Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation Day or not

We're Lutheran, so today it was Reformation Day in my congregation.  I suspect this was so at a few other Lutheran churches in our neighborhood.  When you're Lutheran, you celebrate Reformation Day by doing things like singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", and perhaps a few other hymns attributed to Martin Luther.  Perhaps you'll have a sermon that allude to "Justification by Grace alone", or you might make reference to the date in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses regarding the Sale of Indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.

We pulled out all the stops this year.  We had someone dress up as Martin Luther, and retold some of the highlights of his life.  We had a replica of a German church door up in the chancel area, where Martin Luther nailed his Theses.  Then several people from our congregation also nailed a faith statement to the church door, saying "Here I Stand."  (Luther supposedly said this at the Diet of Worms in 1521, when he was asked to renounce the things he had written.  It turns out that maybe he didn't actually say it, but if he didn't, he should have.)

We say that Martin Luther is not just the father of the Lutheran church, but the whole Protestant Reformation.  But I suspect that it was mostly Lutheran churches that commemorated Reformation Day today.  And I'm wondering whether our "Reformation Sunday" celebrations are soon going to be extinct.

In part, there's a kind of stigma attached to "Reformation Sunday".  It seems so "Lutheran" after all, and even Martin Luther told us that we should call ourselves Christians, not Lutherans.  In the past, sadly, (though I would hope the distant past), Reformation Sunday preaching sometimes took the form of Catholic-bashing.  And there's also the 500 year old baggage attached:  the historical context of the Reformation is so different than our time and place, in so many ways.  Sometimes it seems hopeless to try to preach about it.  I myself am sort of a history buff, but I'm aware that many others are not.

I think of all of the churches these days that have exchanged stately services with liturgy and hymns for praise and celebration services with a band and a more conversational sermon.  Luther's "Mighty Fortress" seems so out of place in these venues.  (On the other hand, Luther himself was reported to have asked, "Why does the devil have all the good tunes?"  Maybe he wouldn't have minded some of our praise bands.)

So, on  the one hand, I wonder if "Reformation Day" services are becoming a thing of the past, and I'm thinking that perhaps it's not such a bad thing. 

But on the other hand, I think that it's not such a bad thing to have a "Reformation Day" service, if for no other reason than to remember that the church needed reforming in the past, and that the church probably needs reforming now, and that the church will need to be reformed in the future.  Don't get too comfortable.

You never know when it might be you, or your ideas, that will end up needing reforming.


angela said...

We still have a big celebratory Reformation Service for the Conference in which we belong. Separate from Sunday services and including catered meal and dessert. But then again we are Lutheran. When I mention it to Baptist folks I know, they look at me like I'm a frog.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

i think the 'lutheran-ness' of reformation day is passing... but the necessity to uplift ongoing reform in the church i think folks get that... yearn for it. i think that's why writers such as shaine claibourne are so popular... change is afoot. putting faith into action. leaving behind stuffiness for faithfullness seems to be the motto... (stuffiness as in a sense of piety in the past in which faith was not something to 'talk' about or 'see' it just was, and it was private)

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Well, speaking as a very non-Lutheran Protestant who is very grateful for the Reformation, I think what you did all sounds terriffic! And...if "A Mighty Fortress" is out of place (and perhaps it is) that is a terrible thing indeed. Contemporary needent mean banal, right?