Home Moravian Church, August 7, 2016
By GINNY TOBIASSEN |
I like to call it “the summer of love.”
It was the summer of 1727 in Herrnhut, Germany, the small village composed of religious refugees on the estate of Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. And although it became a summer of love, it was preceded by several seasons of discord. Herrnhut had grown rapidly in the five years since its founding, as many people in the lands around the village were seeking a home for their religious practice. The problem, for Herrnhut, was the variety of practice. The villagers argued over forms of worship and religious doctrine. Worst of all, in 1726 a charismatic preacher named Kruger had shown up in Herrnhut preaching a separatist message that drew many away. Even Christian David, once Zinzendorf’s greatest admirer, had moved outside Herrnhut, built himself a hut, dug himself a well, and settled down to wait for the end of the world, which Kruger had predicted would come at the hands of Zinzendorf, whom he called “the beast.”
What came instead—at the hands of Zinzendorf—was the Brotherly Agreement of 1727. Zinzendorf hadobserved the discord in the community. He was not inclined to pursue religious conformity, especially not by means of external regulations. But he did want peace, and to that end he introduced a list of 42 rules that concentrated not so much on what the people of Herrnhut should believe as how they should behave. Some of the rules came straight from the gospels, including “judge none” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
On May 12, 1727, the community’s pledge to abide by this Brotherly Agreement began the summer of love. In the months that followed Herrnhut experienced a significant spiritual revival, with many meeting in small groups for increased fellowship and devotional practice. By creating peace, the Brotherly Agreement seems to have cleared the way for grace; and grace opened the doors of Herrnhut to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
From the Herrnhut diary of 1727: The profound and highly uplifting Communion was held on August 13. Beforehand, as we were on our way to church, everyone was talking with each other and here and there pairs were found among the Brethren, willing to unite. The church service started with the hymn: “Deliver Me, My God”… Afterwards Pastor Rothe, supported by the congregation, bestowed a true apostolic blessing upon the two confirmands. Then the congregation fell down before the Lord, and started to cry and sing at the same time: “My Soul Before Thee Prostrate Lies.” One could hardly tell whether we were singing or crying, but it happened with such grace that the officiating minister … was also totally perplexed by it. After the hymn was finished some of the Brethren prayed with divine power, laying before the Lord the plight of the congregation… We also prayed childlike and modestly, that He should teach us the true nature of His church and how to live and walk in His law; that we remain unsullied and inoffensive, so that we don’t become solitary but fruitful, and neither violate the loyalty and obedience sworn to Him and His Word nor injure the common love through trivialities. We prayed that He would fully bestow on us the holy order of His grace, and not allow our souls to be led from the blood-and-cross theology, on which our sole salvation depends. …Afterwards, as a great anointment flowed over us and we felt not far from Him, we prayed in faithful assurance …. Following the absolution, communion was held with humbled and strengthened hearts, and each of us went home, feeling quite beside ourselves. On the way back to Herrnhut a wasp flew at … [Zinzendorf] with rage and stung him hard on the hand just as he was in the process of trying to win over a separatist. We spent this day and the following in calm and joyful composure and learned to love. 
I have heard this story many times, in various retellings, but this week was the first time I read it translated from the Herrnhut diary itself. And you know what? It’s the first time I heard about that wasp.
Now that I have, I can’t stop thinking about it. How joyful Zinzendorf must have been on the one-mile walk back to Herrnhut. Filled with the spirit, having just seen so many brothers and sisters reconciled, he wanted to keep that good energy going and draw in every possible soul. So he stopped along the way to talk to someone who had separated himself from the congregation. That’s when the wasp stung him. Presumably, he kept on talking; but was that hard for him? Did the annoyance of the wasp threaten to overwhelm the joy of the day?
I think I understand why the diarist at Herrnhut included the wasp. In their intense religious devotion, our 18th century brothers and sisters could sometimes veer into something close to superstition. They might well have seen the wasp as an evil spirit, a devil enraged by the success of the communion service and now trying to distract Zinzendorf from his holy business. I’m more inclined to see the wasp as just a wasp; but still, the wasp has given me something new to think about.
I’m thinking about how quickly the events of our daily lives can distract us from even the most powerful religious experiences. Had we been present at Berthelsdorf on August 13, how long would the experience have focused our minds, determined our choices, and guided our steps? Would we have been permanently changed? Or would we lose our religion, so to speak, at the first wasp sting?
When we experience the holy as palpably present, how long do we sustain that feeling, and how does it affect our behavior? Can the effect on our behavior persist even after the sense of the spirit dissipates, as it must, and we are back in our ordinary lives, where we are so often surrounded by annoyances, and disappointments, and rudeness, and wasps?
As much as I love the story of August 13, I love even more what happened afterward: which is that the brotherly community in Herrnhut grew, and went out on mission, and eventually became the Moravian Church, which persists to this day. I guarantee you we have experienced our share of stings; and I can also guarantee that each of us has said and done things in response to those stings that we might not have done in the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit. To be reshaped by faith to conform to the will of God is an ongoing process. The trick is to keep it ongoing.
We do that best by continual return to what renews us: the table. The sacred meal. The presence of Holy Spirit in the elements of bread and wine. The presence, also, of our brothers and sisters at this same table. Always we come from our seasons of discord, seeking the summer of love. We offer to one another the right hand of fellowship, a symbol of our desire to live in peace with one another, that peace may clear the way for grace, and grace may open the door for the Holy Spirit.
The Rev. Ginny Tobiassen is the Associate Pastor at Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC.