Preparing for Autumn (Year A)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons 2017, Year A, copyright © 2016 Augsburg Fortress.

Neither autumn nor Reformation is a liturgical season, but in many congregations the months of September and October 2017 will likely include a variety of emphases that highlight both of these calendar considerations. Is there anything that ties together the resumption of fall patterns and schedules, the beginning of the academic year, stewardship, lectionary themes for these months, and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation? Without a particular liturgical season, color, and symbols to give framework, this chunk of the long time after Pentecost may be overtaken by a list of special topics. As always, what links these weeks together is the centrality of worship in the life of our assemblies and its role in forming us as a people of gratitude, generosity, and service.

Reformation Celebrations

Whether individual worshiping communities observe the Reformation anniversary throughout 2017, during the month of October, or with greater intensity on Sunday, October 29, consider framing the observance as re-formation. In other words, rather than merely marking a past historical event, this unique observance enables Lutherans and others both to give thanks for our heritage and to look to the future, centered in the weekly assembly, a spiritual formation through word and sacrament. The prefix re suggests repetition. Again and again we return to God’s grace and mercy poured out in baptism. Sunday after Sunday we gather as the people of God and then depart for service in Christ’s name. Simply reflecting on a number of re words provides much grist for these months: reformation, repentance, reconciliation, renewal, reevaluation, reorientation, and so many more.

A wonderful variety of materials is available to assist in planning a congregation’s observance of Reformation 2017. In particular, look at this resource: Reformation 500 Sourcebook: Anniversary Resources for Congregations (Augsburg Fortress, 2016). The additional liturgical resources and planning checklist are particularly helpful.

Not too long ago, Reformation Sunday for Lutherans was the most important festival between Easter and Christmas. Congregations not only decked themselves in red but often brought out brass music and all the festive elements they could muster. Yet due to centuries of conflict, the subtext was that Lutherans were celebrating the gospel that sets us free, in contrast to the trappings of the Roman Catholic Church. Gradually, the observance reflected a tone of continued reformation and reconciliation. Yet, to a large extent, Lutherans are the only denomination that celebrates Reformation as a yearly liturgical festival. With this ecumenical awareness, it is important that our celebrations hold a balance between gratitude for the gospel and gratitude for our unique heritage, while being mindful of our place within the body of Christ. When we also consider decreased religious participation among many people today, this anniversary might be an opportunity to speak of the future, especially the gift of community and our common witness to the gospel amid changing times.

The Lectionary and Fall Observances

The autumn lectionary texts do not suggest one unifying theme, as the appointed gospels are semicontinuous readings from Matthew. The texts for September 10, when many congregations observe Rally Day or at least resume fall schedules, focus on themes of forgiveness, judgment, and reconciliation. Amid religious pluralism and division, worship re-forms us to be in relationship with those whom we have harmed and to forgive those who have sinned against us. This might be a day to mention a number of mutual condemnations that have been lifted as part of the ecumenical spirit of recent decades.

Some congregations bless animals on the first Sunday in October, occurring near the observance of St. Francis on October 4. Though several denominations appoint particular texts for the feast of St. Francis, Evangelical Lutheran Worship designates it a commemoration and not a lesser festival; thus it might be wise to remain with the Sunday lectionary on October 1, providing continuity with the semicontinuous readings of Philippians and Matthew. Perhaps a preacher can link the image of vineyard or the parable of the man with two sons to our call to imitate Francis in caring for the earth and embracing a life of simplicity and generosity.

The autumn months often include a stewardship emphasis in many congregations. For a fresh approach, you might consider using the word generosity to help people approach the topic in new ways. Worship re-forms us for lives of generosity, gratitude, service, and living our baptismal vocation in the world. The texts for October 15 use the image of feast in a variety of ways, calling us to invite others to the bountiful wedding banquet. The gospel on October 22 is the well-known passage in which Jesus invites us to give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s. How can this text help us to consider stewardship as a way of life, not simply the means to support a church’s budget? How does a re-formation emphasis color the interpretation of all of these texts in 2017?

Finally, October 29, Reformation Sunday, offers two sets of lectionary texts. Many congregations move the pericopes for Reformation Day (October 31) to the last Sunday in October. The readings clearly hold up the theological emphases of the Reformation. Another interesting option is to use the texts for Sunday (Lectionary 30), in this case a gospel that includes the two great commandments, love of God and neighbor. In a spirit of repentance, reconciliation, and reorientation, this text invites congregations to consider our celebration from a wider angle than our own particular history.


There are no clear and obvious choices for the worship environment during autumn. Green continues to be the dominant liturgical color for the Sundays in September and October. Some congregations use leaves, pumpkins, gourds, and other autumnal décor to accent what is happening in nature in many places in North America during these weeks.

It may be tempting to turn this whole season into a mini Reformation festival in 2017 and use the color red for multiple Sundays. Though red catches our attention, partly because there are few festivals that call for it and many of our red vestments are quite handsome, overusing it could call attention to the wrong message. Certainly red is used at Pentecost to represent the fiery colors of the Holy Spirit, and therefore for festivals of the church, such as ordinations, dedications, and anniversaries. Yet to make red dominant for multiple weeks puts us out of step with the catholic and ecumenical church. Whatever our choices, let the Reformation anniversary be an opportunity for us to celebrate with a sense of humility and longing for greater unity among Christians.

Music: Hymns for Re-formation

Lutherans are proud of their musical heritage. Many treasures of hymnody, organ and choral music, and texts were written by Martin Luther, J. S. Bach, and many other fine Reformation-era composers. All assemblies will likely sing “A mighty fortress” on Reformation Sunday or other special occasions. The suggestions below, all from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, are an eclectic mix with themes of unity, reconciliation, and common ministry and could provide nuance to other emphases, such as grace and justification.

247 Come now, O Prince of peace: Though often sung in Advent, this powerful text prays that God make us one body with the repeated phrase “reconcile your people.”

463 Lord, who the night you were betrayed: At the eucharist we pray for unity and ask God to heal our divisions.

575 In Christ called to baptize: United in baptism and eucharist, we are called to witness through teaching, compassion, and service.

576 We are all one in mission: Though our gifts and ministries are different, our purpose is the same.

645 Christ is made the sure foundation: Christ binds the church in one.

649 Behold, how pleasant: Psalm 133 invites God’s people to live together in unity.

650 In Christ there is no east or west: A classic text inviting Christian unity in diverse ways.

651 Oh, praise the gracious power: Themes of grace, reconciliation, and unity are heard in relation to both church and world.

654 The church’s one foundation: Despite schisms, the people of God are one and united in the triune God.

662 Christ is the King!: The scattered people of God all the world over are invited to sing with one voice.

Music: Chorale Service

Some congregations may consider following the tradition of Luther’s German Mass and using a chorale service of Holy Communion sometime during these weeks. In this service, hymn paraphrases are used for the fixed liturgical texts.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship Occasional Services for the Assembly outlines a possible chorale service on pages 50–51. The principal chorales are included in Evangelical Lutheran Worship:

409 Kyrie! God, Father (Kyrie)

410 All glory be to God on high (Canticle of praise: Glory to God)

411 We all believe in one true God (Creed)

868 Isaiah in a vision did of old (Holy, holy, holy)

357 Lamb of God, pure and sinless (Communion song)

As Lutheran liturgical scholar Ben Stewart observes, even in Luther’s recommendations for the German Mass and Formulae Missae, together these two proposals use not only German, his primary language, but Greek (Kyrie), Hebrew (Hallelujah), and Latin (Formula Missae). In this sense there is commitment not only to the vernacular but to the catholic and cosmopolitan dimension of the liturgy. With One Voice takes this concept further with its Holy Communion Setting Six, titled “All Times and Places” (pp. 42–45). The order includes a creative list of service music from a variety of countries, styles, and time periods. Much of this music is also included in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. One option for a Reformation observance is to develop a liturgy that not only uses some of the specific materials from the German Mass, but also makes use of other musical pieces from the global church.


Consider this title of an article written by Anthony Ruff, a monk at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota: “After Vatican II: Are We All Protestants Now? Or Are We All Catholics Now?” (The Hymn 64:1 [winter 2013], 6–12). Ruff describes the amazing convergence in Catholic and Protestant worship during the past fifty years. He mentions how one of his theology professors, a Benedictine monk, suggested that Martin Luther had been a “silent father” at the Second Vatican Council.

The Roman Catholic–Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999), considered one of the most significant ecumenical achievements of the past fifty years, is an important document to study, lift up, and celebrate during the anniversary observance. The booklet From Conflict to Communion (Lutheran–Roman Catholic Commission on Unity) presents a compelling overview of Lutheran–Roman Catholic relations in the twenty-first century and guidelines for how to interpret similarities and differences.

Another helpful document, prepared by Lutherans and Roman Catholics in the USA, is Declaration on the Way (Augsbug Fortress, 2016). It summarizes 32 areas of convergence while noting ways in which the dialogue continues.

Because the Reformation caused a division between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, an ecumenical emphasis on unity, healing, and reconciliation involving these denominations seems particularly appropriate in 2017. The Reformation 500 Sourcebook provides a variety of litanies, prayers, and service outlines for ecumenical occasions.

Christian unity need not be the endpoint, however. A number of Lutherans are proposing eco-justice as an important emphasis for the occasion (, and this occasion is an opportunity to highlight the importance of interfaith dialogue as well.

Seasonal Checklist

  •  Make sure your outside signs, website, and social media posts reflect worship schedule changes and special Reformation services or events.
  •  Consider whether your congregation will participate in the ELCA’s “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday. How will the theme be integrated into worship on that day?
  •  How are young people preparing for affirmation of baptism encountering the Reformation? How might people of all ages engage with Luther’s catechisms during this time?
  •  If a blessing of teachers and students will be held, see possible forms in the seasonal rites section.
  •  If Bibles will be distributed to young readers, consider having their parents or baptismal sponsors involved in physically distributing the Bibles as a way to honor the promises made at baptism. Words to accompany this action are provided in the seasonal rites section.
  •  If a blessing of animals service is held within worship or at another time, consider publicizing it as an outreach opportunity.
  •  Use the resource Reformation 500 Sourcebook (Augsburg Fortress, 2016) to generate creative ideas for worship during these weeks.
  •  Invite a Roman Catholic preacher or someone from another denomination to preach on Reformation Sunday or during these months.
  •  In preparing worship, sermons, and the Reformation 2017 celebration, determine how you can communicate effectively to people in your congregation and community the answer to the question, “Who are the Lutherans?”
  •  Consider using harvest decorations through Thanksgiving.
  •  Though red is the color appointed for Reformation Sunday, think carefully about the use of festive decorations during this season to accentuate the green of the season after Pentecost, autumn colors, and the red of the actual Reformation festival. Perhaps deep hues of yellow, orange, red, and brown could be overlaid on the green as the season progresses.
  •  Plan how music from the Lutheran heritage as well as from diverse cultures and styles could deepen your Reformation celebration.



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