I took this photo several years ago when I helped lead a tour of the Reformation sites with Michael Thomas. It was the lead up to the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses. I think we make too much of that event. I would argue that this is really the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. Luther, hauled before the Imperial Diet in Worms, has said no to the Holy Roman Emperor, the young Charles V. That “Here I Stand!” speech was really the decisive moment. Up until this point the Reformation was always in danger of being co-opted by those who held power.
Once Luther rejected that power, at risk to his own life, the Reformation became something different. It was here, in the Wartburg, that Luther empowered people like you and me. He translated the New Testament into German. Germans continue to celebrate this event because it really standardized the German language into a single language and created a sense of German identity. Up to this point, the Germans were not really a single people and their language was hardly unified.
But the Christian who looks at this celebrates something even more important. Luther was doing an end-run around those in power who were using religion as a means to control people. He was putting the religious communication, the Gospel, into the hands and hearts of people without the power-grubbing hierarchy involved. Now a German peasant who could read (Luther’s emphasis on general and public education goes hand-in-hand with this) could have just as much access to the Gospel as any cleric.
Within a relatively short time the forces of Lutheranism would be conquered by this same Emperor whom Luther defied. (Smalkaldic War – 1547) But Charles would not be able to restore Catholicism. The peasants who could read this Good News would not stand for it. Maurice, who had turned against the Lutherans, turned again, this time against Charles. He read the political winds. If he would govern these people, he would have to govern as a Lutheran over Lutheran people. It was in large part because Luther put the Bible into the hands of those people that this was true. Celebrate the Reformation. Read your Bible.