Friday, October 26, 2007

Reformers Wear Red

While the rest of the world dons orange and black with visions of candy corn awaiting eager little hands, Lutherans like me tend ignore the revelry in deference to Reformation Day. Not that Lutherans have any particular beef with Halloween - it is just as good as any day to enjoy friendly neighbors and tasty treats! But why worry about Halloween when one can wrap oneself in costume ribbons of merry, cherry, Reformation Red and go Reformation-Treating by knocking on doors and singing in frighteningly good four-part harmony "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"? Reformation Day serves two purposes for us band of merry men. The first reason, is to delight in fellowship with one another. Reformation Day is indeed a cultural holiday! Since the Reformation occurred in the heart of Germany, may I suggest a heart-healthy celebration including the following menu items:

- Bratwurst with Brötchen and Mustard
- Glühwein
(A curiously warm, sweetened and herbed red wine. Don't drink to much or you'll see the visions of Ezekiel!)
- Beer. Thick, hearty lagers and stout.
- Dumplings. Any kind. There is never a day that is not good for a dumpling.
- Cheese
- Whole roasted hog with apple in mouth
- Cabbage (Kraut) steamed with apple slices
(red cabbage has more antioxidants and fussy eaters may like the sweetness of Rotkohl)
- Sweet apple desserts with raisins

Reformation Day in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, 2005

In the fair city of Lutherstadt-Wittenberg a celebration takes place annually in the Reformation tradition of eating, drinking, singing, enjoying art and dancing, storytelling, and the seemingly discarded and lost art of theological disputation. When a Lutheran is on stage, the whole world laughs, as though from earth below to heaven we went.
Reformation is often acknowledged as a grand cultural extravaganza, as if recognizing that on October 31st everyone gets to be German for a day! And since we are so merry this time of year, let us add lefse to the menu and not forget the joys of fellowship with our Scandinavian brothers and sisters! There is peculiar and comfortable joy in finding common cultural heritage. Back in Wittenberg the cobble stones and crackling air draw celebrateurs close, laughing over steaming mugs of wine and fingering thick yards of medieval felt fabric. There are parades of men in their stockings and velvet regalia, carrying torches to swipe close to the faces of young ones and singe the mustache of the fathers who hold them up to see. Midnight passes and there is no reason to turn in yet - the hog hasn't yet been picked dry! Reformation Day is indeed a good day to be German.

Yet, the second reason for celebrating Reformation Day is the foremost. Reformers don't celebrate to thumb noses at the Roman Catholics. Neither do they gather to revel in sin and other misdeeds as if the holiday were meant to be some sort of antinomian booze cruise. If we meant to celebrate in this way, Lutherans would be viciously trampling on the blood of both the Reformers and those who died in the 30 Years War in a disgusting display of deaths' victory in battle. It is for this reason also that I am kept from nailing a copy of the 95 Theses to the door of the Notre Dame University cathedral, just a few miles away...! Reformation Day is, in its best form, finally meant to serve as a day for confession. Not dry, decrepit recitations of, "oh, I've been a naughty boy, will you ever forgive me?", but instead a clear confession of what we believe as Christians.

Yes, indeed we believe that God is our Father and really into creating and providing for His creation! Yes, we really buy into this Jesus Christ as His Son who died for us to give us life! Oh, and as if that weren't enough, we really get into the notion that God sends His Spirit to be with us, giving us strength outside of ourselves long enough for faithfulness to break into our stony, unbelieving hearts.

What a day to wear red! Reformation is the day when we Christians recognize the duress the church faces, even when 30 Year Wars with the Catholics do not loom in our horizon. Today Christians still recognize that people really aren't into hearing about Jesus because such confessions smack of intolerance and absolute truth claims. Christians confess into the crowds owned by MTV and Oprah, who wonder "how can I live the best life?", and upon hearing about this Jesus, the others feel attacked that the best life occurs from outside of the self. A strange message in our present

And so Reformation Day revelers gather in red for nothing more than a little taste of Easter before our winter hibernation. We gather in the face of opposition and duress; in the face of the those who think [Lutheran] Christianity to be a mess of moralism or lawlessness. We gather in trust that even without bratwurst and wine, there is something to be excited about. While our Halloweening counterparts shroud themselves in zombie costumes and tell scary stories, we Lutherans gather specifically to thumb our noses at the grave. We dance around the charter of freedom Christ has given us, in sure and certain declaration that one day our dear Jesus will call us up out of our rotting graves for something better; death has no final word in this world. There are no spirits to appease, no ghoulies to steal the soul, and no devil to fear. While Luther recognized spirits and demons and the devil indeed exist and are to be feared as those who would attack, when clinging to the Word of God alone, fear dissipates because the grave becomes a laughable thing. The grave is a prison which can never hold those caught up in faith. This is why on Reformation Day we sing with heart and gusto:

The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He's by our side upon the plain

With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day;
The Kingdoms' ours forever.

So, should anyone seek to take our dear possessions - even if life be wrenched away - we confess with boldness, joy, and vigor that those deaths will never have the last word. The Kingdom is ours in the face of death. Those who confess have the promise of resurrection and will rise up to new life. It is this confession and proclamation that brings life and freedom. So, hug a Lutheran today and know the joy of Reformation!
And while you're add it, spread the Word. Go Reformation-treating! Who knows, maybe your neighbor will be moved to keep steadfast in your spirited words and offer up a sweet treat to send you on your way...

Just for fun:
Here are Prayers of the People I wrote in accord with the 10 Commandments.


[P]astor: Let us pray for the life of the world, the intentions of the faithful, and for any in sorrow or in need.

A brief silence.

P (I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods)

We thank you Lord that you are our God and You have made us your people. Send us your Holy Spirit so that we will fear, love, and trust You above all things. Lord, in your mercy,

[C]ongregation Hear our prayer

P (You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain)

We thank you that you have given your name to us, that we might pray to you as children speak to their loving Father. We pray that Your name and Your Word be placed in our hearts and on our tongues. We especially ask for your protection today for our dear brothers and sisters in Christ who speak Your Name in the midst of danger and death. Keep us from using your name to curse, swear, lie, or deceive, and help us to always call upon you in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Lord, in your mercy,

C Hear our prayer

P (Remember the Sabbath and Keep it holy)

Lord, keep us from neglecting your Word and the preaching of it so that we may regard it as Holy and gladly hear and learn it. We pray today for Christ Lutheran Church and all congregations throughout the world. Please send us trustworthy pastors and leaders who will freely preach your Gospel in our church, at home, and in our daily work. Lord, in your mercy,

C Hear our prayer

P (Honor your father and mother)

We give you thanks, dear Father, that you have given us loving fathers and mothers and others who care for us in all of our daily needs. Make our homes a place of peace and comfort so that we might know your love in our closest relationships. Help us so that we do not despise or anger our parents or others in authority, but respect, love, serve, and obey them. Lord, in your mercy,

C Hear our prayer

P (You shall not kill)

We pray that You continue to breathe life into this world, Lord. Protect us from everything that seeks to take our life; from sickness and diseases, from fractured relationships, and from death and the loss of our loved ones. We ask today that you bring your healing and comfort to these we name before You now[...]. Please protect us from sin, death, and the Devil with all of his empty promises. Keep us from harming our family or neighbor in any way, but give us hands and hearts to help them in all of their physical needs.

C Hear our prayer

P (You shall not commit adultery)

Lord, we ask that you help us honor the promises of marriage and all of the gifts and responsibilities this blessing brings. Please help to remember the promises made to our spouse so that our families might grow in love and trust. In all matters of relationship, keep our words and conduct pure and honorable, so that husband and wife love and respect each other. Lord in your mercy,

C Hear our prayer

P (You shall not steal)

Lord, we recognize our deep longing for the good gifts of this world. Please help us so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or property or get them in any dishonest way. Instead, help us to improve and protect the possessions of others. Give us the ability to recognize the needs of others so that Your good gifts are distributed to all in need of food, water, shelter, and protection. Lord, in your mercy,

C Hear our prayer

P (You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor)

Lord, keep the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts from all evil. Help us so that we do no betray, slander, or lie about our neighbors or family, but defend them and speak well of them, and explain their in the kindest way. Lord, in your mercy,

C Hear our prayer

P (You shall not covet your neighbors’ house, wife, husband, workers, cattle, or anything else that is theirs)

Lord, pour us out for the sake of our neighbor so that we help others keep and protect what is theirs. Give us honorable words and conduct so that we do not tempt or coax away our neighbors’ spouse, workers, or possessions, but encourage them to remain loyal. Lord, in your mercy,

C Hear our prayer

P All of these things and whatever else you see that we need, grant us, dear Father. We offer our prayers before you, trusting in your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord,

C Amen.

The Kingdom is ours forever!
Happy Reformation Day!

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