In the Protestant liturgical calendar, we set aside times both for the observance of Reformation Sunday as well as All Saints Day. Per widely accepted tales of church history, on October 31 of 1517, a German monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed what would be known as his “ninety-five theses” on the door of the All-Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Many have speculated (and with good reason) that Martin Luther chose “All Saints’ Day” as a way to get people’s attention because they would already be primed to be thinking about the ancestors of the faith and how they have formed and “reformed” the beliefs, traditions, and practices of the Church.
Yet, when Protestants mistakenly think of Reformation Sunday only as a historical instead of a theological event, they miss the point. It is easy to agree with Luther’s critique of the Church at that time. We pat ourselves on the back on how far we have come and how evolved we are now.
As a whole Luther’s critique was how the Church, which was originally meant and created for offering the freedom of Christ to all people, had turned into a place of oppression. If we miss this finer point of the critical role “reformers” play, we miss an opportunity for deeper reflection and awareness of how we need the “Luthers” in our midst.
We need those who will wake us up. We need people who will call us to face the difficult truth that injustices, insensitivities, and inequalities still exist. Reformation is the process of facing these realities and choosing to move towards more authentic, bold, and faithful ways of living as the Body of Christ in which all of God’s beloveds are fully seen, heard, and loved.
Luther’s act of nailing his critiques on the door continues to be a powerful metaphor for the need for reformation, renovation, and restoration. Even though this process can be painful at times, it is necessary. It is part of our baptismal calling. We are named and called as Christ’s ambassadors, those sent out to continue to live out the mission and ministry of Christ and to invite others to do the same. Yet, when we discover there are stumbling blocks in the way of helping people to be formed in the image of God and experience the presence of God through grace alone, we are called to stand up and speak up.
The work reforming and refashioning the Church is essential. If the Church is to live, it must continually be reformed to reflect the Christ we follow and serve. So even though we might celebrate Reformation Sunday as a way of remembering our history, even more importantly, let us celebrate the work of reformation each time that we gather, study, worship, and go forth into the world as Christ’s disciples.
Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister
Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Open Access Program