Today the CHurch commemorates Katharina von Bora Luther, the wife of Martin Luther. It’s fitting to remember her in this 500th anniversary year. So much attention has been paid to her husband, but it is good for us to pause and consider the helper suitable for him, the one given to him by God to be his wife. She is an example to us of faith in Christ that held fast despite enduring the awful situations this life can give to us.
There are several aspects of her life that we should consider. From her childhood, Katie was immersed in religion. At only five years old she was sent to live in a convent for her education. She lived an isolated life of prayer, schooling, and work. Prayer and faith were central to her life. She did not leave the convent as a young woman just to find a husband. She risked her life to leave the convent because of the Gospel. She read Martin’s writings and Scripture and found that he was speaking the truth. She and her friends escaped so they could be set free from salvation by works.
That love of the Gospel did not stop there. She supported Martin physically by running the household, but she was also an encouragement to him. She urged him to answer his critics for the sake of the Gospel. One example is her encouragement for Martin to write Bondage of the Will, his monumental response to Erasmus, which was published just six short months after Martin and Katie were married. She stood by him, encouraged him in his work for the sake of the Gospel, and is rightly acknowledged for her loving support.
Her physical support didn’t stop at Martin. Part of Luther’s job as a professor and Pastor was to teach the faith, and this meant that people were flocking to him so they could learn from him and also be defenders of the Gospel. More often than not, Martin turned his family’s home into a dormitory, restaurant, hospital, and everything else. Katie stood by him, stood by those men who were learning at his feet. She saw to their physical needs so they could grow in faith and knowledge of God’s holy Word, so they could do the important job of comforting sinners beaten down by their sin and condemned by the Law. But Katie was also at home in her vocations as wife and mother. She took care of their children, in addition to several nieces and nephews. She played and laughed, taught and disciplined. She ran her household well to be of service to family and neighbor, delighting in this important work God has asked all of us to do.
While her life was that of a faithful woman, it is especially notable at the end of her life. After Martin died, she was left in great poverty. She endured ridicule from friends and foes. On more than one occasion she had to pack up the family and leave Wittenberg because of war and plague. The last time she had to do that is what brought her death. She jumped from a wagon, fell into cold water, and became ill. After the illness lingered for three months, she died on this date in 1552 in Torgau. She bore the cross faithfully, always looking to Christ. She did not grumble or chase after a better life. Rather, she confessed to the end that she was firmly in the loving arms of her Savior. She knew that tonight’s Gospel was about her. She was the treasure for which God gave everything, even His only-begotten Son. That is why she died with these words on her lips: “I’ll stick to Christ like a burr to cloth.” Nothing could separate her from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
And there is comfort and hope for all of us. Regardless of what life throws at us, from childhood to the deathbed, Christ has paid every price, even His own life, to save us from sin and death. There is nothing to fear, because He will not let go of us. We can cling to him like a burr to cloth because He first clung to us. As Christ comes to us each time we gather in this place, we rejoice in His coming to us to forgive us, to save us, and to comfort us in our crosses. God be praised for His mercy and love shown to Katie and to all who believe in Him!
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.