Reflections on a visit to Germany for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

 

500 Reformation Choir on recent trip to Germany

Dear 500 Year Old Lutherans,

 
It is hard to imagine that a trip to Germany on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation would be anything but an edifying spiritual pilgrimage. What could be better than listening to 24 male voices singing hymns of praise to God next to the grave of Martin Luther? What could be better than hearing their wives joining them in a robust version of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God?”
 
You are probably waiting for me to say it was the most gratifying experience of a lifetime. It wasn’t. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable and very much appreciated. But let me explain. What Martin Luther stood for, what Martin Luther confessed, was a Christ that had done something for him and all humanity that no one could possibly understand or appreciate without the aid of the Holy Spirit. He was not a saint. He did not want to be idolized. He just wanted all men to be freed from the chains of doubt and the fear of God’s judgment. He found Christ’s gift of a free and undeserved forgiveness in the Holy Scriptures. He faced death many times throughout his life. He did so with a faith that was mixed with fear. He knew he possessed eternal life in Christ, but his flesh was weak and trembled in the face of death. A Christian faith conquering fear; that was Luther.
 
That is why the real Luther had a hard time shining through the exhibits and pictures and commercialism that drove this jubilee. There were two places of note where I saw a glimpse. The first was in the city of Wolfenbüttel. Our family group entered the cathedral not knowing what we would find. We passed through the church, descended the steps into the crypt below where the bodies of the dukes and duchesses lay in state. Suddenly the pastor of the cathedral appeared and offered to tell us about the artwork of the cathedral. He was using the Reformation celebration as an excuse to tell us about the Christian faith and the hope of the resurrection that comes to us through Christ. It burned in his heart. That is what the Reformation was all about: Burning hearts for the true and pure Gospel.
 
The second time was when the choir group stopped at a little chapel in a village called Gruna. We thought that we would only be using the chapel for our own service, but when we arrived, the church was full of people from the village. They played a prelude for us, opened their mouths in awe as the pastors sang, and greeted us after service with warm affection and food. They only had one worship service a year in that church. Their chapel had been flooded twice in recent years. Six feet up the walls were still peeling paint. It was the old East Germany. I felt like were meeting people coming out of prison. The privilege of speaking the Gospel to them was humbling. That was what Luther felt when he discovered the Gospel. It humbled him. Humble gratitude from knowing and trusting God’s free and undeserved mercy and grace compelled him to defy the threats, bans and incrimination of emperors, popes, kings, nobles and their mighty armies.
 
We must ask ourselves: How are we going to celebrate the Reformation? It is great to have exhibits and pictures. It is wonderful to have choirs singing the incredible works of Lutheran hymn writers and composers. But the greater and lasting legacy of the Lutheran Reformation is our own burning faith in the pure Gospel of our Lord and Savior, humbly received, and with faith mixed with fear, boldly confessed to a dying and forsaken world that God wills to save.
 
Your 500 Year Old Pastor
 
(Listen now to the 500 Reformation Choir sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God!” on FaceBook.