Sunday, March 12, 2017

Elisabeth Cruciger: Komponistin u. Theologe des Kreuzes

This sermon was preached at the evangelische Kirche in Schney, Germany, while I was part of the Grand View University Choir tour of Germany. The congregation was in the midst of a Lenten preaching series about secondary figures in the Reformation. Because the choir's concert programming included a setting of a hymn by Elisabeth Cruciger, I chose her.. The preaching text was Ruth 1:15-18.

Die Predigttext kommt aus dem Buch Ruth im Alten Testament.

[Naomi] aber sprach: “Siehe, deine Schwägerin ist umgekehrt zuihrem Volk und zu ihren Göttern; kehre du auch um, deiner Schwägerin nach!”

Aber Ruth antwortete: Dringe nicht in mich, dass ich dich verlassrn und mich von dir abwenden soll! Denn wo du hingehst, da will ich auch hingehen, und wo du bleibst, da will ich auch bleiben; deinVolk ist mein Volk, und dein Gott ist mein Gott! Wo du stirbst, da sterbeauch ich, und dort will ich begraben werden; der Herr tue mir dies und das und noch mehr, wenn nicht der Tod allein uns scheiden soll!”

Als [Naomi] nun sah, dass [Ruth] sich fest vorgenommen hatte, mit ihr zu gehen, ließ sie davon ab, ihr zuzureden. Here

Here's the sermon in English:

I bring you greetings from Grand View University, our president Kent Henning, our faculty and staff, and our 2000 students. Grand Viewis a university of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and was founded by Danish immigrants as a place where both learning and faith are valued. We’re grateful to continue our relationship with your congregation begun so many years ago under Pastor Stefan Stauch. And we’re glad that we now have come to know Pastor Vincent. Thank you for your hospitality this weekend and for your many kindnesses.

Grace and peace to you, my friends, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In our scripture reading this morning we have the story of Ruth who leaves her home and goes to a foreign land with her mother-in-law Naomi. She begs Naomi not to leave her in Moab. And she declares that Naomi’s god will be her own god. This is a good passage for us today as we continue the series of sermons you have begun on secondary figures in the Reformation as a way to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses and the explosion of the gospel across Germany and the Holy Roman Empire. Last Sunday you heard about Friedrich Myconius, and the next two weeks you’ll learn about Argulavon Grimbach and Albrecht von Brandenburg-Ansbach. But today we meet someone who is much less well known – a woman who, like Ruth, left all she knew to travel to a new place and took up a life with God in an unexpected way.

Elisabeth Cruciger came from Merseritz in Pomerania, which is now part of Poland. At best she’s usually only known as the wife of Caspar Cruciger, whom I’ll tell you about in a moment. But Elisabeth is important in her own right. She was the first female Lutheran hymn writer, which is number 67 in your Evangelisches Gesangbuch: “Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn.” Elisabeth’s hymn was included in the very first evangelische Gesangbücher in 1524. For centuries scholars have asserted that the hymn couldn’t have been written by her. They said a woman couldn’t have written such a profound text. It must have been some theologically astute man who had the proper training and, apparently, the correct plumbing (Klempnerei) to think so deeply. And so Elisabeth disappeared from view. But when you know Elisabeth Cruciger’s history, a deeply faithful, brave, and intelligent woman comes into focus. With her life and her hymn she becomes a witness, an example, and a preacher to us almost 500 years later.

In the year 1500 Elisabeth Cruciger began her life in Pommern. She came from Meseritz, which now lies within Poland’s borders. When she was a young girl her parents placed her in a convent. This wasn’t unusual. It was an act of piety to give your child to the religious life as a nun or a monk. It earned you merit before God and would help balance your spiritual accounts so that you could enter the heavenly realm when you died. Elisabeth entered the convent school of the Premonstratensians[Prämonstratenser] in Treptow on the Baltic Sea and eventually took her vows when she was 15.

Her life in the convent wouldn’t have been much different from what Luther experienced among the Augustinians. The first worship service of the day was at two in the morning, and the rest of the day was full of prayer, study, and work. There was no Feierabend. When the sun went down, it was time for bed. Elisabeth’s order was known for doing work in the outside world. These religious women supported the priests, took care of vestments and paraments, and helped educate the daughters of the nobility. Elisabeth’s life would have extended down the same path, and we would never have known she existed. But she encountered a young preacher who gave her the gospel in a way that ended her old life and awakened her with grace to a new life that wouldn’t let go of her.

The preacher was Johannes Bugenhagen whom Luther and the other reformers affectionately called “Pomeranus.” He had become known as a lecturer among the Premonstratensians. He had taken up the Humanist educational cause and argued for reforms in the church. But by 1520 Bugenhagen had read what the upstart monk in Wittenberg had been writing, and he came around to Luther’s way of preaching law and gospel. One of the people who heard Bugenhagen’s own preaching was Elisabeth Cruciger. In 1521 Bugenhagen left Pomerania to go to Wittenberg, ground zero of the Reformation explosion. There he received the theological underpinnings that supported the changes he’d sought in the north. Within two years he became the pastor of the Stadtkirche in Wittenberg and served as Luther’s own preacher and confessor.

We don’t know why, but about the same time Bugenhagen came to Wittenberg, Elisabeth Cruciger left the abbey in Pomerania, abandoning both her vows and the only life she’d ever really known. There may have been other options available to her, but she chose to go to Wittenberg as well. She must have already known Bugenhagen and his family, because they took her in and cared for her. She wasn’t the only former nun who showed up in Wittenberg. We know about the nuns from Nimbschen, including Katharina von Bora who became Luther’s wife. Something had to be done with all these women who came to town for refuge: perhaps a return to their families or work in local households. A good option was to find husbands for them. Elisabeth met and married a brilliant university student named Caspar Cruciger. He was four years younger, but he was quite a catch. Because of her hymn, I think Elisabeth was his intellectual and theological match. Caspar was regarded as one of Luther’s best students ever and become part of Luther’s inner circle. These men helped translate scripture, wrote treatises, advised Luther, and, as Luther said, drank good Wittenberg beer while God’s word did its work. Elisabeth herself become close friends with Luther’s wife Katherina. While the men were engaged in Tischreden, the women would have heard the conversations and been acquainted with all the issues – even if they didn’t have the university training. Elisabeth and Caspar’s daughter later married Luther’s oldest son Hans.

There aren’t any more details about Elisabeth Cruciger’s life except that she died young. She was only 35. We don’t know the cause of death or where she was buried, but from her hymn we can presume that she died the same kind of blessed death Luther did a decade later. Her hymn is a kind of confession of the promise God brings in Jesus to provide new life not just in the world to come but already in this world, too.

I suspect that Elisabeth Cruciger followed Bugenhagen to Wittenberg because she was a 16th century Ruth. In the Old Testament Ruth followed Naomi because she had felt her mother-in-law’s love so deeply that she was virtually pulled away from her home country ofMoab all the way to Bethlehem. Our Elisabeth had heard the kind of preaching from Bugenhagen that drew her away from her secure life in the cloister and even from her own will. It wasn’t purposeful change or the possibility of true love or warmer weather farther south that pulled her. It was the magnet of the gospel’s proclamation. Like Paul, she longed to be rescued from the death that clings to us in sin.

The people who edited the hymnal we use in our congregation at home were faithful enough to include the Cruciger hymn. But they made a grave error that isn’t present in your hymnal. Our hymnal substitutes the last verse with a lovely doxology, but it misses the depth of the verse your hymnal includes. It’s a verse that shows that Elisabeth had absorbed Luther’s theology of the cross almost to the point of it becoming part of her genetic structure. She wrote, “Ertöt uns durch deinGüte, / erweck uns durch dein Gnad. / Den alten Menschen kränke, / daßder neu’ leben mag / und hier auf dieser Erden / den Sinn und allsBegehren / und G’danken hab zu dir.” [Kill us with your goodness, / arouse us with your grace. / Make the old person weak, / so that it craves the new life / and heer on earth / the sense and all desires / and thought be aimed at you.”] In his Heidelberg Disputation, Luther said, “The ‘theologian of glory’ calls the bad good and the good bad. The ‘theologian of the cross’ says what a thing is.” Unlike yours, our hymnal editors were theologians of glory, for they saw Elisabeth Cruciger asking God to kill us as so horrible that it shouldn’t be sung. What God would want the death of his people? But Cruciger knew something important: the old sinner in me wants nothing more than to continue its existence without end and remain in control of every moment of its future. Elisabeth wrote as one who longed for the end of sin in herself and for the beginning of the freedom of the gospel.

In Romans 6, Saint Paul says that’s exactly what happens in your baptism. “You have been baptized into Christ’s death, so that just as Christ was raised by the glory of the Father, you too might walk in newness of life.” It was 400 kilometers for Elisabeth Cruciger to travel from Treptow on the Baltic Sea to Wittenberg, but that was just a single step compared to the distance between death in sin to new life in Christ. The move made the rest of her life, as short as it was, into a life lived on the verge of the resurrection. She had it already here on earth, and received it in full on the day in 1535 when she breathed her last breath and left her husband and family to continue in God’s Word.

When Luther explains the Third Commandment [Das Dritte Gebot] about the Sabbath day [den Feiertag heiligen] in the Catechism, he says,“We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” [“Wir sollen Gott fürchten und lieben, dass wir die Predigt und seinWort nicht verachten, sondern es heilig halten, gerne hören und lernen.”] In his “Freedom of a Christian,” Luther said that, if you want to become someone who serves your neighbor, the first task for you is to go where faith is bestowed through God’s Word. Elisabeth Cruciger shows us how that happens. She got a taste of the gospel in Pomerania and wanted more. So she went to the place where God promises it can be found.

This is such a place. So is the small but lively congregation next to our university. My wife and I worship there on Sundays and many of our choir members worship there each Tuesday during our weekly chapel service. We do it because we know it’s a church where the preacher knows how to deliver the good news. We show up because we know it’s where Elisabeth Cruciger’s prayer is fulfilled: “[Let us grow in your love and knowledge, so that we might abide in faith, thus serving you in the Spirit, that we might here taste your sweetness in our hearts and always thirst for you.” [“Lass uns in deiner Liebe / und Kenntnisnehmen zu, / dass wir am Glauben bleiben, / dir dienen im Geist so, / dass wir hier mögen schmecken / dein Süssigkeit im Herzen / und dürsten stets nach dir.”]

The faith and kindness and hospitality we strangers from Grand View have known from you for quite some time now reveals that you’ve also had this kind of preacher among you and that you are a people who know where to find what God has promised to give you: life, forgiveness, and salvation. Thanks be to God. Amen.

And now may the peace which far surpasses all our human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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