The Sign of the Cross

Question: Why do we make the sign of the cross?

Christ the King Cathedral, Reykjavik, Iceland

The sign of the cross serves as something of a liturgical barometer. Want to know where a parish falls on the scale between “low” and “high” liturgy? Look for how many people make the sign of the cross and how often. On the one side, there are congregations that shy away from the sign of the cross for fear that it’s “too Catholic.” On the other side, there are parishes in which people seem to cross themselves at every turn.

In either case, though, one has to wonder: do the people actually know what it means? If Baptists understood the full implication of the sign of the cross, would they adopt the practice? Have liturgical Christians let the sign of the cross become a mere reflex?

What is this weird hand gesture? How old is this tradition? And what does it all mean?

Short Answer: Tracing the sign of the cross is an ancient physical reminder of our connection to Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Holy Trinity, and God’s blessing.

Continue reading “The Sign of the Cross”

One Baptism: Re-Baptism, the Christian Faith

Question: Ok, so the pastor is throwing water at us. Does that mean we are being re-baptized?

An ordained pastor says a prayer over the water at the Font and then sprinkles people with water? To an outside observer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism might look a lot like the asperges. So is the pastor re-baptizing the congregation?

Short Answer: By no means! Baptism follows a very particular formula (“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”). The grace poured out in that Sacrament is sufficient for a lifetime, and the Church has long held that Baptism is not something that need be repeated — nor can it be repeated. Continue reading “One Baptism: Re-Baptism, the Christian Faith”

Faithful and Fruitful

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts: 1 John 4:7-21; St. John 15:1-8

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, the True Vine. Amen.

The college students were getting ready to deploy to, as their trip leader called it, “the devil’s home turf,” a place of “24/7 spiritual warfare” – that’s right: Daytona Beach. Their mission, should they choose to accept it: to evangelize the heathens of Bike Week and Spring Break, bringing them to a point of decision and “accepting into their heart” Jesus Christ as their “personal savior.” The instructions were clear: start with innocuous questions like, “Who’s the greatest person you know?” or “What’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to you?” If the answer is anything other than “Jesus Christ” or “Getting saved,” it’s time to kick the conversation into high evangelistic gear and lead that person down the so-called Romans Road. Continue reading “Faithful and Fruitful”

Remember Your Baptism: Why We’re Getting Splashed

Question: Why is the Pastor throwing water at us at the beginning of the service?

Starting at the Easter Vigil, we have taken up a rite called asperges, in which the pastor and other ministers fling water from the Font into the Assembly. What’s going on here?

The Short Answer: As a way to tangibly remember our Baptism during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Continue reading “Remember Your Baptism: Why We’re Getting Splashed”

Paschal Triduum: The Great Three Days

Lent is nearly over; Holy Week, having just started, will soon be wrapping up. We are approaching the holiest days of the Christian year: the Paschal Triduum, the Great Three Days. After forty days wandering through the wilderness, and a week in Jerusalem, we have reached the most sacred time: the three-day long period leading up to the Great Vigil of Easter. During this time, we hit our spiritual low point followed almost immediately by our highest; we mark our most solemn fast followed by our most joyous feast.

Over these three days, we gather to worship through prayer, singing, the reading of Scripture, and the celebration of the Sacraments. We gather, depart, and gather again. The three primary services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil just after sundown on Holy Saturday form one complete liturgy.  Continue reading “Paschal Triduum: The Great Three Days”

Born Again: Belief and Incarnation

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Ephesians 2:1-10; St. John 3:14-21

Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who has called us to be born again. Amen.

John 3:16 — this is sort of THE Bible passage for our culture, isn’t it?

How many of you were expected to memorize this at some point growing up? I know I was — it was almost a rite of passage in youth group. And how many of you still have it memorized? In that way, it’s sort of up there with the Ten Commandments.

How many of you have received a tract or a pamphlet with this verse in it? Or seen it on a bumper sticker? On a billboard? A t-shirt? On a sign at a sporting event?

It’s everywhere, isn’t it?  Continue reading “Born Again: Belief and Incarnation”

Jesus Came to…Confront the Powers and Principalities

A Homily for the Third Wednesday in Lent

Text: St. Mark 6:13-29

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to confront the powers and principalities of this world. Amen.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Christ engaged in a struggle with spiritual forces: driving out demons and forgiving sins. Even at the start of tonight’s reading, Jesus and the disciples are performing exorcisms and miraculously healing physical ailments. But then it takes a turn into the political realm.

The political climate in ancient Judea was complicated to say the least. Governed by King Herod the Great and ruled, ultimately, by Rome, the Jewish people had seen their century of relative freedom under the Maccabees fall away. The palace intrigues of the Roman world are famous, retold in Shakespearean tragedies and modern television dramas, but the political scandals of Jerusalem are just as captivating. Herod was nothing short of a monster: he murdered rivals, priests, and even his own wife and children. He utilized a secret police force to suppress opposition. He curried favor with the Roman oppressors to secure his own authority. Continue reading “Jesus Came to…Confront the Powers and Principalities”

Law and the Gracious Covenant

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: Exodus 20:1-17

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who graciously fulfills the Law. Amen.

We call them the Ten Commandments – the ten rules God gave Moses on Mount Sinai after the Exodus. In so many ways, they are close to the heart of the Christian faith. While Jesus gave us the two greatest commandments – love God, love your neighbor – and a new commandment – love one another – it is the Ten Commandments, also called the Decalogue, that became part of the Church’s Catechism.

Show of hands: who memorized the Ten Commandments at some point as a child? And those of you who grew up in the Lutheran faith: how many of you had to memorize Luther’s explanations for each commandment in the Small Catechism as part of confirmation? Continue reading “Law and the Gracious Covenant”

Salvation Through the Waters

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, St. Mark 1:9-15

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who saves us in the waters of the deep. Amen.

Who has been to the Grand Canyon?

Grand Canyon, 2005

How about Niagara Falls?

Or maybe closer to home, who’s visited Tallullah Gorge?

What do these places have in common? They are geological wonders that show the awesome power of water. The Grand Canyon is, at its max, 18 miles wide, up to a mile deep, and over 200 miles long, all carved out by the Colorado River over the course millions of years – and still growing wider and deeper to this very day as the Colorado continues to eat away at solid rock.

Water is such a common thing we don’t think much about it. Continue reading “Salvation Through the Waters”

You Are Dust

A Homily for Ash Wednesday

Texts: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, Psalm 51, St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to repentance. Amen.

Rarely is the tension of our faith on such stark display as it is today. We sit here, brows smeared with ash, and ponder the words of Christ:

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them….whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others….

On the face of it, there’s a sharp contrast between our Lord’s teaching and our actions. Continue reading “You Are Dust”