European Meeting 2022 in Rostock

Meditations: Midday Prayers

On this page we are publishing the meditations during the three midday prayers at the European meeting at Rostock.


Thursday 29 December 2022

Pastor Anja Neu-Illg, Baptist (Matthew 2:1-2,7-12)

Another Way

Dear friends in the faith,

I am so happy that you are visiting us here in Rostock—with your gifts. Through you our own treasures are also made visible. Here up front you see two pictures from the Rostock Altar of the Three Kings. It is the most significant medieval artwork in our 800-year-old city and it shows its oldest view.

I would like to look with you at the story of the Wise Men from the East through the glasses of the unknown artist. He gave Bethlehem the appearance of the city of Rostock. First of all, look at the picture here on the right.

We see the beginning of the journey home of the Three Kings in a sailing ship, a cog. In the Middle Ages, when a cog like this appears on the horizon , it can mean one of two things: trade or war. But this ship is sailing on a different course. It is loaded neither with merchandise nor with implements of war. It leaves the safe harbor of the city with billowing sails. What is it carrying?

Poor kings. The kings traveling home are agitated like the water in the city harbor, which here seems to be right on the sea. They had a dream: do not go back to Herod. You can’t rely on him. Find a way past him. The kings look at each other questioningly: Was the adventure worth it? Was it right to give all the treasures to a little child named Jesus?

So the visitors leave the city, without gold, without frankincense, without myrrh—they have given it all away. If this is the beginning of the journey home, then Bethlehem is Rostock. And that makes sense: a new star rises and for once the music does not play in a big metropolis, but in the province at the edge of the world history, in Lüttenklein. That means: Little-small.

What do the visitors from Bethlehem-Lüttenklein take back to their homelands? A priceless experience, which is captured in the picture on the left: the adoration of the child and the presentation of gifts—all in one. The evangelist Matthew also captures this in one sentence: “...and they bowed down and worshiped him, and opened their treasures, and gave him gifts of gold...” (Matt 2:11).

How this works, giving and worshiping in one, is shown by the oldest king, probably also the richest. He has laid his crown in the sand. Kneeling, he hands over an incredibly valuable treasure of gold. The younger ones still stand a little indecisively alongside him. What is happening here? Shall we do the same? The baby Jesus seems interested in the gold.

But if we look more closely, the left hand of the baby Jesus looks as if it wants to play and the right hand is raised to bless. The baby is excited—like all babies—by a human face.

The gaze of the old king and the child meet. They look into each other’s eyes. And in that gaze, a treasure opens up. The treasure is not in the box. It is as if the child were saying, “You are the treasure yourself, old boy. Go in peace.” “And they went back by another way to their own lands” (Matt 2:12). They didn’t just go somewhere else. They went in a different way.

In the background: Joseph. Barely visible. An amazing man with a dung shovel in his hand. (In the reconstruction a shepherd’s crook, it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart.) He is busy. He is not a king, not a wise man, not a stargazer, not from a distant land. He is from here—without a big name—and quietly observes what is going on. Once again he welcomes people who are strangers to him at first and whose language he does not speak. He also opens his own treasures. Everything he has: his family, his house and his heart. He doesn’t need a crown, a cog, camels or a chest full of gold for that. He himself is also the treasure.

Another way is possible—in just a moment.
Give each other a look that is secretly aware of the treasure in the other.


Friday 30 December 2022

Joachim Gauck, former president of the Federal Republic of Germany (2 Peter 1:16-19)

I come from far away.

By that I don’t mean the distance between Berlin and Rostock – that’s not so far. However, I come from another time and for you, for young people, the period which influenced and moulded me is in the distant past, it’s a bygone era.

The city where you are meeting is my home town. I was born here in 1940 during the Second World War. In 1945, many parts of the city lay in ruins and people were disorientated. Not only were the buildings destroyed. Countless people were physically and emotionally drained. This part of Germany recovered slowly. The darkness of the Nazi period was followed by a new darkness: instead of freedom, people here were saddled with a new dictatorship. In my family, too, I experienced what many people in this country experienced: innocent individuals were treated as if they were guilty of a crime. They were persecuted, imprisoned, deported. The law was controlled by the regime, while civil rights more or less didn’t exist. I stayed here nevertheless, and there was a reason for that.

While I was at school, the Christian message had become important to me as I looked for intellectual alternatives to repressive Communism. As an adult, I became a pastor in this city. For a while, I was a youth pastor here in Rostock – always under the surveillance of malicious members of our secret police, the Stasi.

During that time, I had my first contact with young people who had got together with brothers from Taizé. Among the church youth groups in the 1980s, there was a growing desire to oppose the dictatorship in some way. Human rights and peace played a role in this, as did environmental issues. I discovered a spiritual longing in some of these young people.

Without my involvement, Taizé hymns, meditations and prayers suddenly emerged. But it was not only about issues. In actual fact, these young people were seeking a deeper sense of spiritual TOGETHERNESS. Many people did indeed need an inner strength to dare to embark on their own journey, including their own journey of faith, during the dictatorship.

In 1989, our church groups formed the core of a protest scene in most places. This subsequently became a broad democracy movement during the autumn. Ultimately, it became a peaceful revolution; the country became a democracy. Germany’s reunification soon followed and, mysteriously, the man before you today became Federal President.

The bible text we’re reading contains the word “light”. There’s a reason why I began by telling you about myself: I’m one of those who escaped from the dark. That’s why it seems to me that “light” is the key message in this text.

The author of the letter is referring to a holy revelation which describes Jesus as the son of God. We have just celebrated Christmas, the festival when Christians around the world mark the birth of the son of God in Bethlehem. The author wants his audience to understand that God’s incarnation should have an impact on their own lives: their lives will have to change, for the better. Their lives will have to differ from the lives of those who believe it’s normal to spend their lives in injustice and sin. When someone really does begin to follow Jesus, this results in “a light that shines in a dark place” (verse 19 of our text).

When I said at the outset that I had come from far away, I was talking about the dimension of time. I was looking far back to my childhood. In the winter of 1946/47, it was cold and dark due to the ongoing power cuts. As a child I was frightened of the dark. But then a candle was lit. The light was faint but it had a strong effect! For the room was transformed and a single candle had banished all fear.

The “light” in our text reminds me of another passage from the New Testament where the faithful are told they are the “children of the light”. Again I look at my own life: I remember all kinds of worries in the past, including fears and uncertainty – and so many questions!

How easily all of this could have led me into a maze or turned my life into a shackled existence. But that didn’t happen. Not because I have such a strong character but because I met “children of the light” at every stage in my life when I didn’t know what to do. They were adult men and women, and in one or two cases young people – I’m sure that none of them regarded themselves as a light in the darkness. However, the existence of these individuals at a time when I felt especially under pressure enabled me to find renewed strength, to overcome a fear, to embark upon a new path. We have no idea what we can mean to others!

You have no idea what you will mean to others!

I can imagine that your meeting, your spiritual and intellectual togetherness, can transform you into individuals who follow a light in times of darkness and can be a light for others.

When I spoke of my childhood memory with a candle in the room that probably conjured up images of Ukraine for many of you. There people have to contend with darkness and the cold because a malicious aggressor is bombarding their country. Where would the victims of the war be without the support of those standing by them?

Let’s look at the problems which are currently the focus of attention for politicians and civil society: will the international community be able to make the necessary decisions on the climate crisis?

Will there be a more equitable world order, will oppression and tyranny destroy more societies?

How do we protect democracy in our countries from its enemies?

How do we in Europe treat people who have sought refuge in our countries?

Even these few questions show that our world may not have a future without individuals prepared to use their abilities and strengths to tackle the challenges facing us – either around the world or on their own doorsteps. And I can imagine how such a life which considers others not only develops light and inspires other people but also makes your own lives eminently valuable and beautiful.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’ve been examining the term “light” in our passage from the Bible in my own way. But I think it’s clear why I’ve done it. However, I’d like to conclude by pointing out that the word “light” in our text is meant to be the prophetic word which assures the faithful that God himself wants to be among us through the earthly Jesus.

I don’t want to make any theological comments about this. Rather, I want to point out something which not only I but countless other people have experienced:
There are words which you cannot say to yourself. These words have their own quality, they change lives. People who have experienced the extraordinary impact of such words speak in the Bible of the word of God. And the author of this letter reminds us that we are the ones who need the word that we cannot give to ourselves.

This reminder is also of use to people who have lived a long life. And so I want to take it to heart myself once more. I cannot bless myself. I ask my neighbour, I ask God, for this blessing and his promise is that I myself can be a blessing.

And when I now look at your Taizé gathering, I imagine that you don’t sing, pray and discuss to flee from this world but that your search for what the world cannot give you strengthens your faith, a faith which doesn’t despise this world but wants to make it better.


Saturday 31 December 2022

Brother Simon, Taizé (Nehemiah 5,6b–8b.10–12)

At the beginning of the prayer, we heard a reading from the biblical book of Nehemiah. This story takes place during a time of reunification. A few generations earlier, some of the people of Judea had been forced to emigrate and now it was possible to return.

It is a somewhat disorganized time because the people and the times have changed, but it is also a time of hope. Freedom allows us to reconnect and create new ties. It’s a joyful, somewhat fumbling beginning.

Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case in times of transition, it is not solidarity that takes hold in these spaces that are opening up but opportunistic logic and relationships of domination. Nehemiah is indignant about this and decides to do something about it.

However, there is an even more urgent matter to be dealt with: the repair of the city’s defensive walls. The security which was lacking in the past is now threatened again. The more the repair progresses, the more the neighboring powers seem to be ready to attack. The risk of deportation returns before the people have really tasted freedom.

The tension reaches such a point that Nehemiah has to arm the workers and bring the people of the countryside into the city every night. It is also at this point that he decides to gather the elite of society to talk to them about social justice. Has he lost his sense of priorities, or is he doing this to express how important such justice is, as if it also affected the survival of the people?

Nehemiah anticipates, he sets out to prepare for the future when the situation is so difficult that it would be quite normal for him to have strength only for the present. If his example is inspiring, we can ask ourselves whether it is realistic. Where do we find the energy to care about essential issues while dealing with the urgency of the moment?

Nehemiah succeeds, with a few words and by his example, in instituting a solidarity that consists in absorbing the debt of the poor into the wealth of the rich. He achieves in a very short time a reform that many leaders cannot accomplish in a lifetime.

Yet the argument Nehemiah uses is quite simple. One might think that any educated person like him would have come up with it: if a human being has been called to freedom, then no one has the right to abuse his or her strength. This idea is based on the central message of the first books of the Bible.

The example of Nehemiah suggests that what is essential is a widely shared reality and that by seeking it we can find the strength to live it, both for ourselves and with others. So we could ask ourselves: what allows me to seek this essential? And with whom do I share it?

Printed from: https://www.taize.fr/en_article35150.html - 3 March 2024
Copyright © 2024 - Ateliers et Presses de Taizé, Taizé Community, 71250 France