As legend has it, five hundred years ago this week, an act of rebellion took place in Germany that would serve as a catalyst for a series of events that would become known as the Protestant Reformation. On 31st October 1517, an obscure professor of theology, Martin Luther, famously launched an attack on the Roman Catholic Church by nailing his list of criticisms known as the 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenberg. It is in this form that the story that has been passed down through the generations ever since.
Whether or not events unfolded quite like this is something that scholars continue to debate. What is beyond question is that, in looking at the Church of which he was a part, Luther identified areas of its life and practices that he believed to be corrupt - the most obvious example of this being the practice of selling “indulgences”, certificates meant to assure the buyer that their sins would be forgiven.
This is, of course, a very simplistic reading of these events and, in all honesty, I do not possess enough knowledge to guide you through them. What I am certain of, however, is that this anniversary should not be used to focus on the differences between denominations, or to proclaim any one superior to another. Thus far I have only seen the first episode of BBC’s Saturday night drama, Gunpowder, but, with the anti-Catholic rhetoric contained within it - not to mention the gruesome torture scenes depicted - it is a helpful reminder in this month of remembering of where such a path has taken us in the past.
I mention the anniversary of Luther’s nail-knocking radicalism because it is also a helpful reminder of something else - namely that in each and every age it is our task to ask deep and searching questions of our own beliefs, practices and traditions and to challenge injustices and lazy assumptions as and where we find them. This is true of us as individuals, as church communities and as distinct denominations.
During November we always spend a lot of time remembering. We remember different things and people on different days. There’s All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Bonfire Night, Remembrance Sunday and the International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women (White Ribbon Day) on 25th November.
With all this remembering, perhaps we should use the month to do some re-membering as well. If we use 're' as a prefix, if we put 're' in front of a verb, it means that we do that thing once more. So just as we can view something (look at something), we can re-view something, we can look at it again - which is what Martin Luther was surely doing.
It is in re-membering that we open ourselves to the possibility of God’s Spirit leading us on into new understandings, places and possibilities.
With every blessing