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March, 2018 Reflections from the Bishop

For You. For Me. For Us.

Avid students of the Small Catechism marvel at the simplicity of Luther’s answer to the potentially vexing question, “Who, then, is worthy to receive this sacrament?”

Luther’s answer: the person who has faith in the words, “for you.”

Faith is what lies behind the single word we say when receiving the sacrament. After hearing the words, “The body of Christ given for you,” and “The blood of Christ shed for you,” our “Amen” spoken in response is not primarily an affirmation of the claim that this is Christ’s body and blood, but that Christ’s body and blood are “for me!”

“Amen!” we say. “As surely as I am in need of forgiveness, life and salvation, so surely has Christ given me and all sinners this wondrous gift! Amen!”

Luther’s answer is no innovation, but a perfectly simple application of the apostolic faith to a person of faith. In the creed, we find the same joyful confession: “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” Understood in light of the communicant’s single-word response, “Amen,” our use of the creed is not primarily to identify a list of divine attributes and actions we hold to be true, but to embrace the whole business as having been done “for us!”

In the spirit of this joyful, simple faith, let me draw your attention to a Lenten hymn written about 100 years before Luther, Oh Love, How Deep. (LBW #88; ELW #322) Its medieval English tune can be a little stark for some, but as a treasure of “for us” faith, this hymn has no rival.

No less than thirteen times, the hymn sounds forth with one or another example of how Christ’s life was lived, given, endured, shared, “for us.”

The first “for us” is Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River. The last is his sending of the holy and life-giving Spirit at Pentecost. And as a frame around all thirteen examples of Jesus’ self-giving for us, the hymn’s author names the incarnation and our hope of eternal life.

At every turn, the pious 15th century monastic author of this hymn, Thomas à Kempis, sees Christ giving himself again for us and for our salvation. His hymn has remained in use for 600 years, if you can imagine that! I wonder if its lasting quality is its unabashed awe at the gift of Christ.

And I wonder if the Church might not also think of its life in such a way. Perhaps your congregation could think about this in practical ways this Lent.

  • Might your congregation study, picture and display the thirteen “for us” phrases in this astounding hymn like a kind of Stations of the Cross in your nave?
  • Do you think you could search your memory of the scriptural witness to the life of Christ and identify another two, or six, or dozen ways in which Christ has given himself for us?
  • Could you identify thirteen ways in which your congregation lives, gives, and shares itself for the neighbors you live among?
  • What might it communicate to your neighbors if you would add the phrase, “A congregation for you” at the end of your church name, and write it on your sign, and put it on your letterhead?

The narrative of Christ that we ponder and celebrate during Lent is the incarnate God who lives, dies, and rises “for us.” In a glorious exchange, God takes our sinfulness and gives us life and salvation in return. If this is the central story of our faith, our simple joy, how can our life together be anything different? Is not the Church, at its best, a community of faith lived for its neighbors?

With you in Christ,

+Kurt F. Kusserow, Bishop

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