Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Corpses, Eagles, and Idolatry: Thoughts on Trinity 25

Some things are simply so outrageous that when we see them we recoil in horror. We think to ourselves that this can't be happening. This shouldn't be happening. It's an abomination. Where is God? How can He let this happen? Has He abandoned us?

And when that happens we seek after other gods. We set up golden calves. We can't be bothered to wait on the Lord and wait for what He alone can give. We seek to do it ourselves. We remake god in our own image. We refashion a god who is more like us, a god that allows us to sit down, kick back, and relax, so that we can eat and drink and play. If we don't get what we want, when we want it, we not only complain. We get angry. And we seek things that will take away our anger and make us happy. This is why we speak ill of others behind their backs, why we kill them with our tongues. This is why we cheat on our spouses in thought and sometimes in deed. This is why we turn to alcohol and drugs, to money, shopping, to buying and spending. We want to escape from having to wait upon the Lord. We want to play. We want to eat and drink and be merry. We know what we want and we want it now. And we don't want to wait. And so we create our own god who happens to look and speak and act just like us. This is idolatry. This is an abomination.

This is the reaction of the Jews even in Jesus' day. They were under Roman rule. And the Romans demonstrated this by placing their insignia, their image upon the lands they ruled. That image was the image of the eagle. "Since the Roman conquest of Palestine, the eagle insignia were common sights. The Jews prohibited the graven images because they were a defilement, but one was attached to the facade of the temple. It reminded the Jews that even the temple, the center of their worship and the assurance of God's presence among them, belonged not to them but to the Roman emperor, whose guards kept a watchful eye on it" (Scaer, Discourses on Matthew, 381). For the Jew, this was an abomination. It was idolatry. It was outrageous that a man like the Roman emperor, who claimed to be a god, would set his insignia upon the place where the true God dwelt on earth. The temple doesn't belong to Rome, it belongs to the Lord.

They couldn't wait. They wanted to be free of Rome. And they didn't want to wait for the Lord to act. So they recast the temple into their own image. They used the temple as a way for them to take power, seize control, and make money. They made it into a den of robbers. They used it as way to enslave. The created an idol. They created an abomination. They couldn't wait upon the Lord for their deliverance. They wanted to sit down. They wanted to eat and drink and play. So they did what they had to do.

But then the fullness of time had come. And when Jesus came, a man who claimed to be God in the flesh, who claimed to be the true temple of God on earth. This, too, for the Jew was an abomination. It was blasphemy. It was idolatry. And so they sought to put him to death. And he was put to death under Roman rule, by the authority of Caesar, at the hands of Roman soldiers with the eagle (ἀετοί) insignia surrounding the corpse of our crucified Lord. It wasn't vultures that surrounded the corpse. It was eagles. The abomination of desolation was that God incarnate was crucified by the Roman emperor god. And the holy place is the place where the sacrificial blood of the Lamb of God was poured out. That is the abomination. God is crucified. And for all who beheld it, they recoiled in horror at just how outrageous it was. This can't be happening. It should be happening? All our hopes and dreams are shattered. Where is God? How can He let this happen? Has He abandoned us?

No. He has not abandoned us. It is precisely there that He is most with us because it is precisely there that He is most for us. The cross is folly to the wise. The cross is weakness to the strong, but to the perishing, those who will die because of their sin, those who are separated from God and one another because of their sin, the cross is the wisdom of God and the power of God. When Jesus seems most weak, most powerless, it is then and there when He is most strong, when He is conquering death by dying and sin by becoming sin.

And God is not dead. Though he died, yet does He live. And He lives to give you the fruits of His cross. He gives you the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion. He marks you with his own insignia, the sign of his cross. He places upon you His name and covers you with His Words, which are spirit and life. And He puts into your bodies His resurrected body. You are temples of the true God because by virtue of Baptism you are in Him, the Temple of God in the flesh, and by virtue of the Holy Communion, He is in you. He joined himself to your flesh and died your death, in order that you would be joined to Him in his resurrection to life. Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.

You are temples of the true God. He has not abandoned you. He is with you always in his Word and Sacrament. He is with you especially when you think that He isn't. And you are strongest when you feel the weakest, for then you rely fully upon HIm and what He gives. So wait upon the Lord. Know that He is for you in Christ, and in Christ you are always with God. So that when you think all is lost, when everything is going to hell in a hand basket, and you are hanging on by only string, God has not abandoned you. He died for you. He rose for you. And He comes to you this day to bring you courage and strength that only He can give, poured out for you from His cross and into this chalice.

Some things are so outrageous that we recoil in horror at the sight of them. But not when we look to the cross. For when we see the cross, we see God's true power to overcome our real problems: sin and death. When we see the cross, we God's wisdom. When we see the cross, we see God's true love for us. Seek God, therefore, where He may be truly found. For false prophets will say Look, the Christ is here or Look, He is over there. But if they point you away from the means of Grace, away from Baptism, Absolution, the Lord's Supper, they point you where He has not promised to be. They point you to idolatry, and abomination that will leave you desolate.