Salzburg, Austria/East Germany: January, 1984
When we crossed the border into East Germany we were not sure what to expect. It had been a long trip from Salzburg that day, and the 85 Americans, (on two busses) participants from the Salzburg “International Congress on Revival,” were getting tired. The border crossing had taken three hours during which the East German agents had done everything they could to intimidate us. Because of this we were running late and were not able to rendezvous in Gera with our official guides, so we went on to Leipzig. This was just the beginning of an unforgettable experience in which music played a significant part.
The next morning, as we were entering the Thomas-Kirche where J. S. Bach had directed the music for years and where he had composed many of his masterpieces including, the St. Matthew Passion, the Mass in D Minor and the St. John Passion, one of our official guides whispered in my ear: “You can sing something in here if you wish.” (He had heard us singing on the busses) When we got inside we noticed a large group of Russian tourists, and as they watched and listened, 85 American Christians lifted their voices in song.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost.
As the music and words echoed through that great cathedral, what moved me most was seeing our guide, with tears in his eyes, singing with us. He later confided to me that he too was a believer!
Our group sang the Doxology in restaurants, in the Erfurt monastery where Martin Luther had studied and struggled with the scriptures. We sang it in the Wartburg Castle where Luther had been imprisoned and in the very room where he had translated the New Testament into vernacular German that would help in the unifying of the Germanies with a common language and ultimately add momentum to the Reformation. And finally, we shook the walls of that old Wartburg Castle with Martin Luther’s great hymn: “A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD, A BULWARK NEVER FAILING!”
We couldn’t have preached in a conventional way but we could be, as the Psalmist said: “People with the praise of God in our mouths.” And we do have cause to praise Him, for our God is worthy of praise! MUSIC MATTERS!