Skip to main content

Germany celebrates historic Reformation Day

At a worship service for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at All Saints' Church in Wittenberg on Tuesday morning, the Special Envoy of the Council of the EKD for the Anniversary of the Reformation 2017, Margot Käßmann, gave a sermon.
(Photo: epd-bild/Friedrich Stark)

Martin Luther is said to have posted his 95 theses at All Saints' Church of Wittenberg 500 years ago. There, the Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) called for a new “inner freedom” – and Chancellor Merkel acknowledged the significance of the Reformation for modernity.

On Thursday, Germany celebrated 500 years of Reformation: The Year of the anniversary reached its climax and conclusion with a worship service at the historic site of Martin Luther’s posting of the theses and an official ceremony in Wittenberg. German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised the value of religious freedom for a modern and open society. The Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in German (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm appealed to the German to show courage and willingness to change. The country needs a “new inner freedom”, he said.

#Reformationstag (Reformation Day) the most used hashtag

Throughout Germany, representatives of the church and the state have commemorated the beginning of the Reformation with the posting of the theses on 31 October 1517 at All Saints' Church in Wittenberg. The religious services were well attended, and #Reformationstag (Reformation Day) was for several hours the most used hashtag on Twitter. In many places, Protestants and Catholics celebrated this historic day as a celebration of Christ under the sign of ecumenism. The Reformation Day was for the first and only time a bank holiday throughout Germany.

Merkel said at the official celebration at the city hall of Wittenberg that wherever religious freedom is threatened, society itself is also harmed. She acknowledged the significance of the Reformation: Luther had set a ball rolling, “which could not be stopped and changed the world for ever”, the Chancellor said. Any democratic order was fundamentally be based on Luther’s understanding of humans, which saw everyone justified simply by the grace of God and has his own dignity, she added.

The Chairman of the Council of the EKD, State Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm (r.), and the Chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, hand over to the German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier a miniature of the conciliation cross, which the Protestant and Catholic Church had erected at a conciliation service in Hildesheim.
(Photo: epd-bild/Friedich Stark)

Democracy and the right to religious freedom are not direct consequences of the Reformation, however, which was still very much rooted in the Middle Ages. Luther’s “blunders” directed at people with different opinions and faiths, like for example Jews, were a very clear example of this. But the Reformation was a driving force for the development of the continent, Merkel continued.

The posting of the theses was an “act of liberation”

Bedford-Strohm said in his sermon at All Saints' Church in Wittenberg that the country is struggling with itself, some feel “morally overburdened” and are afraid of losing their familiar world and security. But neither upper limits for the aid to people in distress would help Germany, “nor moral exhortations to hold out”, reminded the supreme representative of around 22 million Protestants. “What this country needs, is a force which overcomes fear and strengthens love”, declared the Evangelical state Bishop of Bavaria. According to him, freedom is the core of the Reformation creed. And Luther’s posting of the theses was an “act of liberation”.

The Chairman of the Council of the EKD called on Christians to participate in public debates. To stand up for one’s convictions, “to participate in the public debates, not out of anger, but out of inner freedom, this is the attitude our country needs.” In the morning already, the special envoy of the EKD for the Reformation, Margot Käßmann, called during a worship service in All Saints' Church to profess more strongly and openly one’s faith.

A group portrait with all participants was taken at the “birthday celebration” of the Reformation.
(Photo: KNO/Steffen Jany)

On Thursday the climax and conclusion of the Reformation anniversary was celebrated in all 20 Evangelical state churches, often with the respective state premiers and Catholic bishops. In Soest, during a festive service for North Rhine-Westphalia, the Westphalian President and Vice-Chairman of the Council of the EKD, Annette Kurschus, called for more tolerance and humanity. During a state reception in Stuttgart, State Premier Winfried Kretschmann appealed for more ecumenism.

Signals in favor of a joint communion

In the meantime, Lutherans and the Vatican have sent a signal in favor of a joint communion. The hope for an undivided Eucharistic celebration at one table should be realized as a concrete “expression of the full unity” according to a joint statement by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, published in Geneva.

In Wittenberg alone, several thousand visitors came for the anniversary of the Reformation. Around 35 000 visitors were expected to attend the historic market bustle. The crowds aiming to attend the different services in the city – as elsewhere in Germany – was such, that not all the people waiting could be let in. At the “birthday celebration” of the Reformation as well, which had been organised by the Governmental Office “Luther 2017” and the Evangelische Wittenbergstiftung in Wittenberg's Exerzierhalle, all seats were filled within minutes. 


Source:epd/ Date:01-11-17
Reformation anniversary, Reformation day, Germany, Wittenberg, Angela Merkel