Everything's Coming Up Roses
"Everything's coming up roses," is a saying meaning everything is going fine, better than expected. As near as I can tell it comes from a 1959 musical. Though one version of the song makes Rose a name and apostrophizes it so that in a divorce everything comes up belonging to Rose. Pentecost, though is a marriage of sorts, between us and the Spirit, and everything does come up roses.
For Confessional Lutherans the Holy Spirit is like the confessional. Lutherans don't have actual confessional boxes like Catholics do. However, we do have the same Seal of the Confessional, meaning whatever is confessed to a pastor can never be revealed to another. On Catholic confessional booths a rose is often carved above it to symbolize the secrecy of the confession. The rose as a symbol of secrecy goes back to the Greek myth where the god of silence gives Cupid a rose to guard the secrets of Aphrodite (Browser's Dict., 375-6). The word sub-rosais used to mean secretive', private' but literally means under the rose.'
For Confessional Lutherans the Holy Spirit is sub-rosa. We don't talk much about having the Spirit, being moved by the Spirit, Spirit-led. Among Missouri Synod churches Holy Spirit is not one of the top 12 names. Keeping the Spirit sub-rosa is Biblical. He has been called the shy member of the Holy Trinity' based on Jesus' words in John 16. He says that the Spirit doesn't speak on His own but speaks what He hears from the Father and He takes from what belongs to Jesus and discloses it to us. Luther compared the Holy Spirit to a poor lute player who only knows how to play one song (Peters, Creed, 256). And that song is Jesus.
With the Spirit everything comes up sub-rosa for Confessional Lutherans, so imagine my surprise when 15 years into my ministry I began regularly praying A Pastors Prayer in the 1941 Agenda. I found myself asking Jesus to "send down Thy Holy Spirit to cleanse my lips, so that I may be bold to preach Thy Word in all its fullness", and praying "Let Thy Holy Spirit direct me that I may always speak the things which become sound doctrine."
Though we don't talk much about the Spirit, boy howdy do we need Him. Without the Spirit nothing comes up roses but only thorns. Without the Spirit far beneath the bitter snows of sin, of death, of devil, buried under the winter of our discontent and the lust of the flesh, of the eyes, and the pride of life that is death, lies not the seed of a rose but a thorn. Without the Spirit of Christ, nothing of Christ can grow. Paul emphatically states, "If anyone does NOT have the Spirit of Christ, this one is NOT of Christ."
But Paul says more than this. Without the Spirit of God living in you, you are controlled by the sinful nature. This is how the NIV puts it. The literal Greek makes it a stark either/or matter. If you are in flesh, your body is dead because of sin and so is your spirit because you lack the righteous that comes from the Spirit of Christ.
Without the Spirit not one of us sees what's really going on. Without the Spirit we think everyone with a heartbeat or possibly brain waves is alive and will one day die. And even when their heart stops beating or their brain stops waving, they go on living in some better place. Everything comes up roses for everyone. If there is a hell, it's here on earth. As Marty Robbins sang in 1970, God should give His wife "that mansion up yonder cause she's been through hell here on earth."
The reality the Spirit shows us in Holy Scripture is that without the Spirit of God, of Christ, fallen men are at worst the walking dead and at best they are like an animal shot through the heart that runs on and doesn't know that it's dead. Only the Spirit can wake a person up to the fact that he is deluding himself like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Jilted at the altar she wears her rotting wedding dress the rest of her life, sitting in a cobweb filled room with a moldering wedding cake and blackened, dead, decomposed roses. Miss Havisham is apparently oblivious to the fact that she is living death. Furthermore, only the Spirit can wake us to the fact that even when life is going good, successful, fun, exciting, we're deluding ourselves if we're thinking that it doesn't get any better than this; that this is living; now I'm really alive. Not apart from the Spirt you are. You think you have grabbed life by the roses when in reality all you got are the thorns.
Everything comes up roses only by the Spirit, and thanks be God, the Son pours out the Spirit like so many rose petals. In Italy the Day of Pentecost is called Pascha rossa because the vestments worn by the clergy are red that day. In other parts of Italy, Pentecost is called Pascha rosarum because rose petals are scattered from the celling to commemorate the miracle of the tongues of fire on Pentecost (Feast Day Cookbook, 74). This act of liturgical drama has always appealed to me. The sight and smell of hundreds and hundreds of rose petals falling down on the congregation would drive home the gift, the grace, the beauty of the Spirit poured out by Christ on Pentecost.
Christ had the Holy Spirit in His mortal body. As True God, He always had the Spirit, but at His Baptism the Holy Spirit descended on His mortal body for all to see in the form of a Dove. The Holy Spirit does not remain where sin rules, so when Adam and Eve gave in to the spirit of misbelief, unbelief, and other great shame and vice, the Spirit left them. The Spirit would have done the same thing to Jesus if He had ever sinned. You know how skittish doves are. They flutter away at the slightest gesture even a look in their direction. So the Dove of the Spirit would have left the Man Jesus had He ever did one of the sins you did this week, said one of the profanities you did yesterday, or had just one of the base, vile thoughts you had today. But Jesus did not sin in thought, in word, or deed, and so the Spirit remained.
But still, you and I, sinners all, had no right to the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Life, of Hope, of Peace. In our life everything could only come up thorns not roses. That's why Jesus went to the cross as a guilty, damned sinner. God no longer looked at Him as His beloved Son in whom He was well-pleased. No, He didn't look at Him at all as they beat Him, slapped Him, whipped Him, and nailed Him to the cross. No, He forsook Him to leave Him on the cross for an eternity in hell. This was the price that had to be paid in order for the Holy Spirit to be given to sinners. And God the Father testified that the price had been paid in full by raising Jesus from the dead. Sins were all paid for; His anger against sinners appeased; God was reconciled to sinners.
Still everything couldn't come up roses until God the Son reascended to His native heaven and where God the Son goes so goes the Son of Mary who has the Spirit without measure and had now won the right to pour out that Spirit on all flesh. He did this directly upon His assembled Church on the first Pentecost, and they poured the Spirit out on the world through preaching the mighty acts God had done in the Person of Christ, by baptizing in Jesus' name, and by celebrating the Meal of His Body and Blood. See the Holy Spirit showering down upon you through these Means of Grace as so many sweet smelling and brightly colored rose petals.
Pentecost is to fill us with the childlike wonder at this great gift. Years ago, I happened to be in the country at a church BBQ when the first real rain came after that long, long drought. There were 18-24 month old children who had never been out in the rain before. They stepped out from under the shelter and turned their faces upward in surprise. What is this falling from the sky? What a wonder! What delight! What a miracle! Adults dismiss rain as natural; it's not. It's a gift of God. And so is the poured out Spirit.
Read the Scriptures. Everywhere that man's possibilities, strength, and wisdom are at an end, we find the presence and working of the Spirit (Franzmann, Romans, 138-9). The Spirit comes upon Samson to give him superhuman strength; the Spirit comes upon David to rule. When the Old Testament Church is faced with the task of rebuilding, they are told it won't be by their might or their power but by God's Spirit.
The Spirit is called the promise, the pledge, and literally the arrabon of God. This is variously translated as the earnest', first-fruit', down payment', guarantee', pledge', signet', and deposit'. An arrabon is something tangible, touchable, real that guarantees the fullness to come. It is not a mere verbal promise, but real cash. It's not a feeling from inside but a thing from outside. The arrabon is not the flashlight which a traveler in the dark carries in his hand; it is the glow on his face which reflects the rising sun" (Newbigin, Sign of the Kingdom, 37-38).
With the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, everything comes up roses because the Spirit brings the sweet odor of Christ's atonement for the sins of the world which satisfies the wrath of God. The Spirit preached into our ears, poured on our bodies, eaten and drank by mouth pledges to us, promises us, guarantees us we will make it all the way back to the Garden where no more do sin and sorrows grow or thorns invest the ground but everything comes up roses.
How do you know where roses are? Follow your nose. The smell of a body washed by Water in Baptism; the scent of Easter lilies that is the Absolution breathed out by Christ on Easter evening, and the whiff of sweet Communion wine that is Jesus' Blood all beckon you to where the Spirit is for you. In these things the Spirit you're about to pray God for to create a clean heart in you; to renew within you, to take not away from you, to uphold you with is here for you every Sunday. You see while we sing in a hymn that we ought not to expect to be taken to heaven on "flowery beds of ease" (TLH 445), we can also sing that He has promised us a rose garden. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Day of Pentecost (20180520); Romans 8:9-11