Upon arriving in Novosibirsk, I reported that the minus thirty something temperatures had not seemed to keep people away from church. But this last Sunday, the temperatures were much warmer by Russian standards (while by Texas standards, it’s all just a silly academic distinction between various shades of “too bitterly cold to go outside for long.”) But the church was even more packed, and this time there were a lot more children. I get to hold babies . . . partly because, after five children of my own, I’m good at it; partly because, given the language barrier, it’s about all I’m good at. It’s good to see so many children. And I get the sense that it’s not just this congregation. I just see a lot more of them around. You sense that the dire economics of a few years ago that made people not want to have children are now somewhat relieved. “Children are a blessing from the Lord”, the Psalmist writes, and it does my heart good to see people here receiving them as such a blessing.
Church was once again wonderful. It is very Lutheran to focus on God’s Word, and then use the other senses to deliver pictures to the eyes, music to the ears, and smells to the nose (incense) that confess what God’s Word says. Then communion, touched and tasted. In the process, the presence of the holiness of the Lord is made palpable to all the senses.
One of my church members asked me how Lutheranism is different here in Russia. I’m still thinking about that, the truth be told. But here’s my first try at an answer—
I was reminded, both by the subject I teach and the service I attend here: The Reformation in Switzerland was largely iconoclastic. Not only did they get rid of statues, pictures, and color in the church, they even nailed the organ shut. That’s the mindset of Reformed Protestantism . . . taken to greater or lesser extremes, depending upon the group. Faith is reduced to a mental exercise, and holiness is boiled down to moralism, whether that’s the liberal moralism of working in a soup kitchen and promoting civil rights, or the conservative moralism that gets over-simplified to “don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls that do,” and at this time of the biennium tends to show up in political activism as well.
Certainly faith involves the mind, and holiness manifests itself in moral behavior. But it is so much more than that. Lutheranism in America is flavored by the Reformed air it breathes and water it drinks. But that Reformed air is bereft of incense, and the water is a powerless symbol, and here, it never dawns on the Lutherans to buy into that.
So this is what I hope we can learn from our brothers and sisters in the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church: God comes to us on Sunday mornings. By way of His words about the Word, He injects Himself into our ears; by way of the body and blood of Christ, the Savior’s body is joined to ours. We don’t so much look forward to going to heaven, but rejoice that we are already in it, already surrounded in the Divine Service by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and we rejoice that this blessed state of being will continue, right on through the death and resurrection of our bodies.
We have these things at Charity Lutheran Church in Burleson, Texas. And I pray over time that we may make it more and more palpable on Sunday morning, so that we can more and more live all our hours and days in the awareness of our blessed spiritual reality in Christ.
Yours in Christ, and rejoicing to be keenly aware that we are in Christ,
I remain your unworthy servant in Him,