ON Sunday 5th November at 5pm at Holy Innocents' there was an ecumenical service commemorating 500 years since the reformation.
Holy Innocents' Church was filled with many people from several Christian denominations of Orpington Churches.
Father Victor says... "Gratitude and joy. We thank God for the growth in mutual understanding, cooperation and respect that Lutherans and Catholics enjoy today. We acknowledge that more unites us than divides us – above all, common faith in the triune God and the revelation in Jesus Christ; and the recognition of the basic truth that through faith in Jesus we can stand before God justified, “not guilty”.
Lutheran Christians associate the word “Reformation” first of all not with the division of the church, but with the insights that Luther and the other reformers made accessible to them – starting with the understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and faith in him and the freedom and certainty that the gospel creates.
They want to thank God for that gift – and to share it with all other Christians. That is why they invite us to celebrate with them. We should respond to this invitation from our Lutheran brothers and sisters by being thankful together, especially on the day of commemoration of the Reformation>
However, our common commemoration of this 500th anniversary must also reflect pain and lament, an acknowledgement of the errors of the past and of our continued divisions.
Thinking about our past, we need a purification and healing of memories. Both sides have cause to regret how they conducted their debates in the 16th century. Catholics and Lutherans frequently not only misunderstood their opponents, but also exaggerated and caricatured them in order to make them look ridiculous. They repeatedly violated the eighth commandment, which prohibits bearing false witness against one’s neighbour.
Just as Saint John Paul II courageously admitted and apologised for parts of our Catholic past, so Lutherans of the present day have revisited their history. They have, for example, expressed their deep sense of regret and shame for the vicious statements that Martin Luther made against the Jews and for his violent attacks against peasants during the Peasants’ War and calling the Pope “anti-Christ”.
This reminds us that as individuals and as churches, we are constantly in need of repentance and reformation. Luther put it like this in the opening statement of his 95 Theses from 1517, which triggered the Reformation movement: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Turning to the present, we need to acknowledge that the continued division of the body of Christ is opposed to the will of God; and to re-commit ourselves to the goal of full, visible Christian unity.
Facing the future, the theme for our commemorative service next Sunday is, at my suggestion, “United for mission”. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been rightly placed at the centre of this year’s common commemoration of the Reformation. We do not need to wait until we achieve our goal of full unity to take forward our shared mission of proclaiming that Gospel to a world which desperately needs to hear and experience it.
I do hope that many of you will be able to attend next Sunday evening.