Why do we wear red on Reformation Sunday? I have been thinking about this for over a decade now. One year in college I wore a red shirt on Reformation day. When I went to speak with one of my professors he asked, “Are you wearing that in honor of all the people who died because of the Reformation?”

His question got me thinking. The most common explanation for “Why do we wear red on Reformation Sunday?” is that it is the same color as the Holy Spirit. This, however, does not jive well with the fact that there was one Pentecost that happened around 2,000 years ago and the Lutheran Church claims that movement of the Holy Spirit to have been the Church’s foundational event. The other symbolism of red is to represent the blood of martyrs.

While we do see the time of the Reformation to be one when the Holy Spirit was making course corrections for the Church, a lot of blood was spilled, especially during the 30 Years War. Faithful Christians of many denominations: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, and more, died because of their faith. Yes, we all had very deep disagreements with each other and believe the other groups are incorrect but did that really allow us to all commit atrocities against each other? Centuries of hatred and resentment found their footing in the Reformation’s aftermath causing family splits and further violence.

To be clear: the Church was at a crisis point with its teachings and was in need of reform. Once there was reform it was a light to the soul. In spite of this need, it came at a great cost. We do well to remember both the joys and sorrows, the triumphs and failures, of the Reformation. Perhaps Red is the best color to remind us of both.