Advent 1 Midweek
Ad Te levavi
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It violates modern sensibilities to talk about personal enemies. Everyone is supposed to be friends. After all, we are civilized. But the truth is we do have enemies. There are ongoing spats at work and on the playground that go far deeper than a single disagreement or a grudge from the past. There are people, co-workers, supervisors, and neighbors that we fear, and whom we avoid. Praying about these people is the right course of action. We learn from Our Lord that we are to pray for their well-being, for their success, and for their happiness. We are to turn the other cheek and suffer their abuse and their insults.
But that is not the end of the story. Enemies are dangerous. We have real weaknesses. David teaches us to also pray for ourselves. If our secret sins, the evil thoughts that occupy our minds, the acts we do in darkness, were known, our enemies could heap great shame upon us, even destroy us. Thus, we pray, as we did in the Introit from Psalm 25: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.”
God is fully aware of the lust and greed in our hearts, of the shame that we deserve. According to our fallen nature we are his sworn enemies. But He loves us anyway. He doesn’t want us to be exposed to the world. He wants to guard and protect us. He intervenes for us. He forgives us and removes sin from us. Though our fair sentence is shame before God and men, God is merciful. He shields us from all enemies, both of this world and of Hell. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has removed our shame and sanctifies us.
This is who God wants to be for us. It is the way his Word has revealed him to us. Like the Psalmist, by Grace, we hold God to his Word and pray: “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.”
The modern nuance of the word “remember” is to silently think about something. The teacher puts a question on the test about the year of Columbus’ voyage, and we silently think to ourselves “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Thus, we think we have remembered. But in an oral culture remembering was vocal. It was repeated out loud. And we still hold some things this way. For instance, when you want your children to remember your grandmother you work toward that by telling them stories about her, not by thinking silently about her. There is something in you that recognize that her stories need to be told and heard lest they be forgotten. In the telling and in the hearing, she is rightly remembered and honored.
Especially in Hebrew “remember” carries this telling and hearing connotation. Remembering is always proclaiming. When we ask God to remember his great mercy and love we are asking him to speak it to, and for, us. And God’s speaking is never simply a reminder, as innocuous as a ribbon tied around our finger. God’s speaking actually does what it says. He doesn’t say in the absolution, “One time long ago I did something for you.” He says: “Right here and now, in this very room, in your heart and soul, I forgive you. I give you now what I did then. Remember that!” God speaks His love for us, His mercy for us, and it is so. We are forgiven, blessed, and pure. In the same way we ask that He not speak of our past sins and rebellion. They are forgotten in His mercy, as though they never happened, as though we have always been as perfect as His Son.
This is also the connotation of our Lord’s last testament. There He says “Do this in remembrance of me.” He is not expecting us to sit in the pew and think about Him to ourselves, silently. Rather, it is His dying that in eating His Body and drinking His Blood we would proclaim His death until He comes again. We do not, never ever ever, proclaim that He is dead. He is not dead. He lives. We proclaim that He died, specifically, we proclaim that He died for us, that He is our innocent substitute. And therein lies all our hope. Our shame is gone. Our glory, His glory, lies before us.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana