There are holy days in the Church that we always make sure to celebrate on the day itself. Who among us would go to an Ash Wednesday service on a Tuesday morning, or a Maundy Thursday service on Good Friday? There are other feasts that are easy enough to observe precisely because they always fall on a Sunday: Easter and Christ the King spring to mind. And there’s one feast that we mark the night before: in most Protestant congregations in the US, Christmas Eve has become the principle service of Christmas, and few parishes assemble on December 25th.
There exist, though, some feasts that are important to the life of the Church but which are rarely observed on their proper day. Epiphany (the Sixth of January) rarely falls on a Sunday; Reformation Day (the Thirty-first of October) and All Saints’ (the First of November) face a similar problem.* When these feasts fall on a weekday, they are most often observed the following Sunday.
Then there’s the Ascension. Following Saint Luke’s dating in the Acts of the Apostles, it falls forty days after Easter Sunday. Like the observances in Holy Week, the Ascension is pegged to a specific day of the week: it always falls on a Thursday. As with Epiphany, the Reformation, and All Saints’, and unlike the observances of Holy Week, the Ascension is almost always celebrated the following Sunday. In his brief commentary on Acts 1:1-11, New Testament scholar Brian Peterson writes:
As you might imagine, a lot of that has changed during the ongoing pandemic. Sure, there are still sermons to write and pastoral care to be done. At its most basic level, ministry goes on.
But the daily work of ministry? It’s different. In the ELCA, we call pastors “Ministers of Word and Sacrament” — but right now, the Word is proclaimed through a camera lens, and we’ve had difficult (at times, contentious) discussions about what Sacramental ministry looks like when the Church is meeting in cyberspace.
So what is it I’m doing now that I’m not behind the Altar and can’t climb into the pulpit?
A Pastoral Letter Regarding the Churchwide Assembly Vote to Become a Sanctuary Churchbody
Dear friends in Christ,
In the middle of last week, the Churchwide Assembly voted to designate the ELCA a “sanctuary churchbody.” Over the next several days, news organizations picked up the story; the coverage was mostly vague.
When I returned home from worship this afternoon, I learned that Fox News aired a short panel discussion on the Churchwide Assembly’s decision. I assume that this piece will make the usual social media rounds over the coming days, and I write to you today in hopes of addressing any concerns that might be raised by the segment.
Question: What is the Athanasian Creed, and why does it matter?
Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Across the western branch of Christ’s Church, preachers went through the annual tradition of scratching their heads and trying to figure out what to say about that most sacred mystery of God’s existence. Every analogy falls into heresy, and even the our best words fall short. It’s a daunting Sunday to climb into the pulpit. (And I should apologize to my supply preacher for putting him in that position.)
Scripture itself provides relatively little information on the nature of the Trinity. We are sent to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see all three persons at work in the cosmos from Creation and through to the consummation of all things. And Saint John tells us that the Logos is God and with God from the beginning. But how does that whole three-in-one one-in-three thing work?
Blessedly, the Spirit has led the Church to craft statements of faith we now call the ecumenical creeds. Among them is the oft-neglected Athanasian Creed, a lengthy discourse on the nature of the Trinity and Christ’s ministry.
So what does this creed say, why does it matter, and why do we so often ignore it?
Short Answer: The Athanasian Creed is a bit like the Holy Roman Empire: neither Athanasian nor a creed. Discuss.
Infuriating but not surprising. That’s my response to the latest news in the unfolding scandal in the #ChurchToo era.
The Houston Chronicle has broken the story that everyone knew was coming. At first, I felt numb, as though there was nothing else could shock me following the waves of accused clergy in the Roman Catholic Church — but then I read about just how close the abuse was to the top. Baptists may not have Bishops, but their conventions come damn close. And, just as on the other side of the Tiber, these false prophets have sacrificed children to demons, covering up criminal acts and sins.
Women impregnated by their abusers, forced to “confess” their trauma in a perverse display of church “discipline,” urged to get an abortion by leaders in a denomination that exiled moderates through a thin veneer of pro-life language.
For the past few days, my Facebook feed has been lighting up with shared posts cheering on the idea of biblical literacy laws. My Twitter feed, by comparison, has filled with posts amounting to “be careful what you wish for.” Several armchair pundits have pointed out that the same Christians who have been fighting against sex education, modern scientific cosmology, and evolutionary biology should be equally as suspicious of a government-sanctioned biblical studies curriculum.
I myself have weighed in on Twitter, but it’s difficult to mount a full review in only 280 characters — thus, this longer piece.
Rabbi Jeffery Salkin offers a nuanced take, writing about the importance of biblical literacy but the immense practical challenges that make such a curriculum impossible to introduce. Providing more nuance than the 280-character crowd, noting that “because of the atmosphere in America today, such classes would undoubtedly become part of the culture wars.”
In each of these claims, Childers cherry-picks her evidence, bases her position on one narrow understanding of Calvinism, and ignores the wider Christian tradition. But her arguments are flawed at a deeper level. In each of her three theses, Childers hedges her language to paint all progressives with a broad brush and to find them guilty by association.