Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558): Sermon at the funeral of Martin Luther


Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) was a friend and colleague of Martin Luther, who referred to him as Doctor Pomeranus. He served as a Protestant pastor in Wittenberg and was instrumental in introducing the Protestant Reformation to northern Germany and Scandinavia. Bugenhagen preached the sermon at Martin Luther’s funeral, posted below in full:

A Christian sermon over the body and at the funeral of the venerable Dr. Martin Luther, preached by Mr. Johann Bugenhagen Pomeranus, doctor and pastor 
of the churches in Wittenberg.

Paul, the holy apostle, says in I Thessalonians 4:

“We do not want to hold back, dear brothers, concerning those who are asleep so that you may not be sorrowful as the others who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus has died and risen, even so, God will bring those with Him who have fallen asleep through Jesus.”

Dear friends, I am now supposed to preach a sermon at the funeral of our dearly beloved father, blessed Dr. Martin, and gladly do so. But what shall I say and how shall I speak, since I probably will not be able to utter a word because of my tears? And who shall comfort you if I, your pastor and preacher, cannot speak? Where can I turn from you? I will, no doubt, cause more crying and mourning with my sermon. For how should we not all mourn heartily, since God has sent us this sorrow and has taken from us the noble and dear man, the venerable Dr. Martin Luther? Through him God has rendered inexpressible gifts and grace to all of us and to all the churches of Christ in Germany, as well as to many in foreign countries. Through him God has also triumphed gloriously over the kingdom of Satan and against so much shameful idolatry and human ordinance, indeed, as Paul says, against the devil’s teachings throughout the world, and has revealed to us in the Gospel the sublime, great heavenly secret, his dear Son Jesus Christ (as Paul also says in Ephesians and Colossians). Through him, our dear father, Christ has defended his Gospel against the grievous pope and various rabble and tyrants, indeed, against all the portals of hell. He gave to this dear man the spirit of power and strength so that he is afraid of no one, however great and mighty he may be. He held so boldly to the Gospel and to pure doctrine that the world often believed that he was too sharp and too excessive with his rebuking and scolding, just as the Jews and Pharisees, the bitter and poisonous vipers, accused Christ, for it hurt them severely and caused them pain that they were chastised by means of the pure truth. However, they did not accept the salutary teaching.

God has taken away from us this great teacher, prophet, and divinely sent reformer of the church. Oh, how can we cease mourning and crying? How can we, after all, obey the dear Paul here when he says: “You should not grieve because of those who are asleep?” But he adds immediately: “Like the others who have no hope.” We who believe know that those who have fallen asleep in Christ will be awakened again to a better life where we will meet them again and be together with them eternally.

However, the world was not worthy to have this dear man of God any longer, to continue to slander and persecute him. Albeit, that same, ungrateful world received much good through this great man, especially that it has been freed from a variety of oppression and tyranny of the loathsome papacy. Therefore, many of the adversaries (who still have some wisdom and understanding) would have preferred that the dear man had continued to live for a long time.

This I have said initially, that we truly have great cause to mourn heartily since we have lost such a great and dear man. And truly (since this may help a bit) Christian kings, princes, and cities and all who have recognized the Gospel of truth mourn with us. Therefore, we do not mourn alone, but many thousands in Christendom mourn with us from time to time. It was not fitting that the current, grievous pope, the Cardinal of Mainz, or Duke Henry (all of whom he enraged mightily with the truth) should ever delight in the death of this man. And I hope that the adversaries will not delight in his death for long. For the person has indeed died in Christ, but the mighty, blessed, godly doctrine of this precious man still lives most powerfully.

For he was without doubt the angel concerning whom it is written in Revelation 14, who flew through the midst of heaven and had an eternal Gospel, etc., as the text says:

“And I saw an angel flying through the midst of heaven. He had an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who sit and dwell on earth, to all heathen and races and languages and nations. And he said with a loud voice: ‘Fear God and give him honor, for the time of his judgment has come. Worship the one who has made heaven and earth, the seas and the springs of water.’ And another angel followed and said: ‘She has fallen, she has fallen, Babylon, the great city, for she has made drunk all the heathen with the wine of her harlotry’.”

This angel who says, “Fear God and give him the honor,” was Dr. Martin Luther. And what is written here, “Fear God and give him the honor,” are the two parts of Dr. Martin Luther s doctrine, the Law and the Gospel, through which all of Scripture is unlocked and Christ, our righteousness and eternal life, is recognized. To these two he has also added this passage (“the time of his judgment has come”) and has taught regarding proper prayer and invocation of God the heavenly Father in Spirit and in truth. As the angel also says in Revelation 14: “Worship the one who has made heaven and earth, etc.”

For after the teaching of this angel, another angel will follow, who will proclaim comfort to the sorrowful and persecuted church and the lightning and thunder of eternal judgment and condemnation against the adversaries, as, after all, the other angel said: “She has fallen; she has fallen, Babylon, the great city.” Therefore, the adversaries will not rejoice long over our sorrow, as Christ also says in John 16: “Your sorrow shall turn to joy.” For according to Revelation, the aforementioned fourteenth chapter, we see that this has happened before and still happens. If Revelation has some validity, then the other will, without doubt, follow.

But, oh, how do I ramble on so with my sermon in this time of our crying and sorrow? This is enough said about our rightful mourning, for we mourn justly that such a dear man, a proper bishop and shepherd of souls, has departed from us. But in this sorrow we should also rightly recognize God s grace and mercy to us and thank God that he has awakened for us through his Spirit this dear Dr. Martin Luther against the antichristian doctrines of the abominable, satanic pope and against the devil’s doctrines only one hundred years after the death of the holy John Hus (who was killed for the sake of the truth in the year 1415), just as John Hus himself prophesied before his death about a future swan. Hus means “goose” in the Bohemian language. “You are now roasting a goose,” (says John Hus), “but God will awaken a swan whom you will not burn or roast.” And as they shouted much against him, which he could not answer, he supposedly said: “After one hundred years I will answer you.” He has done that uprightly through our dear father, Dr. Luther, and has begun it precisely in the one-hundred-and-first year. Yes, we should thank God that he preserved this dear man for us and his churches in the violent disputes, in so many difficult conflicts, and that through him Christ has triumphed so often now for almost thirty years. To the Lord Christ be praise and honor in eternity. Amen.

But we should also rejoice with our dear father Luther that he left and departed from us to the Lord Christ in the highest apostolic and prophetic office in which he faithfully accomplished what he was commanded. For with Christ are the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and many to whom he preached the Gospel, all the holy angels, Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, that is, in the eternal joy of all believers. We will experience what this interim period until the Day of Judgment is like, as Paul says in Philippians 1:

“I desire to depart and to be with Christ”; and as Stephen also says in Acts: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”; and Jesus to the thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

For there is no doubt, just as the spirit of Christ was in the hands of the Father until the resurrection on Easter, since he said: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, etc.,” so will our spirits be in the hands of Christ until our resurrection. For that is the meaning of the words of Lazarus: “But now he is comforted while you are tormented.”

What kind of peace or comfort the believers have and what kind of anxiety or torment the unbelievers have in the meantime, until the day of judgment, we cannot say so precisely on the basis of Scripture. Scripture says that they are asleep, as Paul says in Thessalonians, “concerning those who are asleep.” However, just as in natural sleep the healthy rest in a sweet sleep and are thereby refreshed and become stronger and healthier, while the sick or the sorrowing and especially those who are in the terror or fear of death sleep with difficulty, with horrible dreams, and restlessly so that sleep is not rest for them but a more frightful, more desolate unrest than being awake, in the same way there is a difference between the sleep of the believers and the godless. But about this we cannot speak further or infer other than what the words of Scripture say.

Our dear father Dr. Martin Luther has now attained what he often desired. And if he were to return to us again now, he would reprimand our mourning and faint-heartedness with the word of Christ from John 16: “If you loved me you would rejoice because I go to the Father, and you would not begrudge me this eternal rest and joy.” Christ has conquered death for us. Why, then, are we afraid? The death of the body is for us a beginning of life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord, who has become for us a noble, precious sacrifice.

I still remember that when our honorable, dear father, Dr. Martin Luther, saw several depart sweetly in the confession of Christ, he said: “May God grant me that I may also depart so sweetly in the bosom of Christ and that the body may not be tormented with lengthy pains of death. But may God s will be done.”

Master Ambrosius Bernardus von Goterboch, my dear brother and a truly pious man who loved Christ, was here with us in Wittenberg at the university. For several days before his end he lay very weak and sick unto death, and yet God took from him the feeling of his sickness as if he were already in another life. He spoke with us how he wanted to come to us and be joyous with us. He did not know at all that he was so ill and had to die. He certainly did not see death. Therefore, he could not be afraid of death. Indeed, he was no longer in this life except when one spoke of Christ. Then he confessed freely from his heart the great grace and bliss that has been given to us by the heavenly Father in Christ, for he loved Christ and was in the habit of praying gladly and of calling on God the Father in Spirit and truth. If one then wanted to tell him soon thereafter (as one who had come to his senses) about his beloved wife, children, house, money, debt, etc., he was soon out of his senses again and as if in another world, (although he recognized us all and called us by name), spoke joyously, with laughter and charming jest, concerning other matters in such a manner that one, who was unaware of his delirium, might think that he was wholly well and had to lie in bed because of boredom, etc. But our dear Lord Jesus Christ took him out of this life to himself in this state of delirium and yet in the good confession of the Christian faith. Thus he was already dead to this world for several days before he died, for he knew nothing on this earth of which he needed to be concerned. Indeed, he was relieved of everything so that he also did not experience his sickness and was not concerned about his death. Indeed, he also did not see death. How, then, could he be afraid of sin and death?

Thus we saw in him plainly the word of Christ from John 8 which every believer experiences: “If someone keeps my word, that person will never see death.” For even if they do not all die so easily as this Ambrosius, but with great pain, as the Son of God himself died on the cross, yet when the dear hour comes, they see life and not death and all of them say: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In this way our Lord Jesus Christ took our dearly beloved father, Dr. Martin, to himself with such a blessed parting from this vale of tears. To God be praise and thanks eternally.

During the illness of Master Ambrosius, when I saw that he also did not sleep, I asked two medical doctors that they prepare a strong drink to help him sleep. They responded that this would be dangerous and that they might be given blame if something went wrong. I said: “I will be responsible even if he were to die. Give it to him in God’s name as a desperate act. Who knows, it might help.” The doctors gave him such a drink, but not as strong as I desired, for they were somewhat concerned. Then he fell into a mighty sleep so that he slept almost two hours. However, when he awoke he felt his pain and complained about it and spoke intelligibly to his wife about all sorts of urgent matters. But soon thereafter, after about an hour-and-a-half, he was again in his happy condition, as before. He was no longer aware of this world until he gave up his spirit to Christ a few days later.

I have now gladly recounted this blessed and joyous story about Master Ambrosius, our dear brother, for two reasons. First of all, that I might stop you dear ones a bit from your howling and crying, which have now rightly overtaken us. God has made us sad. May his grace comfort us again. Secondly, so that this story may be of help to us in the matter concerning which we are now speaking.

For this Master Ambrosius was Dr. Martin’s brother-in-law. Therefore, Dr. Martin visited him so much in his illness, and when he spoke with him about Christ, then Ambrosius also spoke about Christ according to the dear Gospel, as we have said. But when he wanted to speak to him about his wife, children, and goods, etc., Ambrosius knew nothing about such things but soon fantasized happily with unrelated words, as we have said before. He especially said to the Doctor with laughter and thanksgiving: “Sir Doctor, thank you for visiting me. I will visit you again some evening. At that time we will have a good supper together, and I will then speak with you about many joyous matters.” Indeed, they may both be accomplishing this in the life eternal to which they have both traveled. In this life they were unable to meet in this way.

After Dr. Martin left him, the Doctor said to me: “He is gone and does not recognize death. When we want to counsel him how he should put his things in order, he no longer knows anything about this world and this life. Rather, he is happy, laughs, and proposes other things in his joyous delirium. He even mocks us with such words, as if he wanted to say: I no longer know what to set in order or attend to on earth. May God also give me soon such a peaceful and blessed hour of death. What more should I accomplish on earth?”

After Master Ambrosius was buried in the harsh winter of January, 1542, Dr. Martin went to the grave with me not long thereafter. Then he pointed to the grave with his hand and said: “He did not know that he was sick. He also did not know that he was dying and yet was not without a confession of Christ. Here he lies and still does not know that he is dead. Dear Lord Jesus, Christ, take me also in similar fashion out of this vale of tears to you, etc.”

I often had to hear such things from my dear father, and when he noticed my annoyance, at times probably also from my words, he said to me: “Implore our dear Lord God that He may soon take me to Himself from here. I can do nothing more on earth. I am no longer of use to you. Help me with your prayer. Do not ask that I live longer.” Now, everyone can, no doubt, imagine how I responded to such words of my dear father, our dearly beloved Doctor. All of this indicates how eagerly he desired, in his last days, to be rid of this miserable life and to be with Christ. Thereby he also sang his consummatum est and commended his spirit into the heavenly Father’s hands.

There were also advance indications that our dear father, Dr. Martin, would wander into a better life, for throughout this whole year he often said to us that he desired to go to another place. He also traveled more in this year before his death than he had done in many years, namely to his homeland in Mansfeld, to the Bishop of Zeitz, to Merseburg, to Halle. These were an indication and prophecy that he would undertake this blessed journey into a better life. Therefore, it also happened that he departed and left this life while he was with the noble and honorable Counts of Mansfeld in the city of Eisleben, where he was born and baptized. This was as he had desired, except that he would have preferred to be with us at that time, with his wife and children. But God ordained it otherwise.

Dear friends, so that you might also have a short report about our dearly beloved father, Dr. Martin’s, blessed parting, I will give it. When he noticed that his hour had come, he prayed thusly:

“O my heavenly Father, one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, God of all comfort, I thank you that you have revealed to me your dear Son, Jesus Christ, in whom I believe, whom I have preached and confessed, whom I have loved and praised, whom the loathsome pope and all the godless revile, persecute, and blaspheme. I implore you, my Lord Jesus Christ, let my little soul be commended to you. O heavenly Father, although I must leave this body and be snatched away from this life, I am, nevertheless, certain that I will remain with you eternally and that no one can tear me out of your hands.”

And then he said three times:
“Into your hands I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, you faithful God.”

Also John 3:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son so that all who believe in him will not be lost but have eternal life.”
Then he folded his hands and gave up his spirit to Christ in grand silence. Therefore we should also justly rejoice with him, as much as we are able to do so in our grief.

Here I must remember the holy Bishop, St. Martin, concerning whom history says that all heretics turned pale and faded at the mention of his name. Furthermore, there was a great crying and mourning on the part of all believing and true Christians at the death of St. Martin. Furthermore, a dispute and quarrel arose among several cities and territories about who should retain the body of St. Martin and where he should be buried. All of this happened in similar fashion with this holy apostle and prophet of Christ, our preacher and evangelist in the German territories, Dr. Martin. But about this I do not want to speak at length. God himself now holds him precious and beloved and sustains him in his bosom who in this life dearly loved us and the churches of Christ. May God requite it to our dearly beloved father in the life to come, where we all also hope to join him.

May God grant that the Spirit of God may also be spoken of doubly with regard to the descendants and in the churches planted by the dear father than was spoken of by the lofty, dear man, as the prophet Elisha petitioned from Elijah, who was taken from Elisha in a storm.

But if we fear or imagine that God has taken away the precious man because of our sin and ingratitude, then we should improve our life, petition God our heavenly Father through Christ that we remain in the blessed, pure teaching concerning faith and be protected through Christ from the rabble and tyrants and against all the portals of hell. Protect your poor Christendom, Lord Christ, that it may praise you eternally. Help us God our Savior and rescue us for the honor of your name and have mercy on our sins for the sake of your holy name. Preserve in your church faithful and good preachers. Give them power and strength through the Holy Spirit, as Psalm 68 says: “The Lord gives the Word with large numbers of evangelists.”

The impudent, atrocious, great blasphemies of the adversaries and the obdurate priests and monks and, in addition, our ingratitude may now well be the cause of great misfortune and God’s punishment in the world. But we should petition God the Father in the name of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that for his name’s sake he may accomplish, fulfill, and bring about the epitaph and prophecy that our dear father, Dr. Martin, himself made to him:

Pestis eram vivus, moriens tua mors ero Papa.

That is in German: “Pope, pope, when I lived I was your pestilence. When I die I will be your bitter death.” God be praised eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray, etc.