(excerpted from Reading the Psalms with Luther)
1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. 4 The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at your right hand; He will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.
The 110th psalm is a prophecy of Christ, that He shall be an eternal king and priest, indeed true God, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and that He would be glorified and recognized. In the entire Scripture there is nothing like this psalm. It would be right to acknowledge it as the chief confirmation of the Christian faith. For nowhere else is Christ prophesied with such clear, plain words as a priest and an eternal priest. It is prophesied as well that the priesthood of Aaron would be abolished. This psalm is yet again and more splendidly extolled in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is indeed a shame that such a psalm is not more richly extolled by Christians.
Praise and honor belong to You, everlasting Word, because You were made flesh and sacrificed Yourself upon the cross as the offering for sin. Govern us according to Your wisdom; defend us against our enemies; speak for us with Your Father, and let us live under You in Your Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
I love this photo. So does my wife. She once remarked how she wished she could buy a poster of it so we could put it up in our house. I filed that one away. For her birthday three years ago, I had a giclée print made of this photo. It now hangs in our living room.
The scene in the photo is moving, even without any movement. It’s poignant. The Mass is being celebrated in a bombed out church. Even though the building is badly damaged, walls crumbling in places, stone blocks strewn about outside, that’s not true of what’s taking place inside. The clergy (celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon) are beautifully vested and conduct themselves in a manner fitting of the high altar. The same is true of the acolytes. The fair linen lays atop the altar. The missal stand is in place. The candles are lit.
Let the ruin and disorder and war being waged remain outside. Let the service within be conducted with beauty and order and reverence. Jesus is here. This is where God comes to man. This is where Heaven touches earth in Word AND Sacrament.
I’ve been thinking about this photo a lot lately. If we are to be the church, the ekklesia, the assembly of those called out of chaos/darkness and into God’s marvelous order/light, then this is what we need to be about ALL THE TIME. This is not only true when London and Dresden are bombed, and New Orleans is devastated by Hurricane Katrina. It is especially true when a virus, a “deadly pestilence” ravages the whole world.
We may miss a Sunday or two do to travel or illness, but prolonged absence from the solemn assembly of the saints does more damage to the soul than we realize. Home church doesn’t cut it. Living room worship never lives up. We need to gather, really gather, assemble . . . in person.
At the start of all this COVID-19 stuff, selections from Martin Luther’s “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” were quoted all across social media. The bubonic plague wreaked havoc on Wittenberg a few times during Luther’s life. When it came in 1527, a fellow pastor urged Luther to tackle the question of whether it was permissible for a person to run away from a deadly plague. Interestingly, Luther’s own prince, Elector John, had required the university, students and faculty, along with John Bugenhagen, the pastor of the city church, to relocate to Jena until the plague abated and things settled down. Against the prince’s orders, Luther, Bugenhagen, and a few other clergy remained in Wittenberg.
The part from Luther’s pamphlet that I saw quoted most is the following: “I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”
It appears as if Luther was the proto-social distancer. He states very openly that he will avoid places and people that don’t require his presence so as not to be guilty of their death should he perchance infect them. So there you go.
But wait just a minute. What I didn’t see quoted too much on social media was the conclusion of Luther’s pamphlet. Luther had put his pen down for a time after dealing with his initial topic. (By the way, the short answer to whether one may flee a deadly plague or not is . . . yes, as long as you aren’t abandoning your neighbor in need.) When Luther took to write again, he added the following:
“Because this letter will go out in print for people to read, I regard it useful to add some brief instructions on how one should care and provide for the soul in time of death. We have done this orally from the pulpit, and still do so every day in fulfilment of the ministry to which we have been called as pastors. First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s Word how to live and how to die . . . Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight . . . Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient.”
Luther is clear. Even in the midst of a plague, people should be admonished to attend church so they can hear the sermon and receive the sacrament every week. EVERY WEEK. If every week isn’t doable, then AT LEAST every other week.
Some of you have been away from the Divine Service for nearly 4 months! Some of you even longer. I can only imagine the effect that’s had on you. It’s time to come back to church. It’s time to rejoin the solemn assembly of the saints. Come and hear the Word of God. Come and receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus, given and shed for you. Come and learn not only how to live, but also how to die. Come and confess your sins. Come and confess with your brothers and sisters the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Here is your medicine of immortality. Here is your hope for tomorrow.