Today we Lutherans celebrate “Reformation Day” (okay, many of you celebrated it this past Sunday, but you still celebrated it). It is customary on such a celebration to sing the so-called “battle hymn of the Reformation,” which is none other than Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress.”
As I ponder the hymn “A Mighty Fortress,” I notice two things about it. One, it is so ecumenical and catholic, in the best senses of those terms. It does not beat some specifically “Lutheran drum” as if to cheer, “Luther, Luther, he’s our man, if he can’t do it no-one can!” It so happens to be written by the Reformer, but its not about him. We might also want to take note of how many other Christian communions, even our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church (at least so I’m told), also sing this hymn with great gusto and for great comfort.
The second thing I notice is that “A Mighty Fortress” places the focus of the battle right where it belongs – on the battle against sin, death, and Satan, and not on Christians taking aim on each other. “Reformation Day” is not about taking aim at fellow Christians in other communions; it is about celebrating God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.
I don’t want to minimize the genuine theological differences between communions such as Lutherans and Roman Catholics, or Lutherans and American Evangelicals; however, at the same time I don’t want to overstate, exaggerate, misrepresent, or caricature the differences either. In fact, instead of taking aim at each other and launching our “Reformation salvos” at brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps we need to consider sitting down at the table and trying to sort through the differences – figure out where we very well may misunderstand each other, where we genuinely differ, and, yes, where we actually share some common ground.
But back to “A Mighty Fortress,” for it reminds us where the true battle lies. On this “Reformation Day” we do well to remember who our true enemies are: sin, death, and Satan. Then we also do even better to remember whence the true victory comes: from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Here’s how Luther penned it, and here’s how every Christian can sing it:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from ev’ry need
That hath us now o’ertaken.
The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.
With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, who is this?
Jesus Christ it is,
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.
Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none.
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.
The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth. (LSB 656)