American Lecture Tour by Bishop Juhana Pohjola

USA – In November 2021, Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola will visit the United States of America for a lecture tour sponsored by the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

On August 1, 2021, Dr. Pohjola was consecrated Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). He enters the role at a challenging time: Bishop Pohjola faces criminal charges in Finland for his role in publishing a 2004 booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.

Should it be illegal to identify homosexual activity as sinful? That’s the question facing Bishop Pohjola now, seventeen years after the booklet was first published. He and the booklet’s author, Dr. Päivi Räsänen (a Finnish Member of Parliament), have been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with “incitement against a group of people.”

What can we learn from Bishop Pohjola’s story? How should we respond to a world that is increasingly intolerant of Christian beliefs? And what does Scripture have to say to us about being persecuted on account of our faith in Christ? Come hear Bishop Pohjola in person to find out.

There are three opportunities to hear Bishop Pohjola speak:

  • November 10, 2021 (10:00 a.m.) in Washington, D.C at the office of the Alliance Defending Freedom
  • November 13, 2021 (9:30 a.m.) in Fort Wayne, Indiana at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
  • November 16, 2021 (10:00 a.m.) in Boston, Massachusetts at First Lutheran Church

Those wishing to advertise the event in their local congregation can download a poster and bulletin inserts (black and white/colour) here.

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Haiti Earthquake: A Call for Prayer and Support

Map Image: WikiCommons, CC-BY-SA 2.0.

WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is encouraging prayer and support for the people of Haiti following a devastating 7.2 earthquake.

The quake has destroyed or damaged more than 84,000 homes, and hotels, schools, churches, medical facilities, and other infrastructure have also collapsed. So far, more than 1,400 people are confirmed dead with hundreds still missing. Adding to the danger, a tropical storm in the area is bringing expected rainfall of up to 38 centimetres (14 inches) in some areas.

“The people of Haiti need our support,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the ILC. “Responding to this disaster is made all the more difficult by the economic challenges, security issues, and political instability at work in this country. May God be merciful to our Haitian sisters and brothers in this difficult time, and may He move Christians around the world to remember them in prayer and acts of mercy.”

Prayer: Almighty God, merciful Father, Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Your ways are not our ways. In Your wisdom, You have permitted this disastrous earthquake to befall the people of Haiti. We implore You, let not the hearts of Your people despair nor their faith in You fail, but sustain and comfort them. Direct the efforts to attend to the injured, console the bereaved, and protect the helpless. Bring hope and healing that the people may find relief and restoration. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The impact of the disaster on the members and congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (Église Évangélique Luthérienne d’Haiti – ELCH) will take days to become clear.

The tragedy comes eleven years after another major earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure. A hurricane in 2016 further devastated Haiti. The country, which is considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, already faced widespread poverty even before the latest earthquake. That need has been exacerbated in the latest earthquake zone, with some areas already going days without food or safe drinking water, let alone medical care.

The International Lutheran Council is coordinating with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Disaster Response team, which has previous experience organizing effective relief work in Haiti alongside the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti. Individuals and member churches of the ILC wishing to assist with relief efforts may give online. In the message section, please indicate your donation is for “Haiti Disaster Relief.”

You may also send a cheque by mail to:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 10149
Fort Wayne, IN  46850

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are member churches of the ILC. The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions.

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Latvian Lutherans vote to seek membership in the ILC

LELB Archbishop Jānis Vanags (centre) during worship at the Latvian church’s 2021 synod. (Image: Screenshot).

LATVIA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas evaņģēliski luteriskā Baznīca – LELB) held its 28th synod on August 6, 2021, during which time the church voted to seek membership in the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

“We are delighted to learn that the Latvian church has voted to seek membership in the International Lutheran Council,” said ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill. “The LELB has a long, fruitful, and harmonious relationship with many of the churches who are members of the ILC. We know each other well and are of like mind and heart in Lutheran doctrine and practice.”

“At a time when many church bodies worldwide have rejected historic Christian teaching, the ILC has become a welcoming and loving home to those faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions,” he continued. “Many of our dear Latvian friends have already experienced this firsthand. The peace, concord, and love shared among ILC churches is indeed a beautiful thing.”

Participants in the LELB’s 2021 synod. (Image: Screenshot.)

Delegates to the LELB’s synod met under the theme “We Will Serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15), gathering in an open-air facility in Roja. This was the first time a synod of the LELB has been held outside Riga. The synod had previously been scheduled to take place in June 2020 but was postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among other business during the synod, the LELB also voted to withdraw from membership in the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), formerly known as the Leuenberg Church Fellowship. “When LELB joined the CPCE in 1975, we were behind the Iron Curtain,” noted Rev. Andris Kraulins (Riga), head of the LELB’s department for international affairs. “There was no discussion about it in the church; it was a decision of the archbishop at that time. The reason for joining was also not so much that we agreed with the content of the Leuenberg Agreement, but rather an attempt to protect the church from the arbitrariness of the Soviet state.” The first moves towards exiting the agreement began in the 1990s.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia is the largest church body in Latvia, with approximately 700,000 members. The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions. The ILC exists to encourage, strengthen, and promote confessional Lutheran theology and practice centered in Jesus Christ both among its members and throughout the world.

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New Bishop Consecrated for Finnish Lutherans

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola and those who participated in his consecration.

FINLAND – Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola was consecrated as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) on August 1, 2021 at the conclusion of the church’s three-day summer festival in Loimaa.

Bishop Pohjola, who formerly served the ELMDF as Diocesan Dean, was elected to serve as bishop earlier this year. Rev. Dr. Risto Soramies, outgoing bishop of the ELMDF, preached for the service and led the consecration of his successor. Bishop Soramies reminded Bishop Elect Pohjola to remember the words of Jesus: “Take care of My sheep” (John 21:16).

Bishop Risto Soramies questions Bishop Elect Pohjola.

Also participating in the consecration were Bishop Thor Henrik With (Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway), Bishop Bengt Ådahl (Mission Province in Sweden), President Matthew Harrison (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), and Bishop Hanns Jensons (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia). As the choir sang, Bishop Soramies placed the pectoral cross on Dr. Pohjola, Bishops With and Adahl assisted him into his robe, President Harrison presented him with the crosier, and—following the prayer of consecration—Bishop Jensons placed the mitre upon his head.

Bishop Matti Väisänen (the former bishop of Luther Foundation, the ELMDF’s predecessor organization) and two ELMDF pastors also participated in the consecration service.

Additional information on the consecration of Bishop Pohjola can be read at the ELMDF’s website here.

Bishop Pohjola’s consecration comes at a challenging time: he faces criminal charges for his role in publishing a 2004 document which articulates the historic Christian understanding of human sexuality. The International Lutheran Council (ILC), joined by the heads of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide, has condemned the decision of Finland’s Prosecutor General to charge Dr. Pohjola and the booklet’s author.

ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill was present for the ELMDF’s summer festival and Dr. Pohjola’s consecration, bringing greetings and encouragement on behalf of Lutherans across the globe. As part of his involvement, he sat down for an interview with Studio Krypta, the church’s media channel, to discuss the ILC’s work and its support for Bishop Pohjola in this difficult situation. “When your brother and sister are being persecuted for merely confessing the words of our Lord, the words of Holy Scripture, the church has to say something,” Dr. Quill explained. “Why would we be quiet? That just isn’t an option.”

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola

“It has been overwhelming to receive support and encouragement not only across church boundaries but also from many who are not even Christians,” noted Dr. Pohjola in a speech during the ELMDF’s summer festival. “The continuity of the Church does not only include faith in Christ; it also involves battles and suffering. That is why Martin Luther, our great mentor, adopted the bearing of the Holy Cross as the seventh mark of the Church.”

“I am not standing here before you trying to gather sacrificial points for my victimhood,” he continued. “I am not at all in danger. Even if I should be sentenced by the court, we will manage just fine. First, my anxiety is that many of the people who are struggling with questions of, for example, same-sex attraction will feel that there is no room for them in our congregations. My concern is that those people who disagree with us may think that Christians are filled with hate, that Christians do not believe that all humans are of equal worth. Second, I share an anxiety that fear and self-censorship may fill even the hearts of Christians. Finally, I feel anxious that our fatherland will become more ideologically narrow-minded.”

Dr. Pohjola continued: “It is our calling to speak the truth in love in all peace, to invite people to be partakers of grace, to pray for everyone, and without any bitterness endure in patience whatever resistance may come our way. Amidst all of this, I claim this hope and prayer that the Apostle Paul, who was filled with joy, wrote about while in prison: ‘I want you to know, brothers, that whatever has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel’ (Philippians 1:12). Lord, use all of this to the glory of Your Name!”

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A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland

A Global Lutheran Response to the Unjust Prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola and Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen


June 29, 2021
 – The bishops and presidents of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide are joining the International Lutheran Council (ILC) in issuing “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland.” The letter—signed by 48 ecclesiastical leaders representing 45 Lutheran church bodies and associations across the globe—condemns the ongoing criminal prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and Finnish M.P. Päivi Räsänen for expressing biblical views on human sexuality.

Bishop Elect Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen have been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with incitement against a group of people as a result of the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. “The actions of the Finnish State in prosecuting Christians for holding to the clear teaching of the very words of Jesus regarding marriage and sex (Matthew 19:4-6) are egregious,” the Lutheran leaders write in their letter. “And this particularly so since the accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.”

“We Lutherans make this strong confession along with Drs. Pohjola and Räsänen,” the letter continues. “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish State risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

The signatories write that they “condemn the unjustifiable criminal prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen M.P. for their public expressions of faith” and “call on the Finnish authorities to immediately discontinue their efforts to punish Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, to cease the prosecution of persons for the public expression of their faith, and to recommit to protecting the freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland.”

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Signatories of the letter (which is available in English, Spanish, and Finnish) include not only leaders of the ILC and its member churches, but also several Lutheran church bodies unaffiliated with the ILC, including church bodies associated with the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.

Copies of the letter have been sent to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Finland, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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Download the full document here in English, Spanish, and Finnish.

 

ILC holds regular board meetings

Participants in June 2021’s ILC Board meeting.

ONLINE – The Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held regular meetings online on June 29, 2021.

“As we look forward to a post-pandemic world, we are preparing to continue and expand our work in support of confessional Lutheran churches across the globe,” said ILC Chairman Hans -Jörg Voigt. “There are a number of projects and initiatives we have been at work on over the past year, and we hope to unveil these in the coming months.”

Among other regular business, the board adopted a new budget for the coming year and considered several applications for membership in the ILC. The meeting also heard regional reports from world area representatives, and discussed possibilities for upcoming regional ILC conferences.

The next ILC World Conference remains tentatively scheduled for 2022.

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Confessing the Faith: Reflections on the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. Painting in St. John’s Church (Schweinfurt, Germany), 16th century.

by Timothy Teuscher

While Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517 was the spark that ignited the Reformation, it wasn’t until the presentation of the Augsburg Confession on June 25, 1530 that there emerged what might be termed a distinct Evangelical Lutheran Church. For it is in this confession made at the Diet (or meeting) of Augsburg that the Reformation principles of grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone are clearly articulated and set forth.

The first part of the Augsburg Confession itself presents in twenty-one articles a clear and concise statement of the faith held by the Lutherans—articles in common with the Roman Catholics, in common with the church fathers, in opposition to the unscriptural teachings of Rome, and in distinction from the Zwinglians, Anabaptists, and other radical Reformers. The second part rejects, in seven articles, those abuses in the Roman Church which were deemed most objectionable and had already been changed and corrected among the Lutherans.

Following the first part, we read these words: “This is just about a summary of the doctrines that are preached and taught in our churches for proper Christian instruction, the consolation of consciences, and the amendment of believers. Certainly we should not wish to put our own souls and consciences in grave peril before God by misusing His name or Word, nor should we wish to bequeath to our children and posterity any other teaching than that which agrees with the pure Word of God and Christian truth…. Therefore, those who presume to reject, avoid, and separate from our churches as if our teaching were heretical, act in an unkind and hasty fashion, contrary to all Christian unity and love, and do so without any solid basis of divine command or Scripture.”

After the public reading of the Augsburg Confession, a refutation was prepared by Roman Catholic theologians, to which Luther’s colleague, Philip Melanchthon, responded the following year with what is  called the Apology (or Defense) of The Augsburg Confession.  In reading and studying the Augsburg Confession, it is important to thus note what the Roman Confutation says regarding the various articles and how the Apology answers. The Diet of Augsburg itself closed soon after the Lutheran representatives had left; the last item of business being a resolution to proceed with violent measures against them if they should not return to the Roman Catholic faith.

For various reasons, however, this would not be initiated until a year after Luther’s death in 1547. Although the Lutheran forces were defeated on the field of battle, the imposition of Roman Catholic teachings and practices, called the Interim, could not change the faith of a whole generation of pastors and people who had espoused the teachings of the Augsburg Confession. Finally, at another Diet of Augsburg in the year 1555, it was simply agreed to accept the religious divisions that had by now become entrenched.

The crisis faced by the Lutherans during these years sadly revealed a weakness in Philip Melanchthon who had been willing to give up fundamental principles of the Augsburg Confession in order to achieve outward peace with the Romanists by supporting the Interim. After a period of internal controversies among the Lutherans concerning the Interim and other issues, unity was restored under the leadership of “the second Martin”—Martin Chemnitz—with the adoption of the Formula of Concord. Three years later, on June 25, 1580, fifty years to the day after the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, the Book of Concord containing all the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, including Luther’s Catechisms, would be published and initially signed by three electors, two bishops, eighteen princes, twenty-four counts, four barons, thirty-eight cities, and more than 8,000 clergy… and since that time also by all of the church bodies in the International Lutheran Council and their congregations and pastors.

What, however, does such subscription mean? Just this: as the true Church is gathered not simply around the Bible, but around the rightly understood and correctly proclaimed Bible, so the Augsburg Confession expresses the right understanding of the Scriptures and does not supplant God’s Word, but simply expresses the central teachings of the Bible in an orderly fashion. This is why we say we subscribe to the Augsburg Confession and the other confessional writings because they are in agreement with the Scriptures, not insofar as they agree. In other words, we don’t pick and choose which ones we will abide by and which ones we can dispense with—a symptom of our post-modern society. An insofar subscription is, however, really no subscription at all; interpreted in this way, after all, we could “subscribe” to the texts of any religion.

In the Preface to the Book of Concord we thus read the following words which are just as timely and necessary for our own day. And, if we actually took them to heart, they would go a long way to help us address and deal with some of the problems and issues facing our churches: “Our disposition and intention has always been directed toward the goal that no other doctrine be treated and taught in our lands, territories, schools, and churches than that alone which is based on the Holy Scriptures of God and is embodied in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, correctly understood, and that no doctrine be permitted entrance which is contrary to these.” And further: “We are reminded by the grace of the Holy Spirit to abide and remain unanimously in this confession of faith and to regulate all religious controversies and their explanations according to it. We have resolved and purpose to live in genuine peace and concord with our fellow-members, and to demonstrate toward everyone, according to his station, all affection, service, and friendship. We likewise purpose to cooperate with one another in the future in the implementation of this effort at concord in our lands, according to our own and each community’s circumstances…. If the current controversies about our Christian religion should continue or new ones arise, we shall see to it that they are settled and composed in timely fashion before they become dangerously widespread.”

On this day of June 25, we not only thank and praise God for the example of the fearless confessors of Augsburg (who, by the way, were all laymen), but also ask Him to preserve us in that same confession of faith and to pass on this saving faith to future generations. This we do mindful of our Lord’s own words: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

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Rev. Timothy Teuscher is President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.

New President for Japan Lutheran Church

NRK President Tatsuomi Yoshida in a recent broadcast from his congregation.

JAPAN – The Japan Lutheran Church (日本ルーテル教団 Nihon Ruteru Kyoudan – NRK) held its 18th General Conference online on April 29, 2021, after a year’s delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the conference, the NRK elected Rev. Tatsuomi Yoshida as the church’s new president.

“We, as part of the body of Christ, will serve the Lord and pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as we utilize the leadership and talents of these servants,” President Yoshida said of himself and other newly elected Executive Committee members. “I would appreciate it if you would keep us in your prayers.”

Prior to his election, Rev. Yoshida served as Vice President of the NRK. He succeeds President Shin Shimizu, who was first elected to the position in 2014. President Yoshida will also continue to serve as pastor of Sapporo Chuo Lutheran Church.

The International Lutheran Council (ILC) sent greetings to President Yoshida on his election following the NRK’s recent convention. “It is an honour to congratulate you,” write ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and General Secretary Timothy Quill. “We are keeping you in our prayers, beseeching our Lord to grant you wisdom and strength to lead your church during these very difficult days. It is important to courageously face today’s spiritual, cultural, and political challenges with the confidence and certain hope that can only be found in Christ Jesus and the Gospel.”

“United in our commitment to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions,” the letter continues, “we look forward to working together joyfully in making a united witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we encourage and strengthen one another in preaching the pure Gospel clearly and boldly to the entire world.”

During its convention, the Japan Lutheran Church chose a new theme for the coming triennium: “Love our Neighbour Churches as We Love Our Church,” drawing on Romans 15:2—“Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up.” To that end, the church also adopted the following action points: to “reflect on why our congregations were assembled by God and how we can serve Him,” to “cooperate with each other,” and “to walk with people who face difficulties, such as those who are impacted by natural disasters and the pandemic.”

The Japan Lutheran Church is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Australian Lutheran bishop to retire

LCA Bishop John Henderson (Photo: LCA)

AUSTRALIA – Bishop John Henderson of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has announced that he will not be seeking reelection at the church’s Convention of General Synod later this year.

Bishop Henderson was first elected to head the LCA in April 2013. He was also the first leader of the Australian church to hold the title of bishop, as the same convention which elected him also voted to change the title of synodical head from president to bishop. He was reelected to a second term in October 2018.

Bishop Henderson formerly served as Vice President of the LCA from 2006-2011, and as a member of the General Church Council from 2003-2011. He also served as Principal of Australian Lutheran Council from 2009 until his election as bishop. He was first ordained in 1982.

In addition to not seeking reelection, Bishop Henderson has announced his intention to retire from active pastoral ministry.

The next steps in the search for a new bishop will take place in July 2021, when delegates to the General Pastors Conference will nominate candidates for the position of bishop. Nominees with at least 25 percent of the vote at the Pastors Conference will be added to the slate for election at the Convention of General Synod, which is scheduled for September 28 – October 3 in Melbourne. Candidates may also be nominated from the floor under a special provision.

Update: In light of ongoing concerns related to the pandemic, the Lutheran Church of Australia has announced a change in format for its upcoming convention. The Convention of General Synod will now be held in two parts: essential business, including the election of a new bishop, will be held online in October 2021, with an in-person event to follow in 2022. The 2021 General Pastors Conference will likewise be unable to meet in person.

The Lutheran Church of Australia is an Associate Member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Holy Week—the Greatest Week Indeed!

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem: Alexander Gibbs, 1883-1884.

by Timothy Quill

If professional pollsters had existed on Palm Sunday, they would have been shamed out of business in less than a week due to totally erroneous predictions about Jesus’ popularity among the people and His political prospects. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He was met by a large crowd rallying their support and shouting, “Hosanna (“save us now”)! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:14) Then almost overnight the pollsters would have had to issue a major correction, embarrassed at the astonishing speed at which Jesus was abandoned by the crowds and religious leaders, betrayed and denied by His disciples, and forsaken by God Himself!

In the poignant Lenten hymn, “My Song is Love Unknown,” we sing:

Sometimes they strew His way and His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King.
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry. (LSB 430 St. 3)

Palm Sunday is also known by the name Passion Sunday, for it marks our Lord’s entrance into the most unholy week in history. I say “unholy” because this is the week which led to the crucifixion and death of our beautiful Saviour.  Since the beginning of creation, the world had never seen such divine grace and truth and beauty. Yet now, Jews and Gentles united with Satan to unleash the most brutal, inhuman, ugly attack on the most beautiful, pure, and holy, Son of God.

Today, however, Christians observe these seven days every year as Holy Week. For this is not primarily a story about the deeds of the unholy. Holy Week—also called the Great Week—is God’s beautiful story about how He so loved the world that He sent Holy Jesus, His only begotten Son full of grace and truth, into the flesh to save the world through His holy suffering and death. It is holy because it is God’s week. The Gospel story is about God’s gracious deeds and is rightly called the Great Week—the greatest week indeed!

Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine!
Never was love, dear King, never was grief like Thine.
This is my friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend! (LSB 430 St. 7)

During Holy Week, Jesus miraculously transformed the most unholy week in the unholy history of the fallen sinful world into what today is rightly called Holy Week. The Holy One, Jesus Christ, remade His fallen creation into the new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). For this reason, the joyous Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) is sung at the Easter Virgil prior to the service of Holy Baptism: “Rejoice now, all you heavenly choirs of angels; rejoice now all creation…This is the night when Christ the Life, arose from the dead. The seal of the grace is broken and the morning of the new creation breaks forth the out of the night. Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Your mercy toward us, O God.”

Christ Bearing the Cross: Alexander Gibbs, 1883-1884.

As Christians we observe Holy Week every year with special attention focused on the four great services marking the four major salvation events: (1) Palm or Passion Sunday, (2) Maundy Thursday, (3) Good Friday, and (4) Easter. In these divine services we walk with Jesus on His holy way to the cross. It is a time to listen to Sacred Scriptures. But to do so is to do more than simply listen to religious history: when we listen to our Lord’s Word at worship, where two or three are gathered together in His name, we have Jesus’ sure and certain promise that He is indeed with us (Matthew 18:20). In the Holy Week liturgies of Word and Sacrament, we travel with Jesus in repentance for our part in His suffering and death; mourning His death and our sin. We hear His words of forgiveness and in so doing receive His holy, cleansing absolution. On Maundy Thursday we hear Him tell how He bestows upon us today the forgiveness, life, and salvation He won through His suffering and death upon the cross: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.”

On Good Friday we hear His words from the cross spoken in unfathomable anguish because of our sins and for our sins. Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” And what He said to those who crucified Him and the penitent criminal dying on the cross next to Him, He says to us today: “Father, forgive them” and “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” The Holy Spirit moves us to acknowledge our Lord’s holy gifts with our lips in faith and song. Through His death and resurrection, we are prepared for our own most blessed death. In the hymn “O sacred head now wounded,” we sing together:

Be Thou my consolation, my shield, when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well. (LSB 449 St. 4)

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Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill is General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council.