Bishop Jonathan preaches in Germany on the fall of the Berlin Wall

A service in former East Germany to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall was attended by Bishop of Huddersfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs, who preached in German to some 10,000 people.

Speaking in the town of Erfurt, Bishop Jonathan took greetings from the diocese and spoke of the joy felt when the East-West barrier came down.

He also spoke of the dangers of new psychological walls being built between Britain and Europe.

Bishop Jonathan is the co-chair of the Meissen Commission, linking the Church of England with the Evangelical Church in Germany.

“It was deeply moving and a great honour to preach at the open-air service in Erfurt, marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall," he said.

“Walking across the Cathedral Square before the service, making my way through the gathering crowd, it was wonderful to see thousands of children carrying lanterns symbolising the light of Christ shining in the darkness.

“The emotion of the occasion came most of all from the significance of the anniversary of the opening of the Wall. Most movingly, the female minister who shared in leading the service presented me beforehand with one of the very candles that had been offered to those who gathered in the Cathedral Square on the day the Wall opened in 1989, as they came together to watch and wait and pray.

“She said that on that day people came full of both hope and fear - fear of how things would unfold, after so many years of repression, but hope also for the new future that seemed to be coming.

“Both emotions were still present as we met this year - fear about what is happening in our world, when new walls between peoples are being built, yet hope also because of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ and the light he gives to guide us even in the darkness.”

On Tuesday, Bishop Jonathan also addressed the General Synod of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland in Dresden (pictured) on behalf of the Church of England, focussing on the importance of our relations in the light of Brexit.

You can read read that address here (the text is in German, but can be translated). 

Here is the text of his sermon from Sunday evening in Erfurt:

 

With you, my God, I can take on an army, and with your help I can leap over walls.

Dear Brothers and Sisters 

It is a great joy and a great honour for me to take part in this service.  I bring you warm greetings from the people of England, as you celebrate thirty years since the opening of the wall between East and West. 

I too remember those days well, as they were only a month after I had been ordained in the Church.  It felt like a new world was beginning and our hearts were full of hope for the future. 

For you of course those days were bitter-sweet.  You had painful memories of what had gone before, and of those who had not managed to jump over the wall. 

Yet in those days, something amazing did happen.  Years of fear gave way to times of hope.  Families were re-united and eventually Germany itself was re-united.  It was not easy – it is still not easy – but something new was being created as the Wall came down. 

 

With you, my God, I can take on an army, and with your help I can leap over walls.

That was how it felt, how it seemed in those days.  Years of fear gave way to times of hope.  The forces of repression were overcome and a new freedom became possible. 

Sadly of course, even as that wall was demolished, human beings have built new walls – and still we are building more.  Around the European Union, between the United States and Mexico, between Turkey and Syria, and also now between the United Kingdom and the EU. 

And the origin of these new walls lies in the growth of fear once more.  Fear of those who are different, fear of those who might hurt us or harm our prosperity, fear of those who threaten our identity or our independence. 

These fears have played a part in decision of the United Kingdom to leave the EU.  They lie at the heart of Brexit.  Those same fears have also contributed to the rise of racism across Europe.  When people are afraid they build walls to keep others out and to keep themselves safe. 

 

With you, my God, I can take on an army, and with your help I can leap over walls.

We need to recover the sense of hope that many people felt thirty years ago with the opening of the Wall.  But that alone is not enough.  We need also to do more. 

The problem with the hope that we felt thirty years ago is that it did not have a sense of purpose.  It was more about getting free from the past than finding a new way forward into the future. 

Communism gave way to capitalism – but capitalism then has also failed us.  In the banking crisis of 2008, in the years of austerity in our economies, in the climate crisis, in the wars and the waves of refugees who struggle to reach our shores. 

We thought we had embraced freedom, but that freedom has not brought us all that we hoped for.  Instead we find that new walls are being built, around our nations, within our nations, and even around our homes as we try to protect ourselves in a climate of fear. 

We need hope to set us free from fear.  But it must be more than hope of economic success, because then someone or something might take that away from us – as happened in the Crash of 2008, and as happens whenever someone is robbed in the street. 

No, the hope we need can come from God alone.  It is the hope that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.  It is the hope that we can receive something wonderful from those who are different to us.  It is the hope that by taking down our walls, we may discover a new beginning for ourselves and our children. 

 

With you, my God, I can take on an army, and with your help I can leap over walls.

Together we can take on the men of war, the people of hate, the pedlars of fear, because we have hope in one who is greater, who is able not only to help us jump over walls, but actually to take them down. 

As the world builds walls, we must build bridges.  Bridges that can reach over the walls, over the chasms that divide people and nations, and that create the possibility of new relationships and new beginnings. 

That is why it is important for me that I am here in Erfurt today.  I cannot prevent the new wall which we call “Brexit” being built.  But I can help build a bridge between our churches and between our peoples. 

And I do that above all because my God gives me hope.  Hope of a new beginning.  Hope that light will prevail over darkness.  Hope that one day the new walls that have been built across our continent will be demolished once more. 

It is Jesus Christ who breaks down barriers and who sets us free to live and work for a new and better world.  It is hope in God that can inspire us to believe in that future and that can strengthen us to work for that future to come. 

With our God we can defeat the men of war, the people of violence and hatred and fear.  And with him we can do more than leap over walls: we can bring them crashing down.

With you, my God, I can take on an army, and with your help I can leap over walls.

 

Amen! 

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