I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
[Jeremiah 31:34 NRSV]
This coming Sunday, October 30, Lutherans will commemorate the 499th Anniversary of the Reformation, when the German monk, Martin Luther, made a plea for repentance and invited sinners to salvation by grace. For most preachers, the most difficult challenge is how to avoid giving yet another history lesson on why this day holds such importance on the Lutheran calendar.
And yet, as this year leads Lutherans into the half-millennium of this observance, we do sense an unusual feel to it. The significant reason for that difference is the participation of Pope Francis, alongside Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, in a commemoration that will take place in Lund, Sweden on October 31. Uncommon? You bet!
This particular Pope has set the Roman Catholic Church on its ear since ascending to the Holy Office in March of 2013. But the events that led up to this historic event has been in the making long before Francis, beginning with the Second Vatican Council in 1963.
The Church of Rome has re-formed down through those years to the point that in 1999, an historic document was signed between the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation called the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. In this document the two church bodies, while not totally erasing the division that exists between them, have at least agreed to a common understanding on this issue of salvation by grace alone.
And at this summer's ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the "Declaration on the Way," was overwhelmingly accepted. This document paves the way toward greater unity between Catholics and Lutherans. Basically, it lists 32 points of agreement between the two church bodies, declaring that some issues that once separated Lutherans and Roman Catholics are no longer considered divisive. Of course, there are still 15 or so significant differences that remain. They are centered around ordained ministry, communion, and the mission of the church.
I would encourage anyone who is interested in ecumenical church relations to read it.
Reformation Sunday is certainly a festival day where we celebrate and remember our history, but it should also be a day to reexamine our faith. The Reformation was not and is not a one-time event. The Church is always reforming. We as Christians are always reforming. We may be witnessing the beginning of another Reformation with the events that are to come this weekend.
Sunday I will be at Weaver Chapel on the campus of Wittenberg, University in Springfield, Ohio, where I will preach at the Festival Choral Eucharist for Reformation. It is an honor to which I look forward with great excitement and anticipation.
Have a blessed Reformation!
+Bishop Abraham Allende