Today is a bonus day. Originally I thought we would arrive in Munich in the evening, crash for the night then head to Salzburg in the morning, never having experienced this German town. But our flight schedule landed us in this city of 1.5million residents at 8:30 AM local time. A whole day stretched before us! Of course, the clock moved forward six hours while we crossed the Atlantic. So our bodies disembarked thinking it was 2:30AM and time for bed. A fine German chauffeur named Pieter drove us to the Eden Hotel Wolff where, strangely, the people who stayed in our reserved room the night before hadn’t yet left their beds! With several hours to kill before we could check in to nap, we deposited our bags and started walking.
We found our way to an amazing town square with buildings that dated back hundreds of years. A window table at the Glockenspiel Cafe gave us a perfect view of the clock tower that came to life while we ate our breakfast. The square below our 5th floor window was busy with all nationalities of folks enjoying a beautiful summer morning.
Refreshed from our meal and a couple of strong cups of coffee, we headed toward the yellow cathedral at the end of the concourse. Garrett and I have always gravitated toward churches in new cities. Even a “strange” sanctuary still feels, well, safe. I’ve always felt at home in a church, knowing that I am with family. I knew one guy who wasn’t raised in the faith. When his wife would head into historic parishes with stunning architecture while on vacation, he would exit pretty quickly, feeling “creeped out” by their unfamiliar aura. How sad, I thought.
So when my daughter exclaimed audibly at the beauty of the Theatine Church, I was grateful. She feels the holinesss too! She was struck that the enormous paintings depicting Biblical figures were originals–no prints in this 17th century holy place. The pulpit is carved wood suspended off the wall, a much more daunting place from which to deliver a sermon than I can imagine! Does it have to be a fire and brimstone sermon if you’re perched 15 feet above your parishioners? There were little chapels along the side corridors of main sanctuary, each with its own confessional booth. When is the last time you confessed your sin outloud before someone in a prayerful manner? We Protestants have never beeen good at that. We contemporary North Americans are much more interested in blaming others for our issues than accepting responsibility. But I contend that the act of spoken contrition in the privacy of a confessional would do us a world of good!
There were opportunities throughout the building to light votive candles to honor the dead. My mind went quickly to a former colleague and dear friend who had died in his sleep just nine days before. With the rush of the trip preparation I had hardly had time to grieve his loss. So I lit a candle for Robert and prayed at one of the handsome wooden railings that had supported the knees of countless pilgrims over the ages. Not far from the votive stand was a rack of small hymnals. One of the things we uniquely do in our worship as Christians is to sing. We sing of our joys, fears, questions and epiphanies. Just seeing these songbooks reassured me that worship still happens in this beautiful building. It isn’t just a museum as many of the stunning European churches have become. Robert was a church musician raised in a large family of musicians. The pastor with whom he led worship knew something was very wrong when he didn’t show up to play for the service. When loved ones checked on him, he was found in bed, peacefully departed from this world on the Sabbath morning. As I remembered him in my prayers at an ancient kneeler, I rejoiced to know that, though his earthly music had ceased, a heavenly chorus had welcomed him home.
So what a great bonus day this has been! We have successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean, no small miracle really! We have grieved the departed and celebrated our living. We bathed our pilgrimage in prayer and are ready for Salzburg tomorrow!