Divided by a war, Germans paid special attention to Easter sermons
Christian preachers used Germany’s “turning point” toward Russia to focus on the resurrection as a turning point in how to deal with fear and death.
In the midst of an intense national debate over how their country should help Ukraine, many German churches used their Easter services on Sunday to apply an Easter message about the war. For Christian theologian Georgios Vlantis in Bavaria, preaching reconciliation, peace, and love in the face of brutal Russian attacks on a weak neighbor was a near-impossible task.
“I hope that Easter and the behavior of Christians here will bring comfort and hope to Ukrainians,” he told the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. “It is precisely in this situation that the existential importance of the message of the resurrection becomes apparent.”
That message, Pastor Otto Gäng of the Fürstenfeldbruck parish told the same newspaper, is the “certainty and hope that death will not have the last word.”
For some churches in Duisburg, the debate over Germany’s policy stance toward Russia is secondary to individuals simply taking practical steps. They have turned down the heat in their buildings to reduce Germany’s payments for Russian fuels that help fund the war. Many churches have turned up their humanitarian efforts to welcome Ukrainian refugees, offering them homes and counseling.
Yet a striking number of Germans “are now asking us questions about the Christian message,” Elisabeth Hann von Weyhern, a church bishop in Nuremberg, told the local paper. Easter in 2022 is “not a harmless spring festival for cheerful times,” she said. “Never before” has the “meaning of Good Friday and Easter become so clear.”
The most vexing issue for Germans – one that divides churches – is whether Germany should send heavy weapons to Ukraine, such as battle tanks and combat helicopters.
Polls indicate Germans are about evenly divided on the question. In their Easter sermons, some preachers said that sending big guns would escalate the war. Others said aggression must be contained by force of arms. Still others claimed such decisions can only be known in retrospect.
As different as they were, the Easter sermons may nonetheless be helpful in resolving political tensions with the three-party governing coalition of Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Three days after the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, Mr. Scholz said the country is at a “turning point” in its long-held approach toward Russia, one that has relied on trade and Germany’s pacifism after World War II in hopes of creating a benign Kremlin.
So far, that turning point has led Mr. Scholz to cancel a gas pipeline from Russia, beef up spending on the German military, and send both money and nonoffensive weapons to Ukraine, such as surface-to-air missiles. Facing divisions in his coalition, however, he has not yet decided on sending bigger weapons.
In their Easter services, many churches equated Germany’s turning point to the resurrection of Jesus as a turning point in history. The overcoming of death in the resurrection, said Bishop Friedrich Kramer, was a “miracle of love” that revealed that “no violence in this world can separate us from this love.”
“Let’s rely on it,” he added, as it can change people and entire systems. Such messages in Sunday’s sermons are now part of Germany’s big debate on its role in a war determining Europe’s future.