My kids need some kind of special award in heaven for their patience with me on my Reformation outings. Like the day they said “where are we going today dad?” And I answered, “Eisleben.” And they say, “cool, what’s in Eisleben?” And I say, “Luther’s death house.” And they say… “oo ooh K?!”
Here’s the kind of thing one sees in Luther’s death house. Pardon the bad pics, as usual, I’m snapping photos against the rules – like this one I took of his death bed – the pic was taken with the camera hanging indiscreetly around my neck down my belly – I felt like I had a wild west six shooter at my side firing off rounds.
Interesting to me that Luther was born and died in the same town. For a guy who changed the entire world he sure didn’t wander far from home. This pic creeped us all out – the photo does not do justice to the spooky glow in his eyes as he gives up the ghost. The pic also doesn’t do the size of this painting justice– it’s ten feet long, 8 feet high. Trust me, you notice it when you walk in the room!
As is customary with important figures, a death mask was made. Unusual though was to also do a hand cast. Here, rigor mortis had already set in so they had difficulty making his one hand look like it was holding a pen and his other hand holding flat a paper as if he’s ready to write yet something more.
Here’s what they call his “deathbed portrait” of which many copies were made and circulated.
And here is his burial spot at the foot of his pulpit in the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The kids took one look at this thing and wondered if he was a midget. Answer… no. We did see a full size burial cloth that sat over his full size casket. And I saw a rusty iron handle from his casket (now in the Luther House, Wittenberg) that they found when they were doing church renovations 150 years ago. My guess is at that time they collected what was left of him and made this new burial box for his bones. But, I’m not sure. Maybe since they we never able to contain Luther’s influence while he was living, they appeased his foes by stuffing him in a small box for the centuries he awaits resurrection.
Sorry for such a creepy, and pretty much pointless post, at least up until this point. I’ll try here to share a few of my thoughts as you can imagine I have a lot flowing through my head in these types of places.
First, you will find none of the type of stuff I’ve included above for the Swiss Reformer Zwingli. No deathbed, deathmask, portrait, or even tomb. The reason is Zwingli was a chaplain in the Swiss army and died in a battle fighting the pope’s forces. His body was quartered, burned and his ashes were mixed with dung and thrown to the wind.
I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be masked and preserved as Luther was, but I’m no fan of cremation either. (Why? It’s more fitting for Hindu or Buddist theology than Christian eschatology. As N.T. Wright says about cremation, “the underlying implication, of a desire to be merged back into the created world, without any affirmation of a future life of new embodiment, flies in the face of Christian theology.” He says the huge swing toward cremation in the last century reflects the total confusion in the church and the world about the future resurrection.)
Did you know I am related to CH Spurgeon? He was a mega-church pastor in London in the 19th century. I’ll share a Spurgeon quote with you… in Lectures to my Students he tells all the students at his pastors college about the importance for the minister of frequenting the death bed. He says it’s critical to our ability to keep eternity and salvation at the forefront of our thinking that we are regularly with the dying.
I feel as if I’ve had more than my share of exposure to death, in my immediate family and certainly as a police chaplain (and hospital chaplain before that). I’ve been on a leave of absence from my police chaplaincy post for 18 months and I’ve been asked by the PD and Sheriffs dept (even while I’ve been here) to jump back in with both feet in September (which I will). With the deaths in my family, I was really having trouble doing death notifications and being on the scene of bad accidents and suicides.
In terms of my reading plan for this sabbatical, I completed all the Reformation reading I had planned and am now into the first of three NT Wright books on my list - more on them later. For now, Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” has been just what the doctor ordered. He totally dismantles sloppy and errant ideas most Christians have about heaven and the future resurrection. It should be required reading for those taking the Omega Course. (Randy B…. get on that!)