3301 The Alameda
Baltimore, MD 21218
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Our nation has just passed the half-million mark in the number of fellow Americans who have died during the present pandemic. This is a staggering number, a number so large that it is almost impossible to imagine. I suspect that so many of us had assumed that this type of thing was only a thing of the past or that such things simply do not happen in our country. But now it has happened and, although there are signs of hope on the horizon, the end is not yet. So how should we as Christians respond to this immense tragedy? As I said a year ago: Through this calamity God is calling the world to repentance. We are also being reminded in a way that cannot be ignored of the shortness and uncertainty of human life. The words of the burial service have ceased to be mere words but instead are an expression of inescapable reality: “In the midst of life we are in death,” words that once had a place in the Lenten liturgy. As always at the beginning of Lent we hear the words spoken to Adam after the fall: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Given all these circumstances, we are called to earnest repentance which includes active compassion and fervent prayer for those whose lives have been touched by this calamity. We are also reminded to do as Christians have done down through the ages: To remember the unknown hour of death and to meditate on our own death both in the light of the judgment to come and of the mercy that flows from Christ’s life-giving cross and resurrection. This is our sure and certain hope, this is why we can and must rejoice in the Lord, come what may. And of course all of this is of a piece with our annual journey through these Lenten days.
It will soon be a year since our dear sister in Christ, Joyce Gillespie, succumbed to the coronavirus. Gabe Purviance and his father Philip have now recovered from the virus and for that we give thanks!
The funeral of our dear sister in Christ, Dorothy Bell, who fell asleep in the Lord on January 28, was held in church on Saturday, February 13. Her mortal remains were committed to the earth at the cemetery of Saint Matthew’s Church in Meherrin, Virginia. May the Light perpetual ever shine upon her and may our merciful Savior comfort all who mourn.
Although private confession and absolution are not obligatory in the Lutheran Church they are available as a means of grace. The fifth chief part of Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism provides instruction about this, and in the Augsburg Confession—that principal confession of the faith of the Lutheran Church—we find these words: “It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse […] The people are carefully instructed concerning the comfort of the Word of absolution so that they may esteem absolution as a great and precious thing. It is not the voice or word of the man who speaks it but it is the Word of God who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by His commandment” (Augsburg Confession, Articles XI and XXV). I am always ready to arrange for times to hear confessions. There is no reason why any Christian should remain troubled in conscience or burdened with the painful memory even of sins committed long ago: Private absolution bestows the joyful certainty of sin forgiven, our pardon sealed in heaven.
On the first three Wednesdays in March we will have Lenten Vespers with the Litany at 7:30 pm. My Lenten meditations will focus on Old Testament types of Christ’s passion: The sacrifice of Isaac, the Passover lamb, the sprinkled blood of the covenant.
The fourth Wednesday in March this year is the Eve of the Annunciation. Exactly nine months before Christmas, this festival commemorates the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary that God had chosen her to be the mother of His Son. With her assent, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), God the Son took on Himself in her womb the humanity that is yours and mine. This is the actual moment of the incarnation, when “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This is the beginning of Christ’s journey to His cross and resurrection.
The last Sunday in March is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. As usual there will be Divine Service on Maundy Thursday and the Liturgy on Good Friday, both at 7:30 pm. On Saturday, Easter Even, the Easter Vigil will be celebrated at 7:30 pm. Our good friend, Pastor Roy Coats, will as usual be with us for the Vigil. The Vigil begins in darkness with the lighting of the Paschal (i.e. Easter) Candle, which burns throughout the Easter season. It then continues with the reading of Old Testament lessons which show types of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection; this is followed by the renewal of our baptismal vows, and the Vigil comes to its climax and completion in the joyful first Holy Eucharist of Easter. This oldest festival service of the Christian Church is truly an Easter celebration which in a very real sense surveys the whole history of our salvation, beginning with the creation of all things, and—because the Holy Eucharist is always the anticipation of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His eternal kingdom (Revelation 19:6–9)—looks forward with joy to the final coming of the risen Lord in glory.
Palm Sunday is the deadline for ordering Easter lilies. The cost is $11.00, and you may include with your check a list of names of loved ones you wish to honor or remember. As usual Judy Volkman is in charge of all this.
As mentioned in last month’s newsletter we are hoping to have the annual Saint Mark’s Conference on April 19–20. The Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, the President of Synod, will be with us as the keynote speaker at this year’s Conference, which is focused on the Life and Work of the late Rev. Dr. Hermann Sasse (1895–1976), who was almost certainly the greatest confessional Lutheran theologian of the last century. Much information about him can be found online. The COVID pandemic seems to affect everything, and so a decision to hold or cancel the Conference will be made on Monday of Holy Week. Although primarily intended for pastors, the Conference is open to everyone. For members of Our Saviour there is no registration fee.
Remember that our services are now livestreamed: Sunday Divine Service at 11:00 am and Wednesday Lenten Vespers at 7:30 pm. You can also hear the sermon by calling (410) 587–0979. If you are still unable to come to church I am more than willing to bring you the Sacrament at home. Among other things, that is what pastors are for! You need only call me at (410) 554–9994 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Let us make good use of this Lenten season for the renewal of our life in Christ. Let us continue in prayer for one another and for all whom God’s love has called out of nothingness into being.
Affectionately in our Lord,
Works of Mercy
On February 10, Judy Volkman delivered five crates of canned goods to CARES. They were well stocked at that point, but they almost certainly emptied out their stores quickly. And we need to restock; the boxes are empty!
Also delivered were eight knit hats and twelve hand-knit scarves to help keep people warm in this cold weather. Bounty shared!
– Judy Volkman