1 Peter 1:10-20
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.
Dick and Esther, Who Adored the Crucified
They had come some years before to St. Matthew, Waco, from the downtown First Lutheran parish which had been rooted in the old high church Norwegian tradition. For many years, Pastor Ike had served the parish, which was a lovely old center aisle church with a beautifully simple, wood-paneled chancel. Typical of the construction in the early 20th century, the stained glass windows were classic depictions of Bible stories. The pipe organ was serviceable, and each Sunday liturgy began with the choir processing in to the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The worship there was more pious than pietistic. In the post-war era, the young couples originally from the smaller Norwegian communities to the northwest of Waco had made their home there. It was a congregation of Baylor professors, school administrators, and professionals.
I have written more than a few times of men that went to seminary in the 60s to avoid the draft and continued on changing churches to fit what they believed, which was the typical soft Marxism of the left. After his retirement, Pastor Ike was followed by a hip young fellow, who drew a crowd of young people while doing his best to alienate the old. Rumors spread of pot smoking in the church basement amid discussion of radical ideas and commitments. Despite the fact that St. Matthew was a newer LCA congregation with a 1960s praying-hands-roofline and a worship life that leaned away from Lutheran orthodoxy, a significant group from First Lutheran that included Dick and Esther had made the move.
When I showed up in late August 1988 wearing a black clerical collar and chanting the liturgy, the high church Norwegians welcomed me with delight. They had liked and admired my predecessor, a retired full bird Army chaplain with two football stars playing for the Baylor Bears, but they could not believe that a thirty-four-year-old pastor loved the liturgy and Lutheran musical tradition as much as they. On my first Sunday, at the door after worship, Pete spoke for the entire group when he asked if I wore a collar every day. When I said I did, Pete smiled broadly and said, “Oh, I like that. It’s good to have a pastor who knows how to dress.” Ironically, the pastor who had come to First Lutheran a couple of years before my arrival at St. Matthew wore a collar every day, was Norwegian, and liturgically-minded, but he had arrived too late.
Dick and Esther invited me to their home for a meal and conversation. They were well-educated in Lutheran theology and told me stories of their past. Esther had grown up with several men who had gone on to be pastors. One of them had taught for years at Yale Divinity School before it became woke. Others had long pastorates at large city parishes. Dick and Esther missed worshiping in the First Lutheran building, but they were pleased to have a pastor who shared their love for beautiful worship and music.
It is no secret that there are many parishes of several denominations that have mastered aesthetics. One emeritus professor has said of them that they are like empty perfume bottles in which only a hint of what was once there remains. They may have classic architecture, fine music, and even pastors or priests who can say or sing a lovely liturgy, but the preaching and ethics of such places make them unrecognizable to the one Church of every time and place, having departed from the Christian faith in all but outward form.
On this Good Friday, we adore the Crucified Jesus. He is, yes, the Truth, Reality itself. And, in His suffering and death He is Beauty that lays bare this world’s death-denying, cross-denying ways. Not with silver or gold, but with His Precious Blood, God’s Incarnate Son redeems, buys back, and reclaims us lost and condemned sinners. Strangely, we will not receive Him in Host and Cup today, but we will sing His victory over sin, death, and the devil. We are invited to kneel at the foot of His cross and even to kiss it.
Aesthetics, no matter how sensually engaging, have no comparison to the Beauty of our Crucified Lord.
Dear Father, thank you for Dick and Esther and all who dwell now in the presence of the Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Lord Jesus, having received your mercy and awaiting the resurrection of their bodies and all things being made new. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Put forty-five pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box today for Ukraine relief
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.