From the pastor…
If you turn to the calendar in the Lutheran Service Book you’ll find the commemoration of Rev. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther on May 7, the date of his death in 1887. The name Walther may ring a bell for those who are about the age of seventy of more. Up until the late ‘60’s the Walther League was the name of the youth and young adult groups in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. At one time that was the place for good fun in your own congregation, for events with people from other congregations and even for finding your future spouse! I’m not sure why the group was named after him. Perhaps he had a soft spot in his heart for the development of young people.
Walther was such a pioneer of our church body that some call him the “American Luther.” He was the Synod’s very first president; he was both president and professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis; he started the periodical Der Lutheraner, the forerunner of today’s Lutheran Witness magazine. Most all LCMS pastors have a few of his books on their shelves: one called Church and Ministry, and another, the standard for preaching: The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.
C. F. W. Walther was born in 1811. At the age of 27 he was one of several pastors who led a group of persecuted Lutherans to America. A scandal arose around their bishop, and many of the immigrants were so demoralized that they wanted to give up and return to Germany. Walther convinced them that they were still the people of God, even without their bishop. They stuck it out in America and Walther became their tireless leader. He served four Lutheran congregations in St. Louis! His life was filled with incredible accomplishments and faithfulness that allowed this group of immigrants to unite with others and form the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1847.
But Walther was no Superman. He, like Luther himself, was plagued by a mental thorn that created a time of dark personal struggle for him—one episode of his life in particular. In 1860 this faithful Christian man suffered some sort of severe “breakdown.” Everything fell in on him – raw emotions, spiritual doubts, physical ailments, incapacity, and mental sadness. Today’s diagnosis would likely have been clinical depression.
Describing the weight of his condition with incredible honesty, he wrote to his congregations: “My only hope was a blessed death. For I hoped that in spite of my deep sense that I deserved [God’s] curse, I would not let go of the Lord Jesus” Pastor Walther needed – and his loving congregations arranged – a leave of absence. A sabbatical. All this put this Christian man on a boat, headed back to Germany for rest and for healing.
In the midst of his brokenness and anguish Walther wrote the words and music of a hymn on that boat. It’s Hymn 480 in the Lutheran Service Book, the Easter hymn, “He’s Risen, He’s Risen.” Easter triumph, Easter joy. It’s the empty tomb. Christ keeping his Word. Comfort amid lingering bleakness and gloom that we still sing today. You’d scarcely believe such a bouncing, lively proclamation of the risen Christ could pour out of such a defeated and broken Christian man.
So let’s remember this powerful but humbled Christian leader. He proclaims the certainty of Easter. He leads with the proclamation of Christ Jesus being raised from the dead. Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
With Easter joy,
 “Walther’s Breakdown” in Matthew Harrison, At Home in the House of My Fathers: Presidential Sermons, Essays, Letters, and Addresses from the Missouri Synod’s Great Era of Unity and Growth [St. Louis: Concordia, 2011], 143.