I had to vote last week – in the General Election. When the snap election was announced and the date was set I realised that for once in my life I was not going to be in the country on election day. So I sent off the form for my postal vote, duly received the papers and had the weird experience of standing in the kitchen with my pen – I wish the envelope had contained one of those stumpy pencils obviously only manufactured for UK elections – and made my cross in the box. On the radio the arguments between the parties were continuing. The campaign hadn’t ended but I had to make my choice, one way or the other, or the other, or the other ….
The reason that I won’t be here on Thursday is that that will be Day 4 of our Cathedral pilgrimage in the steps of Martin Luther. Monday sees over forty of us from the Cathedral and its wider community flying off to Frankfurt to begin tracing the life of someone who had an amazing effect upon the life and shape and beliefs of Western Europe and, indeed the world. To be honest I knew very little about Luther or indeed Lutheranism. Southwark Cathedral has had a very long link with the Norwegian Lutheran Cathedral in Bergen and has an even longer association with the work of the Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe. But, as I have discovered, Lutherans are even more complicated than Anglicans (though as yet I don’t think they consecrate curates as bishops!) and knowing the churches of Porvoo doesn’t mean that you know or understand Lutherans. My formation as a priest at Mirfield prepared me for lots of things that would be vital in my priesthood but Martin Luther was not one of them. I do remember one lecture by Fr Norman Blamires CR, now long since gone to his rest, in which he seemed to suggest that Luther had his best ideas on the loo. But just as people often only remember the most insignificant part of a sermon I can’t remember much more than that, or the point he was trying to make.
So I’m looking forward to travelling around Germany, with an expert guide and learning a great deal more about some hammer blows in a door that became hammer blows on a church. Of course, we shouldn’t talk about reformation but reformations because it wasn’t one movement but a whole series of movements that manifested itself differently in different communities, in different churches at different times. No expression of church in the west remained the same, we all reformed in one way or anther, to one degree or another. Neither is it a process that has ended.
In preparation for this year of commemoration the Lutherans and Roman Catholics produced a joint document entitled ‘From Conflict to Communion’ and at the end of that there are a series of ‘Five Ecumenical Imperatives’ the second of which is this
Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.
It’s that process of continuous transformation that should excite us. The church, as we understand it, is never static, it changes, develops, but never loses its essential character as the Body of Christ.
We travel to Germany the day after the Feast of Pentecost, the great day of transformation for the church as locked in, frightened men were emboldened to become witnesses, as wind and fire brought energy and life, not just into them but into those who heard them. The crowds who heard the hubbub, people from every nation, hearing in their own language, asked one question
‘All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ (Acts 2.12)
That gave the opportunity for Peter, with a new found voice and confidence to stand up and preach the first sermon. Thousands of lives were re-formed, transformed as a consequence. I hope that as we travel around Germany we can experience some of that transformation that continuous process of change through encounter.
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This is the prayer we will be using throughout the pilgrimage.
O God, our refuge and our strength: you raised up your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your word. Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace which you have made known in Jesus Christ our Saviour, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.