Well, sabbatical continues, and we are now in Germany. Our tour is about halfway finished as we travel with about 40 folk from around the States and Canada. As I write this we are in the city of Nuremberg, having had dinner at Bratwurst Roslein, a centuries old establishment in the heart of Nuremberg’s old city. So far on our tour we have enjoyed a number of special spots.
A cruise on the Rhine River, seeing a number of castles on the hills overlooking the water.
A visit to the Cologne Cathedral, heavily damaged during WW 2, but rebuilt. Huge and overwhelming (30 times the size of Our Savior’s, and the towers make it’s facade the largest of any church in the world!)
A tour of Berlin, including the remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and a visit to “Checkpoint Charlie,” the border crossing between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. More on that in a moment
A trip to Wittenberg, the home of Martin Luther, including a stop at both the Castle Church and the Town Church (more on that too in a moment).
An afternoon and evening in Dresden, touring two more churches damaged and rebuilt (including 259 steps to the top of one of the towers!), and walking around the old town square.
Stopping for an ice cream and walking tour of the old town of Bayreuth.
We head out tomorrow (Sunday) for Rothenberg, Munich, and beyond. More to come!
As we travel we have enjoyed the cultural and historical spots we have visited, but also pondered a number of things.
Germany, of course, was once and twice an enemy. An enemy in two world wars, especially the Nazi era, but then also East Germany was a communist state. Walking the streets of Berlin, where Hitler strolled, is chilling. Visiting the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, now literally a shell of itself, is a sobering reminder of war, violence and faith, but also how faithful living can be distorted by politics. Historically, faith rarely shapes power. Power co-opts faith. While people of faith like Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood against the Nazi’s, many “faithful” church people went along for the ride. And so, along with the churches, we also stopped by the Holocaust Memorial. People – millions of people – died at the hands of the Nazi’s. Always remember, and…never forget!
But we also pondered the transition from communist to a reunited Germany. Visiting Checkpoint Charlie reminded us of those days when part of Germany was closed off and dark. Dresden had been a part of that too, and our tour guide noted that after the reunification in 1991 it took a number of years for life to revive. In the first years the city remained rather dreary. But now? At 10:30 Friday evening I walked from the hotel to the old town square to get a night time picture of the cathedral. The place was hopping – more life going on than earlier in the day as beer gardens and restaurants were filled with people enjoying the evening. Is that life is about? No, not really, but it is a sign of a community no longer under a dark cloud and held in an iron grip. There is life and energy in Dresden, something that was lacking during the communist years.
So, a thought to ponder…enemies more than once, yet today allies. Are there others (nations, or people in our lives) who we might consider enemies, but who will in time be our friends? If that happened before, can it happen again, and can we be a part of making it happen?
But, back to our trip. The biggest treat so far (besides really good beer and ice cream!), was the run down to Wittenberg, by ourselves, on our free day. Thanks to Jeff Haldeman’s insights, we made it around Berlin, to the train, and then to Wittenberg…and back again…all on our own! There, in Wittenberg we toured the home of Martin Luther and Philip Melancthon (Luther’s colleague). Interesting to walk in the space they walked in!
We also toured the Town Church, where Luther was the pastor, where he preached and led worship, where people came to be married, baptize their children, and in time, to be buried. We walked the cobblestone streets he walked. All that was really special.
But then…we walked down to the other end of town, to the Castle Church. Martin Luther never preached at the Castle Church (the Town Church was his congregation). He is, however, buried there, and it is at the Castle Church that Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door. That door is long gone, destroyed in a fire, and replaced in 1858 with bronze doors that are inscribed with the Theses. We didn’t go there for the Theses, however. We went to worship. Seems they have an English service on Thursdays at 3 PM. It was Thursday, and so we went. We eagerly embraced the opportunity to sing “A Mighty Fortress” in the Castle Church.
A small group of 25 or so voices gathered, with folk from the US, Europe, and even Singapore. Small, but potent, as we sang with gusto in a building with awesome acoustics! The pastor for this week (they have volunteers from the US), invited one of us to read the lesson, and so I got to do that. I got to read the lesson in the church where the Reformation started, about 25 feet from Luther’s grave! How cool is that! (By the way, if you go to www.wittenbergenglishministry.com, then stroll down to their Facebook link – on the Facebook page go to timeline photos, and then the shots for June 13 – there I am, and in another shot, all three of us are joining in song.
Of course, there is a great takeaway – being a part of leading worship in this very important space. What a thrill, what an honor.
But more…remember what I said before about enemies? Wittenberg was in East Germany, where not just church, but faith was persecuted. And Nazi Germany – where faith was perverted to serve hatred. To proclaim the gospel message (Romans 8:12-28) in a place that was once Nazi, then communist – how does the hymn phrase it…”God’s Word forever shall abide!”
So, as we continue our journey, not just through Germany, but when we return home, I hold that thought. Times are challenging for the church, and for the faithful. But not for God. God is in no trouble, and neither are we when we remember that the church, the mission and ministry, and in the end, we ourselves, belong to God. And God’s Word (not the Bible, but Jesus) shall abide!
How cool is that?