Martin Luther an Angel?
In the early 80s, with the development of our former, blue LW hymnal, the readings for Reformation Day (observed) were reviewed. In the earlier TLH hymnal, the Revelation 14 text for Reformation was listed as the Epistle Lesson. Some wondered if it should be retained or replaced with a different reading. The editors decided to include it as the Old Testament reading for Reformation.
Rev. 14: 6 and 7
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth-to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Luther’s Pastor Bugenhagen at St. Mary’s, chose this text for the Reformer’s funeral service in 1546, and it identified Luther with the heralding angel of Rev. 14. But was Luther a perfect angel? No. Luther was so aware of his failings and reliant on the Gospel that he did not want the church named after him. Instead, he wanted it called the Gospel or Evangelical Church. His honest confessional life led to a seeking after the fullness of God’s grace in Christ and raised up the reality of God’s promise in Romans 3:19 for him and for the whole Church:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
God revealed to Luther his gift of righteousness and redemptive freedom and peace through faith in Christ alone. Trust in Jesus alone opened the fullness of grace to him-and to others. Luther realized that he was no angel, confirmed in holiness, but a sinner in need of God’s grace.
But in another way Luther was an angel – if we think of an angel as a messenger. This was Pastor Bugenhagen’s original emphasis. With all his imperfections covered by Christ’s righteousness, Luther became God’s messenger of the Gospel, the good news of God’s grace for individuals and for the Church.
We Lutherans do not have a perfect church, but we are called to lift the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the perfecter of our faith. Let us proclaim that Gospel like angel messengers – and like Martin Luther.
Have a blessedly loud Reformation,