The apostle St. Paul puts the then and now, the past and present of their lives into perspective as he writes to the Christians in Rome. His goal is to underline and stress the blessedness of their salvation. The Romans had all reason to be proud of being free citizens of the mightiest nation of that time. However in comparison with that political freedom, they now have a far greater treasure and status as they are liberated from the tyranny of sin, death and the devil and put under the gracious reign of the living God. Compared with this eternal liberty of God’s people the temporal political expediency is not so exiting after all. Now they belong to the Lord and King Jesus Christ – and they know no higher bliss and greater joy than serving him with gladness and gratefully for all his goodness and lovingly for all his grace and mercy.
With us the past and present are not so vivid in our memory, mainly because most of us were moved from the sinful tyranny to divine grace and blessed service of God long ago when we were still babies. We grew up in baptismal grace. We were nurtured in godly discipline and the fear of the Lord. We should know the new life in Christ no doubt about that. Yet in some of us there might now arise a sigh of melancholy, self-accusation and regret. Yes, we are baptized, yet too many of us have not experienced much of the divine influence and power of baptism. They have experienced so little of this, that they actually believe that they have good reason to doubt the very efficacy and sacramental usefulness of baptism in general and in their lives specifically. And in the same way there are far too many, who don’t praise the discipline and fear of the Lord either. If they would trust baptism’s grace initially, they’d experience its blessed workings in later life too. Where there is godly discipline and fear of the Lord, there you’ll find the blessed workings of holy Baptism in richest measure too. So looking at it in this way, we find that many of us also have there “then” and “now” – the before and after baptismal grace. Before we were without God and the living Christ. Now however they have been converted to the bishop and shepherd of their soul.
O blessed spring, where Word and sign Embrace us into Christ the Vine: Here Christ enjoins each one to be A branch of this life-giving Tree.
Through summer heat of youthful years, Uncertain faith, rebellious tears, Sustained by Christ’s infusing rain, The boughs will shout for joy again.
When autumn cools and youth is cold, When limbs their heavy harvest hold, Then through us, warm, the Christ will move With gifts of beauty, wisdom, love.
As winter comes, as winters must, We breathe our last, return to dust; Still held in Christ, our souls take wing And trust the promise of the spring.
Christ, holy Vine, Christ, living Tree, Be praised for this blest mystery: That Word and water thus revive And join us to your Tree of Life. (Susan Palo Cherwien 1993).
This is a rather free translation of Wilhelm Löhe’s devotion for Friday after the seventh Sunday after the high holiday and festival of the Holy Trinity. It is found on Pg. 269 in Lob sei Dir ewig, o Jesu! (Eternal Praise to you o Jesus!) edited by A. Schuster and published in the Freimund Verlag, Neuendettelsau 1949.