You might notice from this post that the Church (or certain corners of the Church) calendar recognizes Luther today, not on his birth date, but on his death date, and this is key. (It’s why I picked an picture of an older Luther for this post.) As Jesus puts it in Mark 12, in responding to the Sadducees’ skepticism about the resurrection of the dead, “[H]ave you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” For those who remember the lives of the saints, the day of death is the day of birth into everlasting life.
As for Luther in particular, he had a number of famous acts in life, all adding up to his becoming one of the most important founders of the Protestant Reformation. As a believer, he truly lived into the theological anthropology which he proclaimed, that we as Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners.
Alongside brilliant theological writings, fierce preaching, an intensely Christ-centered prayer life (including a sacramental view of reality so deep that he once joyously declared that God was present to him even in his bowl of pea soup), and a pastor’s heart for the people he served, Luther also was well-known for his delight in “earthy” (i.e., crude) humor. That’s not to say that telling crude jokes is a mark of sainthood. Rather, Luther was a saint who proclaimed in his life and his teaching that the body is God’s good creation and that the body and this life are to be enjoyed, if we truly want to worship and glorify God.
The Collect for the Day
O God, our refuge and our strength: you raised up your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your Word. Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace which you have made known in Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Want to learn more about Luther? Wikipedia can tell you some of the good and some of the bad. The classic full-length yet still accessible biography, now at over 60 years in continuous print, is Roland H. Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.
Want more on Luther’s theology? John Wesley (one of the founders of Methodism) had a famously life-changing divine encounter at Aldersgate during a public reading of Luther’s very brief “Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans.” A longer but still fairly brief work is “Concerning Christian Liberty” (alternately known as “On the Freedom of a Christian” or “On the Freedom of a Christian Man”). And from there, if you want to read more Luther, his writings are next-to-endless, many of them available online for free.
-by Nick Jordan, w/ props to Dr. David C. Steinmetz for the true tale of the sacramental pea soup