Monthly Meditations

  • October Thoughts… Reformation and the Church

    4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

    Ephesians 4:4-6

    When one looks at the Church within the world and sees the many divisions that exist we can wonder why. Often, the blame is set squarely at the feet of the reformer Martin Luther. It is often argued that he had attempted to start his own church (even naming it after himself!) and that after doing that many others followed in splintering the church. How can we then have a day where we remember and give thanks to God for the Reformation?

    That question makes sense, however, this is not what the Reformation was. Luther was not trying to start a church (and he didn’t name anything after himself either!), but rather he called on the leaders of the Church to introduce reforms which got rid of abuses that had crept into the Church over the years. The goal was to correct errors so that the truth of the Gospel may be taught in all purity and truth in the Church.

    In the summary of the first part of the Augsburg Confession which detailed the teachings of the theologians of the regional churches undertaking reform in order to present it to the emperor, it is said “as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church universal, or from the Church of Rome, as known from its writers.” The hope was that unity could be maintained because no new doctrine was being introduced. Instead, the truth that had always been accepted was brought forth to its proper place free from later medieval innovations which obscured it. That is why, in addition to the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions often quote from the Church Fathers and the canons.

    And so what are we remembering on Reformation Day? I think the red colour of the paraments and vestments assigned for the festival is instructive. First, red brings to mind the Holy Spirit as we remember and give thanks to God for the grace which He showed us through the Reformation so that the truth of the Gospel was brought into its fullest and purest clarity. For while there were certainly many people who played a part, it was the Holy Spirit working through the Scriptures who brought the truth of the Gospel to its full light.

    Second, it reminds us of blood as we give thanks to God for the examples of His steadfast love demonstrated in the lives (and deaths) of His holy martyrs from this time. These include Robert Barnes, Patrick Hamilton, Jean Vallier, Jan van Essen and Hendrik Voes and others. In fact, while it is not as well known in English today, Luther’s first hymn was written to give thanks to God for the martyrs Jan and Hendrik called “Ein neues Lied wir heben an” (A New Song We Raise).

    Cover of a pamphlet about the martyrdom of Hendrick Voes and Jan van Essen, labeled here as “St. Henry” and “St. John.”

    With this in mind, we pray that the Lord would keep us always within the true teaching of the Word and that He would continue to work by His Holy Spirit through the Scriptures that those in error would recognize their errors and come to a full knowledge of the truth and that the Church which is united in Christ, may also find a visible unity and unity in doctrine.

    Prayer: Almighty God, author and source of all truth, grant that by Your grace we may be kept steadfast in Your Word amid all attacks of the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh. Pour out Your Holy Spirit that all schism may be brought to an end and Your people may all be united in truth for Your glory so that our eyes may see what we confess: that Your people are all united in the body of Your Son; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lived and died for our justification, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

    Readings: Psalm 119:41-48; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 8:12-36

  • September Thoughts… Holy Cross

    For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

    1 Corinthians 2:2
    From Lucas Cranach the Younger’s Wittenberg Altarpiece

    One of the feasts that is listed on the Feasts and Festivals section in the hymnal (LSB, xi) that may cause us to scratch our head is that of Holy Cross Day. The Augsburg Confession proclaims that the remembrance of the saints is a good practice so that we should imitate their faith and good works in accordance with our calling (AC XXI). That is right and good to do and fits with the many men, women, and events which we commemorate. But what about Holy Cross Day, which appears this month, September 14.

    Historically, the roots of this feast go back to the days of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. While in Jerusalem, his mother, St. Helena, is said to have found the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. On this spot a church was built (this still exists as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem). As part of the celebrations, it was said, that the very cross which our Lord was crucified on was found and displayed on the day after the dedication of the church (September 14, 335).

    However, we are not commemorating this event concerning St. Helena (whether what was found was the true cross or not), but instead remembering the cross itself. Why? Because that is the instrument which our Lord had used in bringing about our redemption. We call it holy because Jesus’ cross was indeed holy, that is, it was set apart. It was set apart as the altar on which the Lamb of God gave Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. That cross, that one particular cross, in its nature no different than any other used by the Romans to execute criminals, became the very real means which our Lord used in overcoming sin, death, and the devil for us. Of all the thousands of crosses that existed, that one which our Lord died upon is unique in all the world, not because anything in itself was special, but because what happened upon it.

    Thus it is good to remember the cross on which our Lord had died for us, where He made atonement, where He brought reconciliation, and where He displayed the righteousness of God. For, in our baptism we have been crucified with Christ and raised to new life with Him. When we receive the Lord’s Supper we receive the fruits of this sacrifice: the true body and blood of our Saviour who gave His life upon that cross.

    And so, like any other day when we commemorate the saints we are remembering the grace which God has shown in the faith and lives of His people by His working through them, on this day we remember the grace of God shown to us by using the cross as an instrument of bringing about our salvation.

    Prayer:* Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

    Readings:* Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 40:1-11, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 12:20-33.

    *Both the prayer and readings accompanying this meditation are from the appointed propers for Holy Cross Day.