In the Gloaming
Gloam' is a noun for the period just after sunset. "In the Gloaming" is a 1874 poem that became a 1877 hit song about loving and breaking up. John 13 begins tonight's account of the Lord's Supper with these words: "It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." And this love was in the gloaming.
Scripture tells you this. Paul passing on what he received concerning the Lord's Supper, begins with, "Our Lord Jesus, the same night" John, as well, makes a point of telling you that as soon as Judas takes the fatal sop from the hand of Jesus, "He went out. And it was night." The first line of a Maundy Thursday hymn in our hymnal is' Twas on that dark, that doleful night.." In the gloaming, Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper and I reference not just the twilight. Jesus gives the Gift of gifts in the gloaming of betrayal as the OT says by His "close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared My bread" (Ps. 41:9). The one the group trusted with their physical treasurers; the only disciple that was probably from the more Jewish Judea than from lowbrow Galilee is going to betray Him this night. But the gloaming is deeper than betrayal; it's a deep as death. Jesus knows His hour has come. He knows in a few short hours, He's going to tell His 3 closest disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed within Me to the point of death," and then after taking a few steps He's going to face plant (Mt. 26: 38-9).
You may find yourself in the gloaming tonight as well. Is the sun setting on America? "Are the good times really over for good?" Surely we have been rolling down hill like a snowball heading for hell picking up easy divorce, baby killing, living together, gay marriage and banishing the Divine to the realm of fantasy. Part of being in the gloaming is that you don't know what full dark holds. Life, death, and disease go on apart from pandemics. The gloaming of medical issues is always with us, so is the gloaming of familial, martial, and economical problems. But of course with the gloaming of Covid-19 all dark is denser, all clouds are gloomier, and all fears, worries, cares, and doubts rest heavier on your shoulders.
Even without any of these, there's the gloaming that comes with your sins and sinfulness. The Devil is always roaming seeking someone to devour, but in the very good times and the very bad ones, his roaring is louder. In the good times he comes with a devil-may-care attitude. In the bad times, it's the devil-take-the-hindmost. Wring as much pleasure, joy, happiness any way you can out of such times. Go ahead eat, drink, be merry for tomorrow you may die or it get worse. This may not mean much to you non-hunters, but the most dangerous time for deer during rifle-season is in the gloaming. Migratory birds you can only shoot till sunset, but deer you can shoot one-half hour after sunset. And even non-hunters know, that's when you see deer most often. In the gloaming, deer don't see the danger. We may not either. Jesus does.
What does Jesus do in the gloaming? He give gifts. He gives gifts to the disciples He knows to a man will forsake Him this night. He gives gifts to Peter who assures Him he won't even though Jesus tells him he will. He gives gifts to Peter who won't believe His words. He gives gifts to the ones who will leave Him alone to face the powers of darkness in the gloaming. Jesus has the right to give gifts to sinners who deserve nothing but judgment, to cowards who deserve to be abandoned to their fears, to worriers who deserve to be worried to death. Jesus can give gifts to sinners, cowards, worriers and worse because He is the true Passover Lamb. He was selected before time by the Father to carry into the gloaming the cowardice, fears, worries, lusts, and sins of the world. He will bear all the shame, pain, and punishment of hell they call for, so the wrath of God may pass over a world of sinners. If you've ever been in a deep wood or thick jungle, the gloaming starts on the edge and gets progressively darker till it's full dark, no stars. At this point, you're feeling ahead with your toes. This is Jesus from Gethsemane till the 3 dread hours when the sun fails completely.
The blood the OT Passover lamb was painted on their door posts, so the angel of death, more frightful than anything you've ever imagined let alone seen, would pass over them. Jesus' blood does the same for the sins of the world. He bleeds out over us all but gives His NT Church something far better than the Old. He gives us His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. He doesn't say, "Take post; this is My Body." Or, "Take paint; this is My Blood," but "Take eat; take drink." Years ago it was reported that 70% of Catholics don't believe Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ. I don't know if that's true. I do know that is the what Protestants believe. I do know that when the ELCA, decades ago, entered into Communion fellowship with 3 denominations that never believed Communion was Jesus' Body and Blood, they gave up the Real Presence on their altars. I also know any Church confessing they do have the Body and Blood, and yet practices Open Communion is calling down weakness, sickness, and death on their members for communing those not discerning Christ's Body. So, in the gloaming let's not lose sight of what Jesus actually gives in this Meal. We speak of the Real Presence but some Reformed will use this term. That's why we want to speak of Christ's Body and Blood being present. "Melanchthon wanted to emphasize the presence of the person of Christ and not that of His body and blood in the Lord's Supper..." (Brecht, Luther III, 329). He did this to make Calvinists comfortable. Luther on the other hand didn't. He said, "'the body of Christ wears the bread'" (Peters, Baptism & Lord's Supper, 154, fn. 38). And we don't want to be so afraid of the Catholic error of transubstantiation we distance ourselves from the miracle that takes place. Again Luther: "'Therefore this sacrament is brought about by the Word of Christ, on which all things are founded. And thus, what was bread before the consecration, now it is the body of Christ after consecration, because the Word of Christ changes what was created'" (Ibid., 166, fn.100).
Don't misunderstand. Luther rejected transubstantiation which says the bread and wine can't be there "as a philosophical construct that was not in the Bible" (Brecht, Luther III, 225). But he also said, "I do not argue whether the wine remains wine or not. It is enough for me that Christ's blood is present; let it be wine as God wills. Sooner than have mere wine with the fanatics, I would agree with the pope that there is only blood (LW, 37, 317). In the gloaming, a picture of a loved one would be a comfort, a symbol of their love would too, but having the person there would be supremely better. To have in your body the same Body Jesus gave into death on the cross to save you from eternal darkness, to have in your mouth the very Blood Jesus shed there for the remission of your sins, is light in the gloaming. Read Psalm 114. The Lord's presence in the OT Church caused the sea to flee, the Jordan to part, the mountains to skip, and the hills to tremble. You do not see, you may not feel God's Body and Blood surging through your veins, but all creation, including angels, archangels, and all heaven, as well as Demons, Death, and Disease see it, feel it, and shiver even in the gloaming.
Jesus worked miracles when He walked the earth to draw attention to the kingdom, to Himself, the king, and to a new heaven and new earth which He was bringing about in His Person and by His Work. The miracles He works now that His kingdom is here are Baptism that makes new creatures; Absolution that forgives what no man can, and the miracle of miracles: His Body given as Bread and His Blood as Wine. And we wouldn't dare do this last miracle had He not commanded, "This do often.", and had He not promised, it's "in remembrance of me." This special word remembrance' is practically untranslatable in English. Our word remembrance suggest a recollection of the past, but anamnesis (a-na'm-na-ses) means making present an object or person from the past (Dict. Of Sac. Theo, 45ff). The French translate "to bring Me back to you." Luther commenting on 1 Cor. 10:16f, and 11:27, "insisted tirelessly that the Lord confronts us in a physically tangible way" (Peters, 177). Francis of Assisi more starkly said, "'I see nothing corporally of the Most High Son of God in this world except His Most Holy Body and Blood..'" (Oxford. Hit of Wor., 236). Non-denom's, Calvinists, Evangelicals, Protestants, and Episcopalians don't see this. We do.
Luther used physical analogies to draw people to the Lord's Supper: "'Thus for us the Sacrament is a street, a bridge, a door, a ship, and a stretcher, on which and by means of which we journey from this world into eternal life'" (Elert, Structure, 319). He also liked "Medicine of Immortality" that Ignatius got from the liturgy of Antioch (Sasse, This is My Body, 148): "breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but live forever in Jesus Christ" (Lightfoot, 2, Ephesians, 20, 55). This is how our Large Catechism puts it: "But those who feel their weakness, who are anxious to be rid of it and long for help, should regard and use this Sacrament as a precious antidote against the poison in their systems" (V, 70).
But what about now in this gloaming? We're not all able to gather to receive the Lord's Supper. In the days of ship travel, Christians would celebrate a "'dry mass'" lest they spill the Body and Blood. It was a condensed rite that retained the Lord's Prayer, the Agnus Dei, the Pax Domini, and post-communion Collect, but always omitted the consecration and communion (Oxford. Hit of Wor., 642). There are times, in the gloaming of sickness and dying, a person can't receive anything by mouth. There have been times in the Church's past where no pastors were available to consecrate the elements. Do you think the Good Shepherd let His sheep starve or even go hungry at such times? No more than your infants and children we don't commune now do. The Body and Blood of Christ on the altar is also in the Font and in the mouth of Absolution. In the gloaming it can be so dark you can't see them, but His Words pierce the gloam and where they are He is. Eat, drink, enjoy. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (20200409); I Cor. 11: 23-30