In addition to be Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or the Eve of All Saints’ Day, October 31st is also “Reformation Day” – the day Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses were nailed to the front door of the church in Wittenburg, which is traditionally identified as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, at least on the continent.
As Anglicans, Reformation Day is kind of a dicey concept, both liturgically and theologically. Liturgically, it is the day before All Saints’ Day, which is traditionally one of the top feast days of the entire Christian year. To celebrate Reformation Day on that Sunday would be against the Prayer Book’s order, and to celebrate it on the Sunday before All Saints’ Sunday would mean two interruptions to the regular flow of the season instead of just one. Thus, most Anglicans don’t celebrate Reformation Day on Sundays, and the few who do tend to be low-church congregations who especially desire to emphasize our Protestant heritage.
Theologically, Reformation Day is tricky for Anglicans because we have both Protestant and Catholic aspects to our identity. Reformation Day, therefore, is both cause for celebration and mourning. We celebrate the correction of many medieval excesses, the opening of the Scriptures in our native language, and the beautiful Prayer Book tradition that was born out of the Reformation experience. We mourn the separation between the See of Rome and the See of Canterbury that resulted, and we mourn the continual denominational splits that the mainstream Protestant world have continued to experience ever since. A Church that was once only split between East and West, with minor Eastern and Coptic outliers, has become a mess of countless thousands of disorganized parties, severely hampering our witness to the world and the clarity of the Gospel.
In that double spirit, I’d like to offer the following Collect and Scriptures for today’s commemoration of the Protestant Reformation.
O LORD Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you”: Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church; and grant to her that peace and unity which is in keeping with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Isaiah 35:1-10 is about the reunification of God’s people after captivity and exile. Just as the ancient Israelites were scattered abroad because of their unfaithfulness, so too has our unfaithfulness divided us from one another. But, just as God brought them back to a homeland of their own, we can also trust God to bring us back together as one united Body of Christ.
Psalm 122 is like a love song for the city of Jerusalem. To the ancient Israelites, this meant the physical city, but to Christians this points us to the heavenly Jerusalem, which is the Kingdom of God, the true Church. For the sake of this Temple of the Holy Spirit, we seek to do good to one another and restore our unity.
John 17:6a,15-23 is part of Jesus’ lengthy prayer for the sanctification and unity of his people. This coupling is important: unity simply for the sake being together is not enough. We must also be sanctified – made holy, protected from the devil, instructed, corrected, and molded into the image of Christ. As that happens, we will be increasingly able to be at unity with one another the way God desires for us to be.