness we receive by the Cross do our black guilt and failure retreat from the centre of our lives.

In the centre of the heart we see an opened door. The One who has bestowed the new heart does not remain outside, but lives within us and makes our hearts His dwelling. No, we must not “let God into our hearts”. God already invites Himself inside and comes in. Shades of red dominate the right side of the picture, a reminder of the blood of Christ that washes us clean from our sin, the blood that we receive in the holy sacrament of the altar, the blood in which Christ takes up residenc e in us and continually nurtures and strengthens our new heart.

If we look closely, we see that the heart is formed by the two Tables of the Law, by the Tables of the Ten Commandments. What a marvellous image—as Christians we don’t need to adhere to thousands of discrete legal prescriptions. On the contrary, God’s will itself is written in our heart, when we have received this new heart. The way we follow God’s will is for God’s Spirit to move us, the Spirit who makes us God’s children, people whose hearts cling wholly to their Father and His Word.

And when we take a final look at the image, in the very centre of the heart, where the two sides intersect, we notice a grain of wheat. Yes, we already have the new heart, we can already live as new people. And yet there is oftentimes so little outward evidence of this in our lives. The grain of wheat is already planted in us, but everything that is still to develop from this will only be fully perceived at the goal of our lives, in God’s new world. And that we arrive at that point, despite all our failure, this is something that God Himself takes care of, He who bestows the new heart upon us and places the new spirit within us. This is the whole point of the Lutheran Reformation past and present!

I wish you a blessed Reformation Jubilee Year 2017,

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Memento, homo...


... that you are dust, and you look fabulous!"

Here is a new rubric for Ash Wednesday.

It seems that they are missing the entire point of the ashes.  

Lex Pulchritudinis, Lex Credendi


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Restoring the Sacred


This is a remarkable true story of a church on the verge of ruin that managed to come back to life by restoring the focus of the church on the sacred, on the Mass, on the transcendent. We have much to learn by the experience of St. John Cantius,

Note: We are confessing Lutherans. We are well-aware of the theological differences between Rome and Augsburg. Snark and trolling comments will not be published.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review: My Little ABC Liturgy Book

By Larry Beane

The Rev. Gaven Mize, pastor of Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hickory, NC is the father of a newborn.

And he is already thinking about catechesis.

Father Mize and his wife Ashlee have actually been teaching their son Oliver already - as have parents of all the little ones in the parish - by means of the liturgy: the perfect vehicle to teach the very young. Especially for infants and children, learning is experiential and multi-sensory, embedding sights, sounds, and smells into the minds of the faithful from the start.  In the church, we have songs and gestures and brightly colored things to see.  Movement, music, and repetition grab and hold the attention of the little ones - even when we may not think they are really learning at all.  When they are brought to the communion rail, their eyes grow large as they see grownups kneel and reverently receive Jesus, and the pastor traces a cross upon their foreheads and blesses them as they look around and see majestic crosses and crucifixes and exotic Greek letters and captivating art depicting our Lord and flickering candles. They drink it all in, Sunday after Sunday, and grow into the liturgy as they hear the Scriptures and sermons and are taught to pray by their parents.  The church's liturgy is the children's teacher.

We confess that "ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ" (AC 24:3).

Along with illustrator Ryan Porter, Father Mize has authored an elegant and welcoming book for the littlest catechumens in our midst: My Little ABC Liturgy Book.

Using the alphabet as a foil (which itself reminds us that our Lord is the Word), Mize gives the children a tour of the Divine Service, beginning with "A is for Altar" - not only teaching liturgical vocabulary to the children, but showing them what these words mean in their context within the church's culture and worship.

The illustrations are bright and colorful without being garish or cartoonish.  Here we see vestments proclaiming Christ instead of veggies telling a tale.  The children are shown ecclesiastical architecture and furnishings, books and candles and fonts and censors and symbols of our Lord that their young eyes will be trained to joyfully recognize in person on Sunday morning.  The pages show a pastor and his assistants carrying out their work to bring Jesus to the people, as well as families reverently worshiping together in the pews.

There are a few explanatory notes for the parents who themselves may not know why chasubles are worn or what the significance of frankincense is.  There are also a few "Easter eggs" in the illustrations - such as the halo of Jesus that has the word "Logos" written in Greek.  The words chosen and depicted are from the very best of our liturgical tradition and the book makes no apologies for doing so.

Pastor Mize and Mr. Porter have given the Lord's dear children a gift - which is in turn a vehicle to the gift of the liturgy, in which we receive Word and Sacrament, communion with the Most Holy Trinity, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My Little ABC Liturgy Book is set to be released some time before Easter and is being published and sold by Grail Quest Books.  It will also be available on Amazon.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Catholics and/or Protestants



By Larry Beane

There is a discussion on a Lutheran Facebook group about whether we Lutherans are Protestant or Catholic.

Maybe we should let our confessions have the final say:

"This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known by its writers."

And,

"...our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons."

The Book of Concord is filled with this kind of language.

Not counting the creeds, the word "Catholic" occurs 13 times in our Book of Concord, including the description of our confession explicitly as "the belief of the true and genuine catholic Church."

The word "Protestant" is not found even once in our confessional writings, although it was in common usage for decades by the time the Smalcald Articles and the Formula of Concord were written.

To call ourselves "Protestant" lumps us in with the Reformed, the Anabaptists, and their heirs of today - which are all quite different from each other. When we confess as Protestant, we unite with those who ordain women, refuse to baptize babies, speak in "tongues," and deny the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This does not describe our confession.

The word Protestant is a useless catch-all word that cannot be defined positively for anyone.
However, when we confess as Catholic, we confess exactly as our confessional documents do, as orthodox Christians in continuity with Scripture, with the apostles, and with the fathers; not innovators, not heretics.

We should return to the font of our Book of Concord and not yield to others who wish to define us as something we aren't.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2017 Sabre Goes to Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens and Trinity Lutheran Church of Berlin

The Sabre of Boldness for 2017 went to the Reverend Dr. Gottfried Martens and his congregation Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin, Germany, for their steadfastness in the face of possible deportations, beatings, and threats of death for conversion to Christianity as over a thousand members of the congregation have come from Persia and other Muslim lands to the joy of knowing and being baptized into Christ.

Pastor Martens was a nominee for the second straight year. He had been pastor of St. Mary’s Lutheran Church in Berlin for many years, a church which has seen hundreds of refugees come in, Muslims seeking the truth and finding it under his preaching and catechesis, being baptized and brought into his congregation. His success among the immigrants has put his name in the German news, and so has put him personally at risk, due to the violence that so easily attaches itself to the Muslim extremists who do not take kindly to losing nearly a thousand converts to Christianity.

Dr. Martens has recently become pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz, which is almost entirely comprised of immigrants who have converted to the Lutheran faith. But the German governmenthas recently begun to deny en masse the refugee claims of many of these converts, following what Dr. Martens is calling deeply flawed refugee hearings. The problem, Dr. Martens says, is that “Many [of those hearing the cases] are manifestly clueless about the situation of Christians in Iran and Afghanistan, and worse yet they are utterly clueless concerning questions relating to the Christian faith. But all of this does not prevent them from assuming the role of self-appointed experts, whose questions ‘unmask’ the supposedly deceitful Iranian asylum applicants one after another, even when those hearing the cases don’t even know the difference between the [Apostle’s] Creed, and the Our Father [Lord’s Prayer].” The challenges come after a year of other difficulties, as converts to Christianity have faced increasing persecution from Muslim refugees angry at their conversions from Islam. Congregational members and candidates for baptism are being attacked, sometimes beaten and threatened them with death, both in Germany and from their homeland to which deportation is threatened The refugees are instructed in the Christian faith prior to baptism—or excluded, if a genuine conversion is not evident. Currently baptisms sit at between 30 and 40 a month.

What the editors have chosen decided for this year is to offer the Sabre of Boldness for 2017 to Rev. Dr. Martens and his congregation, Trinity in Berlin-Steglitz.

Rev. Wilhelm Torgeson, a close acquaintance of Dr. Martens and an adjunct professor at the Lutheran seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, was on hand to receive the award on their behalf.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sabre of Boldness Nominees Sought

The Sabre ceremony, with which regular Gottesdienst subscribers are familiar, is in its twenty-second year.  Nominations are hereby invited and encouraged THIS WEEK (ASAP) in anticipation of the Symposia in Fort Wayne January 16th-19th.  

Please submit your nominations via email: full name of nominee, reason for nomination, with as many details as you can, nominee's address, phone number if you have it, and your own name.

The award is given “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity on behalf of the Holy Church of Christ while engaged in the confession of His pure Gospel in the face of hostile forces and at the greatest personal risk.” The degree of the adversity, steadfast resistance to pressures to compromise, heedlessness of threats, and a clear confession of faith are considered.  The slate will close on Tuesday, January 17th

What is the Sabre of Boldness?  – an excerpt from Fr. Eckardt’s Sabre speech in 2003:

The Sabre of Boldness is a venture which has been undertaken annually since 1996 by the editors of Gottesdienst as a gesture, however inadequate, toward the acknowledgment of unsung heroism which sometimes defines the deeds springing from Christian faith.  Maybe you aren’t supposed to know this, but the original idea was not quite so earnest.  If you haven’t already guessed it, the Sabre of Boldness was conceived in a bit of jest.  There was a fully intended and not-too-subtle double-entendre in the awarding of the S. O. B.: the recipient was on the one hand bold in the faith indeed, so much so that for his boldness, on the other hand, he had certainly gained recognition, of the kind not generally sought after, a page in someone’s Who’s Who among the Infamous.  But the Geist of the award very quickly changed, when it became evident that there were not a few readers who had a genuine and very serious desire to stand in solidarity with unsung heroes of the faith; heroes such as we seek to note, ordinary people whose boldness of confession, we imagine, must be recognizable as extraordinary at least to the angels, however unnoticed or even disdained by the masses who prefer to recognize status or reputation in accord with the norms of the world.
Those norms, we hasten to add, are often and routinely used to judge honor not only in the world, but also by people who like to go to church, and even in the judging of churchly matters.  Wherever they see compromise, call it virtue; whenever they find people willing to back down a bit from their principles, they call them wise.  Conversely when they see fidelity and dedication to one’s ideals they call it stubbornness, and when they find someone delaying the whole train just for the sake of conscience they call him a fool.  And since their kind of wisdom resonates well with the wisdom of the world, they sometimes even get lucky enough to find themselves in the world’s craved limelight, where the world in turn calls them wise, honorable, and even holy men.




So it is really no wonder, in retrospect, that this award began to take on such an aura of dignity among our readers, who have always been hungry for things which resonate well with the mind of our holy Christ. After all, He certainly did not fare well according to the wisdom of this world. The world certainly did not account Him virtuous or wise, at least not until after it saw that it would be advantageous to do so. Before that they easily scoffed, and reckoned that His stubborn fidelity to His Father’s ideals brought Him nothing but grief, crucifixion and death. Whoever has the mind of Christ must also acknowledge that what is lovely to the world is an abomination to God, and the world’s rejection or acceptance ought never be the allowed to determine the difference between a fool and a hero of the faith. As it is written, He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.
Thus the Sabre of Boldness has become our own meager way of saluting not merely its bearer, but anyone who, in however otherwise unnoticed a way, did the very kind of bold deeds that we saw in other heroes of the faith: Moses before Pharaoh, Joshua against the kings of Canaan, or Jael in the tent against Sisera.  The Sabre is fittingly a sword, reminiscent of Gideon’s against the Midianites, Ehud’s against Eglon, or even Goliath’s, against himself in the hands of our David. It signifies most of all the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God against our greatest foe, running him through by the stubborn, unbending, and fierce resolve of our Lord Jesus Christ to endure crucifixion and so to redeem us all. That Sword, in the hands of the Christian warrior, is what produces the kind of spirit which the world and its minions find so annoying, since it is ever so intractable and unyielding. Therefore we salute herewith every Christian who has such a spirit: first of all, those saints in glory for whom martyrdom was preferable to compromise, and after them also any who gave up some claim for worldly adulation, because they deigned instead to do the right thing for conscience’ sake, and closed their ears to the clamor of the world’s folly.
The Sabre certainly does not get any legitimacy from us clumsy louts at Gottesdienst who now find ourselves annually in this awkward position of being a kind of judges’ panel for something which, though we don’t quite feel qualified to judge, we really do consider a very highly honorable and salutary thing to recognize. The highest honor is the honor of suffering for the name of Jesus. He who suffers for Christ is honored already. The Sabre only seeks to emphasize this truth.