Good Friday, German Style

What a shocking difference! No it is not that the liturgical garb is lederhosen, rather it is a solemnity that permeates everything.

Good Friday in Victoria might have a few shops closed, but to the observer there is little difference from any other day.  In Germany, at least in the village, we receive a small local newspaper that tells us of events and small village news items (like someone is stealing flowers from the cemetery).  This week there contains a notice from the village office that there are things one should not be doing (verboten) on Good Friday.  The list contains such things as loud music, parties, sports, games, [looking gleeful] – sorry that was my own addition.

The weather is grey.  The wind forces rain agains the window in howling sheets every once in a while.  Most astonishing is the traffic.  On our street we normally get cars going past, along with pedestrians and bicyclists; there has even been a nordic walking group on occasion.

Today is vastly different.  Only several people have walked past, the third car today (in the afternoon) has driven by, and most of the people who are walking are going to churches nearby as the bells ring out the different worship times.  Good Friday is here.

In the church I am preparing a meditative worship and have been online with friends and colleagues which are also preparing for Good Friday.  The mood of the day for me in Germany has really hit home as it seems most people are participating in some kind of religious activity.  How much the world needs the solemn tone! My impulse is to run around in preparation, yet everything is prepared.  My drive is to do something, anything, yet all has been done.

Eerily, the radio is playing the same music that I have on my computer to listen to in the office: Bach, St. Matthias’ Passion.  The other radio stations have religious reflections on the meaning of Good Friday. On some of the calendars and even some of the radio broadcasts there is talk of Karfrietag. An old high German term roughly translating to mean ‘grief Friday.’

There is a heaviness in the air, yet this heaviness is much needed in a place where behind the scenes people are can work round the clock.  I appreciate the slowing down, the reflection, the grief that permeates the day and is present even in the weather.  Mindful that we all come from places of action, we now enter into a time of reflection.

A much needed episode of reflection about our own mortality, our own pace, our own demands and expectations.  We hang these things on a cross.  Jesus’ burden is much greater than I have realized.

A different perspective – Brussels

Social media and other forms of media are now flooding with reports about terror attacks in Brussels.  Air and train travel has been suspended.  I was invited, along with other Church of England clergy in the Diocese in Europe to travel to either Nice, France, or to Brussels, in Belgium for a special Chrism Mass.  Bishop Robert is in Brussels, and Bishop David is in Nice for the respective worship services.  Chrism Mass is where the bishop blesses the oils that are used in the rite of Baptism, in other words, Christening.

I write this from home in Germany. We have had a number of guests arriving and so it was not convenient for me to make the trip to Brussels for the Chrism Mass and I did discover that I had packed some small containers of holy oil in my boxes that arrived from Canada. I decided a couple of weeks ago, that as much as I would like to visit Brussels and join in the worship, it was not conducive to family plans.  Of course I now wonder where I would be if I had been traveling to Brussels.

Some have reported that there really are no safe places in the world anymore.  It is precisely this reason that it is important to remind ourselves of the need for healing in the world and in our relationships with others.  Chrism and the link with baptism reminds us all of our own death and hope of resurrection in Jesus Christ.  After watching pictures of people fleeing the airport I pray for God’s peace, healing, and a change in  perspective that we might come to live our baptismal calling.

At this moment I pray for those who have been traumatized in these recent events, for those who have died and the family and friends who mourn their loss of life.  In the words of the commission – the sending out of those recently baptized – “Will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?

With the help of God, I will.”

Who are we lying to?

Today I had my integration placement test in the volkshochschule  (VHS) – adult continuing education – where I was lumped together with random people that also needed to begin integration.  Each person was given a number as we entered the room.  I was number 542.  We all sat down at individual desks that were uncomfortable for someone my hight.  The introduction to the class was given by a German speaking woman who spoke very slowly and deliberately.  Along with speaking she wrote on a flip chart what she said, and the contents was a brief description of the classes, the exam, and well, the overall process that we were entering into.

Names were read out from an attendance list, and of the 20 people present there were, judging from the names on the list, 17 people from Arab background, one from Japan and one from Eastern Europe – and me.  All were men, besides the one Eastern European woman (and her teenage daughter who was there for ‘moral support’).  What was interesting for me was that an interpreter was present to help translate the German instructions into Arabic.

We started off with a simple test of copying out a short paragraph to determine the writing ability of the students.  There were some who had difficulty and others who did not put pen to paper as, I assume, they were illiterate, and asked for assistance to write their forms out.  The class was thus divided and those who needed extra help left with the Arabic interpreter.  The several others continued on with a longer written test that lasted for 30 minutes.  There were some multiple choice answers as well as fill in the blanks.  The exam was about 50 questions in length and I struggled to make it to number 38 when my own paper was taken away after the thirty minutes.  I felt reasonably good about my answers, as some I could find within other questions a few pages into the exam.  What surprised me was the panic of many of the other test takers.  Anger that they had to finish one fellow held onto his exam and wildly checked off boxes at random.  During the exam itself the Japanese man spent time looking up words on his phone while the Eastern European woman stated that she did not have her reading glasses and that her (fluent in German) daughter would need to help her along.  These actions concerned me, as they really don’t put those at any advantage.  Cheating on your test might get you into a higher class grouping, but really, once there, I can imagine them struggling as they find themselves out of pace with the rest of the class.

In the end, after the speaking test I was told that I did very well and will be informed about what level I shall need to begin with for further language classes and the integration material.  Geography, politics and social activities will be part of the instruction, but I am still convinced that most of the class besides the language instruction will be about what to put in the Gelber Sac – the Yellow Sack that is collected at the curb that contains all sorts of items.  Not one city has the same rules about what can go into the sack, and so it is a German mystery that propagates its own urban legends of minions sorting out recycling from non-recyclables, or if the whole thing is simply chucked into a furnace and burnt for electrical power.

Prayer

“Sunday must be your busiest day.”  This is a harmless question directed to the pastor of any church, but it also makes me want to expand on roles and what it is we do generally as Christians.  We all know what hours bankers hold and what they do, we all know what lawyers do and the business hours they may hold.  The question about busyness on a Sunday to a pastor tells me that most people don’t really know what the pastor does besides seeing him, or her, on a Sunday morning worship service.  In the past, in answer to the harmless question, “Sunday must be your busiest day”, I have written a series on a blog that featured my own day-to-day events so that many of my own flock might gain some insight.

Some may think that the pastor has little to do during the week and only really ‘works’ on a Sunday.  The same could be said of some skeptical of the Christian faith, that most people only act and behave in a ‘Christian way’ on Sunday morning in worship.  We know that this is not generally the case, but that our discipleship seeps through in all of our days and in all of our actions.
For this Lenten letter I want to say that I spend a lot of time in prayer…but this wains easily with the many distractions – emails being one of them.  I admire many of those in our church history who have claimed that the busier they become, the more time they have devoted to a lifestyle of prayer.
What is prayer?  Try this out with me, and maybe you will find that your own busiest day of the week is one that was filled with much prayer.  Try not to reserve all of your prayer time to Sunday morning, as this becomes like the phone call to loved ones each Sunday where we only have time to mention the briefest of details and the relationship might seem too one sided.
Here is one method of prayer that you might like to try this Lent.  Jesus frequently takes time to pray in solitude and such is the basis of the Contemplative tradition in our faith.  Most of us will find our days and weeks reflect a pattern: work, eat and sleep.  Our time is seen as valuable, and we dislike waisting it.  So over the next while try to carve out a simple 10 minutes for prayer with God.  You might like to set an alarm so that you are not worried about how much time you are spending.  I am sure that you will find it surprising how quickly the time passes and that you will crave more time with God.  So set ten minutes aside each day and you may sit in absolute silence directing your thoughts back to God with a simple word when your mind wanders (and it will!). Close relationship need no words to communicate; however, if praying like this seems too foreign, read a short devotional passage, or spiritual classic.  Another way of spending ten minutes in prayer is to write (or draw) your prayer.  What is important is that you prepare the space for prayer ensuring that you minimize the chance for interruption.  Note to self – turn off the mobile phone.
Let us, with the challenge of Lent, seek to foster a life of prayer amongst ourselves so that our busy days are also days founded in prayerful relationships.
Here is a short video from the Church of England “Just Pray” series that may speak to the lives of many in our congregation. Jonny on Prayer – CofE Just Pray