Directly across Jordan Street (the address for the church I serve) sits the Roman Catholic Cathedral.
In the Presbyterian churches I have served, Reformation Sunday at the end of October has primarily been a parochial affair: some years with bagpipes and others with organs belting out Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress.” We might use a portion of the Scots Confession if we are feeling adventurous or affirm our faith using the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism: What is your only comfort in life and in death? Our usual practice has been to acknowledge the particularity of the day and celebrate the particularity of our tradition; we might preach on Romans 5:1-11 or Ephesians 1:3-14, and then move on to stewardship season, Thanksgiving and Advent.
So, what about this year? It is the 500th anniversary of the date when Luther, a monk in the university town of Wittenberg, Germany, sought to have public debate about his 95 theses and tacked them to the church door, setting in motion the Protestant Reformation in Europe and spreading throughout the world. Should we do two pipers? Or maybe a bagpipe band? Should all three hymns be Reformation anthems? Should we draw from every one of the Reformation era confessions? Should we find some other ways to double down on who we are and why we still hail from Protestant traditions and communions separate from Rome? Perhaps. In our sanctuary, banners representing each confession hang and remain there from Reformation Sunday through Christ the King Sunday. Sometimes, it is the main time the congregation as a whole is given the opportunity to engage with the content and themes of our church’s confessions and the particular emphases that make us Protestant, Reformed and Presbyterian Christians.
But in two of our earliest confessions – the Nicene Creed and Apostles’ Creed – we also claim that we are catholic Christians as well. And it is in that vein that we will commemorate the spirit of the Reformation this year. Luther and the movement that led to the Protestant Reformation did not seek a new church but to reform the one holy, catholic church. So we will commemorate the Reformation this year with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ across the street.
Both churches will have a series of educational events and classes about the Reformation and its ongoing effects on both communions of Christians this summer and fall. On October 29, like every Sunday, we will worship as “separated brethren,” but after the charge and benediction, our respective congregations will not be sent into the arms of the world, but rather into the arms of one another, to participate in a brief liturgy and prayer together based on the Lutheran-Catholic joint commemoration (see: www.bit.ly/elcareformation). We will sing, we will worship, we will pray and we will shut down the street while we share a cup of cold water and fellowship together. We will commit to the unity of the church, we will commit to listen to the witness of each other, we will commit to work together for the mission of Jesus Christ for our time and we will give thanks for the care and concern we hold in common for the community in which we are situated and that we seek to serve.
While we will try not to lionize or demonize Martin Luther or the papacy, we will try to sing a hymn we both hold dear, wrap our arms around each other and for a brief moment in the sunshine (we hope), reflect the visible unity that is already ours in Jesus Christ our Lord.