I wrote a bit on the theology of the Cross last week, in light of Holy Cross Day (14 September), and I’ve been struck by how persistently the same theme has surfaced for me in the days since then. In particular, Pres. Harrison walked the Council of Presidents through a poignant chapter from Walther von Loewenich’s book, Luther’s Theology of the Cross, which was a powerful reminder of how profound Luther’s insights were. If you’ve not discovered that book previously, I do recommend it, and I’m likely to revisit it, myself, as it’s been many years since I last read it. Von Loewenich stresses the way Luther understood that God is with us and reveals Himself to us, not “in spite of” what we suffer, and not only “in the midst of” our suffering, but precisely in and with our suffering of the Cross, which He Himself has voluntarily borne and suffered for us. It is within that deep darkness, in which every work and wisdom of our own is put to death and buried, that faith finds Christ and lays hold of Him solely on the basis of His Word and promise. By the grace and Spirit of God, such faith perseveres in the face of every contradiction.
On Sunday I had the privilege of visiting Bethany Lutheran Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois, which uses the historic lectionary. Pr. Hemmer preached an eloquent and powerful sermon on the Holy Gospel, St. Matthew 6:24-34, calling us to repentance for our worry and anxiety, which are contrary to faith in Christ Jesus. In doing so, he identified some of the many reasons for which we are so prone to worry and fear for the future at every level of life in this world. This, too, belongs to the theology of the Cross, because, when we consider what we see and feel and experience in this fallen and perishing world, it certainly appears that the Lord has forgotten us, or worse, that He has forsaken us in our misery and sin. Yet, our Father in heaven does not grieve us children of men out of any malice or any ill will toward us; He rather disciplines His children in love, in order to provide for us in His mercy. Hence, to suffer hardship, heartache, and loss in this body and life, whether in our homes and families, in our congregations, or in our communities and nation, is a call to fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things.
Of course, our suffering is not meritorious, nor is it the source and surety of our forgiveness, life, and salvation. Neither is prosperity and success! Our faith rests in Christ Jesus and relies upon our Father in heaven on the basis of His Word to us, no matter what we may experience, be it good, bad, or otherwise. And such faith is worked in us and sustained in us, come hell or high water against us, by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. And for such gifts of grace, for ourselves and others, we surely ought to pray without ceasing; for whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved, and He will surely pour out the Spirit generously on those who ask Him.
In keeping with these considerations, it is especially appropriate that we are given to remember and give thanks for St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist, this week (21 September). As a former tax collector, called to take up the Cross and follow Jesus, and finally to lay down his life in martyrdom, the church has long considered that he gave up the wealth and riches of the world for the true and lasting treasures of the Kingdom of God. That is exactly right! Not that Matthew “purchased” the Kingdom by what he gave up, but that the Lord in His mercy called Matthew to Himself and bestowed upon him righteousness and life by grace alone. Being a tax collector was not so much the issue, no more so than being a fisherman was inherently problematic for many of the other Apostles; but for those men, as for each and all of us, it is a matter of finding our life, our future, and our hope, not where we think we can see it or feel it, but in the Word & Flesh of Christ Jesus, in His Cross, and in the sure and certain promise of His Resurrection.
“Why should cross and trial grieve me? Christ is near with His cheer; never will He leave me. Who can rob me of the heaven that God’s Son for me won when His life was given?
“God gives me my days of gladness, and I will trust Him still when He send me sadness. God is good; His love attends me day by day, come what may, guides me and defends me” (LSB 756, stzs. 1 & 3).