April Thoughts… The True, the Good, and the Beautiful

Truth, goodness, and beauty are sometimes referred to as transcendentals, those things that come before and excel everything else. These things find their fullness in God who is the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty beyond all measure. Likewise, these things are reflected in creation, and in His creatures. This is also true in His people, the Church. This month we remember those who have gone before us who have, in the service of God, demonstrated these things including artists, parish pastors, and theologians. Through all these, our Lord has shown us His desire to save all people and has given us pictures of His grace in the lives of people.

All of these saints and days can be found in the Lutheran Service Book on pages xi-xiii. Those that are italicized are not found in LSB, but are in Liturgies et Cantiques Luthériens, the French language hymnal prepared by LCC and used by our French-speaking sister congregations as well as French Lutherans around the world. These can also be found on pages xi-xiii of the LCL.

All Scripture quotations are from the Evangelical Heritage Version.

April 6: Lucas Cranach and Albrecht Duerer, Artists

Wittenberg Altarpiece by Lucas Cranach showing Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution, and Preaching.

Lucas Cranach (c. 1472 – October 16, 1553) and Albrecht Duerer (May 2, 1471 – April 6, 1528) were two of the brightest lights in the Northern Renaissance. Both of these artists used their art to glorify God and depict the beauty of His creation. Lucas Cranach was the court painter of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. Because of this he had ready access to Luther and the other reformers and theologians in Wittenburg. Cranach supported the work of the Reformation and used his workshop to create paintings and woodcuts which proclaimed the Gospel and Scriptural teachings. He was also responsible for painting many of the portraits of those associated with the Reformation. Some of his other great works included many altar pieces which still adorn churches in Germany. Albrecht Duerer was court painter for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. After the emperor died, he returned to his hometown of Nuremberg, where he continued to work. Duerer also had many religious themes in his artwork, including woodcut series on the Revelation to St. John as well as the Passion of our Lord. His own writings and those of his friends demonstrate that he too was a supporter of the Reformation. The council and mayor of his city, Nuremberg, was one of the original presenters of the Augsburg Confession in 1530. Both of these men in their vocation as artists glorified God through their skill as well as in much of the subject matter of their paintings. We give thanks to God for them and how God has shone through them as well as for all artists who continue to skillfully work today.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name. Bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

1 Chronicles 16:29

April 20: Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor

Johannes Bugenhangen (1537) by Lucas Cranach

Johannes Bugenhagen (June 24, 1485 – April 20, 1558), also known as Pomeranius, was a parish pastor in Wittenberg and responsible for organizing the reforming Church in Pomerania and Denmark-Norway. Bugenhagen was the parish pastor at St. Mary’s in Wittenberg during the Reformation and so often shared preaching and teaching duties with Martin Luther. One of the gifts which God had given Bugenhagen was that of organization and administration. This is demonstrated in his helping with Luther’s translation of the Bible, writing new Church Orders for a number of northern territories including Demnark-Norway, and eventually being appointed Superintendent of the Church in Saxony and overseeing all other pastors. In recognition of the importance of his work in Scandinavia, he is sometimes known as “the second apostle to the north” for his work in bringing the pure Gospel to the people whom Ansgar (the first “apostle to the north”) first brought the Gospel. In all of this, he was still also a pastor to the people in Wittenberg and continued to preach and administer the sacraments. Following Luther’s death Bugenhagen cared for his widow and children. We give thanks to God for the grace he has shown us in His servant Johannes Bugenhagen, and pray that He would continue to uphold all pastors in their vocations of serving His people.

He himself gave the apostles, as well as the prophets, as well as the evangelists, as well as the pastors and teachers, for the purpose of training the saints for the work of serving, in order to build up the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-12

April 21: Anselm of Canterbury, Theologian

Statue of Anselm at Canterbury Cathedral.

Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033 – April 21, 1109) was an Archbishop of Canterbury and author of a very important and influential work on the incarnation and atonement. Anselm grew up in what is now Italy and after a time of carefree living eventually ended up in a monastery in Bec, France. Due to his relationship with Lafranc, the last Archbishop of Canterbury, the English bishops earnestly desired to have Anselm take his place. While originally reluctant, he accepted the position. As archbishop, Anselm took up the job of reforming the Church in England, including dealing with the investiture controversy. As a result, he ran into conflict with the secular authorities and was exiled on more than one occasion. In the midst of all this Anselm wrote many theological and philosophical writings. Because of this he is known as the Father of Scholasticism. One of his most important works, Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man? or Why did God Become Man?), explores purpose of the incarnation according to the Scriptures and what happened in the atonement. In it, he beautifully writes and explains Christ making satisfaction for sins by means of being a substitute for humanity in His death. We give thanks to God for Anselm, who taught the truth and clearly pointed to Christ as our substitute who vicariously died for us.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile all things to himself (whether things on earth or in heaven) by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:19-20

April 23: George, Martyr

St. George on Foot (1502) by Albrecht Duerer. George is depicted as a contemporary knight next to the slain dragon.

George (d. April 23, 303) was a soldier in the Roman military, and martyr in the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians within the army. Not too much is known of George’s life. He was born to a father of Greek background and mother from Palestine in the province of Cappadocia in modern day Turkey. After his father’s death, George and his mother returned to Palestine. It was there where he joined the Roman army. As a soldier, George did not hide his faith in Christ, but openly followed the Lord. As a result, he would not pray to the specific pagan gods associated with his legion nor to the emperor. When Diocletian ordered the persecution of Christians George refused to give up the faith and so was executed. The Holy Spirit, working through George’s proclamation of Christ in his death, brought some of the witnesses of his martyrdom to faith in Christ. Around 700 years later, the account of his life grew so great that it was said he saved an entire village from a dragon. While this much later addition is legendary, we know George was a faithful witness for Christ and even today gives us encouragement to remain faithful to Christ even in the face of death.

But you, O man of God, flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life, to which you were called and about which you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:11-12

April 24: Johann Walter, Kantor

Portrait of Johann Walter, unknown date.

Johann Walter (1496 – March 25, 1570) was a composer of sacred music during the time of the Reformation. Walter was the chief cantor in the court of Duke Frederick the Wise of Saxony. Walter wrote the music for many of the early evangelical hymns, putting the Gospel message and teaching of true doctrine into the mouths of clergy and laypeople alike in the form of song. Because he was in Wittenberg, Walter often worked with Luther to write tunes and setting the for choir. Some examples are the credal hymn “We All Believe in One True God,” the Easter hymn “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,” and other hymns such as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (click here for a choral setting of “A Mighty Fortress”). Walter also was the editor of the first hymnal made for choirs during the Reformation, allowing the truth of God to be spread by song and to accompany the Word of God with beauty. He also wrote hymn texts as well, and in our hymnal we can find this in LSB 514, “The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us.” Following the death of Frederick the Wise Walter accepted a call to be the cantor of the choir in Torgau where he continued to praise and glorify God through his music while also teaching the faith and building up the Church. We give thanks to God for Johann Walter and all other church musicians and all musicians who glorify God with their talents.

Shout for joy, you heavens, because of what the Lord is doing. Make a joyful shout, you depths of the earth. Burst forth with shouts of joy, you mountains, you forest and every tree in it, because the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and in Israel he will display his beauty.

Isaiah 44:23

April 25: St. Mark, Evangelist

St. Mark and St. Paul from Albrecht Duerer’s “The Four Apostles” (1526)

St. Mark (5 – April 25, 68) the evangelist is one of the four writers of the Gospels which we have in the Holy Scriptures giving us an account of the Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Mark’s Gospel gives us the name for the four books because it begins “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Mark is often identified with John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, who is mentioned throughout the book of Acts as a companion of St. Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25, 13:5, 13:13-14, 15:37-40). Marks’ Gospel is often characterized as fast moving. It begins with the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus and continues with events happening one after another after another. Many times these events in Jesus’ life are connected with the adverb, “immediately.” Because of a number of thoughts of Peter in the Gospel (such as Mark 9:5-6 “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say because they were terrified.”) it is traditionally said that Peter was the source for Mark’s Gospel, for he himself was not an eyewitness to these things. Traditionally Mark is said to have later went to Egypt after he completed his Gospel, where he founded the Church in Alexandria. In art, each of the four evangelists are identified with one of the four living creatures in Revelation. Mark is identified with the winged lion because of the forcefulness of which he presents Jesus’ preaching and teaching. In the three year lectionary the second year is dedicated to focusing primarily on Mark’s Gospel, as we are this year. We give thanks to God for His apostles and evangelists through whom He brought the word of salvation to so many in their day and continues to do so through their words in His Church.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark 1:1

March Thoughts… Sombre Celebration

During the season of Lent the Church still remembers those who went before and those important events in the life of our Lord. March includes a large variety, including Old and New Testament saints as well as both well known and lesser known early Church saints and one of the principal feasts of Christ. Read this to learn more about our sombre celebrations during March.

March 7: Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs

Perpetua and Felicitas from the Archepiscopal Chapel in Ravenna, Italy.

Vivia Perpetua (c. 182 – c. 202) and Felicitas (? – c. 202), were North African martyrs put to death for their faith by the decree of Septimius Severus (r. 193-211). The difference between the lives of these two martyrs up to their deaths could not have been greater. Perpetua was from a noble and wealthy family in Carthage and enjoyed many of the privileges which went along with it, including a liberal education. She had a respectable marriage and had an infant son. Felicitas, on the other hand, was a slave who was pregnant. However different these women were, they shared a love of Christ and would die as witnesses for Him together as sisters. In the time leading up to their execution, Perpetua gave her son into the care of her brother (who was also a Christian), and Felicitas gave birth and was able to have a member of her congregation take her daughter to raise in the faith. These two women, steadfast in the faith, were publicly executed before the crowds in honour of the Emperor’s birthday, first facing wild beasts, and finally being killed by the sword. One of the most moving images from the account of their martyrdom recalls that when they were brought out a second time into the arena, the two women of such different stature and already injured from the wild beasts, greeted each other with the kiss of peace. In these two our God has given us examples of steadfastness under trial, that His strength is demonstrated in weakness, and that no matter our backgrounds all Christians are brothers and sisters and equal heirs of salvation.

Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his favored ones

Psalm 116:15

March 17: Patrick, Missionary to the Irish

Stained glass from St. Benin in Kilbennan, Ireland. The clover is associated with Patrick because of his teaching on the Holy Trinity.

Patrick (c. 385 – March 17, 461), was a Roman-British pastor and missionary to the Irish people. While Patrick’s family was Christian, he did not take the faith seriously in his youth or think of himself as a Christian. When he was sixteen he was captured by pagan Irish pirates and was enslaved for six years. During his time of captivity, Patrick turned to the God of his fathers whom he had previously dismissed, and came to a repentant faith in Christ. When he returned to Britain, Patrick immersed himself in the study of the faith and was eventually ordained. After this he returned to the land of his captivity, moved by love for the people of Ireland and wanting to share with them the Gospel of Christ that they might be set free from slavery to sin. The Lord worked wonderfully through Patrick, bringing many to faith in Christ so that multitudes from the rich to the poor, and from peasants to princes believed. The legend of Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland is most likely symbolic of his work driving paganism from the island through the preaching of Christ. He is remembered as one of the great missionaries to the nations because God used Patrick to bring Christianity to the Irish people, who would in turn, would send missionaries throughout many places in Europe still under the shadow of sin and death. His life also shows us an example of the love we are to have for our enemies, and for that, we give thanks to God that He had given him this great love, and pray that He would grant it to us as well.

[Jesus said,] “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:43-45a

March 19: St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus

“Dream of Flight” by Daniele Crespi (c. 1625), where the angel warns Joseph to flee to Egypt.

St. Joseph (1st century BC – 1st century AD) was the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the legal father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. While Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, God used Joseph for His purposes in bringing salvation through His Son. While “guardian” brings to mind “legal guardian” for us today, the title is telling us more, and really speaks to how God used Joseph. As the guardian of Jesus, Joseph was a shield from scandal for our Lord as He was conceived of a virgin. Many could use this as a way to insult Him during His life and dismiss His ministry by making improper assumptions or accusations of His parentage. As the guardian of Jesus, Joseph is the legal father and provides Jesus with the legal descent from David, making Him the Son of David which fulfils the promises God made to David. As the guardian of Jesus, Joseph would have helped to raise Jesus and teach to Him the faith, and his trade. Joseph is present at the early events of our Lord’s life up to when He stays at the Temple after Passover while His family returns to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-50), but does not appear after this. This probably contributes to the tradition that Joseph was already older when he was betrothed to Mary, as he is not present at all in Jesus’ ministry, His death, or after His resurrection. Yet, Joseph faithfully fulfilled his calling as Jesus’ guardian and so today we thank God for him, and pray for all fathers and those who act as fathers for the fatherless.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. His mother, Mary, was pledged in marriage to Joseph. Before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her. So he decided to divorce her privately. But as he was considering these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 2:18-21

March 25: The Annunciation of our Lord

The Annunciation (c. 1515 – 1525), from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder

Nine months before Christmas, the Church celebrates the Annunciation of our Lord, when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce that she would conceive and bear a son (Luke 1:26-28). This is celebrated as one of the principal feasts of Christ because it is an important event in His earthly life. While it may seem that we got this date by counting backwards from Christmas, it is actually the opposite! The early Church celebrated the Annunciation first, and only later was Christmas added by going forward nine months. The timing of this day comes from an old belief that important people would have perfect ages, that is, they would die on the day of their conception. This feast was then calculated based on when Jesus died. Because of this the Annunciation happens during Lent, and it gives us a small respite from our solemn season to celebrate the conception of our Lord Jesus who would die for our sins. The Annunciation helps us remember that our Lord Jesus went through all the experiences of human life, including where life begins: conception. It also gives us encouragement to pray for and stand up for the voiceless and helpless, including the unborn, for our Lord Himself was once one such one when the incarnation began. 

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” But she was greatly troubled by the statement and was wondering what kind of greeting this could be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, because you have found favor with God. Listen, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” 

Luke 1:28-33

March 31: Joseph, Patriarch

Iconographic depiction of Joseph in his Egyptian garb as Pharaoh’s official.

Joseph (c. 1914 – c. 1804 BC) was the son of Jacob by his favoured wife Rachel. The life of Joseph is the main focus of the last section of Genesis from chapter 37 on. Joseph himself is a type of Christ, that is, his life prefigures that of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. His brothers betrayed him, selling him into slavery in Egypt, while telling their father that he was killed by a beast. However, from this, he is figuratively brought back to life again when he reveals himself to his brothers when they come to Egypt for aid during a famine. Thus, he pointed forward to the betrayal, death, and resurrection of our Lord. As a son of Jacob, one would expect for there to be a tribe of Joseph, as there are with all of Jacob’s 11 other sons. However, there is none. Instead, his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim, born to him by his Egyptian wife Asenath, become two “half tribes” in his place when Joseph asks his father to bless them. Joseph also has a number of events in his life which shine as examples to the faithful. First, as a slave, he resisted the wife of Potiphar who tried to seduce him and was willing to suffer the consequences of doing so, so that he would rather suffer doing right rather than sin (Genesis 39). He also gives an example to us of forgiveness as he forgives his brothers who sold him into slavery and reconciles with them (Genesis 50:15-21).

His brothers also came and fell down in front of him, and they said, “See now, we are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring this to pass and to keep many people alive, as it is this day. Now therefore, do not be afraid. I will nourish you and your little ones.” He comforted them and spoke to them in a kind way.

Genesis 50:18-21