Katharina von Bora Luther: Midweek Advent 3

Lessons: Psalm 46, Isaiah 55:6-11, John 15:1-11
Hymns: LSB 357, 345, 353

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      On this day in 1552, a hard-working saint was received in Heaven. Katharina von Bora was not saved by her works or because she married the great reformer, Dr. Martin Luther. Instead, she was saved by grace through faith in Christ.

      In English, some prefer to call Katharina, Katherine, or Katie. I’ll go with Katie. Katie was born on January 29, 1499, into a family of Saxon lesser nobility. Her mom died when she was 5 and her dad quickly remarried. About the time she turned 6, Katie was sent to a convent school in Brehna, about 30 miles from home, and she never lived with her siblings or parents again. About three years later, she transferred to another convent where her two of her aunts lived.  Katie took her vows to become a nun when she was 16. Within a few years, she and her fellow nuns began reading the works of Martin Luther and agreed they were the truth—based on the Bible.

      Convinced of the truths recovered by Luther, Katie and several other nuns wanted to get out of the convent, but that was extremely risky. It was considered a serious offense to leave a monastery or convent. They could be executed if they are caught violating their vows. They tried to plot an escape but were caught and were severely punished. So, one of her aunts wrote to Martin Luther for help. He arranged for a man to bring a load of barrels in a wagon and the women hid in these barrels as they left the cloister on Holy Saturday in 1523. Later traditions suggest they were barrels used to transport herring, but that cannot be determined for sure.

      Now that the women were free, they needed to go somewhere. First, Luther tried to have them go live with families, but their families were unwilling to receive these women; it was too risky. So, Luther sought to find suitable men for these women to marry. Each were able to marry with the exception of one woman—Katharina von Bora. She refused many of the potential suitors. Finally, she said she was willing to marry the great Lutheran reformer Nicolaus von Amsdorf or Martin Luther himself. Aim big, I suppose.

      Luther was hesitant at first because it would he thought it may hurt the Reformation by causing a scandal. But he conceded and they married. Luther said his marriage would “please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep.” They did not marry as lovebirds who couldn’t resist each other. Instead, their love toward each other grew as they married. Luther affectionally called Katie “my chains” because she reigned him in, convincing him to go on fewer dangerous journeys and curbing his generosity (telling Luther to remember the needs of his family).

      God would eventually give them six children, but two died as children, which was very hard for Martin and Katie. But in faith, Luther said he if he could have his 13 year-old daughter, Magdalena back along with all the wealth of France, he would not have her back because of the eternal bliss she is now enjoying in Heaven.

      The home the Luthers lived in was called the Black Cloister because the monks that used to live there were dressed in black. It was a monastery that was eventually gifted to the Luthers by Elector John the Steadfast. It was huge, had a brewery that Katie operated, gardens, pasture, animals, and was often visited by guests. Serving as a hotel of sorts, many people would often be living there, and Katie took care of them. You can tour the Black Cloister today because it now serves as a museum. Several times during Katie’s lifetime Wittenberg suffered from Black Death, the plague that killed almost half of those who were infected by it during the 1300s to the 1600s. Usually the townspeople would flee when the plague hit, but some would stay at the Black Cloister (the Luther home).

      When Martin Luther died in 1546, Katie was 47 and their children ranged in age from 11 to 19. In grieving, Katie 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.” Apart from grieving, she had the ability to talk and talk. Luther was known to joke with her, asking if she prayed the Lord’s Prayer before she gave that sermon.

      Katie inherited some of Luther’s land and all of his debt, but not the Black Cloister. Eventually her brother, Hans von Bora, was appointed is her guardian, which makes it possible for her to stay in the Black Cloister. War between the Protestant princes and the Catholic emperor breaks out in 1546, causing Katie and her family to flee Wittenberg twice. The Black Cloister remains intact, but her farm, livestock, and gardens were all destroyed. Many of her friends are imprisoned, including Emperor John Frederick and Lucas Cranach.

      Katie’s life was cut short just 6 years after Martin Luther died when she and her family were on her way to Torgau to escape the Plague in Wittenberg. It was muddy and dangerous. Her horse got spooked, her wagon crashed, she falls out, lands in a ditch, and is knocked unconscious. She is paralyzed, endured fevers, and succumbed to death for her injuries three months later—just 5 days before Christmas in 1552.

      As this short survey of Katie Luther’s life indicates, life in those days was incredibly difficult. We face many uncertainties in our age. We question how good the future will be for our children and children’s children, especially as morals quickly decline, people put their trust in their stuff instead of Christ, there are wars and rumors of wars going on all around the world, and our nation gets involved in many of them. But the uncertainties faced in early 16th century Europe were greater. You never knew when the Black Plague would break out again. If you followed the Bible’s teachings instead of the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings, your life could be in danger of execution. Child mortality rates were very high. Life expectancy was much lower. Even knowing where your next meal was coming from was a challenge for many. Most Germans were peasants and lived in abject poverty, especially as much of what they earned was taken from them by the Church and the government.

      Yet the people soldiered on. They trusted that God would take care of them. And He did. Some of those who lived, suffered, and died in Europe hundreds of years ago are our ancestors. They not only passed their genes on to us, but they passed on the faith. They fought the good fight to allow the truth of God’s Word to flourish and be received by sinners dying to hear it.

      Certainly, Katie followed our Lord’s bidding found in tonight’s reading from Isaiah: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). As she experienced joy and heartbreak, she maintained with confidence the Word of God, when He said, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). The Word of God accomplishes what He pleases. He called Martin Luther, Katie Luther, and many others out of darkness into the light of the Gospel. His Word accomplished what He pleased.

      And the same happens today. God’s Word is at work, giving us knowledge of Christ, forgiving our sins, and working saving faith in us.

      After all, we have Christ Jesus as our true Vine. As He abides in us, He delivers to us the blessed hope of everlasting life. He forgives our sins and reconciles us to our Father in Heaven—all because Jesus died on the cross in our place to make satisfaction for our sins. On the appointed day, God will also receive you into Heaven, not because of what you have done, but because of what Christ Jesus has done for you. He saves you, that your joy may be full. Amen.            

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen