The Worship and Music Committee at my church asked me to write five short reflections on Luther’s Small Catechism for use in our Wednesday night Lenten services. I’m republishing those reflections here. Eventually I will publish a book with slightly expanded versions of these reflections to be used for congregational use (adult or Confirmation study) or anyone seeking to understand more about Luther’s Catechism.
Reflection 2 (read at Trinity Lutheran Church, Chelmsford, MA on Wednesday, March 15, 2017)
The Apostles’ Creed
The summary of God’s will found in the Ten Commandments is not the last word in the catechism—it’s the first. And the second is the Creed.
The Ten Commandments teach us what we ought to do; the Creed tells us what God does for us and gives to us.
Since the Ten Commandments have explained that we are to have no other gods, it’s natural to wonder about the God we’re supposed to have. The first article of the creed helps us to begin to know him*. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. These words give us a brief description of God the Father, his nature, his will, and his work. God is the Father—he is relational within himself and with all his creation. He is almighty—no one is greater. He created heaven and earth and everything contained within, including us.
And even before creation, God was still the Father. He was the Father in relation to the Son. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. God the Father is creator of heaven and earth, and God the Son is Lord. What does it mean that he’s our Lord? It means that he has redeemed us from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. Because we are sinners. The Ten Commandments show us just how far from God we are, how unattainable it is to make ourselves pleasing in his sight, and how impossible it is to give him the obedience he expects and deserves. As a result, we deserve his wrath and punishment.
But we don’t have to suffer that fate.
God saw our wretched and desperate state, and had mercy on us. God the Son took our punishment upon himself. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. God entered human history by being born into his own creation. During his brief life on earth he revealed to us his own loving nature in ways we could understand. And just as humanity rejects God’s commandments, we also rejected his Son Jesus Christ. We condemned him, tortured him, and killed him. And the Son paid the penalty for our sins.
There’s a fragment of a sermon dating back to the end of the fourth century that imagines what happened in the time between Christ’s death and resurrection. “God has appeared in the flesh, and Hades has swallowed him…He has gone to search out Adam, our first father, as if he were a lost sheep. Earnestly longing to visit those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, he—who is both their God and the son of Eve—has gone to liberate Adam from his bonds, and Eve who is held captive along with him…‘I am your God. For your sake I have become your son…I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead! Arise my seed! Arise, my form, who has been made in my image!’”
The Son of God has snatched us from the jaws of hell, won us, made us free, and restored us to the Father’s favor and grace. He has taken us as his own, under his protection, in order that he may rule us by his righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.
But we still break the Ten Commandments.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Martin Luther entitles this article of the Creed “Sanctification.” The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, which is a fancy way of saying that the Holy Spirit makes us holy.
Jesus Christ lived and died two thousand years ago. None of us could ever believe in him and take him as our Lord unless we first heard of him through the preaching of the Holy Spirit. Christ has accomplished our salvation by his sufferings, death, and resurrection, but if no one knew about it, it would have been for nothing. So God has given us his own Spirit to offer us this treasure of salvation. God has given us his own Spirit to create the Church.
The Church is not a building. It’s a holy communion of saints. It’s a group of people called together by the Holy Spirit to live and act under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Through the Church God’s Spirit gathers us, proclaims the Word to us, and creates and increases holiness in us.
In this Church we obtain forgiveness for our sins through hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments, which are treated later in the Catechism. Although we have sin, God forgives us through the Church called together by the Holy Spirit, and we forgive, bear with, and aid one another.
As the Holy Spirit continues to work through us, we await the time when our flesh will be put to death. It will be buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth and arise to complete and perfect holiness in a new, eternal life. In that life we are perfectly pure and holy people, full of goodness and righteousness, completely freed from sin, death, and all evil, living in new, immortal, and glorified bodies.
Here in the Creed we have the entire essence of God, his will, and his work. God created us and bestowed upon us everything in heaven and earth. But we could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Jesus Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. But neither could we know anything of Christ had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit. Three articles of the Creed, three Persons in the Trinity, one God. Everything God does is done by the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.
* To see my inclusive language policy, click here.