Wednesday, July 19, 2017

a mighty fortress

Remember 1976? It was America's bicentennial year. Everyone was proud to be an American. There was red, white, and blue all over the place. Parades rolled down the streets, bands played patriotic hymns, and fireworks lit up the sky across the country all summer long. When the “Star Spangled Banner” was played, people were full of hope and pride and joy.

It's a similar feeling this year for Lutherans. It's 2017 - the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. There are lots of events and activities going on, special services are being planned, Luther's seal is being waved, and the Battle Hymn of the Reformation is being played. "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."

We all know this hymn of course. It is one of the most well-known hymns in church history. But I'm not sure we all know the background of why it was written in the first place.

In the summer of 1527, one of Martin Luther's friends was martyred for teaching the Lutheran faith. In the fall of that year, the plague broke out in Wittenberg which caused much suffering and pain. And then in December, Luther's daughter was born sickly and later died.

It was at this time that Luther went through one of his worst periods of temptation and trial. Most scholars believe that it was in the midst of these difficult circumstance that Luther set out to write "Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott" (A Mighty Fortress is Our God) based on Psalm 46.  

An early church father named Tertullian once said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." In the same way, suffering and trials are often the crucible from which come great works of literature or art in the church. Luther didn't consider this hymn as a "battle cry of the reformation" as many call it today. For him it was a hymn of comfort and consolation in the midst of great suffering and pain.

In his periods of greatest darkness and despair, Luther knew where to turn, to the love and promises of God in his Savior Jesus Christ. "God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble."

"And take they our life, goods, fame, child, or wife,
though these all be gone, our victory has been won,
the kingdom ours remaineth."


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