1 WEEK BEFORE REFORMATION SUNDAY

To mediate a family dispute, Martin Luther travelled in late January 1546, despite various health struggles, to the city of his birth. There in Eiseleben he experienced a severe case of angina and died of a stroke on February 18, 1546.

After a three-day procession through towns filled with large crowds and church bells ringing, Luther’s body arrived in Wittenberg. The University of Wittenberg had decided to bury him in their Chapel Church – where the 95 theses had been posted. The funeral sermon by fellow reformer Johann Bugenhagen lamented Luther’s passing but declared “we should also rightly recognize God’s grace and mercy to us” for all he had achieved.

At his death, the Reformation he had helped launch in 1517 was locked in a bitter struggle with the papacy. Yet Luther’s last words, printed in a final statement, reverted to a different sense of what was important. “We are all beggars,” he wrote. “That is true.”

These were surely words that had their roots in his years as an Augustinian monk seeking redemption. For Martin Luther, the reform of Christianity was more than institutional change but also the seeking of spiritual truths which could sustain life.