Was ist das?
Have you heard? This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, begun when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has dedicated this church year to celebrating this anniversary. This celebration began with a Service of Common Prayer, held at the Lund Cathedral in Sweden, where Lutherans and Roman Catholics prayed together as a sign of unity.
This was the first time a Reformation anniversary was celebrated by both Roman Catholics and Lutherans – a witness to the ecumenical work that has been done over the past 50 years. There have been many leaders and theologians who have been working to reconcile differences between Lutheran and Roman Catholic theology. The goal is reconciliation and becoming Full-Communion Partners, much like the relationship we have with The United Methodist Church, The Moravian Church in America, The Presbyterian Church – USA, The Reformed Church in America, The United Church of Christ, and The Episcopal Church. There is still work to be done, but this year we celebrate our journeying together and the steps that have been taken on this path.
Another part of our celebration this year is to answer a call given by Elizabeth Eaton, our Presiding Bishop. She has called every ELCA congregation to return to our roots by studying the Small Catechism together. To start this work, we will use the sections of the Small Catechism as the basis for our Lenten Midweek services this year. We will again be participating in a pulpit exchange with St. Luke Lutheran Church and Grace and Peace Lutheran Church as we worship and learn together.
Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism as a way to help parents teach themselves, their children, and all in their household the basics of the Christian faith. Luther intended for the home, not the church, to be the primary place where faith was shared and taught. The Small Catechism contains the basics – the 10 Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacraments (Baptism and Communion), along with examples of prayers for different times of the day.
“Was ist das?” is a phrase found throughout the German version of the Small Catechism. Translated into English, it means, “What is that?” or “What does this mean?” Instead of only providing the basics of our faith, Martin Luther also included teachings and interpretations based on his study of Scripture and his faith. While it is good to memorize the 10 Commandments, it is even better to learn how to interpret them and apply them in our daily lives. Was ist das? is a question taught to children to help them go deeper in their learning, in their faith, and in their relationship with God.
Some of us had to memorize the Small Catechism as part of our Confirmation classes, and so we have a tattered copy tucked away on a bookshelf. Some of us remember, with fear, having to stand up in front of the Congregation Council or the congregation itself and be asked to recite portions from it. Like I said earlier, while memorizing is good, learning how to integrate it into our lives is how this small booklet will transform us.
So, dig out and dust off your Small Catechisms for our Lenten journey together. Read it alone. Read it with your family. Wrestle with how Luther interprets things. Join us for our Lenten Midweek services. Join us on this journey of the Reformation as we continue to be re-formed by God daily!
Peace & Blessings,