This fall most of us will participate in special worship services where we will ritually and prayerfully commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Some of these services will be “Lutheran specific” events in our congregations and ministry areas. Others will be broadly ecumenical and some will be jointly sponsored Lutheran and Roman Catholic events.
Globally, this journey began on October 31 of last year when Lutheran World Federation President Munib Younan, General Secretary Martin Junge and Pope Francis jointly presided over a Lutheran, Roman Catholic reformation commemoration in Lund, Sweden. This fall, Roman Catholic colleagues and I will jointly preside over services using use this same liturgy at various locations across the territory of the Eastern Synod.
September 21 - Sudbury - 7:00 @ St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church
September 30 - Toronto - 2:00 @ St. Ansgar Lutheran Church
October 21 - Kitchener - 2:00 @ St. Peter's Lutheran Church - being taped for future broadcast
October 28 - Pembroke - 3:00 @ St. Columbkille Cathedral
November 10 - Hamilton - 7:00 @ Christ the King Cathedral
November 18 - Montreal - 2:00 @ St. John LutheranChurch
November 19 - Lunenburg - 2:30 @ Zion Lutheran Church
November 25 - Ottawa - 12:00 @ Notre Dame Cathedral
In these liturgies we will lift up four commitments.
1. Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more seen and experienced.
2. Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.
3. Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.
4. Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.
In 1998 when I was installed as bishop of the Eastern Synod, I was invited to choose a theme passage for the liturgy. I chose Jesus’ high priestly prayer from John 17 and the service was built around the theme “that all may be one.” Still, as ecumenically hopeful as I was in choosing that theme, I would not have imagined that efforts toward the reconciliation of Lutherans and Roman Catholics would have advanced to the extent indicated by these formidable commitments. We have walked a good long way as partners in the journey from conflict to communion. But we still have a ways to go.
In the fall of 2001 Anglican bishop Ralph Spence and I made an ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome with Roman Catholic bishops Anthony Tonnos and Matthew Ustrzycki. It was a deeply holy and enriching time together. Early one morning we were invited to participate in a service of holy communion in Pope John Paul II’s private chapel. Bishop Spence and I participated in every element of the service but one. We were not able to share in the sacrament. Roman Catholics and Lutherans did not share altar fellowship with one another then, nor do they today.
But I am hopeful, more so than I have ever been. As such, when I participate in these special liturgies this fall, I will also be affirming a personal commitment to continue working toward the goal of full eucharistic sharing between our two traditions. It is a goal sought by many in our respective churches; a goal whose achievement I pray to someday experience. This is a God-pleasing reformation goal that we can collectively advance as we live out these four commitments. Won’t you join me?