THE FESTIVAL OF THE REFORMATION
The Lutheran Liturgy is unique in appointing a Festival of the Reformation. The Common Service Book and the new Service Book, prepared by the joint Commission on the Liturgy, list it among the Greater Festivals. It may be traced back to the annual commemoration of the translation of the Bible into the Ger-man language or to the annual Thanksgiving Service commemorating the introduction of the Reformation. Bugenhagen's orders for Brunswick provided for such a celebration as early as 1528. The Pomeranian set the date as St. Martin's Day, in memory of Luther's birth on St. Martin's Eve. Some orders appointed the Sunday after the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, since the Augsburg Confession was presented on June 25. After the Thirty Years' War the Elector of Saxony appointed it for October 31. The effect has been that an ancient and important festival has been overshadowed, All Saints' Day, on November 1. If the Festival of the Reformation must be observed on a Sunday, this should be the Sunday before October 31, in order that All Saints' Day be allowed an equal observance on the Sunday after November 1. The trend has been to move weekday festivals to the nearest Sunday. Perhaps the time has come for serious and persistent effort to train our people in observing the weekday festivals on the appointed days. Such efforts were successful in regard to the midweek Lenten services. The Festival of the Reformation is distinctly Lutheran and offers a splendid opportunity to make a beginning, without exposing our people to Roman concepts which at times color the "keeping" of Lent.
It is not amiss to remind Lutherans that, like all other festivals of the Church Year, the Festival of the Reformation is observed to the glory of God and not to glorify Luther or the Lutheran Church or any branch of the Lutheran Church. Nor is the object of the observance to present the evils of the Papacy. The purpose is to thank and praise God for the blessings of the Reformation. Luther's person will inject itself of necessity, but he was merely the instrument God employed to do great things for His Church. For this reason it is gratifying that the festival is not observed on Luther's birthday, for only the Lord Jesus Christ and St. John the Baptist are accorded the honor of having their birth commemorated by the Church. If Luther's birthday is to be commemorated, this may be done without subtracting an additional Sunday from the Trinity Season, especially if the Festival of the Reformation has been observed only one or two Sundays before.
The Introit. "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge. Therefore will not we fear though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble."
The text is from Psalm 46, which is usually associated with the Reformation. When the hymn Ein' feste Burg first appeared, it bore the title "Der XXXXVI Psalm." It is more than a metrical paraphrase. It is really an original production on the theme of David's psalm, with some phrases reminiscent of the Biblical text.
The Collect, "O Lord God, heavenly Father, pour out, we beseech Thee, Thy Holy Spirit upon Thy faithful people, keep them steadfast in Thy grace and truth, protect and comfort them in all temptations, defend them against all enemies of Thy Word, and bestow upon Christ's Church Militant Thy saving peace; through the same Jesus Christ," etc.
This prayer is from the Saxon Order, 1539-40. The Common Service Book brings a second Collect, which first appeared in 1918.
The Epistle, Revelation 14:6,7. This text appears to lend itself poorly as basis for a sermon. It seems difficult to separate the angel and his message from the context, for a second and a third angel follow and deliver their message of doom. The King James Version translates "the everlasting Gospel," the Re-vised Standard "an eternal Gospel." What the angel proclaims is "a Gospel everlasting," not another Gospel but the Gospel as its contents shape themselves in its address to the nations when "the hour of His judgment has come." Luther once said that he did not like this book, because its spirit did not agree with his feelings as to the Gospel. His great soul, permeated through and through with the very life and spirit of reconciliation in Christ Jesus, felt that here is something different, just as the Christian is disturbed by the imprecatory Psalms. The mes-sage of the angel is Gospel, but it is the Gospel in the form it takes when the hour of judgment has set in. Perhaps the Epistle appointed in the Common Service Book is to be preferred (Gal.2:16-21), in which the central doctrine of the Reformation, the Justification through faith, is gloriously expounded by St. Paul.
The Gradual. "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness. Walk about Zion; tell the towers thereof, mark well her bulwarks, consider her palaces, that ye may tell it to the generation following. Alleluia! Alleluia! For this God is our God forever and ever. He will be our Guide even unto death. Alleluia!"
The text is from Psalm 48, also usually associated with the Reformation. Jehovah revealed Himself as the great Lord, the God of salvation, and is to be praised exceedingly in Jerusalem and on Mount Zion, where He resided in the midst of His peculiar people. The city of God and Mount Zion were prophetic pictures of the holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, which the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Church the Lord is great and praised exceedingly. Walk about Zion, surround and encircle her, as Israel walked about Jericho. Survey the perfect state of her defenses. Count her towers to see if any of them have been demolished. Set your heart to her ramparts, apply your mind, give attention, observe closely, examine her palaces on the inside, that you may recount the result of your inspection on the outside, the sound stare of the defenses, as an emblem of the safety which the Church enjoys, that you may tell it to later or future generations. For this God, our God, forever and ever, for eternity and perpetuity, will be our Guide even to the end of life.
The Gospel, St. Matthew 11:12-15. The Common Service Book suggests St. John 8:31-36. Country Sermons, Volume IV, by the Rev. F. Kuegele, contains an excellent sermon on the holy Gospel from St. Matthew.
The Common Preface.
NOTES ON THE HOLY GOSPEL
Adapted and translated from Das Evangelium Matthaei by Dr. Oskar Pank. C.Ed. Mueller's Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1920, Halle.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear." We know the serious tone of these words. Whenever our Lord employs them, it is to impress deeply some especially significant truth. In this instance, as always, His Word strikes the consciences of Lutheran Christendom like a hammer blow, on this anniversary of the day when four and one-half centuries ago Luther's hammer struck mightily on the doors of the Christian Church. The text takes us back to the greatest days this world has ever seen, when the Kingdom of Heaven came into this world in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, when in St. John the Baptist the Old Testament reached its most radiant climax and the New Testament dawned. In the morning hour the Baptist appeared, of whom our Lord said that no one greater has risen among those born of women. Yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. The least in God's Kingdom of the New Testament is greater and richer, because St. John had only the promise, stood merely on the threshold, whereas the humblest sinner who by faith has laid hold on Jesus Christ as his Savior stands within the holy of holies and has more abundant grace than he who still asks, "Are you He who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
Of the days when the New Testament dawned our Lord said: "From the days of John the Baptist [from the time he disappeared from the stage] until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence [or has been coming violently] and men of violence take it by force." He was not referring to the violence of enemies who persecute and kill to destroy the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a holy violence that takes it and really gets possession of it, a violence which makes men heirs of God. The force employed is spiritual, not physical, the violence is done with the heart and soul not with the fist. It is violence in which God takes great delight. In those early days souls desiring salvation and hungering for it took the Kingdom by storm. A spirit laid hold upon the people that would not be denied. By their faith, contrition, and prayers they strove and fought, and the Kingdom was their spoil and prize.
The world will not and cannot see such days of holy violence again. Yet the history of the Christian Church records similar times when men took the Kingdom by force. Upon periods of decline followed periods of spiritual force. When the Kingdom of God seemed almost to have disappeared and been forgotten, hearts again took possession by violent assault. This was true in the great days of the Reformation.
After Luther had vainly wrestled for peace in the monk's cowl of renunciation and mortification and when at last heaven opened to his soul "by faith alone," he stormed the very gates of heaven by the power of his faith until he took it. Later he stormed heaven again and again by prayer. Truly the greatest and noblest quality of this hero in God's Kingdom was the faith by which he stormed and took heaven violently and forcefully. In the night before he appeared at the Diet of Worms he was heard to pray is if he were determined to draw heaven down to earth by violence and force of faith: "O God, O God, Thou art mine, Thou art my God! Stand by me against all men's reason and wisdom. Thou must do it, for when I turn my eyes that way, I am done for, the bell is already cast, and the sentence is pronounced. Be with me, I rely on no man!" At the sickbed of Melanchthon he demanded in prayer that the devil be not permit-ted to destroy this instrument of God. In a letter to the timorous Melanchthon in Augsburg he wrote: "God has assigned this matter a place which is beyond and outside your rhetoric and philosophy. This means: Believe! … If Christ were to lose the title 'King of kings and Lord of lords' in Augsburg, He will have lost it also in heaven and on earth."
As Luther, so were the heroic believers of that day who followed his banner and thousand and thousands who were seized by the power of evangelical preaching. A violent emotion ran through men in all walks of life. Hungrily men took hold on the Kingdom of Heaven, stormed it, and did it violence. Commenting on the text, Luther once wrote: "The Gospel is not preached in vain; there are people who hear it and love it violently, so that they hazard body and life for the sake of God's Word. When they hear the Gospel, their conscience drives them on, so that none can keep them away." They virtually laid siege to the churches of evangelical preachers. Luther's writings and hymns could not be printed fast enough to keep up with the demand. Again and again entire congregations interrupted a Catholic sermon by singing one of Luther's hymns and so compelled the priest to leave the pulpit. All this was doing violence to the Kingdom of Heaven, of which our Lord speaks in the text.
How do we compare with these heroes of the faith? This day is not an occasion for lamentations and accusations while the good of our days is ignored. It may be said without hesitation that we are living in a time of growth in the Church's history. Many who once cared little for the Kingdom of God are learning to seek it. But it is not a matter of merely seeking it, but of fighting and doing holy violence. He who would attain heaven must be fully in earnest. Yet where are the people who today actually strive and strain with Luther's holy determination? Where are the heroes who by their faith overcome God, who by their prayers take heaven by storm? If persecution were to come upon us, and all who go to church and profess to believe the Gospel were to lose their position, possessions, and means of livelihood, how many of us would be seen in church? How many would remain faithful and true to our profession unto death? Let us be honest though we might be ashamed. We look like dwarfs by the side of the heroes of the Reformation.