An article about this service with many photos can be found here:
SERMON BY REV. DANIELA MERTZ AND SISTER EILEEN SCHULLER
Part 1 by Daniela:
My name is Rev. Daniela Mertz, my husband Rev. Thomas and I serve St. John’s and Faith Lutheran Churches here in Hamilton.
When the Hamilton Lutheran congregations started planning for the different events of this anniversary year, they were hoping that 2017 might bring Hamilton Catholics and Lutherans together in worship and prayer. And here we are. I am delighted and thankful to be part of this ecumenical service and to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the reformation with all of you tonight.
As some of you know, my husband and I are also tenured pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran church in Bavaria, Germany. Our last parish was very typical for the German church landscape in the sense that if you are a Christian in that country in 90 % of the cases you are either Catholic or Lutheran. Ecumenical activities are part of daily church life, with both priests and pastors teaching at the same schools and preparing services for the children together, with interconfessional weddings and joint events for children.
My personal journey as a pastor in the Lutheran church began as an intern at the ecumenical centre in Würzburg, Bavaria. This centre was built in the seventies in cooperation between a Catholic and a Lutheran congregation. It had two churches and two parish halls and a number of other rooms that were used jointly. The leaders of both congregations had keys to all the rooms and a very warm relationship between pastor and priest and lay leaders had developed over the years.
However, especially on one day of the year we really felt even our wonderful cross-denominational friendships were not enough and that we needed more. And that moment was the Easter vigil Saturday night – we had a big fire in the court and began the service together. And after the lightning of the two Easter candles – each congregation walked off into their own church to celebrate the parts of the service that included Holy Communion. Every year this was a sting, a painful moment and the desire to become one again was felt by all.
So when we commemorate the 500. Anniversary of the reformation today, we do so with a laughing and a crying eye, if you will. We remember Martin Luther and how he helped Christians to rediscover various biblical truths and urged the church of every age to focus on God’s word, his gospel of divine grace in Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel of Christ that brings us together tonight. It is the gospel of Christ that is entrusted to Lutherans, Roman-Catholics, Anglicans, to God’s world-wide church. And because of it we realize that a divided church is always a poorer church. We remember that Christ calls us to unity when he prays: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Thomas and I concentrated our personal studies over the past year on Martin Luther – surprise. The newer biographies don’t leave out the dark sides of his writings, including some of the very hurtful things he said about you, our Roman-Catholic sisters and brothers and especially the pope. Those words have influenced the way Protestants looked at Roman-Catholics for centuries. They were often in the way of allowing us to see that we are indeed sisters and
brothers in Christ. I am grateful to all in our church bodies, who tirelessly, stubbornly, inspired and faithfully worked to heal our relationships and move us away from Conflict and push us closer to Communion. We are not there yet. But we have come a long way. And thankfully today we are able to acknowledge that we are rooted in the same gospel and called by Christ the Lord of each of us. And it’s important to not be satisfied with the status quo but to always strive for more.
God’s love compels us and reminds us that unity is not a goal in itself but it enables us to focus on our common task – to be witnesses of Christ’s love in our needy world.
Part 2 by Eileen:
Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words tonight as a member of the Catholic community. I am Sister Eileen Schuller, an Ursuline Sister, living here in Hamilton, where I have taught for many years in the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University.
As we gather here tonight, the anniversary year is, in fact, officially over (as of October 31). For various practical reasons of expediency, we here in Hamilton are extending the year to include a birthday: November 10 was Martin Luther’s birthday, and today is 534 years since his birth in 1483. But neither date, Oct. 31 or Nov. 10 are “big” days for Catholics! In preparing for tonight, I did a simple, totally unscientific, poll among some of my Catholic friends and a few of the Catholic students at McMaster (and we are delighted to have some of them join us tonight), just asking: What big Anniversary is taking place this year? What happened on Oct. 31? Where was Pope Francis on Oct. 31, 2016? – and I think I found maybe two people for whom any of my questions made any sense at all! Even Pope Francis’s trip to Lund, Sweden, for the opening of this anniversary last October passed almost entirely unnoticed in much of the Catholic world. When I tried to explain the significance of Oct. 31, 1517, the symbolic date for the beginning of the Reformation, the traditional day Martin Luther is said to have nailed/ pasted 95 theses on the doors of All Saints Cathedral church in Wittenberg – most Catholics expressed surprise, almost shock: why should we care? what is there to remember? much less to do anything special about? And yet we are here together this evening, Lutherans and Catholics, Anglicans and others of the Reformed tradition, brought together by the Spirit, by Christ’s own prayer for unity.
For me it is very significant that the service we are using tonight (the order, the prayers, the readings we have heard) was developed jointly by the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This service was first used at the Common Prayer that was led by Pope Francis and leaders of the Lutheran World Federation to begin the anniversary year last October; it has been used all throughout the world, in different languages and places; and now at the very end of this year, we join this great crowd of witnesses tonight in our little corner of Hamilton.
The title itself is significant and bears some reflection: From Conflict to Communion. As we have acknowledged explicitly in our prayers of Confession, our joint history has been one of conflict: conflict on a grand scale: edicts and excommunications, statements of anathema on both side, wars and persecution. But also conflict on a more personal level: in our language about one another, in the stereotypes that we have fostered or at least accepted without thought or question; in the sometimes tragic breakdown of personal and family relationships, separation and isolation, extending at times over generations, when someone married “outside.”
But our title names both Conflict and Communion. There is a certain boldness in naming the goal: full communion in our profession of faith, that finds its expression in Eucharistic sharing. Tonight we can only name the unity to which we are called, we recognize that it is not a reality: we are not there yet.
Our service so far tonight has been one of repentance, but also of thanksgiving, an acknowledgement of what/all has already been accomplished. In the opening prayer, we asked the Spirit to “help us to rejoice in the gifts that have come to the Church through the Reformation.” This prayer draws upon the rich language of “gifts” that has shaped so much of ecumenical dialogue in the last fifty years. Pope John Paul II put it this way: “ecumenical dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some ways it is always an ‘exchange of gifts’ in which each community strives to give, and to receive in mutual exchange what each one needs to grow toward fullness in accordance with God ‘s plan.” Or, to quote Pope Francis, “it is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has shown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.”
As Lutherans and Anglicans and Catholics, we have gifts to bring, to share and to receive, because we are branches of the same vine, with the same vine-grower, our Heavenly Father.
Part 3 by Daniela:
In today‘s gospel we heard Jesus using the beautiful image of a grapevine and its’ branches to visualize our faith and our relationship with him: I am the grapevine and each of you are the branches. In other words, stay connected. Without me you will dwindle away.
The bible uses the word “abide.” Abide in the vine. Stay attached to the grapevine and you can grow and bear fruit at the right time. To me that is a very comforting message. Jesus says “abide”, so it’s not about becoming a branch – but about remaining one.
We believe that through baptism we all have become “branches”, we all have become children of God, true brothers and sisters in God’s family. And not only are we connected to God but it is Jesus Christ himself through whom we are connected to each other; he not only provides for our growth but also for the growth of our neighbouring branches. He works in us, sometimes prunes, and guides towards reconciliation, unity and a common service for our world.
I read a wonderful story about Saint Frances and his friend Saint Clara. They had arranged to meet at a creek. When they arrived they realized that they each were on opposite riverbanks and the creek was too big to cross. They decided to go back towards the source of the creek where it should be narrower. So they did and they could meet.
In our ecumenical work we sometimes feel that we are different banks of a fairly wide river. But we should not be discouraged and if we keep moving towards the source of our faith which is Christ we will meet.
Part 4 by Eileen:
We now come to that part where we are called to make a commitment. Bishop Pryse will invite us “to commit ourselves to grow in communion.” These five commitments grow out of – and seek to give expression to -- what the International Lutheran-Catholic Commission for Unity has named as the five Ecumenical Imperatives in our day. They invite us to a new way of thinking: “to think from the perspective of the unity of Christ’s body and not from the starting point of division”
The challenge is, of course, how to make this all real – and not just some words that we recite off the page tonight and then we all go on our merry way. On Oct. 31, as the anniversary year came to a close, the Lutheran World Federation and Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity made a formal and public commitment (quote) “to discern in a prayerful manner our understanding on Church, Eucharist and Ministry, seeking a substantial consensus so as to overcome remaining differences between us.” That was a significant commitment – and it will need to be worked on, over years, in official dialogues, by theologians and historians, at the highest levels of both church bodies.
But what about us here, especially in Hamilton, where the Lutheran community as Pastor Mertz reminds me is quite small? Is there one small concrete thing that each of us can commit ourselves personally to do? Of course, we can pray for one another. Our time of fellowship later this evening might give us the opportunity to move beyond our own circle of friends and actually meet someone from “the other” community. Perhaps we could commit ourselves – over the next week – to read just one thing from the many resources (most readily available online) that have been published for this anniversary year. One very simple resolution that I have made for myself – and I invite you to join with me: next Sunday when I gather with my parish and listen to the scripture readings being proclaimed, I am going to make a real point to remember that in the Lutheran and Anglican churches here in Hamilton, you are listening to the same readings from Scripture. Because we share a common lectionary, we are united and nourished at the same table of the Word of the Lord, even as we experience our separation at the table of the Eucharist. I invite us to think of one another when we gather on Sunday, and give thanks for the unity that we share in Baptism, in the Word, as branches of the vine, trusting “that the One who has begun a good work in [us] will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ”