Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ways to Celebrate the Reformation

I first wrote this post several years ago. I think it's worth another look. I thought I'd run it today, Reformation Sunday.  You can celebrate today or wait until October 31, Reformation Day itself. 

How to Celebrate the Reformation

I'm biased. I think the best way to celebrate Reformation Sunday is to go to your local Lutheran church, sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," and celebrate the Eucharist. Then you could come home, listen to Garrison Keillor's show (if your local NPR station rebroadcasts it at lunch, as mine does), drink some German beer, and take a nap.

Even when I wasn't a member of a church, I've always been intently aware of the liturgical season and the holidays that the Church celebrates. I grew up in a Lutheran family that went to church every time the doors were open--and that included when we were on vacation. So those rhythms imprinted themselves into my brain.

I love to celebrate, and I love that I have additional things to celebrate by being liturgical. But I know that not everyone is good at creating celebrations.

So, for those of you who are on your own this Reformation Sunday, here are some things you can do to celebrate.

--Go to a German restaurant and eat a German meal. Think about Martin Luther, who ate this food. Drink a German beer. Think about Martin Luther, who was not inhibited about the earthly delights.

--As you're drinking that German beer, write your own hymns. Not a musician, you say? Use popular drinking songs as your base! Lutheran legend has it that some of our greatest hymns have tunes that originated as drinking songs. So, the melody is already created for you--write a hymn.

--Not in a songwriting mood? Write your own 95 theses. What do you see as wrong with the Church? Do you have any suggestions? Extra points if you can back them up with Scripture.

--One of the Church's actions that outraged Luther was the selling of indulgences, which he saw as victimizing the poor. We like to think that the modern church has moved beyond the selling of indulgences, but history suggests that we're fooling ourselves. In what ways do you see the Church selling indulgences? Another way of thinking about this question: in what ways does the Church abuse its power?

--If you want to follow in the footsteps of Luther, indulge in some guilt. Luther held himself to some stringent standards, especially in his early life. Think about all the ways you've let God down--and then remember Luther's teaching about grace, and feel better.

--Read the Bible. Rejoice in the fact that you can read it in your own language. Thank Luther for being one of the earliest translators of the Bible into the common language.

--You don't want to worship at a Lutheran church today? Go to a Catholic church. Remind yourself of where you'd be if Luther hadn't started the Reformation.

I'm being a bit facetious with this one. I know that if there had been no Luther, there'd have been others to lead us down the Reformation road.

And in all seriousness, one of my most memorable Reformation Sundays was spent with a Lutheran friend and an Episcopalian friend during our retreat at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery. We got in touch with Christian roots that are much more ancient than the roots that we usually celebrate during Reformation Sunday.

And another memorable Reformation Sunday was spent on a South Carolina beach with some of my best friends from graduate school. We had a reunion on one of the barrier islands in 2006, 16 years after the last time we'd been together in South Carolina. One friend was raised Southern Baptist and has gone on to find joy in a Unitarian church, but at the time she thought she wanted nothing to do with church. My other friend was very active in her local Church of England congregation, but she felt strongly called to become a Quaker. And I was part of a Lutheran congregation that left me desperate for more spiritual nourishment. We spent that Reformation Sunday talking about our spiritual struggles and our desire to find a group where we felt more at home.

I'm rather startled to reflect that each one of us has found her heart's desire. I give credit to the Reformation process of being able to talk about what we yearn for, about where the Church has fallen short, about being able to have a vision for the future.

Our Reformation Sunday Gospel finds Jesus promising that we will know the truth and the truth shall set us free. The truth can be terrifying and send us hurtling down paths that seem dark and dangerous. At times we may not know whether we're heretics or whether we're struggling to birth something new and inspiring. If we keep ourselves rooted in church traditions, we're less likely to flirt with the heretical. Yet, as the life of Luther reminds us, sometimes there are traditions that have gone completely rotten.

On this Reformation Sunday, I pray for us all to renew the Church the way that Luther did. I pray that God will show us the truth. I pray for us to be set free.

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