A Theological Alphabet (Letter A updated)
Absolution – though it has become a rite in various churches enacted through various actions and regulations, its stunning primal truth is that in and through Jesus Christ we have been freed from the guilt and power of our lives formerly held in a death grip by the power of sin (our hearts curved in upon themselves, as Luther put it)! Jesus has given you and me the unfathomable privilege and authority of announcing and enacting this freedom to one another in Jesus’ name.
Advent – a time of waiting, expectation, examination, and repentance; the four weeks and Sundays prior to Christmas; reveals God as “a God who calls.” Bonhoeffer: “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
Affinity – what is our point of unity and community? It’s not an idea, or a program or cause, not a feeling or sentiment, as important as all these may be. None are sufficient to establish and sustain the affinity necessary to be and become God’s people. Only Jesus Christ, in all his accessible mystery, suffices. In him we discover a multifaceted, symphonic affinity with one another strong and supple enough to enable us to welcome and nurture difference as the gift that keeps us young and vital in the Spirit and fit to be the vehicle through whom God has chosen to bless the rest of the world.
Anfectung – Luther’s wrenching daily experience of Satan’s unbridled, vicious assault on him. At times, it seemed as if the whole world was against him, as well as the flesh and the devil. It was prayer that sustained him: “We know that our defense lies in prayer. We are too weak to resist the devil and his vassals. Let us hold fast to the weapons of the Christian; they enable us to combat the devil… our enemies may mock at us. But we shall oppose both men and the devil if we maintain ourselves in prayer and if we persist in it.” (Larger Catechism)
Ascension – the conclusion to Jesus’ earthly ministry as he returns to his Father to be installed as the triumphant Son and world ruler, though one bearing forever in his resurrected flesh the marks of his passion and death as the appropriate signs of his exalted royal status; God is known through the ascension as the God who “completes” all his good intentions for us and our world; is less about Jesus “absence” than how through him heaven and earth have found anew their original forfeited unity.
Atonement – Jesus is God’s great atoning act by which he reclaims and restores fallen creation to his “eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:11). Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reaffirmed God’s covenant relationship with his people. In sum, Jesus “got it right” (as humanity had not), his “’might makes right” (suffering love turns out to the sovereign power of God to achieve his purposes), and he “makes us right” (reconciles all things according to God’s will).
Auferstehung – German for “resurrection.” Thomas Torrance relates that Barth once ended a conversation they had about Jesus’ resurrection saying, “Wohl verstanden, leibliche Auferstehung!” – “Mark well, bodily resurrection!” Nothing more important than this, no Christianity without it.
Awe – A bit more than the “wonder” that drives philosophy; this more derives from magnificent presence we encounter in theology, a personal presence to whom we owe existence, allegiance, and love. Kenneth Grahame captures this beautifully in his wonderful children’s story The Wind and the Willows:
'This is the place of my song- dream, the place the music played to me,' whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. 'Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!'
Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror, indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy, but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird- haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew . . . 'Rat!' he found breath to whisper, shaking. 'Are you afraid?'
'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. 'Afraid! Of him? O, never, never! And yet, and yet, O, Mole, I am afraid!'
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.