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In a few days we will gather for the synod assembly. The theme for our May 20-21 reunion is We are Lutheran: Bold & Hopeful. It’s not the first time this synod has highlighted our Lutheran identity as an assembly theme but in 2016 there is a particular resonance to that choice.
During 2016 and 2017, we join Lutherans around the globe in preparing to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Or, to speak more precisely, we join Christians from many parts of our faith tradition for this quincentenary observance. From Tanzania to Namibia, Indonesia to Guatemala, Germany to Minnesota, preparations are underway to remember the actions and arguments that renewed the church in the sixteenth century and which continue to call the church to faithfulness today.
Of particular note will be a historic service of Common Prayer in Lund Cathedral on October 31, 2016, attended by leaders of the churches of the Lutheran World Federation and Pope Francis. This is happening not only because time heals wounds and the divisions of one era give way to fresh accord in another era, but for 50 years Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians have participated in careful dialogue with one another. With the theme “From Conflict to Communion” the liturgy for that service of common prayer invites us to confess where we failed to live in the unity of Christ and to give thanks for present-day opportunities to travel forward in our ecumenical journey into the unity granted by Christ.
Would any of the reformers five centuries ago have dared to believe that such days would come to those once so harshly divided by the labels Lutheran and Catholic? Growing up in a family with both Lutheran and Roman Catholic relatives, I have waited a lifetime for this day of public acknowledgement of what many have always known in their hearts, which is that the love of Christ is stronger than any of the seeds of mistrust and hatred sown among people of faith. I won’t be in Lund in late October but I will be giving thanks that others are there to signal this new day.
The adjectives – bold and hopeful – speak to the future to which God is calling us. In the synod office we had many discussions about whether or not these words still have integrity today. Were we just using them as a kind of rhetorical flourish or do we really have reasons to be bold and hopeful in our Lutheran identity? You’ll hear a clear answer at the Assembly but I suspect you know what it will be. In Christ, there are reasons aplenty to be both bold and hopeful today.
Shortly before Martin Luther died, he wrote a letter to his beloved wife, Katie. He knew how worried she was about his health, their children, and the money that was always needed to pay the bills. After reminding her of all that God was doing to support and sustain her, Luther wrote – “Pray, and let God worry.”* I take that as lasting advice for our day, too.
Yours in God’s service,
Bishop Patricia Lull
*Luther’s Works, Volume 50, page 306.