The first day of Lent, derived from the custom of marking the foreheads of those gathered with ashes in the sign of the cross. Ashes symbolize repentance and mortality so, while receiving ashes, worshipers hear either “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Worshipers also hear Jesus say in the Gospel for the day, “When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces… but when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face” (Matthew 6:16-17). Go figure!
From the Latin adventus, the “arrival” or “coming.” Names the first season of the Christian year in anticipation of Jesus’ first coming as the baby Jesus. The church speaks of three “advents” of Jesus: 1) In the flesh in the Christ child. 2) In the preaching of the Gospel. 3) At the end of time. We live in between the first and final coming of Jesus, sustained by his arrival in the proclamation of the good news. Which means that the next time you hear a good sermon, you could compliment the preacher by saying, “Good Advent!”
From the Greek angelos, messenger. A herald, one who brings tidings or news. In Scripture, it often, though not always, refers to a heavenly being appointed by God to bring good news, in art usually adorned with wings and long flowing robe. Yet in real life, no wings or robes are necessary to act as an agent and messenger of God. Each day, a person who encourages us can be our angel, and each time we bring others a word of encouragement and remind them of their worth and value, we get to be an angel. Pretty cool!
Most theological words, as you’ve probably already noticed, are from Greek, Latin, or German. Atonement is the one and only word the comes from English! And… it means exactly what it says: at-one-ment. Atonement is the act of making something whole, of repairing something that was broken, of restoring unity where there was disunity and harmony where there was discord. Atonement describes the work of Jesus, especially on the cross and resurrection, to repair the broken relationship between humanity and God. Jesus shows us how much God loves us and mends our broken hearts and heals our sundered relationships.
From the Greek baptizmo: to immerse, cover, or wash. When we talk about baptism “washing away our sins,” we may think we are speaking symbolically. But when the pastor pours water over our heads and shares the promise that God loves and accepts us as we are, we are literally being immersed in mercy, covered in grace, and washed of all that we may do or have done to us. In baptism, we receive our primary identity as we hear the same promise made to Jesus at his baptism: “You are my beloved child. With you, I am well pleased.”
Derived from a plural Greek noun, “Biblia,” meaning “books.” Containing 66 books, the Bible offers a veritable library describing the relationship between God and God’s people. Those books were written over a 1000-year period in several different languages, contain diverse genres (stories, poems, collections of laws, wisdom sayings, etc.), and weave together numerous historical, cultural, and theological traditions, sometimes in the same book. This diverse set of writings is united in that each represents the testimony of a person or community so caught up in their experience of the living and loving God that they had to tell someone – us!
A covenant is an agreement or contract that establishes a relationship between two parties describing a) responsibilities of the respective parties and b) consequences for not following through. Biblical covenants always include a greater party that initiates the covenant (God!) and a lesser party that tries to live into it (Israel). There are four major covenants in the Old Testament, made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Israel, representing humanity, fails with all of them. God therefore initiates a new covenant in Jesus and takes full responsibility for maintaining a life-giving relationship with humanity grounded in grace and mercy.
The rhyme we learned as kids sums it up. Hands folded with inter-spliced fingers: “this is the church and,” raising index fingers, “this is the steeple.” Then turn your hands inside out, “Open the door,” wiggling fingers, “and see all the people!” While the simplest definition of “church” is a “house of worship,” the word originally referred not to a building but the people gathered there. “Church,” then, comprises those gathered to hear the promises of God, encourage each other in faith and life, and equip and help each other care for the needs of God’s people and world.
Also known as “The Lord’s Supper” (the meal instituted by Jesus), sometimes called “the Eucharist” (from a Greek word “to give thanks” for God’s salvation in Jesus), and often described as “Holy.” Bottom line, however, is that communion is just what it sounds like – disciples gathered together with Jesus in love. Jesus is present, Lutherans like to say, “in, with, and under the bread and wine.” That is, Jesus is part of all creation and reliably present to us in this meal to remind us of God’s great love. Don’t quite understand that completely? Good. Life-saving mysteries shouldn’t be too easy!
From the Latin confire, “to acknowledge.” Because we often use confession to describe admitting something we’ve done wrong, we may think of confession in negative terms. But… at its best it’s a chance simply to tell the truth. So, when it comes to confessing our sins at the beginning of worship, that’s not about saying we’re bad but rather about telling our deepest truths – about what went well, about what could have gone better, about our hopes, fears, disappointments, setbacks, and all. Then, in response, we get to hear that God loves us… all of us!
From the Latin credo – “I believe.” We often say the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed in worship. Because of how they’re written, a creed can seem like a laundry list of faith statements – “only begotten Son,” “born of a virgin,” etc. – that we have to affirm whether we understand them or not. But notice we begin each creed by saying, “I/We believe in God” the way we might say to a friend, “I believe in you.” When saying the Creed, we’re affirming our trust that the God we hear about in the story of Scripture is for us. Always.
Think of it as the electric chair of the 1st century. With hands and feet nailed to a cross of wood, the one crucified usually died not from the wounds, but from asphyxiation when he could no longer support himself, which usually took two to three days. The Romans thought it was so awful that Roman citizens could not be put to death this way. All of which means… God could not have gone to greater lengths, depths, and (literally!) pains to tell us that God identifies with us fully and loves us completely.