Today is one of my favorite almost-unknown holidays: Reformation Sunday. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, beginning the Protestant Reformation. Many churches celebrate this historic event on the last Sunday in October.
The church that I grew up in didn’t do much for Reformation Sunday, with one notable exception. Our organist and choir director Mr. Spicer is very conscious of all dates that had special significance for the church. He changes the music for seasons of the liturgical calendar like Advent and Lent and chooses songs to mark Pentecost, Ascension Sunday and Trinity Sunday. (I imagine some of my Christian friends are scratching their heads, surprised that such days even exist.)
When I was in high school, for Reformation Sunday Mr. Spicer would do two things. One is that he would have the choir sing an impressive, chant-like rendition of Psalm 46. The other is that we would sing Martin Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
This was a powerful experience. I wish I could convey the sense of awe that accompanied Mr. Spicer’s version of this hymn. He pulled out all the stops (pun intended). To quote my parents, on verse 3, Mr. Spicer would open up the pipes on the organ and let the demons out. You could hear the chaos of “this world with devils filled” and had no choice but to cling to the melody as best you could. The whole arrangement did a great job of expressing the dangers and challenges that we face as followers of Christ, but it ended on a triumphant note that proclaimed our hope in the ultimate victory of God.
Even apart from the amazing accompaniment, this hymn still gives me great comfort when I’m feeling afraid or discouraged, especially if I think spiritual warfare is involved. It’s definitely one of my favorite hymns.
So without further ado here are the words to “A Mighty Fortress.”
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevaling.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.