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Adapted from a sermon preached on February 18, 2024.

There is a symbol that is dear to Lutherans because it was dear to Martin Luther, one that can remind us of the basics of our faith, and accompany us this year on our own Lenten journey. This symbol is the Seal of Luther, or the Luther Rose, and you can see it in countless churches around the world, including right here at Hope! There is a beautiful stained glass version of it right at the entrance to our worship space, created by our own Janet Loewen.

The origins of the symbol are a little obscure, but it is known that Luther’s writings as early as the momentous year of 1517 appeared with a simple version of it, the white rose. By 1520 printers in Wittenberg were adding the rose and heart to Luther’s publications as a certificate of authenticity. Ten years later the symbol reached its final form with an accompanying explanation from Luther himself. In that year, 1530, the Reformation had gained a momentum that went far beyond Luther as princes and scholars and other leaders gathered in the town of Augsburg to stand up and declare their faith before the emperor. It was a powerful moment in history, and it produced the document that shapes and guides our church to this day, the Augsburg Confession.

And Martin Luther wasn’t part of it. He couldn’t be there; it was still too dangerous. He had to sit on the sidelines while others carried the torch of the evangelical movement forward. So he sat in the safety of Coburg castle and wrote letters to the delegates, letters of encouragement, instruction, and (being Luther) criticism! Each of those letters would have borne a wax seal stamped with his brand-new device, the Luther Rose. It had been a gift from the Elector of Saxony, making official the seal that Luther had created for himself, as a distilled expression of his whole theology.


The first element to note is the red heart. We know it as a symbol of love, but to the people of Luther’s time it was that and more. The heart is the seat of all our emotions—love and hate, generosity and jealousy, equanimity and anger, peace and fear. From the heart come our desires and passions, our purposes and our will. The heart of Luther’s seal represents the sum of human life.

When Jesus went down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John it was his heart merging and sharing the human condition. When he heard the voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” it was God’s heart speaking to his own. And when he was in the wilderness for forty days it was his heart with its desires and passions that was tested.

Your heart is the authentic, raw, and real centre of you. You speak from the heart. You talk with someone, heart-to-heart. Your heart can be full. Your heart can be broken. It is what is most true and honest in yourself. The heart doesn’t lie; it just is.

The heart is at the center of Luther’s seal to say that here we are dealing with life in all its depth and fullness and complexity.


Laid over the heart is a black cross. It signifies the way of Jesus, which is the way of the cross. It signifies suffering and death. “Whoever would follow me,” Jesus said, “must take up their cross.” Meaning embracing the vulnerability of being mortal, as Jesus himself did, “not seeing equality with God as something to be grasped tightly, but emptying himself.” Meaning remembering (and accepting with grace) that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” Meaning also being willing to suffer for the sake of integrity, truth, righteousness, and the gospel.

Luther’s Seal, with its black cross laid over the red heart, indicates that for the Christian the cross is at the centre of our life, in the middle of our existence.

It seems like this black cross of suffering and death should be a terrible burden and an unendurable thorn, yet Luther was clear in a letter of explanation to his friend Spengler: “the heart retains its natural colour, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. ‘For one who believes from the heart will be justified’ (Romans 10:10).” The cross that seems like a barren tree of death becomes, because of Christ, the tree of life. The cross gives life and joy to the heart, its deep red colour.


In the Medieval world roses were everywhere in art and heraldry. Most often they were red to symbolize blood and passion. The rose was a prominent symbol of the Virgin Mary, whom Luther was devoted to; it was coloured red to stand for her human nature. For his seal, however, Luther chose a white rose and made it represent faith.

Faith in its broadest sense is the human quality of having confidence in the future so as to enable action in the present. Faith enables us to make commitments and build lives, based on the assumption that the future will be good, that it will be safe for us. Christian faith is confidence in the promises of God for blessing, and trust in the way of Christ to be the way of life, even though it leads through the cross.

Luther says that on his seal the heart stands “in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the colour of the spirits and the angels (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12).”


Faith is wholesome and beautiful and necessary for the Christian, but it is not an end in and of itself. Faith—or trust, which is its equivalent in biblical language—is always in something (in Jesus, for the Christian); faith is transitive, that is, directed outward.

On Luther’s seal the white rose of faith is set in a sky-blue field. This represents the blessed hope of the kingdom of God, which is a reality that begins in this life, here and now, although it is often hidden. Jesus spoke about the kingdom as being “within (or among) you.” It is the in-breaking of God’s mercy, justice, and peace into our lives and into our world. This is what our faith is directed towards. It is represented by the colour blue because that is the colour of peace and hope.


Finally, around the blue sky is set a golden ring, indicating that the hope in the kingdom that begins in this life is something that, as Luther writes, “lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal.”

Luther’s Seal is a valuable symbol and a devotional treasure. It can be a powerful reminder of what our faith means and how our Christian walk can be shaped. I hope it will accompany you on your Lenten journey this year.

Pastor Kristian