17 April 2009

Christmas and Easter Christians

I don't offer this as any kind of criticism, but simply as an observation of something that has struck me this week, and which I find interesting. To make things clear up front, as Christ was crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Anyway, it is interesting to me that Lutherans seem to have a more Advent and Lenten piety than they do a Christmas and Easter piety. Clichés concerning "Christmas and Easter Christians" notwithstanding. Many Lutherans who normally do not attend services during the week make a point of doing so during Advent and Lent. Holy Week, too, so far as I can tell, is generally well attended, even if only on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Lutherans appear to have endless supplies of penitential piety, even if their penitence may vary rather a lot in its manner and intensity; and even if Advent typically becomes a proleptic celebration of Christmas (as I often gripe during the dark days of December).

By contrast, most Lutherans (and maybe this is true of others, too) evidently expend and exhaust their share of Christmas and Easter piety in short bursts of single twenty-four-hour days. "Christmas" and "Easter," in other words, for most or many Lutherans, are a day here and a day there, the 25th of December and some particular Sunday between the 22nd of March and the 22nd of April. To speak of the "Twelve Days of Christmas" (as there simply are) causes people to think of a song they heard throughout most of Advent, and not so much of the Church Year from the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord until the Feast of His Epiphany. "Pentecost" is not much understood as the great Fifty Days of Easter, but as yet another one particular Sunday in the roundabouts of Memorial Day and close to the end of the school year.

Yes, I understand that people have vocations in the world that require them to be at work or in school, and, no, I'm laying no indictment on those who do not observe the ongoing days of the Christmas and Easter Tides. All things are free, and, not only that, but the pious faithful engage their vocations and stations in life as their daily prayer and their sacrifice of thanksgiving. But all those things are true, as well, during Advent and Lent; yet, provisions are then made for an intensification of piety and prayer, for devotion to Christ and meditation on His Word. That's all good. So how or why is it that Lutherans, by and large, and perhaps many other Christians, too, fall off the ledge once the feasts have begun for which their fasts have prepared them?

The theology of the cross is meet, right and salutary, and a theology of glory is to be marked and avoided. So perhaps this is what lends a special gravitas to the piety of Advent and Lent, and a certain shyness to Lutheran celebrations of the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Our Lord. But there is also that false theology of glory which makes more of our penitence than of the Lord's gracious free gift of salvation; whereas the genuine theology of the cross rejoices in the Incarnation of God and the Resurrection of His Body, even while these are yet hidden in the Mystery of the Means of Grace. Besides, the Resurrection is the Lord's own proclamation of the victory of His Cross, and not the denial or undoing of His Cross. Thus, I would suggest, celebrating Christmas and reveling in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ are better antidotes to the theology of glory than slinking back too quickly and quietly to our work-a-day routines, as though we were afraid to make too much of it all. Let us rather work in the joyful confidence that the Incarnation of the Word has sanctified our life in the flesh, and that His Resurrection from the dead has set us free to go about our duties in faith and love, with glad hearts and peaceful consciences.

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