Weekly Reflection – May They Be One

31 May 2024

Earlier this week one of my sisters, who lives in Germany, sent me a photograph from Erfurt where she had been singing in a service to mark the Feast of Corpus Christi (which always falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday). The photograph was of the altar in the Monastery Church of St Augustine where, at the age of 24, Martin Luther had first celebrated the Eucharist as a priest in the Augustinian Order of Friars. Luther later wrote about the terror he experienced on this momentous occasion: “shall a miserable little pigmy say, ‘I want this, I ask for that’? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living eternal and the true God.”  This experience was one among a number that set Luther on a spiritual and theological journey that would lead,  a decade later, to the publication of the ninety-five theses in which Luther famously challenged a number of key teachings of the Catholic Church. Four years later Luther was formally excommunicated by the Pope – an excommunication that has never been lifted. Luther’s breach with the papacy led to a complete realignment of Christianity in Europe, including (albeit indirectly)  in England; and the ensuing divisions, even in a kinder and gentler age amongst Christians, still exist today.

Looking at the photograph of the altar led me to reflect on the irony that it was the Christian understanding of the Eucharist, in all its complexity,  that lay at the heart of many of Luther’s theological struggles. The great sacrament of unity, instituted by Christ himself on the night before he died, would become a battleground of bitterly contested theologies. The side you happened to take in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries might literally be a matter of life and death.

Physical violence between Christians of different theological standpoints may have disappeared, at least in the west, but we are nowhere near achieving the unity that Jesus prayed for at his final meal with his disciples. Until that time comes the altar where Luther celebrated his first mass stands as mute testament to our failure to measure up fully to God’s will: that we might indeed be one as Jesus and the Father are one.

With love and prayers,
Dean Simon

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