Luther’s encounter with the holiness of God

Martin Luther’s first Mass as a monastic was a memorable moment for the friends and family who gathered to celebrate the¬†occasion. Luther, not ever the shy one, began the ceremony with poise and confidence. No one expected how it would end.

When the time came for the Prayer of Consecration, Luther was supposed evoke God’s power for the miracle of transubstantiation (turning the wine and the bread into the actual blood and body of Christ). Instead, he froze.

Family and friends looked on nervously. Hans, Luther’s father, grew more embarrassed with every passing second. The hush filled the room as Luther quivered. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, Luther limply walked back to the table where his father was seated. He couldn’t say the prayer.

What happened at the altar? All he was supposed to say was, “We offer unto thee, the living, the true, the eternal God.” But he went paralyzed. Luther wrote about the experience later on:

At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, “With what tongue shall I address such majesty, seeing that all men ought to temble in the presence of even and earthly prince? Who am I, that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround him. At his nod the earth trembles. And shall I, I miserable little pygmy, say ‘I want this, I ask for that?’ For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living, eternal and the true God.

Adapted from Sproul’s The Holiness of God.

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