Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lutherans and Catholics to commemorate the Reformation

Tallinn, Estonia
Chapel - Lutheran Theological Institute
   Well, here I am again, this time in Tallinn, Estonia. Tallinn is to supposed to have been founded sometime in the 11th century but only made its appearance in historical documents around 1154 under the name of Qaleven. The Arab geographer al-Idrisi charted it on one of his maps.  Evidently it was a well fortified settlement on the seaside to protect trading in the area but without a permanent population. The ancient city is very rich in fine architectural and art monuments.  But I am not here as an art historian but collaborating on a joint Lutheran and Catholic project. During our stay we were guests of the Evangelical Lutheran theological institute in Tallinn.
Old city

 From Conflict to Communion
Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017
From Conflict to Communion -- text
   This is the title of the most recent document of the Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity in view of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity (PCPCU) has asked six liturgists and theologians to come together to work on liturgical materials for the year 2017 while each side provided a co-secretary.  This is actualy the second of three meetings to take place with the first one in May of this year in Wurtzburg, Germany.  The task of the committee is to come up with a good liturgical model that could be used by Lutherans and Catholics around the world to commemorate this historical event.

What do we commemorate?
     Working from the document, the committee came up with three values that seem to characterize the history of the relations between Lutherans and Catholics since this historical event that brings us right up to the latest document produced after 50 years of experience of bi-lateral dialogue.  It very quickly became clear that we do not celebrate the division of Christians that resulted at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. Rather we commemorate what we have learned from this experience.  What are the values that result because of the reform of the church?  First it is important to situate the Reformation of the 16th century in a long line of reforms of the church which also continue until today.

Some members of the committee

Members of the committee

     Three values quickly became evident as they surfaced to give shape to the project, namely joy, repentance and common witness. Many elements motivate our joy: such as our common faith; renewal in each of our churches; harvesting the fruits of 50 years of ecumenical dialogue; gift and fruit of the Holy Spirit; coming together to praise God; leading us to Christ; shared gratitude; joy in common baptism; common faith and life in the triune God. Asking for forgiveness is important for every generation; repentance for not having taken seriously the baptismal commitment to live as sisters and brothers and forgiveness for the hermeneutics of suspicion which need to be overcome. Joy and repentance bring us to celebrate our common witness and to commit ourselves to furthering the implications of our common baptism.  Here we remember those women and men who have lived their baptismal commitment with great coherence and that at times led them to die rather than compromise the values of the Gospel.

In the meantime
     To prepare for this event, both Catholics and Lutherans need to reflect on their journey together during these last 50 years. In what can we rejoice together?  What can we do better to witness to the communion that we already share?  Like all of the results of the ecumenical dialogues we need to find ways to receive this last document and prepare this event together.  Each of us will have different values in this commemoration; each of us will have learned different things about ourselves and about the other.
     The LWF has established a special committee for 2017 whose motto is: “Liberated by God’s grace” based on these principle scriptural readings: Gal 5:1, Rom 3:24, Isa 55:1, Eph 2:8-10, Lc 4:16-21, Rev 21:6. 
Peter, Susan, Martin and Wanda

     Practically speaking it would be good to pick up once again the documents produced by the International Joint Commission and to verify if both sides have indeed received the results of the dialogues and how they have been able to act on them together. Not only in the theological faculties and seminaries is it important to present the results of this Lutheran-Catholic bi-lateral dialogue but also at the parish level especially where Lutherans and Catholics live side by side in the same territory, neighborhood, city or where they both face the same pastoral problems.
     One more meeting is scheduled for this joint committee to complete its work and submit it to the responsible Lutheran and Catholic authorities.
The Christmas market

        From a very "Christmassy" Tallinn, peace and all good!