Back in the day… That’s the prelude to many a story of good times gone by. Memories are great gifts of God—the ability to recollect a happy, dramatic, or even sad moment of our life or the life of one we’ve loved and lost.
As we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation, it’s very important that we don’t celebrate it as a back-in-the-day moment, as a good-time-gone-by. This is not at all suggesting we deny the Lutheran Reformation its historicity. Luther nailing theses to the Castle Church, standing before Emperor Charles, and hiding away at the Wartburg are absolutely historical events, as historical as Jesus being born of Mary, suffering under Pilate, dying on the cross, and being raised again and appearing to more than 500 real, historical witnesses.
The Lutheran Reformation most certainly took place in history. More than that, though, it CONTINUES to take place now. This is possible because the Reformation we celebrate was not Luther’s work or effort, properly speaking. It was the Lord’s work through Luther. And this work of the Lord wasn’t new with Luther in the 1500s. It’s the same old work the Lord has been up to all along: “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up” (1 Samuel 2:6-7).
The note in Luther’s pocket on his dying bed is said to have simply read: “We are beggars. This is true.” This is Luther summarizing the Reformation with perfect simplicity. Beggars have nothing with which they might trade for the goods of another. The Word of the Lord makes us beggars—with no thoughts pure enough, no words kind enough, no works sturdy enough to claim status as God’s holy people. The essence of the Reformation starts in this empty-handedness. We are “brought to the grave.”
But the Word of the Lord doesn’t leave this beggar-status as the sad and pathetic scene we imagine. Rather, the Word of the Lord has us lose everything of ours by which we imagine ourselves wealthy (or building wealth) with God that we might instead gain God’s wealth. The Word of the Lord makes us rich with Christ. The powerful Word of the Gospel bathes us in the priceless blood of Jesus’ death. The Word of the Lord dresses our spiritually naked bodies in Christ’s pure thoughts, His kind words, His perfect works of love. And so our life is snatched from the grave, our poverty is made rich.
God gave form to the Gospel with His word of promise to His fallen children in the Garden of Eden. He preserved this good news through the prophets. He fulfilled it in the person and work of His Son, Jesus. And when the will and work of sinful hearts had mangled this good news, God reformed it again using Luther as His tool. And so IT continues—wherever Christ’s blood washes filthy beggars in Holy Baptism, whenever Christ’s righteous life is draped upon stained consciences in preaching and teaching, as often as Christ’s body and blood are received under bread and wine as nothing less than sins forgiven fully and freely—THERE the Reformation continues—because there is Christ FOR YOU.
Reverend Kyle Madson
Divine Mercy Lutheran Church
Hudson Oaks, TX
Managing Editor, The Lutheran Sentinel