Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Evening Prayer In the Week of Gaudete (Commemoration of Katharina von Bora Luther, Holy Woman)

Titus 2:1-15; Proverbs 31:10-31

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Katharina von Bora was born in 1499, at the turn of the 16th century. At the age of five, Katharina was placed into the keeping of the Benedictine’s for her education, and when she was nine years old she entered under the care of the Cistercian nuns where her Aunt had been cloistered. Katharina was herself consecrated a nun in 1515. Like many other nuns at the time, Katharina heard of, and grew interested in, the burgeoning reformation movement in Germany. In 1523 she conspired with several of her sister nuns and wrote to Martin Luther himself, begging his assistance in obtaining their release.
Easter of that year, Luther arranged with a fish merchant who made deliveries to the convent to hide the sisters among his empty barrels. Thus the nuns made their escape, and once the wagon arrived in Wittenberg, they were taken in by the family of none other than the famous Reformation artist Lucas Cranach the Elder. Luther tried to restore the women to their families, but most declined to take them back. Over the next two years, Luther arranged marriages for all of them, except for Katharina. Although a number of men were interested in her, Katharina disclosed to Nicholas von Amsdorf, friend of Luther, that she would marry only him or Martin.
Assuming that he would likely be martyred as the result of his writings and reforms, Luther never seriously considered marriage. Philipp Melanchthon, one of Luther's closest friends, was shocked at the idea of Luther marrying; he believed a wedding would cause a scandal that could severely damage the Reformation and its cause. On the other hand, Luther's father supported his son, as did Cranach. After pondering the matter for some time, Luther decided that his marriage would “please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep.” The result was the joining of a 41-year-old former monk and a 26-year-old former nun in holy matrimony on June 13, 1525.
By all accounts, it was a happy and affectionate marriage. Luther wrote that he loved waking up to see pigtails on the pillow next to him. Recounting the intimacy of the marital relationship the LORD instituted in Garden of Eden in our First Parents Adam and Eve, Luther famously referred to his wife as “Kitty, my rib.” Throughout their marriage, they demonstrated a respectful and playful relationship with each other; Katharina always called Martin “Herr Doktor,” and, admiring her intellect, Martin called her “Doctora Lutherin.” Katharina bore Luther six children, ran the household, and organized the family finances. They lived in what was the former Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, the same monastery where Luther himself had re-discovered the Gospel; it was a gift to the Luthers from Elector John.
Katharina grew much of what they ate in her own private garden, raised livestock, cooked, and – perhaps most famously – brewed her own beer. To boost their income, she made good use of the extra rooms in the former monastery, opening a medieval guesthouse and offering room and board to as many as 30 paying students and visitors at a time. Katharina was trusted in ways unheard of for women in those days. Luther allowed her to deal with his publishers and made her his sole heir.
Although we know little of Katharina's own views about her unusual life, we do know that she loved her husband deeply. She worried about his poor health, and he teased her on that account, inviting her to trust in the Lord instead. After his death in 1546, she wrote: “He gave so much of himself in service not only to one town or to one country, but to the whole world. Yes, my sorrow is so deep that no words can express my heartbreak, and it is humanly impossible to understand what state of mind and spirit I am in . . . I can neither eat nor drink, not even sleep . . . God knows that when I think of having lost him, I can neither talk nor write in all my suffering.”
When Luther died, Katharina experienced a great deal of financial hardship. During the Smalcaldic War, her property was laid waste. She did receive some support from those who gratefully remembered her husband’s service to the Church. Having fled to Torgau due to plague in Wittenberg, Katharina died in 1552 due to a tragic accident with her wagon and horses. Her final words were reportedly, “I’ll stick to Christ like a burr to a cloth.”
It was Katharina’s burr-like faith and her loving devotion to her husband and marriage that make her such a compelling and inspiring woman. Katie and Martin understood that their marriage was a reflection of Christ’s marriage to His Bride, the Church. They were wholly given to each other, complimenting and assisting each other in their unique, necessary, and God-given roles. Like Christ Himself, they did not count equality as something to be grasped, but remained humble in submission to each other, for the sake of their one-flesh union, that no one should disregard them due to selfishness or pride. Katie did not consider her wifely vocation beneath her or lacking in any dignity, but she believed and knew that her work was a divine and holy calling, helpful to her husband, necessary for her family and household, and glorifying of God. She was truly like the “Woman of Valour” described in Proverbs 31: “A woman of valor who can find? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, and he hath no lack of gain. She doeth him good and not evil All the days of her life.” The proverb goes on to describe a selfless and tireless woman who continually thinks more of others than her self who, nevertheless, has a steel backbone and strong and tenacious convictions that guide and stabilize her like the rudder of a great ship. She rises when it is yet night and provides food for her household, she plants and tends a vineyard and a garden, makes clothing, and raises obedient children. Indeed, Katharina did all of those things, if not as ideally as Proverb’s Woman of Valor.
Indeed, the Woman of Valor is an ideal and does not exist in reality, though She does exist in the eyes of the LORD, for She is the Bride of Christ, the Church, and She is perfect and radiant in God’s eyes as He sees Her through the blood of His Son Jesus. No woman could live up to the standard of the Woman of Valor, and Proverbs acknowledges this saying, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Whatever our callings, our vocations, may be, we are called to be faithful in them, trusting in the Lord. Be you an older man or woman, a young man or woman, or a bondservant, writes St. Paul, we are to show all good faith, so that in everything we do we may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
No, Katharina wasn’t perfect. She could be stubborn and inflexible, pushy, out of line, impatient, and even spiritually lethargic at times – and so can you, and me too! Thanks be to God that He loves us, accepts us, and forgives us for Jesus’ sake, and not for the sake of what we merit. In this regard, Katharina von Bora Luther is a wonderful example to us of a faithful, God-fearing woman, wife, mother, and Christian. She received and fulfilled her vocation in faith and obedience, and through her the Lord provided for many and made of her a blessing to others to the glory of His Name. She stands in a long line of faithful women through whom God worked blessing for others, not least Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, who replied to Gabriel’s astounding announcement, “Lord, may it be to me according to Your Word.” O, that our faith would be as strong and resolute as was Katie’s and Mary’s. O, that we would keep the Word of the Lord and do it in our lives, words, and deeds to the glory of the Lord. Bless us, O Lord, that we may be a blessing. We give you thanks for the faith of Katharina von Bora Luther, and for all your Saints. To You alone be all glory in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: