The editor’s rhythm meanders at a different pace than that of the preacher. Publishing cycles being as they are, I get to write a Thanksgiving meditation on Reformation Day. There’s a connection there.
Thank you, God, for the Reformation of the church.
Sola Scriptura. Thanks spring from the seeds of renewal that predated the Reformation. Those sacrificial pioneers, Jan Hus and John Wyclif, were convinced that God’s living Word is best understood through the written words of the Apostles. In her dark days, the church cordoned off those words, so the people could hear only what was mediated to them through the clergy. Hus, Wyclif, and their Reforming successors released into the people’s hands those dangerous words for all to read and hear. Their gift opened not only eyes, but voices of praise and thanks.
Solus Christus. Hearing those written words led to listening to the Word. The readers of Scripture were stunned by the amazing life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection, and continuing ministry of the Savior. No more substitutes. No more idols. No more mediators. Jesus alone can save. Jesus alone does save. Praises and thanks sang forth.
Sola fide. That mother church had fallen into a pattern of presenting rewards to those behaving best and threatening punishments to those coming up short. It teased generous benefaction out of the masses–behold the great cathedrals of Europe–but no good works ever seemed quite good enough. Then came Luther and Calvin assuring that faith is the response God seeks to Jesus’ gracious work. A collective sigh of relief brought thanks.
Sola Gratia. The Reformers elevated the giving of thanks to a higher plane. The mother church had taught the faithful to sing the benedictus, but her calls “Bless the Lord” often were followed with, “… or else.” Then spoke Martin and John. Their proclamation of grace liberated the faithful from their fears, empowered the faithful to minister and serve in joy, and inspired the faithful to sing songs of gratitude.
Soli Deo Gloria. The Reformers pointed beyond the church to the greater purpose of life, namely, to glorify God. Amazingly, they assured that our wretchedness could be so redeemed and transformed that our lives could actually become a glorious picture of God that the sovereign Artist gets to enjoy–and that we all could “enjoy God forever.” The celebrations began then.
The reforming didn’t end with the Reformation. Neither did the giving of thanks.
As Americans we model our thanks-giving after that community of believers who, with the peoples whose land they had invaded, carved a community of friendship and mutual thanks. Congregations of immigrants formed communities of worship and mission throughout the new world. Schools were founded, hospitals built, revivals held, frontier missions launched, city missions undertaken, sermons preached, books written, new ideas tested, and the presence of God celebrated. Thanksgivings became weekly habits for worshipers and daily habits for praying families.
The Reformation continued, especially as the churches confessed and redressed their sins of racism, sexism, and other isms.
The Reformation continued, as new waves of ideas tested old assumptions about God, the world and ways of thinking. They did not always offer the best solutions immediately, but usually did so in time.
The Reformation continued as Protestants, divided from one another by language and national origin, strove for closer affiliations with one another, and also with that mother church from which they had separated centuries earlier. The ecumenizing, being-reformed church celebrated over and over as misinformed prejudices gave way to shared conversations and as genuine differences helped each other reconsider “how best can we glorify God?”
Put all those solas together, and add in the “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei,” and those of us who have been blessed to find ourselves in this tradition and in this family of churches have good reason for giving thanks.
Happy thanksgiving, in a Reformation sort of way.