Something is happening in our time.
First a memory of another time. I remember attending Reformation services as a child. Sometimes, as I remember, we gathered in large, “noisy” Reformation rallies with other congregations. Sometimes they were quieter gatherings inside our congregation. But, large or small, as I recall, they felt like a service of Lutheran ‘triumph’. Although these lines of a Mighty Fortress, “The Spirit and the gifts are ours; Through Him who with us sideth,” actually referred to “the world with devils filled”—it wasn’t a long throw to hear this verse as a story of “us” vs “them.”
It was that sort of time, as I remember it.
But in own time something quite different is happening. The decision to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as a Commemoration intentionally co-remembered with our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers is a quite remarkable turn. With many of you, I watched the moving common prayer service at Lund, Sweden; led by Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge. Even at a distance sitting in front of the computer screen, I was moved. It was obviously a significant event for those gathered in Lund. But I did wonder as I watched, how the reformation commemoration would be experienced far from the Reformation’s European soil on the soil of the prairies of western Canada.
I was wondering this in June of this year, as I arrived to co-preside at a Reformation Commemoration with Bishop Albert Thévenot, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert,. We gathered at St Joseph’s Church at the generous invitation of the Catholic Diocese. We followed the Common Prayer service that had been used at the Lund event. One section of Common Prayer included joint prayers of thanksgiving by Lutherans and Catholics for the gifts of renewal that came to the world through the Reformation. One section included joint prayers of confession by Lutherans and Catholics, praying for forgiveness for the ways we had sinned against each other since the Reformation. A third section led the gathering to light candles and state in the five imperatives our Commitment to work together in the future.
What did the experience look like in Prince Albert? It really was a small quiet event. We did not fill the church. About 70 of us were there out of the hundreds of Catholics and Lutherans in that area of our synod. But, though small, the event was significant for those gathered. Many of those leaving the service greeted the two bishops at the back of the church this way: they shook our hands, looked into our eyes and said quietly, “It’s about time.”
At the reception that followed the service, we heard some of the background stories behind those fervent statements. You probably could guess what they were. “My mother was from a Lutheran family and married a Catholic—my family disowned her.” My father left the Catholic church to marry a Lutheran—the family would have nothing to do with him after that.”
“It’s about time.” Of course, we realize the joint Reformation Commemoration is only a beginning. One of our Roman Catholic colleagues said, “we have walked so separately for 500 years, it will take a while to work out how to walk together after all these years.” But, as those who left the service that day in Prince Albert said: “It’s about time.” Time to get started. Time to step by step, inch by inch, walk toward God’s new time.
I would urge you to take part in the Reformation Commemorations in your area. Something is happening in our time, in our church. Thanks be to God.
Something is happening in our time.