The phrase “Lest We Forget!” comes to my mind when I think about why we celebrate holidays. Unless we remember their origin, the reason for the holiday, it can be easy for us to forget why we are celebrating. And, if we forget the reason, then our celebration will be empty.
The fall is rich with holidays – some we know the reason for the celebration, others, not so much. At Thanksgiving we share a meal remembering the pilgrims arrival in North America. At Christmas we give gifts remembering the birth of Christ our Savior. But what about some of the lesser known fall holidays? Do we know why they exist?
The Jewish fall calendar includes Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) the most holy of the days and Sukkot (The Feast of the Tabernacles). In the Christian calendar, this coming Monday Reformation Day is celebrated and on Tuesday, All Saints Day is observed. Understanding the historical importance of these days allows us to know why they are important for those celebrating.
With Reformation Day being on Monday, I thought I would consider its historical importance. In 2017 we celebrated the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This date came to be associated with the start of the Protestant Reformation.
These “95 Theses” listed Luther’s grievances against the teachings of the Catholic Church. He chose the church door because during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, church doors were used as a type of “bulletin board” where public notices were posted for people to read. Luther intentionally chose October 31, All Hallows Eve, as the day to post his theses to reach the largest audience. On this day the Church would hold a vigil for worshippers to prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the All Saint’s Day feast on November 1.
The “Lest We Forget” part of Reformation Day remembers more than Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to a church door; it remembers the whole Protestant Reformation. The reformers, like Luther, were driven by questions and convictions that came from their studies of the Bible. Luther’s actions came out of his wrestling with Scripture, specifically verses from Romans 1, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (16–17)
Martin Luther’s realization that “the righteous shall live by faith” took him on a journey that resulted in his nailing the 95 Theses to the church door. The implications of this verse caused him to question all that he had previously thought. He came to realize that sinners were justified by faith alone; that faith alone makes the one who believes in Christ righteous in the eyes of God.
Reformation Day remembers reformers from the 15th century like Jan Hus and John Wycliff as wells as those from the 16th century like Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli. They called people to a biblical Christianity that acknowledged that God's Word alone was the final authority on all matters, both for the Church and believers.
Out of the Reformation came the five solas of the Christian faith: Sola scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola fide, Sola gratia and Soli Deo gloria. Sola scriptura is the belief that because Scripture is God’s inspired Word, it is the only inerrant, sufficient, and final authority for the church. Solus Christus asserts that Christ alone is the basis on which the unrighteous are justified in God’s sight.
Sola fide says that a believer receives the redemption Christ has purchased for us through faith alone. Sola gratia proclaims that our salvation, from beginning to end, is by grace and grace alone. Then, out of these, we have our final sola: soli Deo gloria. This phrase states that God alone receives all the glory and praise for our hope and salvation.
While some holidays that we celebrate have no historical meaning or purpose, others, like Reformation Day, remind us of both great historical and spiritual truths. It is my hope and prayer that you will also wrestle with the thought that began Luther’s journey: “The righteous shall live by faith.” As you do, I believe that you too will discover the hope and assurance that Martin Luther found by looking anew to the Bible alone for his answers.