In England we have this rather sad envy of all things German. In Germany – so the story goes – everything is top quality, everything works as it is supposed to work, the trains run on time and they all speak English anyway.
Well, they do ‘do’ quality – just look at their buildings. Everything works everywhere – and, if it doesn’t, they put it right very quickly. Most speak English – which can be a little frustrating if you want to work on your German. But - and it is with some relief and a certain Schadenfreude that I report this – the trains no longer run on time.
Or, at least, mine didn’t yesterday. The Deutsche Bundesbahn was late!
I took part in the final ‘pilgrimage’ walk with 1000 people through Kassel, concluding with me and Carla Maurer (from Switzerland and on the right of the picture) sending people on their way home with God’s blessing. This final event also involved Bishop Wolfgang Huber and the President of Germany, Horst Koehler and his wife. So, I sat with them on the stage, had a good conversation with them afterwards (in which I suggested he didn’t come to Berlin Cathedral on Sunday morning) and then had coffee with friends before catching the fast train to Berlin.
It took 90 minutes longer than it should have done. By the time we got into Berlin I had missed the lecture I had planned to go to at the Humboldt University by Professor Dr Christoph Schwoebel. That’s ninety minutes late! So, I checked into the hotel, got a meal and had an early night.
This morning I was preaching at the Berliner Dom and I have worried about this for weeks – probably annoying everyone else by moaning about it too openly. In Kassel a good friend of mine, Christoph Roemhild, helped me with the German; so I was able to mount the extraordinarily enormous and intimidating pulpit with more confidence than I deserved. There was a congregation of (so I was told) around 700. I preached on the raising of Lazarus (you can read the basic text on the Berliner Dom website) and when I finished there was spontaneous applause. That has never happened to me before. I think they were so relieved it was over that they couldn’t contain themselves.
The service was wonderful and nearly had me in tears. The choir and orchestra led the setting by Johann Sebastian Bach and the service was led by the Dompredigerin, Frau Petra Zimmermann, and the EKD Bishop for Ecumenical and Foreign Affairs, Martin Schindehuette.
This service was, however, more than an opportunity to hear an Englishman speak German in public – which is usually good for a laugh. It represented yet another opportunity for German and English Christians to worship and serve together. This month represents a number of anniversaries: 70 years after the outbreak of the Second World War; 60 years of the German Constitution (Grundgesetz); 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall; and almost 20 years of the Meissen Agreement (bringing together the German Protestant Church and the Church of England in a common service of the people of Europe).
In my sermon I did draw attention to the fact that much of the reconciliation after the war was only possible because of the readiness of the churches to admit guilt, reach out and provide a rationale and locus for forgiveness, reconciliation and hope. We take it for granted now, but I found myself deeply moved by the unity we demonstrated and genuinely felt as we worshipped together this morning.
While waiting for the bus to the airport (where I am writing this) I looked again at the Berlin television tower – an embarrassment to the East German authorities during the Communist years. Every time the sun shone on it, the reflection took the form of a cross!
Incidentally, the reason I advised the German President to worship elsewhere this morning was because it is Election Day in Germany and he told me he would normally go to church before voting. I thought he might prefer to hear a German sermon rather than an outsider’s ruminations. I hope he had a good morning – he is a very nice man.