Dispatch From Germany, Part III
There is a stunning Protestant church in Trier, where we have spent the last several days, that was constructed upon the very edifice first consecrated to the Roman emperor. The power of the Gospel to convert that which is secular into something sacred always astonishes. Indeed, this church is yet another gorgeous structure of old Christendom, almost as high as it is long, and stands, as do so many in this country, as a testimony to Christ's transformative genius.
But, the inspirational story, like most human stories, has a dark side.
In 1930's and '40's, this congregation was deeply complicit in the Nazi regime of terror. Its pastors cooperated with the oppressive authorities, like most ministers of the Nazi era. In fact, there are photographs of young boys being confirmed in their Nazi youth uniforms. Not only did this church refuse band together with the several other courageous "Confessing Churches" (made famous by Bonhoeffer's witness) of the region to resist the cruel order, it ostricized those members of its own congregation who were critical of Hitler and his policies. Of particular horror was the stance of the church toward the Jewish people of their community.
The Allied bombing of April of 1944 severely damaged the church. The ornate wood chancel and altar were destroyed by fire, as was the organ. Everything inside the church was demolished. The only thing remaining were the rock walls erected by the Romans so long ago, perhaps a reminder that moral lessons learned by one epoch have a way of being strangely forgotten by successive ones.
When the fire swept through the church, townspeople say that the pipes of the enormous organ began mysteriously playing by themselves. As the local lore has it, the windstorm created by the destruction forced air through the pipes, creating a haunting dirge that could be heard throughout the city.
A divine recital of judgment upon the cowardice and betrayal of a Christian people who forgot who they were.