Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ!
It is already an exciting week, one for which we have been waiting for quite some time. On Sunday, October 29, we will gather as we usually do on the last Sunday in October to celebrate the ongoing work of the Spirit with the festival of the Reformation. Change might be difficult and something that most of us don’t particularly like. That said, as Lutherans, at least in theory, we recognize the importance of renewal. The church in every age needs to be shaped – re-formed – in the grace and the love of God. Our practices – though beloved and familiar- need to be changed where they have become lifeless, redundant, or depart from the radical hospitality of God. It is tough work that is not for the faint of heart but rather for the faithful of heart. The festival of the Reformation reminds us that the work of renewal is never completed – as a church we are in the process of becoming.
This year, our festival takes on special significance. It marks the 500th commemoration of the start of the Lutheran Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther issued a scholarly debate on the practice of selling indulgences. What followed was unexpected. Luther was not the first reformer of the church, but his ideas sparked a wave of reforms that quickly went beyond his initial intentions.
On this coming Sunday, we will be commemorating this special anniversary. We are using the word “commemorating” rather than ‘celebrating.’ Although Luther did not originally desire for the church to split on account of his suggested reforms, a schism did occur. A deep and painful rift between Roman Catholics and Lutherans existed for generations. Those who followed Christ did not always recognize tolerance and unity as virtues. We can’t celebrate the negative aspects that were part and parcel of the Reformation. To do so is to move in the direction of separation and further fracture of the Body of Christ (to which both Lutherans and Roman Catholics belong through the waters of baptism). To ignore the divisions and pretend that they didn’t exist would be irresponsible on our part.
During worship on Sunday, we will be using a confessional that I adopted from the Common Prayer worship that Lutherans and Roman Catholics (including Pope Francis) shared together last year in Lund, Sweden. We will be using the same words that emerged from the ecumenical spirit and collaboration that has been characteristic of the official dialogues between Lutherans and Catholics since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. We will be confessing the sins of the past of intolerance, division, prejudice, and bias. We will turn to Gid and the places of common witness. As we commemorate the Spirit’s work of renewal five hundred years ago in Wittenberg, we will ask for God to create anew in us a willingness to bridge divisions and heal brokenness.
At the table, we will celebrate that God is present with us – in the midst of reformation, commemoration, and the living of our daily lives. In Word and Sacrament, we will find forgiveness for the sins of our past and hope for our future. We will form the Body of Christ again – remembered – for the sake of the world that God refuses to leave or give up. Like the imperfect saints before us, we will play our part in the next chapter of the church’s history.
Sure hope to see you in worship,
p.s. There will be a lot of fun and games on Sunday following worship. A special potluck will round out the day.