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31 October AD 1517
The Thirty-first of October is the Eve of All Saints, also known as All Hallows' Eve or Halloween. That means that the following day must be All Saints' Day (a remembrance of the martyrs and saints). The time of year was chosen in part to counter pagan festivals which focused on spiritism or witchcraft. These were common in much of Europe as non-Christians watched the lengthening of the night and the loss of daylight.
Much of the costuming and carousing on Halloween may have roots in the practices of bygone ages, when Christians would mock Satan
, to show that he had no power over Christ's Church. This mockery goes along with the thinking of Martin Luther, who had no doubts about Satan's existence but knew him as a strong enemy, yet one already defeated by Christ. He said of music, "I have no pleasure in any man who despises music. It is no invention of ours: it is a gift of God. I place it next to theology. Satan hates music: he knows how it drives the evil spirit out of us." Luther then also lauded laughter: "I often laugh at Satan, and there is nothing that makes him so angry as when I attack him to his face, and tell him that through God I am more than a match for him."
This gives us a nice segue into thoughts on the beginnings of the Evangelical (Gospel) movement, Lutheranism, and the Reformation: The Eve of All Saints is more than a night of extorting candy from our neighbor under threat of dire tricks. We Lutherans celebrate All Hallows' Eve as Reformation Day.
We remember the Reformation's earliest hours with Martin Luther posting debate topics concerning abuses in Roman Catholicism on a church door. We ponder the spread of the Lutheran Reformation throughout Europe. In its wake, Roman Catholic domination of the continent crumbled, changing political and social boundaries. Most non-Roman Catholic churches in the West owe at least part of their existence to the Reformation or its aftermath.
Reformation Day is thus celebrated every 31 October as Lutherans mark the anniversary the 1517 posting of the Ninety-five Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Saxony. While there had been divisions among Christ's followers from the time of Jesus' earthly life onward (see, for example, the conclusion of John 6
), the Reformation marked one of the two great divisions in the Church. The other was the split between the eastern (Orthodox) and the western (Roman Catholic) churches.
While the first split still kept both sides relatively intact, the Reformation's aftermath more completely dissolved earthly unity. This was in part because of the times in which it came, with increasing nationalism and free-thinking stemming from the Renaissance. The Lutheran party was ejected from the Roman Catholic Church; others who disagreed with Rome but who did not agree with Luther joined the Lutherans for a time. Later, some of these would splinter off into other bodies. England, which was protected by water from threats of force, went its own way from the beginning. Yet the English (Anglican) Reformation also was divided for both doctrinal and political reasons.
Since it started with Luther — who built on the work of earlier theologians and reformers — the Lutheran Church has celebrated the day with more zeal than most. This can be positive, reminding us of the core reason why it all happened. Martin Luther was convinced that the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ was being obscured by legalism and empty, unchristian ceremonialism. Thus, when Christians gather to receive and rejoice in salvation by grace through faith in Christ, such celebrations are good.
However, when Lutherans or others use the day as one of empty boasting, of vainly over-trumpeting Luther, other reformers, and their followers, or by attacking and criticizing others save over important matters of doctrine and practice, they risk returning to the bondage of legalism that the Reformation sought to cast off. Likewise, well-meaning but misguided heirs to Luther do great harm when they throw out good ceremonies and traditions that the reformers kept, just because they think of them as being "too old-fashioned" or "too Catholic."
The heirs of the Gospel also place themselves back under God's law if they judge intent in others or if they take false pride in their heritage instead of holding true pride in the merits of Christ. They also create problems when they attack what is good in what other churches have kept simply because they disagree with part of what those churches teach.Concerning today's illustration, a brother pastor in my circuit noted that Luther gets the credit for the widespread popularity of the Christmas tree. He figures that with this picture we might also be able to promote a folk belief that he introduced the Halloween jack-o'-lantern. This could have the collateral benefit of providing our church youth groups with a new source of income, October pumpkin sales.LectionPsalm 46Isaiah 55:1-11 or Jeremiah 31:31-34Revelation 14:6-7 or Romans 3:19-28Matthew 11:12-15 or John 8:31-36Collect
Almighty God, gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and comfot them in all temptations, defend them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on the Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
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