Recently I have been reading and listening to a lot of Lutheran theology from the Missouri Synod and the Australian Lutheran Church. Both of which are conservative interpretations of the tradition.
At the heart of what I have been studying is the notion of "inaugurated eschatology" or "proleptic eschatology". This is a wonderful notion that the Kingdom of God was actually begun or inaugurated by Jesus. And while the full eschaton or end times will be far more wonderful, the change has already begun, though as Dr Voelz says, "not without remainder."
Therefore, the world has not been totally transformed, but in some way the transformation has already happened. This thought challenges me to see myself, others and all of creation as fully loved, fully one and fully whole with Christ; justified as the Lutherans would say.
It is a wonderful way of understanding how our prayer and meditation is not dependent on us and our "getting it right", but instead it is a matter of "receiving" what is always flowing toward us, due to union with Christ and the Holy Spirit that came to us at baptism. I am attracted to this notion of the very everydayness of our dialogue and union with God, since I have always struggled with meditation and prayer.
It is with this view and understanding that traditional Lutherans read the Scriptures, both the Jewish and Christian. This perspective also enables one to interpret the people, incidents and institutions within the Jewish scriptures as "types" that point to Jesus and the New Testament. Lutheran interpreters do this (at least in the Concordia Commentary series) with much love and respect for the texts themselves, as well as for the God, who lives and speaks throughout the texts.
Then today I have been reading the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, which as the subtitle says is "The Code of Jewish Law". The sections I have been reading are about Shabbat. And as anyone who knows anything about Jewish law can imagine, the discussions on what one can and cannot do on Shabbat are incredibly involved and complex, even about "simple" things like asking a non-Jew to fix the wick of a candle to improve the light, and on and on.
Of course, I do not have to live these rules and from outside it feels like one could become easily paralyzed trying to decide what is the right thing to do.
However, I LOVE the profound attempt to understand and live in a way that fulfills God's wishes. In fact, many of the laws are actually not in the Bible, but were defined by Rabbinic decree to put a "fence" around the Biblical laws to protect folks from even getting close to breaking a commandment.
As I was reading about the rules for Shabbat today, I couldn't help compare this Orthodox Jewish approach to living a religious or spiritual life with the Lutheran conception of how Christ came to set right what had gone wrong and the Lutheran challenge to us to understand and live in a way that recognizes our justification and has eyes to see the foretaste of the Resurrection of all of creation that Christ inaugurated.
Could they be more different?
And while I am not ready to accept the "yoke of the Torah", I must admit I find the concern for and love of Hashem's Torah awe inspiring, even if the reality is that there seems like there is often much conflict and bitterness between different groups of Torah-observant Jews.
The Lutheran message is also wonderful in its challenge to us to see with new eyes, but it also feels too easy to allow it to be a nice slogan without it actually affecting our lives (of course this is a gross generalization). While the Torah tradition seems so in your face that one cannot live without it affecting one's life, though perhaps one could go through the motions without it affecting one's heart.
Both are profound traditions that ask much of their members, not like some of New Age or "prosperity" spiritualities that are popular today. In fact, as Rav Rosensweig often discusses, the Torah asks for a "maximal" response or commitment. Today, many might equate a maximal commitment with some type of fanaticism, but instead I find it a call to love God with one's whole heart, soul and strength . . . what a beautiful ideal to live up to!
And if we accept the idea that if for one moment Hashem/God would withhold his presence and love from creation then everything would immediately cease to exist and that we God's beloved creatures made in God's image, is a maximal commitment and response of gratitude and obedience too much to expect? We are given so much (in fact everything), can we not give much in return?
Today, I began to listen to Rav Rosensweig's begin shiur on the second chapter of the Pesachim tractate and immediately realized how little I could follow even though I have been listening to him off and on for years. What that made me think is that perhaps the Lutheran message of all being given and the need to "merely" respond and receive that I hear in the book by John Kleinig in his book Grace Upon Grace is the most empowering and truly "maximal" message, because it puts the maximal power and effort into God's hands -- challenging our maximal response to be one of openness and receptivity. The radical simplicity of this message is perhaps too easy to dismiss and ignore as I search for something to do other than receive the "grace upon grace" that God is giving.
These words from Kleinig's book summarizes much of what I have written:
"The teaching of Jesus on meditation does not concentrate on what we do but on what He does as we meditate on His Word; the emphasis is on what we receive from Him and His heavenly Father as we let Him and His Word occupy our hearts. By meditating on His Word we receive what He has to give us through it."What needs to be made clear is that for Rev Kleinig "His Word" does not simply mean the words of Jesus or just those of the New Testament, but the also encompass the Hebrew scriptures as well, which is made clear by Rev Kleinig's commentary on Leviticus that he wrote for the Concordia Commentary series. Both scriptures are the Word that point to the triune God who loves us beyond our imagination.
Another passage from Rev Kleinig that speaks to me:
"I assume that I don't know how to pray or what to pray for; instead, I look for guidance from God's Word and the Holy Spirit. Praying, then, comes as a gift rather than a demand."