A Beautiful Burden
The following is the text of a letter I sent to all Lutheran pastors in the USA a few weeks ago.
Letter to Pastors
As I walked out of the St. Louis History Museum recently, I did a double take as
I noticed two intriguing words carved in a large stone set in the pavement:
beauty and burden. I stopped to look more closely and read this interesting
quote from noted St. Louis author Eddy L. Harris:
The past is beauty. It is also burden. It is where we go, many of
us, to remind ourselves who we are and even sometimes to find out.
The Church’s history is a beautiful burden. To regard it as such is to embrace
simultaneously a realistic and grateful regard for it. To respect the past as a
teacher is to recognize the blessings God has given to so many faithful men and
women down through the ages. To idolize the past is to do a disservice both to
ourselves and to those who have gone before. To ignore the past is to place
ourselves, and our future, at great risk. Moving forward into the future while
regarding the past to be irrelevant is the greatest danger. To do so is like
driving down a dark road on a moonless, cloudy night with no headlights.
There is something about our culture that takes perverse pride in neglecting the
past. It is often the case that our culture regards anything "modern" or
"contemporary" as automatically worthy of more attention and more trustworthy
than long-held truths. This is certainly not a biblical attitude. Scripture
makes it clear that we are to remain rooted and anchored in the historic
revelation of God in Christ Jesus and in the Word of the Lord, which endures
"Continue in what
you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it" (2
Timothy 3:14 ESV). Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced
of, St. Paul said to St. Timothy. Elsewhere he wrote, "Teach what accords with
sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1 ESV). We are to "contend for the faith that was once
for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3 ESV).
As I reflected on the museum inscription, I was reminded of something G. K.
Chesterton once said:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our
It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and
arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. . . .
Tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.
(Orthodoxy [Westport, CT: Greenwod Press, 1974], p. 85)
What about us Lutherans who, by God’s grace alone, remain committed to the
truths of Holy Scripture and to the confession of this truth that is contained
in the Book of Concord? How do we regard the past? We do well to embrace the
beautiful burden of our past, to let it remind us who we are and help us to find
out when we forget or are tempted to run after the latest fad or trend.
We do not embrace the past in an unthinking and uncritical manner. Neither do we
scurry about as some churches do these days, throwing overboard virtually every
discernible doctrine or practice anchored in the historic confession of the
Church through the ages.
Among many people in our culture is a deep hunger and longing and searching for
truth. This hunger for authentic spiritual truth is to them like a distant
melody that they can barely make out, but for us who have been brought into the
truth of Christ, it is a glorious symphony. The search for peace and genuine
certainty in an age of chaos is to many like peering far out at the deep, dark
expanse of the horizon and seeing small, flickering pinpoints of light. For
those who are in Christ, the light of His truth fills our lives with a warm and
eternally satisfying radiance from His eternal Word and life-giving Sacraments.
May God stir up in us renewed zeal for spreading the light of Christ and
bringing many, many more to hear the wonderful symphony of the Gospel of Christ,
truly, the splendor of truth.
Perhaps in many ways the burden of the past is a result of its great beauty, a
beauty that when contemplated and meditated on reduces us once again to
repentance as we recognize our many sins and failings. But then we are moved to
thankful praise to the One who has called us out of sin and death’s darkness
into the life and light of His salvation. For so many people today, the past is
a burden that presses down on them, forcing them to ask those questions that
come to all people in the moments of quiet and stillness, in the moments when
they are unable to stuff their ears and cover their eyes with the transient
sounds and images of a culture rushing always headlong toward new pleasures, new
sensations, new emptiness. In their quiet moments, so many find themselves all
alone with the haunting voice of grief or guilt that pierces their dreams at
night and their thoughts during the day. Pilate’s question echoes to this day:
"What is truth?"
It is precisely for the sake of Christ’s mission that we joyfully take up the
beautiful burden of the past and reflect together on those who have labored and
gone before us. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of
witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus,
the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him
endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the
throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV).
As the Church rejoices and celebrates our Lord’s resurrection victory, we are
embraced by, and in turn we embrace, the beauty and burden of the One who has
gone before us. He bids you to take your cross and follow Him. He lays the yoke
of discipleship on you because of the burden of your sin that He bore. He has
gifted you with the light and easy burden of grace, mercy, and salvation,
purchased by His body and blood sacrificed for you on the cross, the very body
and blood He gives to you in His Holy Supper. Forgiveness, life, and salvation
May you have great joy in your Lord’s Easter triumph. When the burdens,
stresses, and strains of your duties and responsibilities weigh heavily, when
the shadow of a sin remembered and guilt felt appears as a dark shadow on your
heart and in your mind, then hold even more closely to the forgiving love of Him
who loves you more than His life itself. He gives you, again and again, the
peace that truly passes all human understanding. May the Lord bless your
Rev. Paul T. McCain
Concordia Publishing House