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Closing the Day in Wittenberg

Garet Robinson gives us highlights of the Reformation 500 celebrations straight from the heart of Wittenberg, continued from his updates on Reformation Eve and the Morning in Wittenberg.

Reformation 500 Day wrapped up fairly quickly this evening. Much of the primary celebration occurred between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm our time.

Earlier today, after the morning worship service at the Castle Church, we made our way through the streets to the Market Square and enjoyed some 16th-century era food freshly prepared by street vendors. We also saw numerous engaging displays of what life was like in the 16th Century when Martin Luther called Wittenberg his home.

There has been a notable academic presence in the celebrations today. Several lectures took place, though they remained mostly at the popular level. The planning committee in Wittenberg didn’t seem to want to explore deeper themes, but rather keep the talks accessible to all. Several conferences before and after Reformation Day, however, have been exploring those deeper theological, sociological, and political issues. This partly explains why I’ve already seen a number of famous theologians walking the streets. Many of other theological heavyweights have made it through Wittenberg this summer already, in order to attend conferences in the general vicinity of the town and elsewhere in Europe.

Still, this celebration in Wittenberg is not so much about the academic questions of the Reformation. It is, instead, focused more on the practical, personal, and popular side of the Reformation. This is certainly appropriate for the day.

One theme that has been intriguing to note, particularly in the several church services that we’ve attended during our stay, is the sense of hope among the clergy that this celebration will spark renewed interest in Christianity among the German people present, and in the country as a whole. As one speaker noted this morning, for people to associate personally with Christianity is still a bit of a surprise in this country. Many Germans are more invested in the secularized state religion that lacks a personal spirituality. Yet with so many people engaging in these celebrations, and the year-long emphasis on the Reformation by the German government, ministers and Christians alike are hopeful that these days will help to catalyze a revival of sorts among the German people.

The festivities were also attended by the German Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, who was in Wittenberg most of the afternoon with a number of officials from Italy and Switzerland. Special Reformation celebrations that included political figures were televised on the day. Merkel delivered a rousing address about the importance of the Reformation and it was apparently well received by many Germans.

Indeed, the Reformation is a vital historical event for the German people. So much of their national identity is tied up with Luther’s influence, his writings, and his large personality, which lit the fuse of systematic change in the religious, social, economic, and political sphere of Germany and the entire world. As one German told me, the Reformation is a cause that contributed overwhelmingly to the current identity of Germany, even as much as the two World Wars. The Reformation is a significant event in German history, and the celebration in Wittenberg has been a poignant reminder for the people of the origins of their national identity and place in the world. Many Germans I spoke with are proud of their country and were definitely proud to be part of ReformationFest today.

The main celebrations over, Wittenberg is now settling in for a quiet evening. The vendors and market participants are wrapping up their gear. Shops are closing at their regular time and people are retreating to their homes, hotels, or the warmer environs of a local tavern or restaurant. It has been a good day and a busy one for Wittenberg, and people seem ready to enjoy some respite with friends and family.

This has certainly also been a great day for Christianity in Wittenberg and in Germany, and an even greater day remembering the important decision Martin Luther took to start a debate over practices he considered being contrary to the gospel. Our world is changed because of him. Perhaps this day, being here in Wittenberg or celebrating wherever you are, is a good time to remember his sacrifice and ministry and be thankful for how God used an obscure German monk to change the world.

Garet Robinson currently serves as the Adult Pastor at University Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He has a PhD in Theology from Liberty Divinity School and is doing graduate work in non-profit leadership at Harvard University. His primary research interests are the organizational development of the earliest Christian communities and contemporary theological development. Married to Kathryn since 2005, they have a son named Jack and a beagle named Augustine.

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