What Kid Doesn't Love a Ghost Story The Holy Ghost as Renovator
We've been kids again this Advent and Lent. Luther liked to call the Apostles' Creed "The Children's Creed." In treating the 3rd Article he referred to the Holy Ghost using 3 memorable Latin words. Vivificator, Sanctificator, and Renovator (Peters, Creed, 235). The last in the spookiest of all. I think of a sci-fi story where a presence from another realm changes ours. It's pretty clear why Luther refers to the Holy Ghost as "life-giver" and "sanctifier" but "renovator?" That's the only Latin title that comes directly into English. A "renovator" is a sizable farm machine that tears up the ground. I wouldn't want to be worked on by a renovator. So why do we confess the Holy Ghost as Renovator?
Because He is a Ghost that can and does impact the physical realm. Normally ghosts pass through solid objects. Even when they want to they can't alter physical reality. Usually in ghost stories this is a point of great frustration. The good ghost wishes to help someone but can't stop the person from falling. The bad ghost wishes to harm someone but their hand passes through the object they try to throw. When a ghost is able to move things in this realm, even if it's a good ghost, the creep factor explodes. This is the glass that appears to float through the air. This is the door slamming shut. This is the little girl seeing her TV filled with static saying eerily, "They're ba-ack."
Many religions, even some Christian denominations, go by the motto: K.I.S.S. Not Keep It Simple Stupid, but Keep It Spiritual Stupid. Keep God in the realm of the spiritual. Keep the Ghost who is holy out of the realm of the physical. Physical things are beneath Him, corrupted in and of themselves. Sure, God made us from dust, but we're to rise above these mundane physical things. Sorry, God's more of a Tennessee Ernie Ford sort. He knows that "mud...muscle and blood" aren't contrary to having an indebted soul. He is more of a Garth Brooks sort. He isn't put off by the "blooddust and mud," but drawn to them.
The Ghost who is holy isn't at work trying to scare you. He's a Renovator seeking to apply what Jesus did in His Body and Soul to your body and soul. Rather than haunt you with your wicked past or with sinful deeds you've done. He would haunt' you with what Jesus did in your place.
The Passion Reading takes us right to the cross. You can see that Jesus is humiliated, hurting, and harmed in body and soul. He has a body that can be stripped of its clothes. He had garments to divide. Jesus has a heart that can break as yours does when you see your loved-ones suffer. And what torments must have torn His soul to lead His mouth to cry out in despair, "My God, why have your forsaken Me?" Even as His soul is crushed, His body thirsts. And when He dies we get the first inkling that His death means something for our death because physical graves are opened and those dead, dry bones are raised to life in 3 days.
What Jesus did in body and soul during Lent and Easter, the Renovator wants to apply to you. Notice after Easter what pains Jesus takes to show He isn't a ghost or spirit because they don't have flesh and bones. Notice how He makes a point of eating in front of people and inviting Thomas to place his hand into the nail and spear holes. A large part of Christianity makes little of Jesus' physical resurrection. O He rose but He took that body to heaven and there it stays. Everything He does now He does through the Spirit. No, that Spirit is a Ghost who is holy, and He wants to apply the flesh and blood of Jesus to your flesh and blood to renovate them for everlasting life.
The Holy Ghost can affect things in this physical realm that's why He's called Renovator. The Holy Ghost takes all the good things Jesus did in this life, never sinning, always helping, and credits that to our body and soul covering our disobedience. And the Holy Ghost takes all that Jesus suffered in this life, that's what you heard in the Passion Reading, and applies it to our body and soul which deserve to suffer as He did.
The Ghost who is holy haunts' you in the sense that He applies what Jesus did and suffered in this physical life to your physical life. This is not so much too spooky as it is too ordinary, too physical, not spiritual enough for Reformed Christianity. This is because the Holy Ghost applies what Jesus did and won in His physical life to your physical life by means of physical things. What I'm saying is that the Font, the Chalice, and the Absolution are the equivalent of the glass floating through the air, the door slamming, the TV being filled with static. They are the indicators that this realm is being acted on by another, not for haunting but for renovating.
The realm where this renovating takes place is "this Christian Church." The Holy Ghost ties Himself to the Holy Christian Church. "In this Christian Church" is where the Holy Ghost performs the miracles of forgiving sins, resurrecting bodies, and giving everlasting life. Two points:
First, the reason He can perform the miracle of renovating forgiveness on sinful bodies and souls is because Jesus with a human body and soul won them for your body and soul by His holy life and guilty death in your place. The reason the Renovator can raise your dead body from the grave is that Jesus went into the grave in your place. The reason the Holy Ghost can give you everlasting life after your body dies is because Jesus suffered everlasting death on the cross before His body died.
Second, the Holy Ghost doesn't work in this realm directly by zapping forgiveness, resurrection, or life into it without means. On the Last Day God does work without means, and what happens? Every knee bows and every tongue on, above, and under the earth confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. But at that time unbelievers also cry to the hills to fall on them to hide them, and they mourn bitterly. When God works without means it is the end of the world.
Today is not the end of the world. Today the Holy Ghost is renovating through means. This is how God has always worked. He passed over the homes of the Old Testament Church by means of the blood of a lamb painted on their doorposts. He passed over the sins of that Church by means of 2 goats a scapegoat that carried their sins away and one that was sacrificed. The high priest physically put his hands on the scapegoat and confessed the church's sins. Again, Naaman expected to be healed of leprosy without physical means by impressive spiritual ceremonies, but Elijah healed him by means of dirty Jordan River water.
Jump to the New Testament. Jesus healed by speaking He said, "Take up your bed and walk." He touched the man full of leprosy. He made mud and applied it to the eyes of a blind man to give him sight. He used spit and fingers to heal a deaf and mute man. And He joins His Word to Water to baptize all nations into the Triune God. He fulfills His promise to be with His Church to the end of the ages not by giving Her peaceful, easy feelings but by giving Her His Body as Bread and His Blood as Wine in His New Testament. And He gives His Spirit, which is our Renovator, to His Church by means of His breath and then He sends them out with the power to affect the spiritual miracle of forgiving sins by means of physically speaking words.
Where do you go to find out, to know, to be certain the Spirit of Jesus which is the Ghost that is holy is at work in your life? Protestants go inward to their thoughts, their feelings, to an inner light, to their prayers, to their believing, to their confessing, to their doing good works. Don't go there. Paul says, "I know that nothing good dwells in my flesh." Jeremiah says, "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked." Paul only wants to be delivered from this body of death; he doesn't seek help from it. And Isaiah says even our best works our filthy.
You know the great solas of the Reformation. The Faith we hold is based solely on Scripture; we are saved solely by Grace; and we are saved without works solely by faith. But faith isn't a power. Faith isn't a decision, a choice, a feeling. Faith is a means of receiving from what you trust in. Faith always has an object it believes in. It is a good or bad faith based on that object. You believe firmly that a rickety ladder will support you; that is bad faith and you will receive a fall. You believe weakly that a strong ladder will support you; that is a good faith and you will receive support.
Don't have faith in faith. Don't have faith in the fact that you believe because no one believes firm enough, long enough, faithfully enough. Have faith in what Jesus did and does. Have faith that Jesus believed perfectly and always. In the depths of hell, He cried out the haunted, hunted question, "Why?" But He asked it of His God, and then after suffering and dying in such a brutal, un-mercied way, He commends His Spirit to His Father and then gives His Spirit over to you. "Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.' With that, He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit."
Where is this Spirit for you? Where is this Ghost who is of the realm of God but able to impact, influence, renovate this physical realm even to the point of raising dead bodies and giving flesh and blood everlasting life? He is in the Words of Jesus which Jesus says are Spirit and Life. He is in the Waters of the Font that touch your flesh because Jesus says the baptized are born of Water and the Spirit. The Renovator is in the Bread and Wine of Communion because these are Jesus' Body and Blood and Jesus can't be present without His Spirit also being there.
I have one last tale of this Ghost who is holy. He renovates this physical realm so totally that in heaven the wounds we received on earth are glorified even as Jesus' nail and spear holes don't ooze with pus but shine with glory. All that has scarred you in this life is renovated so completely by the Holy Ghost haunting you with forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life in this world that they aren't scars in the world without end but laurels. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Vespers VI (20170405); 3rd Article, Passion Reading 6