Reformation Devotions

Devotions on the Solas Based on the Gospels for Pre-Lent

by Rev. Brian Westgate
Redeemer Lutheran Church, Oakmont, Pennsylvania

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We’ve heard them all many times, especially this last year. We’ll hear them a lot during this final build-up to Reformation Day. Sola gratia. Sola Fide. Sola Scriptura. Some have added a fourth: Solus Christus/Solo Christo.

Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. Christ alone. At a big Reformation festival, it’s easy to think Luther was the first to preach the true Gospel since the Apostles died. But God did not leave Himself without witness. Luther and the Reformers didn’t invent the solas. The Liturgy taught them long before Luther was ever born.

Many churches in our district and synod use a 3-year lectionary related to that first used in the Roman Church after the Second Vatican Council. But a growing number are returning to the use of the historic (1-year) lectionary. Much of this series of readings comes down to us from the early days of Christianity. It teaches us every year all the doctrines of the Christian Faith. There’s even a time when it teaches us the solas. It’s called Pre-Lent.

Pre-Lent consists of the 3 Sundays before Ash Wednesday. (We celebrate Transfiguration Sunday the Sunday before them.) These Sundays have Latin number names: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima (and some people call the first Sunday in Lent Quadragesima). These numbers are counting down to how close we are to Easter: about 70 (really 64), about 60 (really 57), exactly 50, about 40 days away.

The Church knows it’s good for us to slowly go from the joys of Christmas and Epiphany to the sorrows of Lent. We slowly climb down the mount to reach the plain. So during these Sundays, we prepare for that season which asks us to prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection with great sorrow over our sins. We learn during these weeks that our sorrow will not save us, nor any works of apology, but only Christ saves us through His Death and Resurrection. Quinquagesima especially prepares us for Lent by telling us we’re going up to Jerusalem to hear about Jesus’ holy Passion and Resurrection. In the following short devotions, we want to digest the Gospels of these Sundays.

Free in Christ

Galatians 5:1, 13-14
by Rev. Robert Voelker
Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Windsor, Ontario, Canada

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1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery... 13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

2017 sees the 500th Anniversary of the 95 Theses, but also the 150th of Canada’s self-dominion and the 241st of the United States’ liberty. These two nations are really the world’s paradigms for living free, and their citizens have heard often that freedom comes at a cost and that it can be easily lost.

The Scripture above has an even greater paradigm for freedom: Christ sets us free to stay free. It is not, as it is often misunderstood, that Christ sets us free to set our own agenda. That would result in something selfish, if not evil. It is not the same, as some suppose, as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” neither is it the power to live untroubled and unobligated. This paradigm of freedom comes from the heart of God, whose desire it is to have all people love as He loves; God wants all people to love all people. (1 Timothy 2:4). But freedom to love does not guarantee love. See how much trouble we have with unity and love? Why can’t we be one, as Jesus wished (John 17:23)? Why can’t we love like Jesus? We can, only when our freedom agenda is under the Gospel. It becomes something that can only be grasped forever by faith. The alternatives are many, but all lose freedom permanently.

Luther comments on verse 1:

“Where is this liberty? In the conscience. Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for Christ’s sake?” [Commentary on Galatians, 1535]

In 1525 he had already set this idea forth in “The Freedom of a Christian” which named Christians “master of all” and at the same time “subject to all.” A tough paradox it is, being free and bound, but not too tough, for “the just shall live by faith” [Galatians 3:11]. Faith in what God says, being glued to the Word, is what it is to be truly free. The Gospel of Christ’s atonement liberates us poor, miserable sinners, from any system that would teach us to save ourselves. It lets us trust God’s power to save us, to unite us, and to do good with us while we are here. That is a reformation for everlasting liberty!

Lord, keep us free by your right hand, which we grasp by faith. Forgive us for trying out many alternatives to Your freedom, none of which last long. By your Spirit let us trust in Your cross and in Your way of love forever! In Your name, Amen.