The Indy 500 happens annually every May, but Luther 500 happens only every five-hundred years.
Most Episcopal parishes seem to not do much with the Reformation. At this point on the liturgical calendar, we seem to have our annual sights set on All Saints’ Day and the festival Sunday following.
In the Anglican tradition, the Reformation was a bit rocky at best, something about King Henry VIII trying to find the “right” wife and produce an heir. The latter was important, yes, but he made a bit of a mess with the former. We all know the stories, as we have all seen the same films and PBS specials.
In 1517 Luther nailed to the door a few suggestions for the Roman Catholic Church, the Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, and all hell broke loose worldwide. Lutheranism helped fan the flames of the fire that Henry VIII subsequently began in 1529, ending in 1537 with a brand new Church of England.
Martin Luther did not intend to begin this theological avalanche, in much the same manner that English priest John Wesley did not quite intend to start an entirely new Church, the Methodist Church, a couple of centuries later.
Many consider the Hussites as the first true reformers. Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415) was a forerunner reformer in the Czech regions. The Hussite movement in the Kingdom of Bohemia, today the Czech Republic, ultimately developed into the Moravian Church.
Zwingli and Calvin were Protestant reformers in Switzerland along with John Knox in Scotland, Henry VIII in England, the Huguenots in France, the Anabaptists in the Netherlands, and later the Puritans who traveled all the way from England to Holland and finally to Massachusetts.
Lutheranism, a term Martin Luther actually hated, spread from Wittenberg, Saxony (Germany), to Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and even Iceland. This Reformation, beginning with Luther in 1517, peaked throughout Europe between 1545 and 1620, finally settling down in 1648.
Religious printed materials, including the Holy Bible, were translated into the vernacular and, therefore, available to the common people in their own languages. The invention of the Gutenberg printing press had much to do with this rapid distribution of religious materials, thus helping the Reformation message spread.
Perhaps we Anglicans have traditionally (mistakenly) left the commemoration of the Protestant Reformation up to the Lutherans. But not this year, at least in East Memphis.
Four congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the mainline body of Lutherans in this country, are joining Church of the Holy Communion for a grand festival commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this Sunday evening, October 29, at 5:30 p.m. at Church of the Holy Communion.
The Dean of the West Tennessee area of the ELCA Southeastern Synod, Pastor Cliff Bahlinger, will celebrate the Eucharist, and the Episcopal Bishop of West Tennessee, the Right Reverend Don Johnson, will preach. A Lutheran pastor celebrating the Eucharist behind an Episcopal altar, in the presence of the Episcopal bishop: you cannot write better liturgy than this!
The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have been in full communion, allowing cross appointments of clergy between the denominations, since the signing of the Concordat of Agreement in 1999. Actually, the first conversations of full communion between Anglicans and Lutherans in this country began in December 1935.
Music for this commemoration will include grand German chorales, along with great organ and choral music composed by the German Lutheran master parish musician, Johann Sebastian Bach. This liturgy will triumphantly end with all singing the words of Luther himself:
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth:
let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
the body they may kill: God's truth abideth still, his kingdom is forever.
Martin Luther (1483-1546)