Søren Kierkegaard wrote upbuilding discourses beginning in 1843 with his Two Upbuilding Discourses May 16, 1843. He published twenty-one upbuilding discourses by 1845 with the publication of Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions April 29. He continued with Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits March 13, 1847 and The Works of Love Some Christian Reflections in the form of Discourses September 29, 1847. Numerous revolutions in took place on the European continent in the year that he published his Christian Discourses April 26, 1848. Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto February 29, 1848. Kierkegaard kept a journal beginning in 1832. He wrote the following March 27, 1848: “So here I sit. Outside everything is in movement, nationalism surges high in all, everyone talks of sacrificing life and blood, is perhaps ready to do it, but supported by the omnipotence of public opinion. And here I sit in a quiet room (doubtless I soon will be in bad repute for indifference to the national cause); I recognize only one danger: the religious danger.”
Kierkegaard is best known for being against system building. He wrote as early as 1843: “This is not the system; it has not the least thing to do with the system. I invoke everything good for the system and for the Danish shareholders in this omnibus, for it will hardly become a tower. I wish them all, each and every one, success and good fortune.” (Fear and Trembling p. 8) These are Christian discourses but not systematic theology. Adam Wilhelm Moltke became the first Prime Minister of Denmark March 22, 1848, a year later Denmark had its first Constitution. But Søren Kierkegaard recognized only one danger: the religious danger.
Kierkegaard has written four parts to his book, each with seven discourses on Biblical texts. Denmark was a Christian nation. Kierkegaard makes a distinction between Christianity and Christendom. The single individual is a Christian but many single individuals, such as everyone in Denmark, as a Christian nation, where everyone must be born a Christian and baptized as an infant and be a Christian, is Christendom. The difference is choice. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” Matthew 6:24. The birds of the air and the lily of the field are compared with the Christian and the pagan in the first section of Christian Discourses. In Part II he talks about the hardships of life and how they are really for your good. Part III is titled “Thoughts That Wound From Behind.” And Part IV is designed for the Christian who is coming before God at the Communion table for the forgiveness of sins.
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:7,19, 25-27, 31-32 (NIV)
Christian Discourses begins with an introduction that tells of a pair of instructors useful to both the Christian and pagan as well as Christian pagans because they judge no one and condemn no one. “The Gospel itself is certainly the actual teacher, he the Teacher – and the Way and the Truth and the Life – as the instructor, but the bird and the lily are still there as a kind of assistant teachers. Neither the lily nor the bird is a pagan, but the lily and the bird are not Christians either, and for that very reason they are able to succeed in being helpful with the instruction in Christianity.” (p. 9)
Kierkegaard intended to terminate his writing with Christian Discourses but continued on with an aesthetic book and then Practice in Christianity 1850, both books insist on the continued striving toward the Christian ideal.
Walter Lowrie translated the book into English in 1940 and Howard and Edna Hong made a new English translation in 1997.
“So even the lowliest individual has a double existence. He, too has a history, and this is not simply a product of his own free acts. The interior deed, on the other hand, belongs to him and will belong to him forever; history or world history cannot take it from him; it follows him, either to his joy or to his despair. In this world there rules an absolute Either/Or. But philosophy has nothing to do with this world.” (Soren Kierkegaard Either/Or II 1843 Hong p. 174-176)
Part I The bird and the lily live in immediacy. They are what they are and never strive to become anything else unless a little naughty bird comes along. Kierkegaard wrote about the bird and the lily in his 1847 book Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits.
Once upon a time there was a lily that stood in an isolated spot beside a small brook and was well known to some nettles and also to a few other small flowers nearby. The lily was, according to the Gospel’s truthful account, more beautifully clothed than Solomon in all his glory and in addition was joyful and free of care all the day long. Imperceptibly and blissfully time slipped by, like running water that murmurs and disappears. It so happened that one day a little bird came and visited the lily; it came again the next day, then stayed away a few days before it came again, which struck the lily as odd and inexplicable-inexplicable that the bird, just like the flowers, did not remain in the same place, odd that the bird could be so capricious. But as so often happens, the lily fell more and more in love with the bird precisely because it was capricious. Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits p.167 Hong translation
That lily listened to the bird tell of another place prepared for the happiness of the lily. It was there with the Crown Imperial lily. The lily worried so much that it allowed the bird to carry it to that other place but things didn’t go as well as the bird had said. “So what does the worried person learn from the lilies? He learns to be contented with being a human being and not to be worried about diversity among human beings; he learns to speak just as tersely, just as solemnly, and just as inspiringly about being a human being as the Gospel speaks tersely about the lilies.” Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits p.170 Hong translation
Part I takes the reader through the cares of life. One person lives in poverty and another in abundance. Christ said not to worry about what you will eat or drink so the Christian prays to God for daily bread but the pagan knows nothing of this and asks what shall we eat today, what shall we eat tomorrow, what shall we eat next year. The bird, like Socrates, is a teacher of ignorance. The bird doesn’t gather its riches and is therefore ignorant of having abundance. The Christian might have abundance but acts as though he is ignorant of having it. The rich pagan knows all about his wealth and is always thinking about it. “Christianity has never taught that literally to be a lowly person is synonymous with being a Christian, nor that there is a direct and inevitable transition from literally being a lowly person and becoming a Christian; neither has it taught that if the worldly eminent person relinquished all his power he therefore was a Christian.” (Christian Discourses p. 54-55 – a page number means the quote was from Christian Discourses)
“Let us see why they despaired. Because they discovered that they had built their lives on something that was transient? But is that a reason to despair: has an essential change taken place in that on which they built their lives? Is it an essential change in the transitory that it manifests itself as transitory, or is it not rather something accidental and inessential about it that it does not manifest itself this way? Nothing new has supervened that could cause a change. Consequently, when they despair, the basis of it must be that they were in despair beforehand. The difference is only that they did not know it, but this is indeed an entirely accidental difference.” (Soren Kierkegaard Either/Or II Hong p. 192)
“What is the temptation that in itself is many temptations? Certainly it is not the glutton’s temptation to live in order to eat; no (what rebellion against the divine order!) it is to live in order to slave. The temptation is this, to lose oneself, to lose one’s soul, to cease to be a human being and live as a human being instead of being freer than the bird, and godforsaken to slave more wretchedly than the animal. Yes, to slave! Instead of working for the daily bread, which every human being is commanded to do, to slave for it – and yet not be satisfied by it, because the care is to become rich. Instead of praying for the daily bread, to slave for it – because one became a slave of people and of one’s care and forgot that it is to God one must pray for it.” (P. 21)
What of lowliness and loftiness? The bird is what it is but the Christian knows he was created in God’s image and has God as the prototype. The lowly pagan is without God in this world and despairs of being nothing. The birds of the air never compare one with another while flying in the air. The eminent Christian knows God is changeless and knows he is eminent because of that. The eminent pagan is without God in the world and knows only the high, higher, highest and the abyss below. The lily is lovely without knowledge that disfigures loveliness.
But the lowly Christian does not fall into the snare of this optical illusion. He sees with the eyes of faith; with the speed of faith that seeks God, he is at the beginning, is himself before God, is contented with being himself. He has found out from the world or from the others that he is a lowly person, be he does not abandon himself to this knowledge; he does not lose himself in it in a worldly way, does not become totally engrossed in it; by holding fast to God with the reservedness of eternity, he has become himself. He is like someone who has two names, one for all the others, another for his nearest and dearest ones; in the world, in his association with the others, he is the lowly person. He does not pretend to be anything else, but before God he is himself. In his contacts with others, it seems as if at every moment he must wait and find out from the others what his now at this moment. But he does not wait; he is in a hurry to be before God, contented with being himself before God. He is a lowly human being in the crowd of human beings, and what he is in this way depends on the relationship, but in being himself he is not dependent on the crowd; before God he is himself. From “the others” a person of course actually finds out only what the others are – it is in this way that the world wants to deceive a person out of becoming himself. “The others” in turn do not know what they themselves are either but continually know only what “the others” are. There is only one who completely knows himself, who in himself knows what he himself is – that is God. And he also knows what each human being is in himself, because he is that only by being before God. The person who is not before God is not himself either, which one can be only by being in the one who is in himself. If one is oneself by being in the one who is in himself, one can be in others or before others, but one cannot be oneself merely by being for others. (p. 40)
Louise Carrol Keeley compared Kierkegaard’s discourse on lowliness to Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul in an essay in International Kierkegaard Commentary, Christian Discourses p. 75. Therese, too, advocates consenting to be oneself before God, exactly as one is, with no provisions whatsoever for comparison. Therese understands that God alone is the criterion of the self such that to be in right relation to God “consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be” (Story of a Soul p. 14).
V The Care of Presumptuousness
The bird is close to God, it can’t do without him. The Christian learns to be need God’s grace because he has self-knowledge. The pagan wants to add one foot to his growth by becoming the master instead of the bond servant and “slays God in the most dreadful suicide”. The Christian knows that God can’t be killed and fights to keep the thought of God alive in the world. The Christian learned not to be presumptuous.
David Possen says Kierkegaard’s point about disbelief in God is that the disbeliever fears that if there was a God he could take everything away from him in an instant. He maintains his autonomy from God at all costs and will never admit he needs him. The true Christian knows that he needs God’s help all the time while the superstitious person wants God’s help but in a rebellious and ungodly way as Simon Magus did. On Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen Pagans (From International Commentary on Christian Discourses p. 39-40)
VI The Care of Self-Torment
The bird has no idea of the next day and thus has no self-torment about that. The Christian learns to forget about the next day in the service of God because he has gained eternity. The bird knows nothing of the next day and the Christian knows each day has its own worries but the pagan is always anxious about the next day.
VII The Care of Indecisiveness, Vacillation, and Disconsolateness
Kierkegaard wrote about choice as early as his first book Either/Or 1843. The bird knows when the time comes to leave its home and leaves because it has received the hint from God. The Christian has made the decision between two opposed positions and serves one master. But the pagan is a mind in rebellion. The pagan is always indecisive and finds it difficult to choose the more painful choice. To choose God.
“When indecisiveness has ruled long enough, vacillation comes into power. … When vacillation has ruled long enough and, of course, like all ungodly rulers has sucked the blood and wasted the marrow, disconsolateness comes to power. Then the pagan would prefer to get rid of the thought of God entirely; now he wants to sink into the emptiness of worldliness, there to seek forgetfulness, forgetfulness of the most dangerous (precisely because it is the most uplifting) of all thoughts the thought of being remembered by God, of existing before God. Indeed, if one wills to sink, what is more dangerous than everything that will lift up! Yet he has, so he thinks, overcome his pain, expelled all delusions, learned to console himself.” (p. 89)
Do you want to be built up?
I imagine that I can do everything as long as everything remains in my imagination.
Part II States of Mind in the Stress of Suffering deals with hardships and sufferings that paradoxically bring joy to the striving Christian. Kierkegaard says, “the upbuilding discourse is a good in itself” and should not be taken in vain, but before the upbuilding comes the “terrifying” comes.
Suffering comes but it is a transition to something that lasts forever. Even if it lasted all your life it is nothing in comparison with eternity. Hardship is not something to be feare. Hardship is difficult for the lower nature while it is in its sleeping state. But the sleeper must awaken and continue into adulthood. “Hardship awakens the dreamer and is like a whisper in the person’s innermost being that can be easy to ignore.“
“People continually think that it is the world, the environment, the circumstances, the situations that stand in one’s way, in the way of one’s fortune and peace and joy. Basically it is always the person himself who stands in his way, the person himself who is bound up too closely with the world and the environment and the circumstances and the situations so that he is unable to come to himself, to find rest, to hope. He is continually too much turned outward instead of being turned inward; therefore everything he says is true only in an illusion.” (p. 109-110)
What would someone say if told to become poor so he could make others rich? Christ had nowhere to lay his head yet he enriched the world.
III The Joy of It: That the Poorer You Become the Richer You Are Able to Make Others
Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto February 29, 1848 and Kierkegaard his Christian Discourses April 26, 1848. The first deals with the material world exclusive of the world of the spirit and the second does the same but reverses it and deals with the world of the spirit. Marx says the economic world order is the highest. Kierkegaard is concerned with the religious so he nudges the individual toward the development of spiritual goods.
Spiritual goods are easier to share than the material goods that are only shared begrudgingly. Spiritual goods are a communication and benefit everyone. Spiritual goods make everyone rich so the poorer you become in an external sense the richer you can make your neighbor through the internal goods of the spirit.
IV The Joy of It: That the Weaker You Become the Stronger God Becomes in You
The weaker you become the stronger God becomes in you.
“There is only one obstacle for God, a person’s selfishness, which comes between him and God like the earth’s shadow when it causes the eclipse of the moon. If there is this selfishness, then he is strong, but his strength is God’s weakness; if this selfishness is gone, then he is weak and God is strong; the weaker he becomes, the stronger God becomes in him.” (P. 129)
V The Joy of It: That What You Lose Temporally You Gain Eternally
Kierkegaard has stressed the temporal and eternal in many of his books and does the same here in his fifth and sixth discourse. Individuality is very important to Kierkegaard. He always stressed the single individual over the mass man of the Germans.
He wrote about Abraham contemplating the loss of his son Isaac and knew about the loss of one through the loss of Regine, the only woman he loved. But what of one who lost the eternal in himself by reducing it to the temporal? “If a person in despair wants to be victorious here in time, well, then to him temporality’s defeat is: all is lost. But this is not due to temporality, it is due to him. If, however he is victorious over his mind, then for him the loss is absolutely nothing else than what it is, a temporal loss; he gains eternally.” (p. 140) And when that happens he has lost nothing at all. Many say there are two ways to live; the way of faith and the way of doubt. The way of faith is the way of eternity the other way leads to perdition.
Christianity stresses the individuality of the resurrected believer.
VII The Joy of It: That Adversity Is Prosperity
Suffering, hardship and adversity are a common theme in part 2 of Kierkegaard’s discourses. The Christian has to learn to look at everything turned around. Adversity is prosperity. Suffering is victory. Hardship brings hope. You become rich by becoming poor and strong through your own weakness. (Sounds like Brave New World).
What you lose temporally you gain eternally and even though you gain the whole world you might lose your soul or you might lose nothing at all and still have the whole world. It all depends on you. “Temporality presupposes that everyone knows very well what the goal is, so that the only difference among people is whether they succeed in reaching it or not. Eternity, on the other hand, assumes that the difference among people is that the one knows what the goal is and steers by that, and the other does not know it – and steers by that, that is, steers wrong.” (p. 153)
“And then when you have turned around and have caught sight of the goal (eternity’s), let the goal become for you what it is and should be, become so important that there is no question about what the path is like but only about reaching the goal, so that you gain the courage to understand that whatever the path is like, the worst of all, the most painful of all – it leads you to the goal, then it is prosperity. Is it not true that if there is a place that is so important to you to reach because you are indescribably eager to arrive there, then you say, “I will go backward or forward, I will ride or walk or creep – it makes no difference, if only I get there.” It is this that eternity wants first and foremost, it wants to make the goal so important to you that it gains complete control over you and you gain control over yourself to take you thoughts, your mind, your eyes away from the hardship, the difficulty, away from how you arrive there, because the only important thing to you is to arrive there.” (P. 154)
“In this book Kierkegaard is shown in his most attractive mood. He speaks of the Christian life and the inner experience of the awakened soul. There is a pungency in these discourses which has few parallels in devotional literature.” The Dean of St. Paul’s in the Sunday Times (From the back of Lowrie’s 1940 translation of Christian Discourses)
Part III Thoughts That Wound From Behind
Soren Kierkegaard believed in the single individual. The individual standing before God was his goal. Arthur Schopenhauer wrote an essay On Immortality. He does away with the individual in favor of “the all”.
“Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult and persecute you and speak every kind of evil against you for my sake and lie. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will bed great in heaven; so have they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
These words will be the basis for the following discourse: But it is blessed – to suffer mockery for a good cause, in order that really for upbuilding we might become aware of the comfort, or rather, the joy, that Christianity proclaims, because these discourses are for upbuilding even if they, as is said, wound from behind. (p. 223) The essentially Christian needs no defense. (p, 161)
- Watch your step when you go to the house of the Lord. Ecclesiastes 5:1
God sometimes uses circumstances to preach for awakening. He sometimes preaches to an empty church because everyone there think its God who needs them rather than they who need God. Watch what you pray for because God takes you in earnest as you come to church to let God help you. Always remember that you are in church, no matter how full, as an individual before God there, there for upbuilding.
“Watch your step when you go to the house of the Lord – and why? Precisely because in the house of the Lord the one and only deliverance, the most blessed comfort is offered to you; the highest of all, God’s friendship, his grace in Christ Jesus is offered you.” (P. 174)
2. See, We Have Left Everything and Followed You; What Shall We Have? (Matthew 19:27).
Kierkegaard wrote a discourse December 6, 1843, The Lord Gave, and the Lord Took Away; Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Job lost everything but the apostle Peter says, we have left everything. The Lord took in one case and everything was given up voluntarily in the other case. The Old Testament required Abraham to give up Isaac but Christianity, “the religion of freedom”, asks the Christian to voluntarily give up everything to follow Christ. The Knower of Hearts knows if you are earnest in your declarations.
“If God does not require of us that we leave everything, he still does require honesty of us.” (P. 186)
3. All Things Must Serve Us for Good – When We Love God. Romans 8:28 paraphrased
Isn’t this an interesting verse that is easily and readily memorized by the Christian. Kierkegaard takes one word “when” and dwells on it in relation to the rest of the words in this short verse. Do I love God? Will we love God when someone demonstrates something about him? This “when” becomes the only true good and is the preacher of repentance. He once again tells the reader, or listener, that he is dealing only with himself since he doesn’t know exactly “when” the others believe. He says the way you know you love God is because you need him. He wrote a discourse August 31, 1844, To Need God is a Human Being’s Highest Perfection. It’s not only the highest perfection but it is also “when” you love God.
“When a person comes to love God, it is an eternal change more remarkable than the most remarkable event in the world. Whether it happens, when it happens, no one can tell him. The preacher of repentance in his inner being can help him to become aware, can help him in self-concern to seek the certitude of the spirit as God’s Spirit witnesses with this person’s spirit that he loves God. But only God can give him this certitude. Keep him awake in certitude in order to seek after certitude, this the preacher of repentance can do; he says: All things serve you for good when you love God.” (P. 194) “In the dark night of despair, when every light has gone out for the sufferer, there is still one place where the light is kept burning – it is along this way the despairing one must go, which is the way out: when you love God. In the fearful moment of disconsolateness, when there is no more talk or thought of any concluding clause, but humanly speaking the meaning is ended – there is still one clause left, a courageous clause of comfort that intrepidly penetrates into the greatest terror and creates new meaning: when you love God. In the dreadful moment of decisiveness, when humanly speaking no turn is any longer possible, when there is everywhere only wretchedness wherever you turn and however you turn – there is still one more turn possible: it will miraculously turn everything into good for you: when you love God.” (P. 195-196)
4. There Will Be the Resurrection of the Dead, of the Righteous – and of the Unrighteous. Acts 24:15
What happens when the question of immortality becomes an academic question? Then what is a task for action has been turned into a question for thought. Now we just like to think about immortality instead of working for our salvation in “fear and trembling” (P. 210). Kierkegaard wants to be unsure about his salvation until the very end so that he can continue to work.
“My God and Father, the question of my salvation indeed pertains to no other person, but only to me – and to you. Is there not bound to be unsureness in fear and trembling until the end if I am who I am and you are who you are, I here on earth, you in heaven, and, alas, the infinitely greater difference, I a sinner, you the Holy One! Should there not be, ought there not be, and must there not be fear and trembling until the end?” (p. 212)
But the human race has rebelled against God and wants to abolish immortality by making it an object for demonstration.
5. We Are Closer to Salvation Now – Than When We Became Believers. Romans 13:11
Someone can know everything about Christianity and still be a pagan according to Kierkegaard in his fifth discourse. How do we know where our there is? Isn’t it important to know where my now is? We have to know when we became a believer to find out if we are closer to our salvation now. Kierkegaard turns to, that simple wise man of old, Socrates, and imagines that he is asking you, the single individual, in a teasing, mocking way, to answer his question. Closer is a comparison and that’s why Kierkegaard thinks Socrates would dwell on this “when” you first believed.
“Can a person be further away from his salvation than when he does not even know definitely whether he has begun to want to be saved?” (p. 220)
6. But It Is Blessed – to Suffer Mockery for a Good Cause. Matthew 5:11
What happens when you are conversing with your friends and one of them mocks you? Don’t you feel singled out and then shut out from the rest of the group? What about Martin Luther (P. 226)? He lived despised and persecuted and derided as long as he lived but he “changed the shape of the world.” That doesn’t mean he had to be despised to change the world but because he was mocked and persevered he became a “witness for the truth.” He followed Christ’s example.
Kierkegaard asks what would happen if Christ returned to the world again after eighteen hundred years. What would Christendom do? Christendom, where everyone is a Christian, would it welcome him or mock and despise him once again?
“Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult and persecute you and speak every kind of evil against you for my sake and lie. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will bed great in heaven; so have they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10)
7. He was believed in the world. 1 Timothy 3:16
1 Timothy 3:16 “And great beyond all question is the mystery of godliness: God was revealed in the flesh, was justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the pagans, believed in the world, taken up in glory.“
Kierkegaard looks at this verse from Scripture in his seventh discourse and makes the point that the only part of this famous passage that pertains to you is: “He was believed in the world.” Have you believed him? If you don’t believe then you can’t know if another has believed in him. Only the single individual can know himself and the others must be satisfied with the assurance given by the single individual. In the same way, if you have never been in love you can never know if love exists. You only know by experiencing it. Have you believed? Have you loved?
“The one who understood the question and answered, “I have believed in him,” he understood himself. And if he answered, “I have not believed in him,” he still understood himself. Instead of the historical “He was believed in the world.” the personal is “I have believed in him,” when the single individual says, “I have believed in him.” (P. 239)
“To take an example from that humanly speaking is unique in the world and that we usually place closest to Christianity. I have admired that noble simple wise man of antiquity. (Socrates) Reading about him has made by heart beat as violently as did the young man’s heart when he conversed with him; the thought of him has been the inspiration of my youth and has filled my soul; my longing for conversation with him has been entirely different from the longing for conversation with anyone with whom I have ever spoken. Many a time, after being together with those who have comprehended everything and know how to talk about everything possible, I have longed for his ignorance and to listen to him, who always said the same thing – ‘and about the same thing .’ I have admired his wisdom, that in his wisdom he became simple! That in his wisdom he became simple so that he could trap the sagacious! That in his wisdom he became simple so that, without having many thoughts and without using many words, he could devote his life in the service of truth – oh, what moving simplicity! that face-to-face with death he spoke about himself, the condemned one, just as simply as he ever did in the marketplace with a passerby on the most everyday subjects; that with the cup of poison in his hand he maintained the beautiful festive mood and spoke just as simply as he ever did at a banquet – oh, what sublime simplicity!” (P. 241)
Part IV: Discourses At The Communion On Fridays. What is Kierkegaard talking about when he designates Friday instead of Sunday?
Preface: Two (II and III) of these discourses, which still lack something essential to be, and therefore are not called, sermons, were delivered in Frue Church. Even if he is not told, the knowledgeable reader will no doubt himself readily recognize in the form and treatment that these two are “delivered discourses,” written to be delivered, or written as they were delivered. February 1848
Soren Kierkegaard is completely and unmistakably a Christian.
Luke 22:15 I have longed with all my heart to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
Kierkegaard does something he didn’t do in his earlier discourses. He begins these last seven discourses with a prayer.
“Father in heaven! We know very well that you are the one who gives both to will and to accomplish, and that the longing, when it draws us to renew fellowship with our Savior and Redeemer, is also drawn from you. But when longing grasps hold of us, oh, that we may also grasp hold of the longing; when it wants to carry us away, that we may also surrender ourselves; when you are close to us in the call, that we might also keep close to you in our calling to you; when in the longing you offer us the highest, that we may purchase its opportune moment, hold it fast, sanctify it the quiet hours by earnest thoughts, by devout resolves, so that it might become the strong but also the well-tested, heartfelt longing that is required of those who worthily want to partake of the holy meal of Communion! Father in heaven, longing is your gift; no one can give it to himself; if it is not given, no one can purchase it, even if he were to sell everything – but when you give it, he can still sell everything in order to purchase it. We pray that those who are gathered here today may come to the Lord’s table with heartfelt longing, and that when they leave it they may go with intensified longing for him, our Savior and Redeemer.” (p. 251)
Not many churches use the verse Kierkegaard uses here for the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Yet Christ did sit with his disciples and say he longed for sit with them. Kierkegaard looks at longing. Holy longing that sometimes returns empty handed. The longing that awakens one’s soul. Then he has a long discourse on vanity in imitation of Ecclesiastes (P. 255-257). Later, he asks if you, had you lived contemporary with Christ, would have insulted him had you been in the crowd. Does your longing end when you attend the Lord’s Supper or do you remember the longing so that you can stay awake?
2. Matthew 11:28 Come here to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Soren Kierkegaard published Practice in Christianity September 25, 1850. He dealt very heavily with the verse just mentioned in the book. Perhaps he practiced here with one discourse. What do these words mean? The “come here” sounds good as does the “I will give you rest”. He concentrates on “all who labor and are burdened”. What does it mean to labor and be burdened in the Christian sense. Kierkegaard has already written about suffering and hardships in Part II of these discourses so we have a good idea. Who will come to the Communion table? The one who is burdened with sin and guilt and is looking for release. The one who can only sigh as a work of repentance. Since God loves to show mercy his invitation is the one thing needful.
3. John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Now you are walking along and see someone walking the same way as you are walking. You might think you are going to the same place and it might become more evident if it is a holy day (Sunday). But what if it is Friday and you meet others? Are they all going to church? Kierkegaard thinks Communion on Fridays is a good idea because he is against sitting in a crowd before God since God wants to get the single individual before him in silence. You can make the decision to enter God’s house as the need arises because you know the good shepherd has called you there.
“Today is not a holy day; today there is divine service on a weekday – oh, but a Christian’s life is a divine service every day! It is not as if everything were settled by someone’s going to Communion on rare occasions; no, the task if to remain at the Communion table when you leave the Communion table.” (P. 274)
4. I Corinthians 11:23 the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed.
What does it mean to betray Christ? This is the concern of Kierkegaard’s discourse. Kierkegaard says Christ’s suffering isn’t past even though eighteen hundred, no no two thousand years have passed. He still waits at the table today as he waited for Peter to return after betraying him and as he sat with Judas as he betrayed him. “Only when saved by him and with him, only when he holds me fast, do I know that I will not betray him.” (P. 280)
“He was betrayed – but he was Love: on the night when he was betrayed, he instituted the meal of love! Always the same! Those who crucified him, for them he prayed; on the night when he was betrayed, he uses the occasion (how infinitely deep the love that finds this very moment convenient!), he uses the occasion to institute the meal of reconciliation. Truly, he did not come into the world to be served without making repayment! A woman anoints his head – in repayment she is recollected through all the centuries! Yes, he makes repayment for what they do against him! They crucify him – in repayment his death on the cross is the sacrifice of Atonement for the sin of the world, also for this, that they crucified him! They betray him – in repayment he institutes the meal of reconciliation for all! If Peter had not denied him, then there would have been at least one person who would not, just like every other individual in the human race, have needed reconciliation. But now they all betrayed him, and thus all need to take part in the meal of reconciliation!” (P. 280-281)
5. II Timothy 2:12 If we deny, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he still remains faithful; he cannot deny himself.
This verse has several clauses. First we deny Christ and are unfaithful then he is faithful and doesn’t deny himself. We come to the Lord’s Supper in fear and trembling but then we dare to trust God and take comfort in the Gospel’s word. We have anxiety that we might at some point become unfaithful but isn’t it true that we have been unfaithful in some way every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper? But even if we have been unfaithful Christ still remains faithful and accepts us back.
“Even if we are faithless, he still remains faithful. When he walked here on earth, no sufferer came to him without finding help, no troubled person ever went away from him uncomforted, no sick person ever touched the hem of his cloak without being healed (Mark 6:56) – but if someone had come to him the seventieth time and asked forgiveness for his faithlessness, do you think he would have become weary, or if it had been seven times seventy times! No, heaven will become weary of carrying the stars and will cast them away before he becomes weary of forgiveness and thrusts the penitent away from himself. Oh, what a blessed thought that there still exists a faithful, a trustworthy friend, that he is that; what a blessed thought, if a person dares to entertain this thought at all, how all the more blessed, therefore, that he is the trustworthy friend of the penitent, of the faithless!” (P. 285)
6. 1 John 3:20 even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts.
What’s the difference between guilt and guilt? We tend to compare and create this difference. But do we really know anyone’s guilt other than our own? The external signs of God’s majesty are evident in the rainbow and in the beauty of nature. “But God’s greatness in showing mercy is first an occasion for offense and then is for faith. When God had created everything, he looked at it and behold, “it was all very good,” and every one of his works seems to bear the appendage: Praise, thank, worship the Creator. But appended to his greatness in showing mercy is: Blessed is he who is not offended.” (P. 291) God is greater than your own heart which is always ready to condemn you.
“Out there the stars proclaim your majesty, and the perfection of everything proclaims your greatness, but in here it is the imperfect, it is sinners who praise your even greater greatness!” (P. 295)
7. Luke 24:51 And it happened, as he blessed them, he was parted from them.
This is Kierkegaard’s shortest discourse. It has to deal with the word blessed. Christ blessed them as he parted from them. The same thing happens to us when we leave the Lord’s Supper. Christ gives is a parting blessing and continues to bless us as we try to become and be a Christian. The blessing is the one thing needful and is God’s consent to our prayer and our godly undertaking.
“At the Communion table you are capable of nothing at all. Satisfaction is made there – but by someone else; the sacrifice is offered – but by someone else; the Atonement is accomplished – by the Redeemer. All the more clear it therefore becomes that the blessing is everything and does everything. At the Communion table you are capable of less than nothing. At the Communion table it is you who are in debt of sin, you who are separated from God by sin, you who are so infinitely far away, you who forfeited everything, you who dared to step forward; it is someone else who paid the debt, someone else who accomplished the reconciliation, someone else who brought you close to God, someone else who suffered and died in order to restore everything, someone else who steps forward for you.” (P. 298-299)
Source: Free to borrow from the Archive library.
Christian Discourses (Christelige Taler) by Soren Kierkegaard Apr 26, 1848 and The Crisis in the Life of an Actress “Krisen og en Krise i en Skuespillerindes Liv.” by Inter et inter July 24-27, 1848 by Soren Kierkegaard. Translated by Howard V Hong and Edna H Hong 1997 Princeton University Press 98970691140780
Christian Discourses & The Lilies of the Field and the Birds of the Air & The Discourses at the Communion on Fridays by Soren Kierkegaard, Apr 26, 1848 Translated by Walter Lowrie 1940, 1961
The International Kierkegaard Commentary, Christian Discourses, by Robert Perkins 2007 (A collection of essays about the book)