This coming Sunday, October 30, is Reformation Sunday at Ascension, a day when we lift up and recognize the events that led to the Protestant Reformation and the establishment of the Lutheran church. Martin Luther, the reluctant charismatic leader of the Reformation, found that bringing faith and the church to the people in their own language – whatever language that may be – was key in helping people learn and understand for themselves that they are saved by grace through faith, apart from works. Along with his work in translating the Bible into German, Luther also wrote a number of hymn texts that were set to existing hymn tunes.
Contrary to legend, EIN FESTE BURG, the tune to which we sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, was not necessarily a “tavern song”. Granted, the concept of “popular music” was different in Luther’s time. Without television or social media or libraries or concerts or any of our modern ideas of entertainment, the people of Luther’s time would often entertain themselves by gathering with others around a table or at the bar and sing songs and hymns, often accompanied by a harpsichord or lute. So in a way, A Mighty Fortress might well have been sung at a bar, but the tune was not necessarily written to serve as a bar song.
Luther wrote this hymn text as a paraphrase of Psalm 46, about the strength and stability of our faith in God amidst the turbulence of life. Psalm 46 is often read in worship on Reformation Sunday or Reformation Day by congregations who observe that day in the liturgical calendar. Appropriately, congregations will also sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Ascension will be singing this on Sunday the 30th as our hymn of the day; we invite you to join us in worship either in person or online as we celebrate this day!