Monday, June 17, 2013

All Those Ceremonies!

All those ceremonies!

All those extravagant, impractical, and unnecessary ceremonies.

All the bending and kneeling and adoring of Jesus.

All the weeping at His beautiful feet.
All the wetting and the washing of His feet.
All the drying of His feet with her hair.
All the kissing of His feet.

And, then, all that perfume, poured out upon His feet.

Pretentious?  Presumptuous?  Hypocritical?  Legalistic?

No, but for this reason I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; for she loves much, and her love testifies to her faith in the Lord's forgiveness of her sins.  She knows where to find and worship the Lord her God, because this Man, Christ Jesus, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The Kingdom of God is at hand in Him.  There is forgiveness and salvation found in no one else.  Therefore, both faith and love lay hold of the one true God in the Body of the incarnate Son.

The Pharisee says, "How dare she!?"  But Jesus says, "She loves Me!."

The crowd complains, "Who is this guy!?"  But the woman says, "He is my Savior!"  Except, she says it, she confesses her faith in Christ and expresses her love for Him, not with words in this case, but with her lavish actions of adoration and grateful devotion.  With her ceremonies.

Our Confessions rightly point to this woman as an example of the true worship of God by faith: For it is in this way that God wants to be worshiped, that is, not by attempts to give Him anything, but by the faith that seeks forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus.  Amen.  But the Confessions also note, as the Lord Jesus expressly reveals, that the woman's faith and true worship are demonstrated and manifest in her love for Him.  She is not saved by her ceremonies, but her ceremonies belong to her salvation by faith in Christ Jesus.

What she did was not practical, pragmatic, or productive.  It wasn't necessary.  She did not "have" to do it.  But it did profess Christ Jesus, and, in professing Him, it was pedagogical in catechizing us.  The Lord Himself receives her ceremonies of love, and commends them as evidence of her faith and life and salvation in Him; for they are but the overflowing of His great love for her, and the evidence of His faithfulness toward her.

Another woman, Mary of Bethany, closely follows the example of this woman and her ceremonies.  If it had been somewhat spontaneous the first time, had it actually become some kind of ritual thereafter?  There is no need or point to conjecture.  We are not bound to do any of these things, nor could we do them, exactly, in the way those faithful women were able to do then.  We may, and should, wash our Lord's feet in the feet of His disciples, that is, by works of love and gifts of charity for our neighbors.  The same Lord is also present for us, to love us and serve us, to forgive us and save us, in His means of grace, in His Word and Sacrament, in His Body and His Blood.  We love Him, because He first loves us.  And so we worship and adore Him in the House and at the Table where His Body is found and given for us.

When that second woman had the audacity to anoint the beautiful feet of Jesus with costly perfume, and she was accused of extravagance and waste, the Lord praised her worship as befitting His Cross and Passion, and, He said, wherever in the world His Gospel is preached, what she did for Him would be remembered.

All those ceremonies.


  1. Next someone is going to tell me that tears, in general, are a useless ceremony; that the mighty waters which rushed from the side of our Savior are pointless ... despite the fact that Scripture declares that Jesus' miracles were signs with an importance transcending the immediate appearance.

    Ceremony is parabolic; it communicates powerfully. It is dismissed by the dullards with the ears plugged, and the eyes blind to God's love of majesty, wonder, movement, and beauty in the context of worship. But the God who personally lowered Himself to be cradled in a manger, also designed the priestly turban and a breastplate of gems.

    It may be an "unnecessary ceremony" on the part of God ... who repeatedly made leprous skin whole ... but He carries the marks of our means of redemption with Him. The Lord makes and carries the sign of the cross with Him ... morning, evening, yes, always! There are certain collections of Mid-West "Lutheran" sectarians, who go so far as to ban mention of such ceremonies from their (certainly, not really Luther's) little catechism ... but dear people of Augustana! Are we not given the delightful task of following our dear Lord's example?

    Uncontestably, He's into ceremonies!

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

    1. Well said, good doctor. An aversion to ceremonies, and especially an outright denial or rejection of ceremonies, suggests a serious flaw (at best) in one's view of Creation, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Sacraments. The iconoclasm of the modern age is reminiscent of Marcion, Arius, and Nestorious, in its antagonism to the divine life that is lived by faith in the Body of Christ.

      Of course there are errors and abuses on the other side; though the misuse of ceremony does not appear to be danger that confronts the Lutheran Church in the present day. In any case, the correction of such errors and abuse is not to be found in the denial and rejection of that which is free and good, but in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the name and stead of Christ Jesus.

      Where the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen in His Body, is faithfully preached to the joy and edification of His people, there faith will arise and emerge and manifest itself in love for His Body: at His Altar and in His members. For He is not ashamed to call us His brethren, but partakes also of blood and flesh with us.

  2. Amen!

    We worship, basically, how Jesus worshipped.

    If it was good enough for him, it is good enough for us.

    But sadly, for many, it just doesn't have enough to offer (to ourselves). We want what we want. Ceremony be damned.

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  4. The purpose of "all those ceremonies" is rousingly stated in the August Confession Art XXIV, Section 3ff: "For ceremonies are especially needed in order to teach those who are ignorant" (Kolb/Wengert, 2000). There is an educational or training or disciplining component to ceremonies. They are not dismissed, in the Symbols, as being mere spectacles which pleasure the eyes of the aesthete, or excite the heart-beat of the manic. A bit further along in the Article, the Lutheran fathers contend that, through ceremonies, the people "are reminded about the dignity and use of the sacrament."(emphasis mine) Such ceremonial reminding, it is said, promotes and encourages the belief that the sacrament "offers great consolation to anxious consciences," which benefit in turn assists one to "believe in God and to expect and ask for all that is good from God."

    The Lutheran fathers then assure us: "Such (ceremonial) worship pleases God, and such use of the sacrament cultivates piety toward God." The remarkable emphasis on the instructional role of ceremony, by our fathers, hearkens to an engineering feed-forward principle, one in which ceremony facilitates piety toward God, and piety engenders more ceremony. One cannot help it. For if God is present among us (as He promises, and as Lutherans understand the reality of this promise), we will worship as the archangels and all the hosts of heaven do in the Presence of the Living Lamb who was slain (Rev. 4,5). Yes, there are lamps, and incense; precious gems and (gasp) prostrations.

    What the Lutherans of the 16th century say is that the people will learn the dignity of that which our lips say has significance for us, if we behave with dignity and reverence. If our bodies say no more than what those of the priests of Ba'al did, to catch the attention of their distancing, sleeping or vacationing deity ... pounding the garish drums, rising up to play by means of the sensual sonnets or sways, screaming ever louder or maybe cutting the jugulars, etc. ... then we've lost the dignity and beauty of the alabaster box, a bit of high ceremony coming from one who knew she was a sinner, forgiven, and loved much. Admonished by the Word, she had come to "experience faith and fear and even pray." (see Ap AC XXIV.3). The resulting prayer in action was beautiful, dignified, ordered, reverent, and positioned at her Lord's feet. The angels in heaven, as we know from God Himself, exulted.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

    1. Well said, again, good doctor. Thank you for your comments.


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