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Breaking Bread with Jesus – Today

May 7, 2019 by

When we returned to Germany after many years in the States, a barrage of impressions flooded my husband and me. Now we are living in Thüringia, former East Germany, where at least one generation has grown up without the strong Christian tradition we experienced in earlier years in Westerwald, former West Germany. Here in the East, we learn, there was an awakening in the ’70s and ’80s – young people who knew there must be something more than the forced ideals of the communists and the alluring capitalism of the west. Many of these seekers found Christ in a setting where being a Christian actually cost something: no entry to university, and certainly the monitoring of all activity at home and at work. Yet this movement was not only a protest to the existing order in the East, it was more: it was a movement of prayer for peace and it spread rapidly.

Then came die Wende, the change or the turning point, as the opening of the Berlin Wall is called. But not all of the liberated East Germans flocked to the “freedom” of the West. Many, like the founders of the Holzmühle rehabilitation center, had discovered the secret of self-giving service right here where they lived. This center is one of many that people with addictions can turn to in a country where alcoholism and drug addiction are considered illnesses to be treated rather than crimes. Yet those who apply to the Holzmühle do so recognizing its Christ-based approach.

Several weeks ago we were invited to the farewell party of a young friend named Thomas, a nineteen-year-old who had just completed eight or nine months serving as a volunteer on the staff of the Holzmühle. We were welcomed warmly, offered steaming coffee and cream in the characteristic half-size china cups that have replaced the large American mugs familiar to us. Then we were ushered upstairs to their meeting room. A single circle of clients and staff, mostly men, all expectantly gathered, with Tommy in the seat of honor. Soon one of the staff was strumming on his guitar and all joined in:

Leben aus der Quelle, Leben nur aus dir,
Leben aus der Quelle des Lebens.
Und du erforschst mich, veränderst mein Denken
Nur noch aus dir will ich leben, o Herr.

The singing was heartfelt rather than polished, but sung with evident conviction, the words voicing the longing for Jesus’ wellspring of new life, knowing only he can see into our souls, change our thoughts, our very being. Then, one after another, staff members and clients expressed a wish for Thomas. He had worked with them on the farm, driven them to their appointments, played soccer with them, joked with them, encouraged them, and they in turn had taught him German, helped him feel at home in a foreign land, and adopted him as their friend.

One staff member presented him with a small ceramic maze, wishing him God’s guidance through the labyrinth of the next stage of life. Another client kidded Tommy about his driving skills, admitting that he had indeed improved – thanks to their patient tutelage. The words came from young and old. Some speeches made us all laugh, others brought tears to our eyes, but it was obvious that these months had welded them closely together.

print of Eichenberg's Last Supper
The Lord’s Supper by Fritz Eichenberg, 1953.

Downstairs in the rustic dining hall, tables were set up in a horseshoe shape, festively laid for the evening meal. The Coke and Fanta bottles were passed along white-clothed tables, chairs scraped, and glasses clinked, as one by one folks filed up to try the pizza baked by the clients themselves. I studied the faces lining the long row of tables. Here was a cross-section of society: some old and shabby, some young and stylish, some tattooed and with ear studs, others with an educated, almost aristocratic air. Some were boisterous and laughing, others moody, withdrawn, and pensive. Yet here we all were, gathered around one table. Suddenly it made me think of another table in another era, and Fritz Eichenberg’s print came to mind.

Surely, Jesus’ disciples were not that different from this crowd. There were the educated, the rough fishermen, the old and experienced, the impetuous youths. But all of them knew their need for God as the only answer and heeded Jesus’ call, dropping their nets and leaving their books.

As we said our farewells and crossed the stone-paved courtyard, my heart overflowed with thanks and the sure knowledge that Jesus, the Bread of Life, had been present at this table.


About the author

Veronica Brinkmann and her husband Tobias

Veronica Brinkmann

Veronica Brinkmann has lived in Germany, England, and the United States. At present, she and her husband Tobias live at...

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