It’s a big year for Lutherans – the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. So it struck me as significant that I was invited to participate in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s National Convention in July. I was privileged to present a sermon, and honoured to serve communion alongside a Synod Bishop.
At the 450th anniversary of the Lutheran’s Augsburg Confession of Faith in 1980, the Lutheran World Federation – representing 95% of Lutherans globally – invited Mennonites to join their celebration. Mennonites responded that it was difficult to celebrate a confession that condemned us for our views on theological matters such as infant baptism, even though the centuries-old memory of Anabaptist persecution had faded. But that invitation led to a 30 year reconciliation process, culminating in 2010.
As I stood before a full sanctuary of Evangelical Lutheran believers, the weight of responsibility descended upon my shoulders. I felt the eyes of a great “cloud of witnesses” observing. There I was; an Anabaptist leader about to help serve the Lord’s supper to Lutheran worshippers; those with whom we were in such harsh disagreement with centuries earlier.
Reconciliation is not an easy task. Though we'd all like to think that it's as simple as "let's kiss and make up," true reconciliation is a lengthy process. It involves truth telling. It includes admissions and confessions. It requires the non-defensive discipline of acceptance. Telling the truth can feel freeing to the one speaking. Hearing the truth can weigh on the one listening. But there is no reconciliation without this exchange.
For nearly 500 years, Anabaptists have borne martyrdom from a variety of persecutors. We have felt the weight of living out our beliefs. We have wrestled with the guilt of living safely and in peace while others risk their lives and take up arms. I wish I could say that in nearly 500 years we have learned how to express conviction without feeling like enemies to others, but long-standing patterns are difficult to break.
In this single act of reconciliation, of inviting me, an Anabaptist, to serve communion, Lutherans accepted our divergent understandings as an equal expression of love for God. Being invited to offer communion was not a statement of agreement. It did not mean that we are all of one mind. But it did acknowledge that we serve one God. We come to the same source of mercy and forgiveness. We go to the same place for redemption and restoration.
This provides Anabaptists with a huge challenge. Can we accept disagreeing viewpoints as equal expressions of love for God? I fear that we have not even been able to do so among ourselves.
"This is the blood of Christ shed for you." These are not words of entitlement. These are words of recognition. They acknowledge a fact – whether we like it or not; whether we agree with it or not.
In offering Eucharist to the Lutheran family, the feeling of being surrounded by a huge cloud of Anabaptist witnesses affected me more profoundly than serving communion has ever done before.