Pull back. Reflect. Seek silence. Meditate. Sing hymns. These are all beautiful words lifted from Pastor Chris’ Ash Wednesday sermon. Last year we were challenged to live our faith out loud during Lent and this year we are invited to bathe in Holy silence. Our choir will sing The Great Litany as our anthem this week and it will help us to pull back, reflect on God’s love, and ponder the awesomeness of a fully-human Jesus who experienced our sorrows and joys.
A Litany is a form of prayer used in services and processions, and it consists of a number of petitions. The Kyrie, perhaps the oldest and most original form of the Litany, is used most Sundays of the year in our weekly service. The Great Litany (ELW #238) is a prayer that is traditionally sung on the first Sunday in Lent and based on the Jewish Amidah, which consists of nineteen blessings. Much of the historic Litany was retained by the Lutheran Church and Luther hailed it as the second greatest prayer after The Lord’s Prayer. When faced with the Turkish armies at the gates of Vienna in 1528/29, Luther exhorted pastors to call their Christian people to repentance and prayer. He recommended the use of the Litany during the Sunday mass or Vespers. In 1529, he, after modifying the traditional Litany of the Saints (mostly by removing the invocation of saints and prayers for the pope), began using the Litany at Wittenberg in Latin and German. Thomas Cranmer used Luther's revised Litany as one of his main sources in the preparation of the Litany in the Book of Common Prayer.
This week we commemorate two important saints, Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (d. Feb. 23, 156; martyr) and Elizabeth Fredde, deaconess (d. Feb. 25, 1921).
Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna (in present day western Turkey) and a link between the apostolic age and the church at the end of the second century. He is said to have been known by John, the author of Revelation. In turn he was known by Iranaeus, bishop of Lyon in France, and Ignatius of Antioch. At the age of eighty-six he was martyred for his faith. When urged to save his life and renounce his faith, Polycarp replied, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” The magistrate who made the offer was reluctant to kill a gentle old man, but he had no choice. Polycarp was burned at the stake, his death a testimony to the cost of renouncing temptation.
Fedde was born in Norway and trained as a deaconess. In 1882, at the age of thirty-two, she was asked to come to New York to minister to the poor and to Norwegian seafarers. Her influence was wide-ranging, and she established the Deaconess House in Brooklyn and the Deaconess House and Hospital of the Lutheran Free Church in Minneapolis. She returned home to Norway in 1895 and died there.