The Commemoration of the Reformation
+ IN NOMINE IESU +
“Salvation Unto Us Has Come” was Luther’s favorite hymn written for him but not by him. It was his favorite because of the clear expression of the Gospel, that we are saved not by works but by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was for the early Lutherans the Sturmlied, that is the battle hymn, of the Reformation. We, however, typically associate Luther’s great hymn, A Mighty Fortress, with the battle hymn of the Reformation, which is based upon Psalm 46.
This psalm was written by the sons of Korah, survivors of the exile to Babylon. They saw the world raging at its worst and it seemed that their God, their temple, and their city were all gone forever, overcome and destroyed by the peoples of the ever-changing earth. Israel came out of exile. The rebuilding of the temple and the resettling of Israel was a tumultuous time with enemies lurking on every side, watching for an opportune moment to destroy the little community of saints that had such a feeble grasp on the land. (v. 2) Yet in the midst of it all – the exile, the resettling, the uncertain years that followed – God was found when they sought him in prayer and he remained their refuge and strength
On account of the fact that “God is our refuge and strength,” they did not fear, and neither do we. The earth continues to undergo great change. (v. 4) The Church suffers greatly at the hands of a people who are like the sea. It roars and churns, it exalts itself against God, it seeks to transgress the bounds that God has set, and most unfortunate of all, the world has convinced itself that it actually is the highest. Its arrogance in this regard makes even the mountains shake as it boasts mighty things against Christ and his Church.
The church militant is always engaged in battle. Either from within or from without, she is constantly under attack, always undergoing persecution. She endures this in various forms throughout the ages. But the goal is always the same. The onslaught is always aimed straight at her heart; straight at that which gives her life and breath, straight at the faithfulness of God who is just and the justifier of those who trust in Him.
Satan is no fool. He knows just where the Church’s strength resides, that the strength of the Church resides in God, who is faithful to His promises, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And so he always takes aim at this center, at the faithfulness of God who has justified us, forgiven our sin and received us as His own children in Christ. He takes aim at the center by making it seem that God is not faithful, that He is not slow to anger, and that if He were everything and everyone around you would not be in constant change. So the nations rage, their kingdoms totter, the waters roar, our lives are tumultuous. Our adversary makes it seem that God is not on our side. That these things happen because we deserve it. He makes it seem that God is our real enemy.
But the center holds. Because God is faithful. For God, the Lord, is not the Lord of warm hugs. He is not the Lord of good feelings. He is the Lord of Hosts, the God of armies. He is a militant God, the commander of the angelic troops and our mountain stronghold. He was manifested as this mountain stronghold when He scaled Golgotha and posted his cruciform standard and hung upon and founded His Church by His death, of which he said the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. God is in the midst of his Church, Christ has promised “I am with you always.” Whatever happens to the Church happens to her Lord, and whatever strength her Lord has, she has, because she has him. So even though the mountains slip, we don’t slip. God doesn’t give our feet to slipping. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
Indeed, the center holds because Jesus is no fiction. He is real. He is a historical fact. He lived. He dwelt among us. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He was crucified for crimes he did not commit on behalf of people who did not love him. He felt the full agony of man’s rebellion. He was forsaken by his Father, enduring his wrath. His body pierced and his heart broken, water and blood poured forth from his side.
But he is not dead. Emmanuel remains. He was crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification. He stands firm and unmoved, even though all else be plummeted into chaos. And he brings help at the break of the dawning of the day. That dawn and that day are the dawn and the day of the resurrection of Christ, God’s consummate victory over sin, death, and Satan. He lives.
He lives out of the tomb and into the font. He is Emmanuel. And the streams that poured forth from his pierced side gladden the sorrow-filled and sin-laden hearts of men who are weary from Satan’s constant attacks. This stream is at once the primeval river of Paradise, the holy font of Baptism, and the water of eternal life. It gladdens because it carries with it forgiveness, life, and salvation. It carries the spoils of his cross and death. It brings the promised rest from this world’s chaos. Fear not. The Lord of Hosts is with us. He is our refuge and strength.
He lives out of the tomb and into your ears. He is Emmanuel. He speaks. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” His words are a summons to quiet and rest in his presence. But more than that, they are a reminder of what he has already accomplished. He has been exalted. He has been lifted up. It is finished. Be still. Fear not. The Lord of Hosts is with us. He is our refuge and strength.
He lives out of the tomb and into your mouths. He is Emmanuel. His body and blood in the bread and the wine, he gives you himself. He gives you his very life so that you may live and have it abundantly. Take eat. Take drink. And Fear not. The Lord of Hosts is with us. Yes, even in us. He is our refuge and strength.
So do not worry about the future of the Church, about your future. For look what the God of armies has done. Be still and know that He is God. You aren’t alone. It’s not up to you. Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord of armies (Exod 14:13). He is faithful. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And the center holds. It holds because he who holds it together remains. Jesus lives, and He remains our refuge and strength. He is and ever shall be Emmanuel, God with us. The Lord of Hosts is with us. He is our refuge and strength. And we, we are His people, His church, over which the gates of hell shall never prevail. Amen.