What is Trinity Sunday?
…but in a few minutes I’ll be sad. And then a few minutes later I’ll be scared. And then a few minutes after that I’ll be okay.
I was angry when I took that picture of the church. It was the day Governor Whitmer's executive order was signed that effectively closed our doors until at least April 13. I was angry that the virus and the response to it were attacking the holiest time of the Christian year. I was sad that, for the first time in this building's 21 years there would be no Good Friday proclamation of "It is finished" and the bright alleluias of Easter. That day, I felt so many things as I made preparations to move everything online for at least a few weeks. As I closed the building, I prayed for the people whose shelter this is from the earthly storms. I prayed this would end quickly. I prayed (as I still do every day) that God preserves our faith through this pandemic.
If anything, this is a time of wildly fluctuating emotions. We experience practically every emotion every day as this pandemic unfolds, as we wait for the curve to flatten (or to peak?), as we listen to yet another press conference or read another executive order. Life is incredibly unpredictable. Everything normal has been ripped away.
Kids have had the last third of their school year together taken away. Accomplishments will go unrecognized. Hard work put into music, theatre, and art will go unseen. Practices and strength training and the like will not get put on display on the field. Teachers’ well-made plans are being scrapped for all new plans that can be executed at home with some online interaction. It’s really awful. Nothing can make that pain go away with the snap of a finger,
What we’re really experiencing is grief. We are suffering a loss, not at all unlike a death. The situation in which we find ourselves is very much like a death. We aren’t able to see friends, coworkers, students, and others we were used to seeing every day. Anticipated events are being rescheduled, postponed, or cancelled. The overlap is noticeable. Just as death robs us of anticipated moments with a loved one, the coronavirus has robbed us of so many things. What we’re experiencing is a series of tragedies and losses.
So it’s only natural that there’s a healthy dose of anger in our lives and it finds expression in various ways. But, how do we, as Christians, approach this?
In Psalm 121 we are given this promise: “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (v. 4). This is reassuring to us as we experience hardship. Our God is not a God afar off, but a God near at hand (Jeremiah 23:23). Taking inspiration from passages such as this, the German Lutheran Pastor Paul Gerhardt wove together the hymn, “Evening and Morning” in 1666. Though he wrote it as a morning hymn, it is a perfect hymn for times of difficulty. In the third stanza we sing, “Ills that still grieve me soon are to leave me; though billows tower and winds gain power, after the storm the fair sun shows its face.” That is our confidence. The current storm will end, and we will again see the glorious sun. But that is more than an earthly promise; it is an eternal one as well. “When in His mansions God grants me a place,” all of this will be in the past, and I will understand perfectly how God cared for me in this life.
Before reading on, enjoy listening to an arrangement of this hymn:
Today I’d like to introduce you to one of the greatest theologians of the Lutheran Church, named Johann Gerhard (not to be confused with the hymnwriter by a similar name, Paul Gerhardt, although the two were contemporaries). Gerhard is often referred to “the third in that series of Lutheran theologians (Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, Johann Gerhard) in which there is no fourth.”
Before you start to read, take a minute and listen to Johann Sebastian Bach's beautiful harmonization of the Lenten hymn, "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth."
(A little plug before I continue. If you click on the picture of the man at the piano on the video above, it will take you to his YouTube channel. He has recorded all of The Lutheran Hymnal on piano. His playing is excellent, and is good for devotional use if you like to have something to sing with!)
The Fifth Sunday of Lent begins a new division of the season and is called Passiontide, because all of the Readings from this point forward move us ever closer to Our Lord’s Passion, the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Just like Lent is announced visibly by the appearance of violet on the Altar, Passiontide is visibly announced by the veiling of crucifixes and any statues the church may have.
The Fourth Sunday in Lent takes its name from the first word of the Introit in Latin, Laetare, which means “rejoice.” Laetare is much like Gaudete, the third Sunday of Advent. Rejoicing is a key theme of this day, as the Propers are a clear break from the somberness of the prior three weeks.
This is the question we all ask when we see something different, especially in church. Why are we using white instead of red? Why does this day have a name? Why did the Pastor do what he just did?