If only we lived it
“I've read enough, I've heard enough. I know enough. Would to God I lived it.” -Attributed to Katie Luther when her husband tried to get her to read the Bible through in a year
A few weeks ago, I was unexpectedly called to speak at a meeting put on by the Illinois Conference of Churches, an ecumenical gathering of people from 13 different denominations whose mission is to seek reconciliation and cooperation, while working and praying together. Their theme for the meeting, a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, was “Reconciliation: The Love of Christ Compels Us.”
I went on behalf of Christian History magazine, and spoke about our experience of publishing the four Reformation issues, the gigantic timeline, and the video This Changed Everything (you can buy them all here as a Reformation Teaching Kit.) I talked about how we had found much to celebrate as well as many things that gave us pause, and how we had learned that pretty much all stories are more complex than we may think from the outside. I reminded them of the many 16th-century heroes of the faith we’d talked about in the magazine--from obvious ones like Luther, Calvin, and Ignatius of Loyola to less well-known ones like Wibrandis Rosenblatt and Marguerite de Navarre. I challenged them to listen, really listen to one another’s stories, problems, and questions.
As part of the conference, we engaged in a worship service where we prayed for reconciliation. And as part of that service, we were asked to come forward, take stones out of a basket, and build them into a wall on the altar--all while singing “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” I found it surprisingly moving and difficult to place a stone in the wall while simultaneously singing, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.” It brought home to me how far we Christians are from being one in worship and witness.
As the service ended, we took the stones from the wall and arranged them in a circle: each stone still its own stone, but all brought into one common family. As meaningful as this symbolic gesture was, we had to stop there. We could not share the Eucharist together, as we did not all recognize each other’s ordinations. Our denominational cultures and even some of our beliefs were still very different. There is a lot of work still to do.
Reformation Day is coming soon. Some of our churches may celebrate it this coming Sunday, and I hope the celebrations are grand and joyous. But let us remember that one day later (November 1) comes All Saints Day. Perhaps they are best celebrated together, as we acknowledge the momentousness of what happened 500 years ago--but also the momentousness of what happened 2000 years ago, when Jesus, at the cross, made us all one great cloud of witnesses through his shed blood for our salvation and gave us the hope of heaven.
And then, let us remember the wise words of Katie Luther as we discern the road ahead. We have read enough and heard enough and know enough. A hurting world needs us now to live it.
Reflections by Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History Magazine