Reading Diognetus

Not long ago, I picked up the third edition of The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (ed. and trans. by Michael Holmes). What in the world are the Apostolic Fathers? As stated in the introduction:

The term “Apostolic Fathers” is traditionally used to designate the collection of the earliest extant Christian writings outside the New Testament. These documents are a primary resource for the study of early Christianity, especially the postapostolic period (ca. AD 70-150). They provide significant and often unparalleled glimpses of and insights into the life of Christians and Christian movement during a critical transitional stage in its history.

While, to some of you, this volume may sound like a surefire cure for insomnia, I have long since wanted an excuse to read some primary texts from early church history and expand my Greek beyond that of the New Testament. Not knowing what to expect, I opened my copy and began to read…within minutes I was hooked! I spent time flipping through Clement, the letters of Ignatius, the Didache, and others before finally settling on the one text I had never heard of or read about, The Epistle to Diognetus. Let me say, I was not disappointed by this wonderful and previously unheard of letter.

The Epistle to Diognetus is a marvelous example of early apologetic work, discussing the superiority of Christianity over paganism, but it is a bit of a mystery with respect to its author, recipient, and date. As Holmes points out in the letter’s introduction, “The author is anonymous, the identity of the recipient is uncertain, the date is unknown, the ending is missing, and, rather suprisingly, no ancient or medieval writer is known to have mentioned it.” That said, Holmes and most others would date the letter between 150 and 225 AD and agree that the Diognetus to whom the letter was written was a tutor to Marcus Aurelius. In addition to its apology against pagan idolatry and Jewish worship, Diognetus describes the distinctiveness of Christians in the world, the gracious revelation of Jesus as God’s son and Savior. He sounds a call to imitate Christ and ends with a short ‘homily’ on the Word of God. While I will hopefully write on several of these topics over the course of the next few days/weeks, in the midst of reading and mediating on the Easter Passion narratives, I have been especially fascinated by the letter’s explanation of the hidden God revealed in Christ.

As we take up Diognetus, we read of the gracious self-revelation of God to humanity (Note: while not formatted as poetry in this edition, I have taken some license to do so here as the language is so poetic I think it is warranted:

The omnipotent Creator of all, the invisible God himself, established among humans the truth and the holy, incomprehensible word from heaven and fixed it firmly in their hearts,
not as one might imagine,
by sending them subordinate,
or angel
or ruler
or one of those who manage earthly matters,
or one of those entrusted with the administration of things in heaven,

but the Designer and Creator of the universe himself,

by whom he created the heavens,
by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds,
by whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe,
from whom the sun has received the measure of the daily courses to keep,
whom the moon obeys as he commands it so shine by night,
whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon,
by whom all things have been ordered and determined and placed in subjection, including the heavens and the things in the heavens,
the earth and the things in the earth,
the sea and the things in the sea,
fire, air, abyss,
the things in the heights,
the things in the depths,
the things in between–

this one he sent to them!

Thoughts…God, in his mercy, sent his Son–the Designer, Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of all things–to reveal himself from the heavens to the depths of our hearts. This Sovereign King could have sent any emissary he chose, in fact we would expect a lower ranking emissary to be sent to such as us, but he sent his own Son, the very second person of the Trinity, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father” (as the Nicene Creed puts it). Continuing:

But perhaps he sent him, as one might suppose, to rule by tyranny, fear, and terror? Certainly not! On the contrary, he sent him in gentleness and meekness, as a king might send his son who is a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a human to humans. When he sent him, he did so as one who saves by persuasion, not compulsion, for compulsion is no attribute of God. When he sent him, he did so as one calling, not pursuing; when he sent him, he did so as one loving, not judging. For he will send him as a judge, and who will endure his coming?

More thoughts…unlike the gods of the pagan nations, Christ’s first coming was not as warrior-king or tyrant, but in meekness as an infant. He came to call the sick, the lame, and the sinful to true healing, wholeness, and cleansing–to redemption from sin and death! But for those who reject him, let them beware his second coming in judgment, for “who will endure his coming?”

There is a lot to love about this Epistle, but I am captivated by the poetic language here, by the wonder of the incarnation and the condescension of Christ, who took humanity upon his deity and dwelt among us, Immanuel (God with us).  Amen!

Endeavour Highlights (STS-123)

Toward the end of every mission, NASA’s multimedia folks put together a mission highlights clip that, for some odd reason, never seems to make it outside the confines of our hallowed institution. They do a great job of assembling the most exciting parts and combining it with some sort of funky disco-esque tunes as only NASA can do. So in honor of a great flight and safe landing last night, here are the mission highlights from STS-123:

An Easter Prayer

O almighty and eternal God, who through the death of Your Son has destroyed sin and death, and by His rising to life again restored innocence and everlasting life, that being delivered from the power of the devil, I might live under You in Your kingdom, grant that I may be forever comforted by true faith in the resurrection of Your dear Son. Do not let the thought of death fill my heart with terror, but give me the blessed assurance that, just as You raised Christ from the dead, I will not remain in the grave but will rise again at the end of days. And when, by Your grace, I have finished my course, let Christ’s resurrection be for me a sure pledge that an inheritance that does not fade is reserved for me in heaven. While I live, guide me with Your holy counsel, and when I die, give me the crown of life, that with all the holy angels and the elect I may praise and gloriy You, world without end. Amen.
(from Lutheran Book of Prayer, Concordia Publishing, 2005)

No Crucifix? Then Why a Manger?

Earlier this week, this post got me thinking about crosses and crucifixes…

As one recently come from mainstream Evangelicalism, one of stark contrasts of Lutheranism is the use of a crucifix (i.e. a cross with Jesus on it).  What is a bit of a paradox is that while Evangelicals of all flavors love to sing about the cross, they are amazingly quick to reject crucifixes outright.  What is more, some of the best hymns (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Isaac Watts) and worst hymns (“There is Power in the Blood,” Lewis Jones) sing of Jesus’ crucifixion…but in the same breath, Evangelicals can sing these words and then quip something along the lines of, “My Savior isn’t on the cross anymore!”

Call me crazy, but isn’t this just a bit inconsistent?  How is it perfectly suitable to sing of the cross again and again while so vehemently rejecting its depiction?

Some folks thoughtlessly reject the crucifix as being ‘too Catholic.’  Whatever.  Some argue that it violates God’s commandment against graven images.  Though this objection sounds plausible on the surface, I reject it too–another topic for another day.  What I think is at the root of our objection to crucifixes is the offense of crucifixion and the scandal of the cross itself.  No, we won’t admit to it, but deep down there is a part of us that recoils at the horror of crucifixion and wonders how and why a loving God could subject his own son to such a torturous death for crimes (sins) he did not commit.  The non-believing world rejects the Passion as folly or madness.  Unfortunately, many of us try not to think about it too deeply, lest we be taken aback as well.

The cross is not a thing of beauty, it is an item of torture and capital punishment.  What makes if ‘wonderful,’ to quote Watts, is that there is where Law and Gospel collided for all of time.  There is where the only sacrifice suitable for washing away the sins of the world was made, once for all.  It is scandalous…but it is also completely gracious.  The cross is our salvation.

Unfortunately, the folly of those who reject the use of crucifixes comes to the fore during the other major festival of the church, Christmas.  As pointed out here and here, why are those who reject Jesus’ depiction on a crucifix so quick to depict him in a nativity scene?  He is neither on the cross nor in a manger.  If we’re concerned about commandment breaking, both would equally violate God’s law.  I fall back on my position, stated above.  We reject crucifixes because we recoil from having that unimaginable pain and suffering displayed before our eyes–even that pain and suffering that wrought our very salvation.  A baby in a manger, on the other hand, is cute, sweet, and relatively tame.

May your Good Friday not be Christ-less but Christ-filled as we mediatate on the Passion of our Lord and our gracious salvation from sin and death!

A Good Friday Prayer

O Christ, Lamb of God, slain for the sin of the whole world, with penitent heart I come to Your cross, pleading for mercy and forgiveness.  My sins–and they are many–have added to the burden of Your suffering and have nailed You to the accursed tree.  For me You tasted the agony of the utter darkness that I might not perish, but have everlasting life.  Have mercy upon me.

O Christ, Lamb of God, embrace me with Your love, and forgive me all my sins.  Your death brings healing to my soul, peace to my mind, cleansing to my heart.  If You would mark iniquity, I could not come, for my hands are unclean, my lips are sullied, and my heart is blackened by sin.  But beholding You bleeding, despised, forsaken, dying, pierced, I come to be cleansed and forgiven.

O Christ, Lamb of God, grant that I may hate sin and wickedness more and more as I behold You in Your great agony.  My gateful heart today finds hope in Your words, comfort in Your promises, and salvation in Your finished work on the cross, by which You have overcome sin, Satan, and death.

O Lord, have mercy.  O Christ, have mercy.  O Lord, hear my prayer.  Amen.

(from Lutheran Book of Prayer, Concordia, 2005)

One of the Most Profound Things I Heard Today…Part 2

Referring to students of theology arriving at seminary:

“When they arrive at the university, they know everything. In their second year of study they become aware of some things that they do not know. At the close of their last year of study they are convinced that they know nothing at all.”  From C.F.W Walther, Law and Gospel

Alas, I confess I fit this paradigm quite well…unfortunately the first part too.

Go, Endeavour! Go!

At 1:28 am (EDT) today the shuttle Endeavour lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and made a safe, flawless, and beautiful ascent to space. Within the hour, the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, gave Endeavour a ‘Go for orbital ops,’ meaning that all essential tasks to turn the shuttle from a rocket ship to a space ship had been successfully completed!

Like the STS-120 flight in October, I am the Extravehicular Activity (i.e., spacewalk) Operations Safety lead for the flight and have had the great privilege of being involved in just about every facet of training and pre-launch activity…but it all comes to bear now as we actually get to go do the mission!STS-123 Liftoff

This flight will be the longest construction mission to the International Space Station ever and has five planned spacewalks to assemble a new extension to the station’s robotic arm as well as the first of several Japanese laboratory modules. Lots of action to keep us busy over the next two weeks.

As we continue to ask God’s blessing and care over our shuttle and station crews in the days ahead, let me keep with my custom here and take some space for this hymn from the Book of Worship for United States Forces (1974). (BTW, while the words are new to us, the tune for this hymn is familiar and is that for “The Navy Hymn” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” found here.)

Bless Thou the Astronauts Who Face

Bless Thou the astronauts who face
The vast immensities of space;
And may they know, in air, on land,
Thou holdest them within in thy hand.
O may the small step each doth take
Aid others giant leaps to make.

How excellent in all the earth
Thy name, O God, who gave it birth;
When first upon the moon man trod,
How excellent thy name, O God.
The heavens thy glory doth declare;
Where-e’re we are, Lo! thou are there.

We still upon thy laws depend
As our dominions thus extend,
While from the nations triumph rings
When we mount up with eagles’ wings.
Grant on each planet, far and near,
To all thy glory may appear.

Give all men, for all time to be,
The blessing of tranquility,
As galaxies and quasars share
The knowledge that our God is there!
May future aeons call to mind,
“We came in peace for all mankind.”