Dr. Martin Luther: A Sermon on Preparing to Die (1519)

Translated by Martin H. Bertram


Early in May, 1519, Luther’s friend George Spalatin forwarded to him the request of a certain Mark Schart that the Reformer give him some help in dealing with distressing thoughts about death. At the time, however, Luther was busy preparing for the debate with John Eck to take place at Leipzig in July.2 He suggested through Spalatin that Schart read a little book by John Staupitz entitled The Imitation of the Willing Death of Christ. On May 18 Luther wrote to Spalatin and again said that he “would be agreeable to Schart’s request.” On May 24 he wrote again and asked that Schart “be patient,” explaining that the controversies with Eck and Emser6 were delaying his work on the requested treatise. Four months later in a letter to Spalatin he promised he would write the book “as soon as I can get my breath back again.” Finally, on November 1, Luther was able to send printed copies to Spalatin. In an accompanying letter he asked Spalatin to thank Schart for “the ten gulden” and “to send him as many of these little books as you see fit.”

This treatise is another example of Luther’s remarkable ability to withdraw from the heat of controversy into the pastoral atmosphere of serene devotion. The entire writing echoes his experience as a pastor and confessor constantly in contact with men and women who were terrified by the maze of popular customs and practices observed by the church in connection with death. To Schart and others like him Luther speaks with intimate and comforting understanding. It was the closeness of death which compelled him into the monastic life. Thus Luther knew what it was to face the mystery and terror of death as a child of his time.10

The treatise describes the several stages of preparation for death and strengthens the sufferer’s conscience against the temptation to despair because of his sin in the hour of death. Although he still has confidence in the church’s sacrament of extreme unction and in prayers addressed to Mary and the saints, the theology of personal faith in Christ emerges clearly.

Within three years this treatise had appeared in twenty-two editions, followed by one in 1523 and another in 1525. The translation presented here is based on the German text, Ein Sermon von der Bereitung zum Sterben, in WA 2, (680) 685–697. The authenticity of this text is attested by the fact that a copy of this version in the Ducal Library at Wolfenbüttel bears the inscription in Luther’s handwriting: “To Mark Schart, my dear friend.”12

A Sermon on Preparing to Die (Martin Luther, Augustinian monk)

First, since death marks a farewell from this world and all its activities, it is necessary that a man regulate his temporal goods properly or as he wishes to have them ordered, lest after his death there be occasion for squabbles, quarrels, or other misunderstanding among his surviving friends. This pertains to the physical or external departure from this world and to the surrender of our possessions.

Second, we must also take leave spiritually. That is, we must cheerfully and sincerely forgive, for God’s sake, all men who have offended us. At the same time we must also, for God’s sake, earnestly seek the forgiveness of all the people whom we undoubtedly have greatly offended by setting them a bad example or by bestowing too few of the kindnesses demanded by the law of Christian brotherly love. This is necessary lest the soul remain burdened by its actions here on earth.

Third, since everyone must depart, we must turn our eyes to God, to whom the path of death leads and directs us. Here we find the beginning of the narrow gate and of the straight path to life [Matt. 7:14]. All must joyfully venture forth on this path, for though the gate is quite narrow, the path is not long. Just as an infant is born with peril and pain from the small abode of its mother’s womb into this immense heaven and earth, that is, into this world, so man departs this life through the narrow gate of death. And although the heavens and the earth in which we dwell at present seem large and wide to us, they are nevertheless much narrower and smaller than the mother’s womb in comparison with the future heaven. Therefore, the death of the dear saints is called a new birth, and their feast day is known in Latin as natale, that is, the day of their birth. However, the narrow passage of death makes us think of this life as expansive and the life beyond as confined. Therefore, we must believe this and learn a lesson from the physical birth of a child, as Christ declares, “When a woman is in travail she has sorrow; but when she has recovered, she no longer remembers the anguish, since a child is born by her into the world” [John 16:21]. So it is that in dying we must bear this anguish and know that a large mansion and joy will follow [John 14:2].

Fourth, such preparation and readiness for this journey are accomplished first of all by providing ourselves with a sincere confession (of at least the greatest sins and those which by diligent search can be recalled by our memory), with the holy Christian sacrament of the holy and true body of Christ, and with the unction. If these can be had, one should devoutly desire them and receive them with great confidence. If they cannot be had, our longing and yearning for them should nevertheless be a comfort and we should not be too dismayed by this circumstance.3 Christ says, “All things are possible to him who believes” [Mark 9:23]. The sacraments are nothing else than signs which help and incite us to faith, as we shall see. Without this faith they serve no purpose.

Fifth, we must earnestly, diligently, and highly esteem the holy sacraments, hold them in honor, freely and cheerfully rely on them, and so balance them against sin, death, and hell that they will outweigh these by far. We must occupy ourselves much more with the sacraments and their virtues than with our sins. However, we must know how to give them due honor and we must know what their virtues are. I show them due honor when I believe that I truly receive what the sacraments signify and all that God declares and indicates in them, so that I can say with Mary in firm faith, “Let it be to me according to your words and signs” [Luke 1:38]. Since God himself here speaks and acts through the priest, we would do him in his Word and work no greater dishonor than to doubt whether it is true. And we can do him no greater honor than to believe that his Word and work are true and to firmly rely on them.

Sixth, to recognize the virtues of the sacraments, we must know the evils which they contend with and which we face. There are three such evils: first, the terrifying image of death; second, the awesomely manifold image of sin; third, the unbearable and unavoidable image of hell and eternal damnation.5 Every other evil issues from these three and grows large and strong as a result of such mingling.

Death looms so large and is terrifying because our foolish and fainthearted nature has etched its image too vividly within itself and constantly fixes its gaze on it. Moreover, the devil presses man to look closely at the gruesome mien and image of death to add to his worry, timidity, and despair. Indeed, he conjures up before man’s eyes all the kinds of sudden and terrible death ever seen, heard, or read by man. And then he also slyly suggests the wrath of God with which he [the devil] in days past now and then tormented and destroyed sinners. In that way he fills our foolish human nature with the dread of death while cultivating a love and concern for life, so that burdened with such thoughts man forgets God, flees and abhors death, and thus, in the end, is and remains disobedient to God.

We should familiarize ourselves with death during our lifetime, inviting death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move. At the time of dying, however, this is hazardous and useless, for then death looms large of its own accord. In that hour we must put the thought of death out of mind and refuse to see it, as we shall hear. The power and might of death are rooted in the fearfulness of our nature and in our untimely and undue viewing and contemplating of it.

Seventh, sin also grows large and important when we dwell on it and brood over it too much. This is increased by the fearfulness of our conscience, which is ashamed before God and accuses itself terribly. That is the water that the devil has been seeking for his mill. He makes our sins seem large and numerous. He reminds us of all who have sinned and of the many who were damned for lesser sins than ours so as to make us despair or die reluctantly, thus forgetting God and being found disobedient in the hour of death. This is true especially since man feels that he should think of his sins at that time and that it is right and useful for him to engage in such contemplation. But he finds himself so unprepared and unfit that now even all his good works are turned into sins. As a result, this must lead to an unwillingness to die, disobedience to the will of God, and eternal damnation. That is not the fitting time to meditate on sin. That must be done during one’s lifetime. Thus the evil spirit turns everything upside down for us. During our lifetime, when we should constantly have our eyes fixed on the image of death, sin, and hell—as we read in Psalm 51 [:3], “My sin is ever before me”—the devil closes our eyes and hides these images. But in the hour of death when our eyes should see only life, grace, and salvation, he at once opens our eyes and frightens us with these untimely images so that we shall not see the true ones.

Eighth, hell also looms large because of undue scrutiny and stern thought devoted to it out of season. This is increased immeasurably by our ignorance of God’s counsel. The evil spirit prods the soul so that it burdens itself with all kinds of useless presumptions, especially with the most dangerous undertaking of delving into the mystery of God’s will to ascertain whether one is “chosen” or not.

Here the devil practices his ultimate, greatest, and most cunning art and power. By this he sets man above God, insofar as man seeks signs of God’s will and becomes impatient because he is not supposed to know whether he is among the elect. Man looks with suspicion upon God, so that he soon desires a different God. In brief, the devil is determined to blast God’s love from a man’s mind and to arouse thoughts of God’s wrath. The more docilely man follows the devil and accepts these thoughts, the more imperiled his position is. In the end he cannot save himself, and he falls prey to hatred and blasphemy of God. What is my desire to know whether I am chosen other than a presumption to know all that God knows and to be equal with him so that he will know no more than I do? Thus God is no longer God with a knowledge surpassing mine. Then the devil reminds us of the many heathen, Jews, and Christians who are lost, agitating such dangerous and pernicious thoughts so violently that man, who would otherwise gladly die, now becomes loath to depart this life. When man is assailed by thoughts regarding his election, he is being assailed by hell, as the psalms lament so much. He who surmounts this temptation has vanquished sin, hell, and death all in one.

Ninth, in this affair we must exercise all diligence not to open our homes to any of these images and not to paint the devil over the door. These foes will of themselves boldly rush in and seek to occupy the heart completely with their image, their arguments, and their signs. And when that happens man is doomed and God is entirely forgotten. The only thing to do with these pictures at that time is to combat and expel them. Indeed, where they are found alone and not in conjunction with other pictures, they belong nowhere else than in hell among the devils.

But he who wants to fight against them and drive them out will find that it is not enough just to wrestle and tussle and scuffle with them. They will prove too strong for him, and matters will go from bad to worse. The one and only approach is to drop them entirely and have nothing to do with them. But how is that done? It is done in this way: You must look at death while you are alive and see sin in the light of grace and hell in the light of heaven, permitting nothing to divert you from that view. Adhere to that even if all angels, all creatures, yes, even your own thoughts, depict God in a different light—something these will not do. It is only the evil spirit who lends that impression. What shall we do about that?

Tenth, you must not view or ponder death as such, not in yourself or in your nature, nor in those who were killed by God’s wrath and were overcome by death. If you do that you will be lost and defeated with them. But you must resolutely turn your gaze, the thoughts of your heart, and all your senses away from this picture and look at death closely and untiringly only as seen in those who died in God’s grace and who have overcome death, particularly in Christ and then also in all his saints.

In such pictures death will not appear terrible and gruesome. No, it will seem contemptible and dead, slain and overcome in life. For Christ is nothing other than sheer life, as his saints are likewise. The more profoundly you impress that image upon your heart and gaze upon it, the more the image of death will pale and vanish of itself without struggle or battle. Thus your heart will be at peace and you will be able to die calmly in Christ and with Christ, as we read in Revelation [14:13], “Blessed are they who die in the Lord Christ.” This was foreshown in Exodus 21 [Num. 21:6–9], where we hear that when the children of Israel were bitten by fiery serpents they did not struggle with these serpents, but merely had to raise their eyes to the dead bronze serpent and the living ones dropped from them by themselves and perished. Thus you must concern yourself solely with the death of Christ and then you will find life. But if you look at death in any other way, it will kill you with great anxiety and anguish. This is why Christ says, “In the world—that is, in yourselves—you have unrest, but in me you will find peace” [John 16:33].

Eleventh, you must not look at sin in sinners, or in your conscience, or in those who abide in sin to the end and are damned. If you do, you will surely follow them and also be overcome. You must turn your thoughts away from that and look at sin only within the picture of grace. Engrave that picture in yourself with all your power and keep it before your eyes. The picture of grace is nothing else but that of Christ on the cross and of all his dear saints.

How is that to be understood? Grace and mercy are there where Christ on the cross takes your sin from you, bears it for you, and destroys it. To believe this firmly, to keep it before your eyes and not to doubt it, means to view the picture of Christ and to engrave it in yourself. Likewise, all the saints who suffer and die in Christ also bear your sins and suffer and labor for you, as we find it written, “Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfil the command of Christ” [Gal. 6:2]. Christ himself exclaims in Matthew 11 [:28], “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will help you.” In this way you may view your sins in safety without tormenting your conscience. Here sins are never sins, for here they are overcome and swallowed up in Christ. He takes your death upon himself and strangles it so that it may not harm you, if you believe that he does it for you and see your death in him and not in yourself. Likewise, he also takes your sins upon himself and overcomes them with his righteousness out of sheer mercy, and if you believe that, your sins will never work you harm. In that way Christ, the picture of life and of grace over against the picture of death and sin, is our consolation. Paul states that in 1 Corinthians 15 [:57], “Thanks and praise be to God, who through Christ gives us the victory over sin and death.”

Twelfth, you must not regard hell and eternal pain in relation to predestination, not in yourself, or in itself, or in those who are damned, nor must you be worried by the many people in the world who are not chosen. If you are not careful, that picture will quickly upset you and be your downfall. You must force yourself to keep your eyes closed tightly to such a view, for it can never help you, even though you were to occupy yourself with it for a thousand years and fret yourself to death. After all, you will have to let God be God and grant that he knows more about you than you do yourself.

So then, gaze at the heavenly picture of Christ, who descended into hell [1 Pet. 3:19] for your sake and was forsaken by God as one eternally damned when he spoke the words on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!”—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” [Matt. 27:46]. In that picture your hell is defeated and your uncertain election is made sure. If you concern yourself solely with that and believe that it was done for you, you will surely be preserved in this same faith. Never, therefore, let this be erased from your vision. Seek yourself only in Christ and not in yourself and you will find yourself in him eternally.

Thus when you look at Christ and all his saints and delight in the grace of God, who elected them, and continue steadfastly in this joy, then you too are already elected. He says in Genesis 12 [:3], “All who bless you shall be blessed.” However, if you do not adhere solely to this but have recourse to yourself, you will become adverse to God and all saints, and thus you will find nothing good in yourself. Beware of this, for the evil spirit will strive with much cunning to bring you to such a pass.

Thirteenth, these three pictures or conflicts are foreshadowed in Judges 7 [:16–22], where we read that Gideon attacked the Midianites at night with three hundred men in three different places, but did no more than have trumpets blown and glass fragments smashed. The foe fled and destroyed himself. Similarly, death, sin, and hell will flee with all their might if in the night we but keep our eyes on the glowing picture of Christ and his saints and abide in the faith, which does not see and does not want to see the false pictures. Furthermore, we must encourage and strengthen ourselves with the Word of God as with the sound of trumpets.

Isaiah [9:4] introduces this same figure very aptly against these three images, saying of Christ, “For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as in the days of the Midianites,” who were overcome by Gideon. He says as it were: The sins of your people (which are a heavy “yoke of his burden” for his conscience), and death (which is a “staff” or punishment laid upon his shoulder), and hell (which is a powerful “rod of the oppressor” with which eternal punishment for sin is exacted)—all these you have broken and defeated. This came to pass in the days of Gideon, that is, when Gideon, by faith and without wielding his sword, put his enemies to flight.

And when did Christ do this? On the cross! There he prepared himself as a threefold picture for us, to be held before the eyes of our faith against the three evil pictures with which the evil spirit and our nature would assail us to rob us of this faith. He is the living and immortal image against death, which he suffered, yet by his resurrection from the dead he vanquished death in his life. He is the image of the grace of God against sin, which he assumed, and yet overcame by his perfect obedience. He is the heavenly image, the one who was forsaken by God as damned, yet he conquered hell through his omnipotent love, thereby proving that he is the dearest Son, who gives this to us all if we but believe.

Fourteenth, beyond all this he not only defeated sin, death, and hell in himself and offered his victory to our faith, but for our further comfort he himself suffered and overcame the temptation which these pictures entail for us. He was assailed by the images of death, sin, and hell just as we are. The Jews confronted Christ with death’s image when they said, “Let him come down from the cross; he has healed others, let him now help himself” [Matt. 27: 40–42]. They said as it were, “Here you are facing death; now you must die; nothing can save you from that.” Likewise, the devil holds the image of death before the eyes of a dying person and frightens his fearful nature with this horrible picture.

The Jews held the image of sin before Christ’s eyes when they said to him, “He healed others. If he is the Son of God, let him come down from the cross, etc.”—as though they were to say, “His works were all fraud and deception. He is not the Son of God but the son of the devil, whose own he is with body and soul. He never worked any good, only iniquity.” And just as the Jews cast these three pictures at Christ in wild confusion, so man too is assailed by all three at the same time in disarray to bewilder him and ultimately to drive him to despair. The Lord describes the destruction of Jerusalem in Luke 19 [:43–44], saying that the city’s enemies will surround it with such devastation as to cut off escape—that is death. Furthermore, he says that its enemies will terrify the inhabitants and drive them hither and yon so that they will not know where to turn—that is sin. In the third place, he says that the foe will dash them to the ground and not leave one stone upon another—that is hell and despair.

The Jews pressed the picture of hell before Christ’s eyes when they said, “He trusts in God; let us see whether God will deliver him now, for he said he is the Son of God” [Matt. 27:43]—as though they were to say, “His place is in hell; God did not elect him; he is rejected forever. All his confidence and hope will not help him. All is in vain.”

And now we mark that Christ remained silent in the face of all these words and horrible pictures. He does not argue with his foes; he acts as though he does not hear or see them and makes no reply. Even if he had replied, he would only have given them cause to rave and rant even more horribly. He is so completely devoted to the dearest will of his Father that he forgets about his own death, his sin, and his hell imposed on him, and he intercedes for his enemies, for their sin, death, and hell [Luke 23:34]. We must, similarly, let these images slip away from us to wherever they wish or care to go, and remember only that we cling to God’s will, which is that we hold to Christ and firmly believe our sin, death, and hell are overcome in him and no longer able to harm us. Only Christ’s image must abide in us. With him alone we must confer and deal.

Fifteenth, we now turn to the holy sacraments and their blessings to learn to know their benefits and how to use them. Anyone who is granted the time and the grace to confess, to be absolved, and to receive the sacrament and Extreme Unction before his death has great cause indeed to love, praise, and thank God and to die cheerfully, if he relies firmly on and believes in the sacraments, as we said earlier. In the sacraments your God, Christ himself, deals, speaks, and works with you through the priest. His are not the works and words of man. In the sacraments God himself grants you all the blessings we just mentioned in connection with Christ. God wants the sacraments to be a sign and testimony that Christ’s life has taken your death, his obedience your sin, his love your hell, upon themselves and overcome them. Moreover, through the same sacraments you are included and made one with all the saints. You thereby enter into the true communion of saints so that they die with you in Christ, bear sin, and vanquish hell.

It follows from this that the sacraments, that is, the external words of God as spoken by a priest, are a truly great comfort and at the same time a visible sign of divine intent. We must cling to them with a staunch faith as to the good staff which the patriarch Jacob used when crossing the Jordan [Gen. 32:10], or as to a lantern by which we must be guided, and carefully walk with open eyes the dark path of death, sin, and hell, as the prophet says, “Thy word is a light to my feet” [Ps. 119:105]. St. Peter also declares, “And we have a sure word from God. You will do well to pay attention to it” [2 Pet. 1:19]. There is no other help in death’s agonies, for everyone who is saved is saved only by that sign. It points to Christ and his image, enabling you to say when faced by the image of death, sin, and hell, “God promised and in his sacraments he gave me a sure sign of his grace that Christ’s life overcame my death in his death, that his obedience blotted out my sin in his suffering, that his love destroyed my hell in his forsakenness. This sign and promise of my salvation will not lie to me or deceive me. It is God who has promised it, and he cannot lie either in words or in deeds.” He who thus insists and relies on the sacraments will find that his election and predestination will turn out well without his worry and effort.

Sixteenth, it is of utmost importance that we highly esteem, honor, and rely upon the holy sacraments, which contain nothing but God’s words, promises, and signs. This means that we have no doubts about the sacraments or the things of which they are certain signs, for if we doubt these we lose everything. Christ says that it will happen to us as we believe. What will it profit you to assume and to believe that sin, death, and hell are overcome in Christ for others, but not to believe that your sin, your death, and your hell are also vanquished and wiped out and that you are thus redeemed? Under those circumstances the sacraments will be completely fruitless, since you do not believe the things which are indicated, given, and promised there to you. That is the vilest sin that can be committed, for God himself is looked upon as a liar in his Word, signs, and works, as one who speaks, shows, and promises something which he neither means nor intends to keep. Therefore we dare not trifle with the sacraments. Faith must be present for a firm reliance and cheerful venturing on such signs and promises of God. What sort of a God or Savior would he be who could not or would not save us from sin, death, and hell? Whatever the true God promises and effects must be something big.

But then the devil comes along and whispers into your ear, “But suppose you received the sacraments unworthily and through your unworthiness robbed yourself of such grace?” In that event cross yourself12 and do not let the question of your worthiness or unworthiness assail you. Just see to it that you believe that these are sure signs, true words of God, and then you will indeed be and remain worthy. Belief makes you worthy; unbelief makes you unworthy. The evil spirit brings up the question of worthiness and unworthiness to stir up doubts within you, thus nullifying the sacraments with their benefits and making God a liar in what he says.

God gives you nothing because of your worthiness, nor does he build his Word and sacraments on your worthiness, but out of sheer grace he establishes you, unworthy one, on the foundation of his Word and signs. Hold fast to that and say, “He who gives and has given me his signs and his Word, which assure me that Christ’s life, grace, and heaven have kept my sin, death, and hell from harming me, is truly God, who will surely preserve these things for me. When the priest absolves me, I trust in this as in God’s Word itself. Since it is God’s Word, it must come true. That is my stand, and on that stand I will die.” You must trust in the priest’s absolution as firmly as though God had sent a special angel or apostle to you, yes, as though Christ himself were absolving you.

Seventeenth, we must note that he who receives the sacraments has a great advantage, for he has received a sign and a promise from God with which he can exercise and strengthen his belief that he has been called into Christ’s image and to his benefits. The others who must do without these signs labor solely in faith and must obtain these benefits with the desires of their hearts. They will, of course, also receive these benefits if they persevere in that same faith. Thus you must also say with regard to the Sacrament of the Altar, “If the priest gave me the holy body of Christ, which is a sign and promise of the communion of all angels and saints that they love me, provide and pray for me, suffer and die with me, bear my sin and overcome hell, it will and must therefore be true that the divine sign does not deceive me. I will not let anyone rob me of it. I would rather deny all the world and myself than doubt my God’s trustworthiness and truthfulness in his signs and promises. Whether worthy or unworthy of him, I am, according to the text and the declaration of this sacrament, a member of Christendom. It is better that I be unworthy than that God’s truthfulness be questioned. Devil, away with you if you advise me differently.”

Just see how many people there are who would like to be certain or to have a sign from heaven to tell them how they stand with God and whether they are elected. But what help would it be to them to receive such a sign if they would still not believe? What good are all the signs without faith? How did Christ’s signs and the apostles’ signs help the Jews? What help are the venerable signs of the sacraments and the words of God even today? Why do people not hold to the sacraments, which are sure and appointed signs, tested and tried by all saints and found reliable by all who believed and who received all that they indicate?

We should, then, learn what the sacraments are, what purpose they serve, and how they are to be used. We will find that there is no better way on earth to comfort downcast hearts and bad consciences. In the sacraments we find God’s Word—which reveals and promises Christ to us with all his blessing and which he himself is—against sin, death, and hell. Nothing is more pleasing and desirable to the ear than to hear that sin, death, and hell are wiped out. That very thing is effected in us through Christ if we see the sacraments properly.

The right use of the sacraments involves nothing more than believing that all will be as the sacraments promise and pledge through God’s Word. Therefore, it is necessary not only to look at the three pictures in Christ and with these to drive out the counter-pictures, but also to have a definite sign which assures us that this has surely been given to us. That is the function of the sacraments.

Eighteenth, in the hour of his death no Christian should doubt that he is not alone. He can be certain, as the sacraments point out, that a great many eyes are upon him: first, the eyes of God and of Christ himself, for the Christian believes his words and clings to his sacraments; then also, the eyes of the dear angels, of the saints, and of all Christians. There is no doubt, as the Sacrament of the Altar indicates, that all of these in a body run to him as one of their own, help him overcome sin, death, and hell, and bear all things with him. In that hour the work of love and the communion of saints are seriously and mightily active. A Christian must see this for himself and have no doubt regarding it, for then he will be bold in death. He who doubts this does not believe in the most venerable Sacrament of the Body of Christ, in which are pointed out, promised, and pledged the communion, help, love, comfort, and support of all the saints in all times of need. If you believe in the signs and words of God, his eyes rest upon you, as he says in Psalm 32 [:8], “Firmabo, etc., my eyes will constantly be upon you lest you perish.” If God looks upon you, all the angels, saints, and all creatures will fix their eyes upon you. And if you remain in that faith, all of them will uphold you with their hands. And when your soul leaves your body, they will be on hand to receive it, and you cannot perish.

This is borne out in the person of Elisha, who according to 2 Kings 6 [:16–17] said to his servant, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” This he said although enemies had surrounded them and they could see nothing but these. The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and they were surrounded by a huge mass of horses and chariots of fire.

The same is true of everyone who trusts God. Then the words found in Psalm 34 [:7] apply, “The angel of the Lord will encamp around those who fear him, and deliver them.” And in Psalm 125 [:1–2], “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains (that is, the angels) are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people, from this time forth and forevermore.” And in Psalm 91 [:11–16], “For he has charged his angels to bear you on their hands and to guard you wherever you go lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot (this means that all the power and the cunning of the devil will be unable to harm you), because he has trusted in me and I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in all his trials, I will rescue him and honor him. With eternal life will I satisfy him, and show him my eternal grace.”

Thus the Apostle also declares that the angels, whose number is legion, are all ministering spirits and are sent out for the sake of those who are to be saved [Heb. 1:14]. These are all such great matters that who can believe them? Therefore, we must know that even though the works of God surpass human understanding, God yet effects all of this through such insignificant signs as the sacraments to teach us what a great thing a true faith in God really is.

Nineteenth, let no one presume to perform such things by his own power, but humbly ask God to create and preserve such faith in and such understanding of his holy sacraments in him. He must practice awe and humility in all this, lest he ascribe these works to himself instead of allowing God the glory. To this end he must call upon the holy angels, particularly his own angel, the Mother of God, and all the apostles and saints,14 especially since God has granted him exceptional zeal for this. However, he dare not doubt, but must believe that his prayer will be heard. He has two reasons for this. The first one is that he has just heard from the Scriptures how God commanded the angels to give love and help to all who believe and how the sacrament conveys this. We must hold this before them and remind them of it, not that the angels do not know this, or would otherwise not do it, but to make our faith and trust in them, and through them in God, stronger and bolder as we face death. The other reason is that God has enjoined us firmly to believe in the fulfilment of our prayer [Mark 11:24] and that it is truly an Amen. We must also bring this command of God to his attention and say, “My God, you have commanded me to pray and to believe that my prayer will be heard. For this reason I come to you in prayer and am assured that you will not forsake me but will grant me a genuine faith.”

Moreover, we should implore God and his dear saints our whole life long for true faith in the last hour, as we sing so very fittingly on the day of Pentecost, “Now let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the true faith of all things the most, that in our last moments he may befriend us, and as home we go, he may tend us.” When the hour of death is at hand we must offer this prayer to God and, in addition, remind him of his command and of his promise and not doubt that our prayer will be fulfilled. After all, if God commanded us to pray and to trust in prayer, and, furthermore, has granted us the grace to pray, why should we doubt that his purpose in this was also to hear and to fulfil it?

Twentieth, what more should God do to persuade you to accept death willingly and not to dread but to overcome it? In Christ he offers you the image of life, of grace, and of salvation so that you may not be horrified by the images of sin, death, and hell. Furthermore, he lays your sin, your death, and your hell on his dearest Son, vanquishes them, and renders them harmless for you. In addition, he lets the trials of sin, death, and hell that come to you also assail his Son and teaches you how to preserve yourself in the midst of these and how to make them harmless and bearable. And to relieve you of all doubt, he grants you a sure sign, namely, the holy sacraments. He commands his angels, all saints, all creatures to join him in watching over you, to be concerned about your soul, and to receive it. He commands you to ask him for this and to be assured of fulfilment. What more can or should he do?

From this you can see that he is a true God and that he performs great, right, and divine works for you. Why, then, should he not impose something big upon you (such as dying), as long as he adds to it great benefits, help, and strength, and thereby wants to test the power of his grace. Thus we read in Psalm 111 [:2], “Great are the works of the Lord, selected according to his pleasure.” Therefore, we ought to thank him with a joyful heart for showing us such wonderful, rich, and immeasurable grace and mercy against death, hell, and sin, and to laud and love his grace rather than fearing death so greatly. Love and praise make dying very much easier, as God tells us through Isaiah, “For the sake of my praise I restrain it [wrath] for you, that I may not cut you off.” To that end may God help us. Amen.

 Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 42: Devotional Writings I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 42, pp. 95–115). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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Chasing boar and taking care of the Lord´s vineyard

Lucas Cranach the Elder: Hunt at Hartenfels castle

Some 500 years ago – Pope Leo X – was chasing wild boars. In the spectacular Luther film (2003) we see the roman bishop chasing wildly through the Italian forests – trying to catch up with his hounds and to strike the final blow. The imagery gives some vivid background to the papal bull “Exsurge Domine” (1520). This bull exhorts our Lord to arise against the wild beasts – foxes and boars – that have invested the vineyard: “Catch the foxes for us, The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, While our vineyards are in blossom…” (Song 2:15 NASB) and “boar from the forest eats it away And whatever moves in the field feeds on it. O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You; Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine…” (Ps 80:13-14 NASB)

Hunting was not strange to Luther himself, although he was more familar with gardening and tending the vineyard himself. In his Wittenberg home it was he, who took care of the vegetable garden – and not Käthe – according to a note in a recent exhibition here. As exile and fugitive “Junker Jörg” on the Wartburg, he not only complains drastically about the negative effects on his inner well being due to the overdose of venison and the stationary lifestyle of a scribe, but undermines the hunting efforts of his party, when he hides a little rabbit in his cowl so that the rabid dogs can´t get too it. He was traumatized by the ferocity of the hunting dogs tearing apart the lesser game. Lutherans don´t believe, that Doctor Martin Luther was causing havoc in the Lord´s vineyard. On the contrary, they hold with Cranach, that he – together with the team of Wittenberg pastors, theologians and teachers – did a lot to get that vineyard sorted out and in good working order.

1. 0 little flock, fear not the Foe
Who madly seeks your overthrow;
Dread not his rage and power.
What though your courage sometimes faints,
His seeming triumph o’er God’s saints
Lasts but a little hour.

2. Be of good cheer; your cause belongs
To Him who can avenge your wrongs;
Leave it to Him, our Lord.
Though hidden yet from mortal eyes,
His Gideon shall for you arise,
Uphold you and His Word.

3. As true as God’s own Word is true.
Not earth nor hell with all their crew
Against us shall prevail.
A jest and byword are they grown;
God is with us, we are His own;
Our victory cannot fail.

4. Amen, Lord Jesus, grant our prayer;
Great Captain, now Thine arm make bare,
Fight for us once again!
So shall Thy saints and martyrs raise
A mighty chorus to Thy praise,
World without end. Amen.

Johann M. Altenburg, 1584-1640 translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878

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Visiting St.Nikolai in Leipzig…

Yesterday the Leipziger Thomaner (Choristers of St. Thomas in Leipzig) started their new season with a divine service in St.Nikolai. Angelika had this on our bucket-list for some time. We left Wittenberg in good time to queue in front of the closed doors.

There was great interest and when the doors eventually opened just before 17h30, the church quickly filled up – even on the 2 storied balconies. Everybody wanted to see the boys, except the lady sitting next to me (not Angelika). She was perfectly content behind one of the great pillars. She knew, when to stand up and when to start singing too. I bet, she´s a frequent visitor.  Angelika was surprised at how young some of the singers were: “They can only be in junior school – and in the first classes at that!” However, when they started singing, there was nothing of unprepared under-age or unfit. Instead, it sounded close to perfect – as far as I can tell at least. Perhaps, if I knew better and had some inside knowledge, I´d call it heavenly or angelic, but that only time will tell. I thought, Gotthold Schwarz was much younger as the website CV suggests, but being older than those pictures didn´t affect his intonation and conducting. He was very much in his element – as were the boys in theirs – and the singing was magnificent and glorious. Sister Maria Wolfsberger at the organ was extra-ordinary as you´d expect in this prime spot for classical choir music.

There´s been a lot of talk in Leipzig recently about a mother, who wanted to introduce her daughter to this elite choir. Read more here and here. A court verdict has stopped that for now – with good reason. Excellence, venerable tradition and musical speciality still trump the quest for equality. For now it´s still a boy´s choir.

There was quite a lot of coughing and sneezing in our area, although it really still is the middle of summer. Possibly that was to us grounded and impress on us, that we ain´t in heaven yet.

That goes for the introduction by Superintendent Martin Henker as well. He did a long introduction of close to 10 minutes – “Präludium” – to his sermon with political advice for the up-coming elections in Saxony. I prefer his superiors bulletin.

It was very nice, that the church order for this divine service gave us an opportunity to join in with singing and praying too. The Thomaner sang the “Magnifikat”: God quickly raises up the down-trodden und kicks the mighty from their throne. He does so in the political realm too. I favored the final by Max Reger, who put a verse from Matthias Claudius (1783) to brilliant music: “Der Mensch lebt und besteht nur eine kl. Zeit, und alle Welt vergehet mit ihrer Herrlichkeit. Es ist nur Einer ewig und an allen Enden und wir in seinen Händen.

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“Haus des Handwerks”: English Stammtisch

“Haus des Handwerks” on the foundations of the old gate “Schwarze Elster” facing East.

Kristin Straeuli ne Lange introduced me here to the “English Stammtisch” – where local tourguides like Thomas Glaubig, Margot Rentsch, Thomas Schmid and others meet tourists from around the globe to socialise every Thursday evening from around 19h00 into the night.

Haus des Handwerks” is literally translated “home of trade” – and was constructed after the 2nd World War, when the head forester (Oberförster) Dr. Heckert failed to defend his villa “Diana” against the invading Russians. These were not impressed and flattened his home. The local trade unions cooperated and opened up their new location as a house of culture “Hans Sachs.”

The location is optimal for any inn as people coming in by train via the main station as they move past the Luther oak – and get onto “College Street” and into the old town. It is there on the right hand side – just before you get to Luther House on the left. By the way – Kollegienstraße is the only road in the world with four (4) World Heritage Sites: Luther & Melanchthon House plus the city (St.Mary) and castle churches.

Luther House – just on the opposite side of the college road

Now in summer we meet outside in the garden. In winter, there´s plenty room inside too. On the walls you have oil paitings by the above mentioned Thomas Schmid, but also old maps and memorabilia from Prussia and Germany´s lost East. The waiter – old Tobias – is professional, helpful and friendly. The menu typical for around here – traditional fare – fresh, tasty and plentyful: Beef and pork, dumplings, mushrooms and other vegetables in season. For tourists its a welcome opportunity to go local. The natives stick to beverages – hot or cold – depending on the season. They even serve tea, borscht or local wine, which Luther preferred to beer.

Next time you´re in Wittenberg – and it´s Thursday – remember to look in at the “Haus des Handwerks”. You might just catch somebody talking English – a good chance to make new friends. Some of them might even be Lutheran!

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Bekehrung: Vorher – nachher

Sonntag in Magdeburg – Hauptstadt von Sachsen-Anhalt – und ehemalig “Gottes Kanzelei”. Ein hübsches Städtchen trotz der vielen Bauwerke, Renovierungen und Umleitungen… Wir waren hier zum Gottesdienst mit der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Gemeinde von Magdeburg (SELK)

Gepredigt habe ich über die Epistel des Apostel Paulus an die Philipper 3:4b-17 – wie es in der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland für den 9.Sonntag nach Trinitatis vorgeschrieben ist.

Weltbilder bestimmen unsere Weltanschauung. Flach oder rund, mit Anfang und Ende oder zyklisch. Einheitlich oder dualistisch. Der Apostel St.Paulus beschreibt hier einen wesentlichen Abschnitt seines Lebens. Die einschneidende Kehrtwende vor Damaskus stellt alles in ein neues Licht. Eigentlich der auferstandene IX, der sich ihm dort in den Weg stellt und zum Prediger des sieghaft Gekreuzigten bekehrt, beruft, bestellt und beordert. Mehr lesen hier:

Oder zum Zuhören hier:

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München, Schwangau & andere bayerische Märchen

Malerisch schön wars im Allgäu

Friederike ist umgezogen und wir haben sie besucht. Sie hat uns ihre Arbeitswelt gezeigt und wir sind mit ihr nach Füssen, Opas Lieblingsort. Mit meinem Vater bin ich dort auch schon mal gewesen. Anläßlich eines Pfarrkonventes des Sprengels Süd sind wir mit der Tegelbergbahn auf die Berggipfel gefahren und haben von dort das Schloß Neuschwanstein bewundert. Dichter ran an die sagenhafte Kulisse für die Wagner Kompositionen kam ich damals nicht. Dieses Mal sind wir bei herrlichem Wetter mit “durchdringendem Regen” (Unser täglich Gebet!) in den Märchenschlössern von König Ludwig II gewesen und haben in der hübschen Kleinstadt am See übernachtet. Eindrücklich und sagenhaft diese schöne Bergwelt!

Aber zuerst zu der bayrischen Hauptstadt und Friederikes Domizil: Hier ists schön. Hier läßt sichs gut leben. Darum sicherlich die vielen, vielen Menschen und Touristen!

Aber die Berge rufen noch immer: Das schönste Lied ist das Heimatlied. Doch erstmal geht es ins Allgäu und Alpener Vorland – zur Wieskirchen und von dort nach Füssen am Forggensee.

Dann ging es endlich ins Schwanengau und in die Märchenschlosswelt des “verrückten Königs”, der seinem Land auf lange Sicht viele Schätze hinterlassen hat, die er von Wagners Werken  Tannhäuser und Lohengrin nachhaltig beeindruckt, geschaffen hat. Am 15. Mai 1868 teilte er dem befreundeten Komponisten in einem Brief mit: „Ich habe die Absicht, die alte Burgruine Hohenschwangau bei der Pöllatschlucht neu aufbauen zu lassen, im echten Styl der alten deutschen Ritterburgen.“ Schade, dass sie ihn dann abgesetzt haben und er ins Wasser zu den Fischen ging… Wahrscheinlich war er ganz einfach zu teuer – und dazu auch noch exhorbitant & flamboyant – der Märchenprinz.

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Einmal mit dem Fahrrad nach Dresden – und zurück (Teil 2)

Bei strahlendem Sonnenschein: “Wenn Engel reisen”

Zusammen sind Angelika und ich mit dem Rad an der Elbe entlang gefahren. Zuerst bis nach Torgau (Reformationsstadt Europas) und dann von dort bis Meißen und schließlich noch das letzte Ende nach Dresden.

Der Elberadweg ist gut ausgebaut, obwohl es uns anfänglich doch erstaunte, dass wir so oft von der Elbe weg und übers Land geführt wurden. Das wurde zusehends weniger je näher wir an Dresden heran kamen. Der Radweg ist wesentlich länger als es die Bundesstraßen vermuten lassen. Das liegt wohl an dem sich schlängenden Kurs durch die vielen Wiesen und Felder – und nur zum geringen Teil an den Umleitungen. Je näher wir an die sächsische Hauptstadt kamen, desto mehr nahm die Zahl der Radfahrer zu – und davon waren eine staatliche Zahl Senioren auf E-Bikes, die ich ja schon im 1.Teil erwähnte. Wir sahen aber auch immer wieder Schafherden und einen Fischadler sah ich beim Tauchen zu. Gefährlich trocken war es alle mal – besonders beim Mais blutete mein Herz…

Riesa hatte ich zuletzt mit T.Bärbel besucht – und zwar in den achziger Jahren. Wir übernachteten damals bei unserer Verwandtschaft: O.Egon und T.Ruth. Die Stadt hat sich toll herausgemacht – und das dortige Kloster will ich gerne mal in Ruhe besuchen und nicht nur im Vorbeifahren – und nicht nur, weil es jetzt den Tiergarten der Stadt umfaßt. Beeindruckende Grünanlagen und viele freundliche Menschen sind uns aufgefallen.

Von Meißen wußten wir ja inzwischen, wie schön diese Töpfer- und Keramikstadt an der Elbe ist. Hier fangen ja dann auch bald die Weinberg an die Landschaft zu schmücken. Doch wir verweilten auch hier nur kurze Zeit und Übernacht. In unserer Herberge – ursprünglich einer Schmiede – entdeckten wir noch kl.Zwerge aus Breslau. Das war eine schöne Überraschung.

Wie früher beim Hitchhiken fiel mir wieder auf, wie groß Städte doch sind. Vom Rand bis zum Zentrum bleiben immer noch etliche Kilometer und noch viel zu entdecken. Das nächste Mal?

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Sonntagsausflug zum Kyffhäuser

Ein weites und schönes Land: Thüringen

Nach dem Sonntagsgottesdienst in St.Maria Magdalena fuhren wir in den südlichen Harz. Es war ja praktisch nur immer weiter gen Westen – an der anderen Lutherstadt Eisleben vorbei und auch an Sangershausen – bis nach Artern, wo wir im Landgasthaus “Zum Ring” zur Mittagspause einkehrten.

Ich hatte schon früher mal hier in der Gegend besucht – und zwar sowohl mit P. Manfred Griesheimer und seiner Jugendtruppe in 1991 als auch mit O.Ulf und T.Bärbel. Dieses Mal war dort Hochbetrieb, weil ein “Mittelalterfest” gefeiert wurde. Komisch, die Leute meinen die Kirche muß sich unbedingt modernisieren, aber ins Mittelalter wollen zig-tausende zurückkehren. Vielleicht war es auch nur eine “marketing” Idee – Eltern mit ihren Kindern, verliebte Paare und auch eine ganze Reihe verkleideter Akteure. Das Bauwerk erinnerte mich an das Voortrekkermonument in Pretoria. Es ist praktisch eine kl.Version dessen.

Hier gehts auch “nur” um die kaiserlichen Figuren Barbarossa (Rotbart) – Kaiser Friedrich II – und dann Wilhelm I, während in Pretoria nicht nur eine ganze Reihe Burenführer dargestellt werden, sondern auch die imposanten Frauen mit ihren Schützlingen. Auf dem Weg zurück führte uns der GPS auf der Autobahn gen Süden anstelle einfach gen Osten heimwärts zu fahren. Zum Glück sind die Straßen ja hier nicht so beschäftigt wie im Südwesten und gut Wetter hatten wir ja auch allemal.

Hier auch noch das Gedicht von Friedrich Rückert: “Barbarossa”

Der alte Barbarossa,
Der Kaiser Friederich,
Im unterirdschen Schlosse
Hält er verzaubert sich.

Er ist niemals gestorben,
Er lebt darin noch jetzt;
Er hat im Schloß verborgen
Zum Schlaf sich hingesetzt.

Er hat hinabgenommen
Des Reiches Herrlichkeit,
Und wird einst wiederkommen,
Mit ihr, zu seiner Zeit.

Der Stuhl ist elfenbeinern,
Darauf der Kaiser sitzt;
Der Tisch ist marmelsteinern,
Worauf sein Haupt er stützt.

Sein Bart ist nicht von Flachse,
Er ist von Feuersglut,
Ist durch den Tisch gewachsen,
Worauf sein Haupt ausruht.

Er nickt als wie im Traume
Sein Aug halb offen zwinkt;
Und je nach langem Raume
Er einem Knaben winkt.

Er spricht im Schlaf zum Knaben:
Geh hin vors Schloß, o Zwerg,
Und sieh, ob noch die Raben
Herfliegen um den Berg.

Und wenn die alten Raben
Noch fliegen immerdar,
So muß ich auch noch schlafen
Verzaubert hundert Jahr.

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Predigen in der Alten Lateinschule (Is.2,1-5)

Gestern predigte ich in der St. Maria Magdalena-Kapelle der SELK (Halle) auf der Moritzburg über Jesaja 2:1-5 (vgl. Micha 4:1-4). Hier der Überblick:

Und auch zum Zuhören:

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Einmal mit dem Fahrrad nach Dresden – und zurück (Teil 1)

Auf dem Elberadweg fährts sich gut – wenn er denn nicht repariert oder aus sonstigen Gründen umgeleitet wird. Nach Google wärs auf den Landstraßen kürzer und vielleicht sogar schneller gegangen. Die B187 mit LKWs und eiligen Flitzern zu teilen ist zwar spannend, aber nicht wirklich erholsam. Da sind die kl.Nebenstraße schon besser. Da gibts dann auch Rehe zu sehen, Reiher und Kraniche (über 60 haben wir gezählt!) oder lassige Spaziergänger und Hundeführer, manchmal auch den Tourist, der seinen Camper in den Bach entleert – Schreck, oh Schreck. Und ich dachte, das tut man nicht in Deutschland… Kirchen gibts viele. Meist evangelisch und sogar lutherisch. Kühle Orte – einladend und gut in Stand gehalten. Meistens waren wir froh, wenn wir von den befahrenen Wegen wieder alleine auf dem Elberadweg fuhren – und diesen nur mit freundlichen und eifrig grüßenden Radfahrern teilten. Das Grüßen ließ natürlich immer mit der Hitze nach und die Senioren, die auf ihren E-Bikes dahergesaust kamen, konnten sich auch kaum zum Grüßen hinreißen lassen. Es ging alles viel zu schnell. Wir haben es wiederholt erlebt, dass sie am Ziel vorbeischossen – die Abzweigungen des Radweges verpaßten und uns dann irgendwann wieder mit Karacho ein- und überholten. E-Roller haben wir aber erst in Dresden erlebt. Bis dahin ging alles gut.

Überall war die Ernte voll im Gang – es herrschte ja Kaiserwetter – ideal zum Radfahren

Im Laufe des Vormittags gings in Wittenberg los und zwar auf bekannter Strecke. Wir wollten es langsam angehen und mal sehen, wohin der Weg uns führte. Wir hatten deswegen keine Buchungen gemacht, aber bis Pretzsch sollte es schon gehen. Naja, die Mittagspause haben wir dann dort im Schloßpark gehalten beim lustig plätschernden Springbrunnen. Die Kirche haben wir besucht und auch die Waschgelegenheiten im Hotel. Doch dann sind wir bei warmen Temperaturen weitergeradelt immer Richtung Torgau. Es hat so Spaß gemacht zu zweit.

Doch zuerst kam es nicht nach Bad Schmiedeberg, aber an der Elbe entlang über Dommitsch und Elsnig. Am Weg stand diese kl.Fischerkapelle, die bei der großen Flut von 2002 fast ganz unter Wasser war. Eindrückliches Altarbild und so schön aufgeräumt und einladend – sogar frische Blumen auf dem Altar…

Bis Torgau waren es mit dem Rad gut 70km. Ganz schön für den ersten Tag. Wir waren froh als wir uns dort in der Pension Gotthardt ausruhen konnten ehe wir in der Stadt einen Rundgang machten. Man versteht, warum Kurführst Johann Friedrich der Großmütige sagte: “Torgau ist immer meine Wonne gewesen!” Für uns wars eine willkommene Erholung nach dem ersten Tag. One down, 2 to go!

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