All Saints’ Day, the Reformation, and the shadow of Death

All Saints’ Day, the Reformation, and the shadow of Death November 1, 2016

As he mourns a death in his family, Mathew Block brings together the Reformation and All Saints’ Day. 

From Mathew Block, Death and the Reformation| First Things:

Earlier this month I was in Wittenberg, reporting on the World Seminaries Conference of the International Lutheran Council. It was not my first trip to Wittenberg, but it was the first time I was able to see the Castle Church, which had been undergoing repairs during my previous visit.

All Saints’ Church, as it is formally known, is famous as the place where Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door on October 31, 1517 (or so the tradition goes). And while the document is hardly reflective of Luther’s mature theology, the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses is still widely considered the beginning of the Reformation. For several hundred years, Lutherans have observed Reformation Day every October 31.

With this year’s commemoration, we are now just one year away from the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. The gravity of that knowledge struck me anew standing in the Castle Church. For it is here that both Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon—the two principal saints and theologians of the Reformation—are buried. It was strange to stand before their tombs. Through their writings I have heard these men speak time and again. But now, in their presence, I found them silent. Such is the power of death.

There is another kind of death that pervades the town of Wittenberg. As part of former East Germany, Wittenberg did not escape the atheistic effects of the communist regime, which led to a stark spiritual decline in the region. The result is a town full of the imagery of the Reformers but curiously devoid of the faith they taught. The birthplace of the Reformation then seems somewhat like a tomb—a memorial to the dead faithful but sadly representing only a minority of the living residents of Wittenberg.

These reflections on death have been sharpened by the sudden death of a member of my own family, my uncle having passed away while I was flying home to Canada from Germany. His funeral takes place today. And so it is that I remember the Reformation this year in the shadow of the grave.

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