October 31st is Reformation Day. We remember Martin Luther nailing his 95 Thesis to the Wittenburg church door and the recovery of the gospel of grace, the light after darkness. We celebrate sola fide, justification by faith alone. Against the Roman Catholic Church that taught the need for co-righteousness, some from Christ and some from men, Luther and the other Reformers fought against the heavy burdens of buying salvation through indulgences or earning God’s grace through good works or through penance and confession.
The Reformers are our people. We stand downstream from them. I wonder, though, if they would recognize us as their descendants if they watched us around the Lord’s table.
I’m not wondering as much if they would disagree with our understanding of Christ’s bodily presence in the elements. We know which ones of them taught a special presence, which ones taught the sacrament as symbol, and which ones tried to put a foot on both of the fence. We don’t wonder about those things because the printing presses made plenty of copies of their position pamphlets. What I wonder about is if they would think our glum faces and conscience beating is more penance-like than Protestant.
Put another way, why do you think you are allowed to eat and drink? Is it because you have recognized and confessed every sin you can remember? Is it because you make sure to feel badly, as woebegone as possible, about your sin that caused His death? Is it because you made sure to get everything right with those you’ve sinned against?
Thorough confession of sin, deep sorrow for sin, and even seeking forgiveness from someone you sinned against, are all necessary, but none of them qualify you or make you worthy to participate. What does? Fide, faith and faith alone.
We honor God’s work in the Reformation by feasting at His table, knowing that Christ alone is worthy and that He invites us to be nourished by grace alone when we receive it by faith alone. Eating a gospel supper like this upsets countries and continents.