Embrace the Cross—Anticipate the Crown. This is the theme of the WELS 67th Biennial Synod Convention and the topic Rev. Philip Hirsch explored in the convention essay. Hirsch is the Nebraska District president, a role he’s held since 2015, and a pastor at Hope, Manhattan, Kan., where he has served since 1998. He and his wife, Kristi, have seven children and three grandchildren (with two on the way).
In his essay, Hirsch says, “In the faithful church, we need to ground ‘cross’ speech—with all of its notions of suffering and even dying—cleanly and clearly and faithfully. Or it will quickly go the way of curved-in-on-ourselves theology and make the cross all about us and our suffering. And then we will arrive at ‘crown’ speech—with all of its notions of ruling and reigning, especially eschatologically—faithfully and clearly and cleanly. We need to put cross and crown terminology together faithfully for the good of any who will be listening.”
When approached to write this year’s convention essay, Hirsch said the first thing he thought about was how the idea of “cross and crown” is so easy to get confused. “It seemed wise to not confuse cross and crown in a false way that can turn the gospel into a hard piece of work for the ‘pious’ Christian to struggle through. And, if he struggles through it well enough, he wins the crown.”
Hirsch explains, “So much of what calls itself Christendom mixes cross and crown into a brew that means the human has to keep working at getting saved; it’s kind of like the confusion of law and gospel that can sound so, so close to truth and yet is so, so devilish where the rubber meets the road, particularly in a human heart that is tempted to be pulled away from what’s preached in Christ crucified and risen.”
In the essay, Hirsch walked all the way back to when God hid his glory from Moses, emphasizing and illustrating the idea of “God hidden.” “In short, it means that we live by faith in the promises of God and NOT by sight—not by the way we want God to look or operate. Gospel in Word and sacrament? That looks foolish, wimpy, and worthless. But it saves. The promise of God says.”
He hopes listeners walked away liberated, knowing that the wonderful message of Christ crucified is the only thing that frees a sinful human from any “silly” ideas about God or gods.
“In the freedom of the gospel, we are NOT to let ourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery again, but should embrace the cross of Christ and embrace whatever comes our way from the hand of our heavenly Father, confident that we have an eternal crown because of Christ and sure that, even now, all things serve us for good,” concludes Hirsch. “My prayer is this: that listeners and readers of the essay go forth liberated from their false theologies of glory, which each of us is so liable to invent, and to sing the ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ with all the saints with a gusto that a child of God knows, because all the work is Christ’s and we get to be his people.”
Download and read the entire “Embrace the Cross—Anticipate the Crown” essay.