Matthew 21:9; Psalm 118: 26
December 3, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we begin a new Church Year and ready ourselves to celebrate Christmas our minds turn to the purpose of the Lord’s coming. Once He came in meekness to redeem us. Now He comes in Word and Sacrament to win us. Soon He comes in glory to get us. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.
The Lord has taught us to continue to pray that His Kingdom come to us do even though it was fulfilled on Palm Sunday, we continue to sing Psalm 118’s praise in the Sanctus, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
The Sanctus is that part of the liturgy where we sing it. It comes immediately before the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution. The first part of it is the song of the angels from Isaiah’s vision: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” The rest is from Psalm 118: “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.”
The Sanctus does more than remind us what once happened. In both parts, that from the angels and that from the Psalm, it confesses that the Lord comes to us now in the Sacrament and there He joins heaven and earth. Even during Advent and at Christmas, when we are recounting and commemorating historic events, our minds turn to the future, to the purpose of Our Lord’s coming. But always we enjoy a foretaste now. Blessed is He who is coming in the Name of the Lord.
The Preface sets this all up. At that point in the liturgy we are about to hear the Words of the Lord which instituted the Holy Supper. Then we are to eat and drink His Body and Blood. The pastor who is going to serve as the Lord’s ambassador and speak these words needs a blessing and permission. He blesses the congregation and says to them: “The Lord be with you.” You respond in kind for He is about to do a holy thing on your behalf. So you bless him. You say “And with thy spirit.” With these words you are calling the Holy Spirit down upon the pastor. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Ministry. He is necessary if the words spoken are to be effectual and if they are to be received in faith.
Then the pastor says to you: “Lift up your hearts.” This means: “Pay attention. Listen up. Do not let your thoughts wander to sinful or vain things. Where your hearts are, there your treasure is. Christ is with us according to His promise. Do not blaspheme against Him, but heed His Word and His gifts.”
You respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” You are agreeing with the pastor. You are rededicating yourselves to holy things and tightening your concentration. The translation is a bit tricky because it is a perfect tense in Latin. Our inclination would be to translate this as “We have them with the Lord.” But that doesn’t really get the sense of it.
It is a bit like a man saying to his son-in-law: “Love my daughter.” The son-in-law might answer in the perfect and say “I have loved your daughter” but he means “I have and I am going to keep on loving her.” That is what the father wants to hear and that is what we mean in the liturgy when we say “We lift them to the Lord.” We mean that the Lord has made our hearts His by grace. He has bought them and He has them. They have been there with Him and they are with Him now and insofar as the Spirit is with us and gives us power we are going to keep them there. We are especially going to get there now as we do not want to ponder earthly things, the roast in the oven, the fight from the night before, or the inevitable return to work on Monday while the Body and Blood of Jesus are before us. We want to be where the Lord is and we want our hearts and minds firmly fixed on His promises.
Then pastor says: “Let us give thanks unto the Lord Our God” and we say “It is meet and right so to do.” The Proper Preface follows. It starts by confessing that it is truly meet, that is fitting and proper, right, and salutary, that is healthy, in all times and in all places to give thanks to God.
Then it goes on to bring out seasonal emphases that change throughout the year.
All of this has taken less than a minute or two, but at that point, we are almost ready to prayer the Lord’s Prayer and hear the Lord’s Word and eat the Lord’s Body. But just before we do that we sing the Sanctus. “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.”
This is the song of the Seraphim that Isaiah saw and heard in the Holy of Holies in heaven in the presence of the Holy Trinity. By singing these words, we are proclaiming not so much that we have entered into that sacred space, but rather that God has joined heaven and earth, the holy things and the holy beings have invaded us, they surround us, and He, Himself, the Lord, according to His glory, is with us. We can’t see what Isaiah saw. The veil is still in place for us. We are like Elisha’s servant mostly unaware. But by God’s grace we confess the reality in the Sanctus. God isn’t hiding in heaven, far away. He is here with us in Word and Sacrament, and so are the holy angels and the whole company of heaven. They’ve been at it longer than we have. We are joining a party already in progress. So we don’t get to rearrange the furniture or pick a new hymn. We simply join in with what they are already singing: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.”
The glory of the Lord was once tied to the tabernacle in the wilderness, to the pillar of clouds that led them, and to the Temple in Jerusalem, but it is no more. The coming of Our Lord in our flesh by means of the virgin is heralded by St. John the Evangelist as His pitching His tent, tabernacling, among us. That is why the angels announced the birth in Bethlehem to shepherds with the words: “Glory be to God on high.” The Lord’s glory is not confined to heaven as Isaiah saw it but is known in God becoming Man to become a Sacrifice and through the Sacrament of the Altar and His people, the Incarnate Lord fills the earth.
The next part of the Sanctus expands this idea. It understands the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem as still taking place. This doesn’t mean that He is still suffering, but simply that He still deigns to come to us in humble ways. Behold, Your King comes to you, humble and mounted on a Paten. The Palm Sunday cry of the children, “Hosanna” is a our cry. Lord, save us for we are your people.. The Lord answers this cry by coming to us in the Holy Communion. There He delivers what He won on the cross for us: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
When we say: “Blessed is who comes in the Name of the Lord” we are praising the One who came into Jerusalem and who comes to us now. To come in the Name of the Lord means not only to come with the Lord’s authority and at His command, but also to come with the Lord’s adoption. He brings the Lord’s Name to us in order to place it upon us, to make us one with Him. We rightly pray: “Lord save us for we are your people and if you decide to return before Christmas or even before the end of this sentence, that’d be quite fine with us.”
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
It might seem difficult to discern at first but the liturgy has a very deliberate structure and flow. It is not simply one thing after another. The first half, from the Invocation through the sermon, is called the Service of the Word. It focuses on Christ’s coming to us in His Word. It is where we are largely instructed. That isn’t all that is there. The Absolution is there. In it we receive forgiveness. There are also elements of praise and petition and confession throughout. When God speaks it is never merely instruction. It is also performative. Largely, however, the first half of the service is where God speaks and we listen, where we learn the doctrines of life and the Gospel. We get ethical instruction, including calls to repentance and insights into the Law. We also get history lessons and liturgical lessons and we learn to confess and sing together. Mainly we learn who God is for us in Christ, what He has done and is doing for us and how He comes to us. In receiving the forgiveness of sins, we learn that He loves us and that we belong to Him.
But none of that is meant to stand alone. It is meant to lead to the second half of the Service, that which is called the Service of the Sacrament. The Service of the Sacrament begins with the Preface and runs through the final blessing. It is focused mainly on the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. They we receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, our faith is strengthened and we are united no only to Christ but also to all the saints. Then we get a blessing and back out into the world we go.
The heart of that is the Words of Our Lord which instituted the Sacrament and our eating and drinking of what He gives: His risen Body and Blood. We hear in Our Lord’s words that on the same night in which He was betrayed that He took bread and wine and when He had given thanks, He gave it to His disciples with the promise that He was giving them His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of their sins. Every bit of that is essential. Nothing can be left off. We typically emphasize the promise that this is for the forg For we understand that the Lord was