By Candice Hill Buchbinder, ELCA News
Building on a path toward greater unity, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Catholic Church will participate in a joint ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Oct. 31, 2016, in Lund, Sweden.
“Just as we are concluding the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we hear this hope-giving announcement about the October inauguration of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary,” said the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA. “This remarkable, visible witness emphasizes the steps we have taken on the way to the unity for which Christ prayed. And it strengthens our hope for continuing reconciliation. Thanks be to God.”
In a Jan. 25 joint press release, the LWF and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity announced that Pope Francis; the Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and LWF president; and the Rev. Martin Junge, LWF general secretary, will lead the ecumenical event in cooperation with the Church of Sweden and the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm.
The LWF is a global communion of 145 churches in 98 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.
“Almost all of us remember when it would have been inconceivable for the pope to join with Lutherans, in the birthplace of The Lutheran World Federation, to commemorate the Reformation in a service of common prayer,” said Eaton. “Yet only months from now we will be experiencing it. Amid so much in our world that is viciously divisive, we are strengthened by this gentle example of healing.”
“This special announcement shows that Lutherans and Catholics together are shaping a new narrative for the next 500 years of our Christian witness,” said Kathryn M. Lohre, executive for ELCA ecumenical and inter-religious relations. “It invites all Lutherans to consider together with our Catholic sisters and brothers the opportunities for visible unity and joint witness in each local context.”
According to the joint release, the Oct. 31 event will highlight the solid ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans and the joint gifts received through dialogue. The event will include a common worship based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” liturgical guide. The guide is intended to help congregations commemorate the anniversary together and is based on the study document “From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.” The document features the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness with the aim of expressing the gifts of the Reformation and asking forgiveness for the division that followed theological disputes.
“The LWF is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability,” said Junge in the release. “I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.”
A significant outcome of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the United States and internationally is the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” (JDDJ), signed in 1999 in Augsburg, Germany. With the JDDJ, the LWF and the Catholic Church agreed to a common understanding of the doctrine of justification and declared that certain 16th century condemnations of each other no longer apply.
To help ELCA members prepare for the observance of the 500th anniversary, the ELCA will host its first Grace Gathering Aug. 10-13 in partnership with the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans. The assembly and gathering will meet under the theme “Freed and Renewed in Christ, 500 years of God’s Grace in Action.”
Participants to the 2016 Grace Gathering will have an opportunity to attend assembly workshops and presentations and be introduced to resources designed to help prepare for local and regional observances of the anniversary.
“In the ELCA, we have many efforts to observe ‘500 Years of God’s Grace in Action’ that honor and deepen our yearning for Christian unity,” said Eaton. “I encourage all our communities to seek ways to live out and continue these new possibilities for joint witness in their own settings – for truly here God’s Spirit is at work.”
Information about the ELCA’s observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is available at www.ELCA500.org.
Information about the ELCA Grace Gathering is available at www.ELCA.org/gracegathering.