Advent will have a different feeling for your pastor this year, and perhaps for some of you as well. This year, we have been using a lectionary that is used in the Evangelical Church in Germany, and, while it follows the same liturgical calendar – that is, it moves through the traditional seasons from Advent to the time after Pentecost (or Ordinary Time, as it is called in the ELCA), it includes some observances not found in American Lutheran Churches.
Two of these were observed the last two Sundays of the church year, just before the new church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent: Volkstrauertag and Totensonntag, which is also known as Ewigkeitssonntag. Volkstrauertag is a civic as well as a religious observance in Germany, that has its roots in previous commemorations of those who died in combat. Established after World War II, Volkstrauertag has a strong element of lament for all the evils committed in the name of war, as well as fervent prayers for peace.
Our worship service emphasized naming our sins and repenting of them as the way to most profoundly understand and receive God’s forgiveness and grace. Doing this in the context of remembering those who suffered — and still suffer –untimely and violent death brings our awareness of our own mortality and, therefore, our reliance upon God to the fore.
We end the church year with Totensonntag, which
was the German church’s response to popular demand for a festival like the Roman Catholic All Saints Day. While as a church community we commemorate those friends and family members who died within the past year, as well as all those who have been near and dear to us in our lives who have died in the faith, we also reflect upon the promise of eternal life that is ours in Jesus Christ. This year, St. Matthew’s ended the church year in repentance, lament, and hope. We have considered our sinful nature and realize that we cannot save ourselves from sin. We have considered our mortality and realize that we cannot save our own lives. For both these things, we look to God.
Let us begin our Advent journey to Christmas in humility and hope.
Let us consider what it means that God deigns to become human in order to free us from sin and death.
Let us feel the wonder that only can be ours when we realize that we shall receive – indeed we have received and shall receive again – a gift that we cannot give ourselves, the greatest gift of all: Jesus Christ.
With warmest wishes for a blessed and grateful Advent,