Britt and I are excited to join several PRLC folks for a tour in Germany celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We will visit Wittenberg and other sites where the Lutheran movement took root. This will be my first visit and I trust it will be a great blessing.
I find myself in a place of gratitude during this 500th Anniversary year. For one, I am grateful for the witness of Christian unity. The way I read the history, the Augsburg Confession of 1530 was a document proposing the renewal and reform of the church in the interest of retaining its unity. Breaking away from the church was never Luther’s intent. Now, 500 years after the breach left by the Reformation, there is a remarkable sense of unity among Christians. The ELCA enjoys full communion relationships with several Christian traditions. In addition, Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue is now blossoming into ventures of shared ministry and prayer.
I am grateful, too, that this Reformation celebration gives us opportunity to look upon the past as instructive for today and the future. We rightly laud Luther’s remarkable theological contributions including the message of Christian freedom and the theology of the Cross. Sometimes, though, we have forgotten other aspects of Luther’s reform flowing from the Gospel that affected society and economics.
Dr. Samuel Torvend, Professor of Religion at PLU, visited Phinney in early May to speak on this very topic. Dr. Torvend taught us about the “Common Chest” established by Luther in Wittenberg in 1522. Food and money and other goods were collected for the chest to serve the homeless, the poor, widows and orphans, the sick and unemployed, students and migrant workers. Here a vital link was made between Holy Communion and the call to justice. The equitable distribution of food and drink in the Eucharist (everyone is fed the same at the Communion Table) translated into equitable distribution for all in the neighborhood.
Luther’s reformation of the Mass celebrated and invited the work of God among those gathered to worship on Sunday morning and through those gathered to worship and pray. The Spirit’s work in Holy Communion flowed over into daily life. This ministry of the common chest honored God and critiqued the inequality of the social and political order of the day.
These studies around the social and economic reforms of the Reformation have often been dubbed the “Forgotten Luther” because it doesn’t get as much press as other aspects of the reforming movement. Reclaiming something of this part of the Reformation seems wise, especially as we seek to be practitioners of justice in a world made uneven by the specter of greed. Particularly meaningful here is how justice flows out of God’s gift of the sacraments.
Where is economic injustice and other forms of injustice today? How might we be good stewards of the mystery and make a lively link between liturgy and justice? Finally, as Dr. Torvend asked during his visit – do those who struggle with economic injustice make any claim on you?
Here are wise words from Luther in a 1519 treatise on Holy Communion:
When you have partaken of this sacrament, you must in turn also share the misfortunes of the fellowship … here your heart must go out in love and learn that this sacrament is a sacrament of love. As love and support are given you, you in turn must render love and support to Christ in his needy ones. You must feel with sorrow and dishonor all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing.