We’re back! The “we” being six of us who went on your behalf to visit and experience the hospitality of the Berlin Mission and our partner congregations in the Anhalt District Church which was in former East Germany.
We return to share samplings of our impressions and reflections on this Sunday that is two years short of the 500th anniversary of the movement to “reform” the church of Europe, centered in Rome, to the Lordship of, Jesus Christ.
To walk the streets of old Wittenberg and literally drop in the apartment where Martin and Katie Luther fed as many as 45 dinner guests regularly, was to realize: THIS IS WHERE IT ALL BEGAN – on Oct. 31, 1517
when Luther posted an invitation to engage in a debate of issues that would bring the organized church back to living God’s Good News in Jesus Christ – in New Testament Greek: “Euaggelion” which Germans adopted as the name for the Reformation Church: evangelische kirche; congregations of Christians who proclaim and live out God’s Good News in Jesus Christ…which we felt echoing through the city parish where Luther preached and his family worshiped, and said, “This is where it all began!”
A reality reinforced when looking around at paintings by the father and son artists, Lucas Cranach, who put people of their day into Bible scenes displayed around altar table and on walls.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of the son, Lucas Cranach the Younger.
To look at these true-to-life works of art is to feel the Bible pulled us into what is being depicted
and see ourselves in each scene.
Then, there was Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate where we also realized, THIS IS WHERE IT ALL BEGAN – “this” being the Wall that had people on the western side rebuilding cities and lives when WW II ended, while those on the eastern side faced 40 more years living in the rubble, under the surveillance of the Russian KGB, being spied on by their own neighbors and family members, and for Christians living in an atheistic state, work by day in places like a cement factory and try to study on their own at night with no guarantee of a decent job.
When the Wall came down in Nov. 1989, they emerged with a resilience and a determination to make sure the horrific past of Hitler’s death camps and Stalin’s forced labor camps will be too painful a memory to think of repeating.
Monuments are everywhere in Berlin: exposing the elimination of gypsies, of homosexuals, of Nazi Germany’s intellectuals and Christian leaders, and of Jews. A whole city corner that could be developed and bring in billions of dollars, stands as maze of dark gray box-like coffins, reminiscent of a Jewish cemetery.
Our guide invited us to walk through the rows and feel the lay of the land that pulls you into the center and a
depth that cuts off any view of the outside world. There, we felt the consequence of individuals who lost the
capacity to be human and of brutality that depressed us with a numbness beyond expressing.
A newer street monument shows two sets of children walking along a railroad track: one, a boy and girl on their way to safety, the others on their way to death. like the paintings of Lucas Cranach, the elder and younger, it pulls us into the realization that children are the real victims of war and its aftermath of refugee camps and the scenes we are seeing on TV.
We began to understand why so many of today’s Germans are giving food and clothing, and saying, “Winter is coming; we must take in the refugees. In the Spring we’ll face up to whether or not we are able to assimilate them into our life.”
Remembering our walk through the gray slabs and happening upon the bronze railroad scene of children, we realized how those memories are prompting the new spirit of a new Germany that is moved to respond with the outpouring of welcome to today’s victims of Middle East brutalities. We were seeing the fruits of a people nurtured on the Gospel words of Jesus, to serve Him by serving others.
In Halle, known as the home of George Frideric Handel and today’s site of a Beatles Museum, there is also a remarkable place that in Handel’s time was outside the city wall – there poor and orphaned children and youth received an education to practice a trade and seminarians, such as Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, were prepared to preach Christ by living a Christ-like life.
As missionaries they set up schools, pharmacies, libraries, and hospitals – whatever was needed, and to sent back samples of flora and fauna, language, clothing, jewelry, work implements– now preserved in a museum, plus a library of thousand of manuscripts including some from Muhlenberg.
To come back home to place names like Trappe, is to think of that rainy day in Halle at a remarkable school
that continues to this day, and say, "This is where it all began!”
When we hear the lessons read in this service commemorating the reforming movement that swept across Europe and the British Isles almost 500 yers ago, the six of us cannot help but think of that day in Leipzig.
Ulie Bischoff insisted we see the massive, dark gray pyramid shaped memorial that sits at a highpoint in a park-like setting, dedicated in 1913 as the “Monument to the Battle of the Nation,” commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the Franco-Prussian War.
We happened to be there on the exact day, Oct. 19th, when the Russian army’s strength made it possible for Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden to defeat the army of Napoleon along with troops from Italy, Poland, and Germans from the Rhine, the victory that led to a Germany of independent principalities becoming one nation.
Later, the monument took on sinister purposes now chronicled in a film styled after the one we see in Gettysburg that depicts our nation’s Civil War, except in Leipzig there is no script; viewers write their own as the monument is used to show the long procession of dictators,from the Roman empire, to Napoleon, to Hitler and Stalin and now Middle East names vying to rule the world.
From that haunting monument we walked to St. Nicholas Church, the site of prayers that spilled out into the streets on Nov. 9, 1989 and began the Peaceful Revolution with the weapons of prayer and candles that brought down the wall.
The interior pillars in St. Nicholas Church topped with raised palm branches – a reminder of prayers raised to God, is duplicated in a pillar standing in the square as a silent sign that- prayers prayed in church spill out into life in the world.
In the midst of ornate columns and 16th century art, the balconies in St. Nicholas Church are decorated with white sheets children have painted with words and symbols. One reads: “We are one world.”
As I looked at that banner I thought how religious groups and politician ideologies are saying those words identify the rise of the anti-Christ who is the ulitmate threat that must be defeated.
The palm-leaf topped pillar standing in the square and the children’s banner hanging from a church balcony calls for us to get is right, and shout back: “No, not anti-Christ but CHRIST!”
St. Thomas Church, that continues to echo with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, that amplifies that truth with music that proclaims: Christ: God’s new covenant promised by the prophet Jeremiah;
God’s gift of grace Paul announced and Luther preached;
God’s Good News brought to life to become the truth:
So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Christ: God’s intended One Who will free all people from a tribalism that continues to create new monsters intent on ruling the world, new corruptions of faiths – yes, even the one that encases Christ in the word: “Christianity.
It’s time for a new reformation; the ongoing reformation:
to let Christ live Himself into every human being,
to make of one flesh all the nations of the earth, a new race, a new people, a new creation.
The reality we witnessed last Sunday in worship marked with the cross and in hospitality around the lunch-time table here the prayer banner of the children came alive with the intention of God:
“We are one world.” – Through Christ, in Christ!
The reformer, John Calvin, has given us the words to personalize and internalize that truth which sets us free:
“I greet you, sure Redeemer, with my heart…
You are the life by which alone we live.”