Happy "Ruff"ormation Sunday!
On Friday, October 31st, many children will dress up in costumes and walk door to door saying “trick-or-treat” and receive candy from neighbors. I have always enjoyed Halloween. As a child, my brother and I would carefully think about our costumes we would make. Some of my favorites include the year I was a lady bug and another year when I was a bag of Jelly Bellies. The night was magical, it was as if you could be anything and do anything. The rest of the world fell away and things seemed to be different.
For us as Protestants, October 31st has another meaning completely. This day marks the anniversary of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran Church, posted a list of 95 items that needed to be addressed by the Roman Catholic Church on the doors of the Wittenberg Church. Four hundred years later we are still celebrating the challenges and changes of that momentous moment.
With the Reformation began the numerous divisions, denominations and disagreements between Christians which have made it harder to see what makes us similar. Instead, we see the things that make us different first. This moment in history marks when we lost some of that unique connectivity of the Christian faith of having one church that everyone belonged to.
But the changes became significant because the reformers challenged us to have faith as our own instead of what we are told to believe by the church. We began to read the Bible ourselves to uncover God’s word for us today.
The one thing that I believe was most important about the Reformation was that the reformers emphasized the gift of God’s grace. No longer were penance or financial gifts required; instead it was the immovable and unshakable gift of God’s grace given for us.
Grace is one of those things that we understand, and we don’t understand, all at the same time. In some ways, it makes complete sense that God would love us enough to forgive mistakes, sins and brokenness…and yet we all know people who are hard to forgive, sins that seem unforgivable, and brokenness of hate, anger and war that plague our world which makes grace something like a far-off dream.
I wonder if this is one of the reasons that Halloween has become such a significant holiday in our society. We want to dress up as superheroes that will capture the bad guys, the princesses who always meet the prince, and the adorable animals that children dress up as. Even the scary costumes have become an escape from the world we live in today. Not a world of grace but the feeling of a complete absence of grace.
Which is why I think, in times like these, we need a reminder of what grace looks like. Grace looks like the laughter of a child, friends sitting down to eat together, worship, a hug from a friend, forgiveness, working together and coming home.
My favorite reminder of grace comes from the wag from my dear dog, Calvin. And not just because his name is Calvin, named after the Reformation leader and founder of the Presbyterian Church, John Calvin. But because in every circumstance, his tail is always wagging when I come home. On days when I come home late, when things didn’t go the way I expected, in moments when I made mistakes or on really great days, I walk in the door and Calvin runs into my arms and is glad that I am home.
God’s grace is like that. Jesus greets us with whatever happened that day with the everlasting grace that says I love you anyway.
This Friday, Calvin will be dressing up as a sheriff and will help me hand out candy to children who come to our house dressed up for Halloween, and I will be reminded of John Calvin and Martin Luther, who, on this day many years ago, fought for us to truly understand the grace of Jesus for us. Happy Reformation Day!