Today marks an important day in the church calendar for Lutherans and many Protestants in the United States and around the world, and is especially notable this year as preparations are underway for the Reformation 2017 Celebration (in, you guessed it, 2017). “Why?” ask the uninitiated. In Lutheran and Protestant circles, the last Sunday of the month of October is often celebrated as Reformation Day in commemoration of Martin Luther’s posting of his “Ninety-Five Theses” on the door (which at the time was more or less the community bulletin-board) of the Castle Church at Wittenberg in Germany on the Eve of All Saints in 1517. These theses were, in essence, a set of debate points concerning the theological and ethical implications of the sale of indulgences (reprieves from purgatory granted by the Church for payment) by church officials in Germany. After he posted his debate points, someone took them and copied them, proliferating the copies all throughout the German states, which were being financially exploited to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. What Luther had intended to be a relatively quiet scholarly debate between university professors turned into a religio-political firestorm seemingly overnight, the seed of what we call the Reformation, and the rest is history.
Thus, we celebrate this seemingly innocuous event–a scholar posting a debate notice on a public bulletin board–each year to commemorate what it began, the act of the reformation of the Catholic Church in the West, and the theological and doctrinal clarity that came with it. It is also a time when many Lutherans take pride in their religious and ethnic (often German) heritage, so many congregations celebrate Reformation Sunday as an Oktoberfest, with food, music, and games for the church and surrounding community. If you are curious about Reformation Day celebrations and the history and theology behind them, feel free to visit your local Lutheran church. They’ll be more than happy to talk with you (and save you a beer and a sausage).
The Collect for Reformation Sunday (LSB, via http://www.sanctus.org):
O Lord, keep Your household the Church in continual godliness that through Your protection she may be free from all adversities and devoutly given to serve You in good works; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.