Monday, November 13, 2017

All Luther-ed Out

A week ago today my son and I returned from Germany, after having led a group of 108 pilgrims to places connected with Martin Luther and J. S. Bach in observance of the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. There were many moving parts during that fortnight set of experiences, none more memorable than the morning worship at St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, on Oct 31st, followed by a hymnfest at the Castle Church, Wittenberg, later that afternoon. Both events included Valpo's chorale, which sang one of Bach's Reformation cantatas (BWV 79: "Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild") in the morning and then multiple pieces in the afternoon, including "Into the Light," which was composed this year by Jake Runestad and commissioned by Valparaiso University for the special anniversary. Runestad's work, which ties together distinct ideas from several reformers, and Valpo's chorale were big hits in Germany.

Before the Oct 29 Service at the Erfurt Monastery

On Sunday, Oct 29, our group worshiped with the local Lutheran congregation at the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt. When the local pastor learned that three groups of Americans would be present for worship that morning, she asked me to read the Old Testament lesson in English and another group leader to read the appointed Gospel reading. At the conclusion of her sermon, the pastor then offered a very helpful summary of her homily in English. Following Holy Communion that morning, more than one person told me, "Today is one of the top ten days of my life." That same comment was made by several others a few days later on the actual anniversary date, after the three-hour service at St. Thomas Church and the two-hour concert at the Castle Church. (My son and I found ourselves seated directly beside Luther's grave during that latter service. I couldn't help but give the grave stone a little "pat" at the end of the evening....) Earlier that day in Wittenberg I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Pr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, the current bishop of the SELK. (The group and I noticed that the pastors who preached and presided at the Lutheran services in which we participated in Erfurt and Leipzig were women.)

31 Oct 2017: seated under the pulpit, next to Luther's grave
Photo by Jon Hendricks
I delivered mini-lectures most every morning to the plenary group and then offered color commentary as Jacob and I rotated among our group's three buses. Altogether we visited Berlin (major exhibit on the reformer at the German National Museum), Eisleben (Luther's place of birth and death), Eisenach (where he was a young student and where Bach was baptized), the Wartburg Castle (where Luther was sequestered by Fred the Wise and where he translated the entire NT into the local German dialect), Erfurt (where he attended the university and joined an Augustinian monastery), the Coburg Castle (as far south as he could travel safely to be in close communication with those attending the 1530 Augsburg Diet), Leipzig (where he debated Eck in 1519, and where Bach was director of music for 27 years), Wittenberg (1.5 days' worth of activities and museums), Weimar (where Bach was a court composer and music director),  Buchenwald (which allowed us to ponder "Luther and the Holocaust" and to remember Paul Schneider and Dietrich Bonhoeffer), and Dresden.

Foci for my mini-lectures included Luther's childhood and education, his theological "breakthrough," Augustinian monasticism then and now, Luther's illnesses and "Anfechtungen," the 95 Theses, Luther and the Jews, Luther and Bach in Eisenach, the Wartburg Castle and German nationalism, Bach's Reformation cantatas, the German Protestant churches today, and the history and architecture of the Frauenkirche in Dresden. Given that German Chancellor Angela Merkel (daughter of a Lutheran pastor) and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (son of a Reformed pastor) were both in attendance at the Castle Church, Wittenberg, on Oct 31st (indeed, one in our group shook hands with Frau Merkel and briefly spoke with her), I devoted one lecture to "German Politics Today." Each morning I offered some additional commentary on the cover stories of the local and regional German newspapers (and on that week's issue of "Der Spiegel"). So our discussions were not only about the sixteenth century and Martin Luther.

Jacob and I at the Zwinger Museum in Dresden

Once again, EO Tours put us up in some really nice digs and provided us with very good food at all of our group meals in the evening.

I am now looking forward to July 2020, when my colleague, Gretchen Buggeln, and I will be leading the next Valpo alumni tour. For that two-week tour, we will examine church art and architecture from NW Germany, France, and England. The tour will include a Rhine River cruise, a visit to a French champagne cellar, museums and churches in Aachen, Trier, Paris, Chartres, London, and Oxford, and lectures/commentary by Gretchen and yours truly. More on this tour at a later time.

Needless to say, I'm ready to take a break from all things Luther!