O Lord our God, on Reformation Sunday we remember the complex legacy of our church. Grant us the internal space to view the ancestors of our faith as their whole selves, gifts and sins together.
We remember the courage and stubborn boldness of Martin Luther but cannot reconcile his faith and passion with his fervent antisemitism. We remember the attention to detail of John Calvin, who taught that the church has a responsibility to care for all of society from sewers to schooling. Yet we also confess Calvin’s penchant for policy sometimes made Geneva a rather dreary place without nuance for Anabaptists. We remember the boldness of John Knox, who took a stand in the political realm even venturing to lecture monarchs. And we acknowledge his iconoclasm and puritanical impulses left little room for faithful artistic expression.
We give thanks for the beautiful legacy of the Reformation: for the resurgence of the humanities and the gift of reading Scripture and offering our prayers to you in our own tongue, for the examples of those who resisted government overreach and abuse of power, for those who stayed true to their conscience in the face of great loss. We carry these lessons with us knowing they came at a great cost.
Before you, we also name those unsung heroes of the Reformation, women like Marguerite de Navarre and Katharina von Zimmern, who offered gifted insight and political protection to those who might otherwise have been put to death violently or left unable to carry out their reforms.
On this Reformation Sunday, we also pray for harmony across denominations, knowing that unity is central to your being. We pray for our Roman Catholic siblings in Christ, alongside other ecclesial traditions, confessing that in many cases, it is mainly culture, political polarization, and familial customs that separate us more than differences in doctrine, practice, or the source of our common faith in Jesus Christ.
Teach us, O God, that perhaps the greatest lesson of the Reformation comes to us from Calvin’s unmarked grave. Preserve us from our desire for earthly monuments, keep us from wasting our precious time wringing our hands over ecclesial self-preservation, and re-direct us from worshipping the past and enshrining our dead heroes. Through the gift of baptism, you have not only called clergy or special Christians or only some of us, but you have called each one of us to use our God-given gifts to reflect your grace and glory, to impact this world for Christ’s sake, and to engage in activities that enable our neighbors to thrive and flourish in this world you so love.
To that end, help us to rejoice in the legacy of the Reformation, to be a church that embraces our role in the public sphere alongside Christians of other traditions and people of other faiths. In our life together, make us an ever-closer likeness of your beloved community. And outside the walls of our community of faith, enable us each to pursue a life, not of completion, but one that looks to the future with confidence that your Holy Spirit will bring all things to their proper end. Until then, may we be “reformed and being always reforming,” not as a principle in and of itself, but according to your Word, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Resources for further reading and viewing:
Martin Luther, The Jews and Their Lies, 1543
Scott H. Hendrix, Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer, Yale University Press, 2015
William McKenzie, “John Calvin, we hardly knew ye,” August 2014
David Daniell, The Bible in English, Yale University Press, 2003
“In full: Service of reflection held at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh,” Sky News, September 2022
“Ten Women of the Protestant Reformation,” World History Encyclopedia, March 2022