Healing Divisions

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Every year, Moravians around the world pause to observe the August 13th. This was the date in 1727 when our forebears experienced a powerful renewal, an event that has sometimes been called “the Moravian Pentecost.” We celebrate Holy Communion on the Sunday closest to August 13, sing hymns about renewal and reconciliation – and then what? Do we go about our business the same as before? What impact does this have on our lives today?

Most Moravians know a bit about the event on August 13, 1727, but know little of the details. It didn’t just “happen.” The previous year had been one of growing and terrible divisions among the Herrnhuters. Some newcomers to the little community had brought apocalyptic preaching and talk of the end times. Zinzendorf was the antichrist, Pastor Rothe (the Lutheran pastor called to the Berthelsdorf parish church) was the “beast from the pit.” Families were divided – just about the way some families are now!

Herrnhut, Germany - looking at the church | Photo by Mike Riess/IBOC

Herrnhut, Germany – looking at the church | Photo by Mike Riess/IBOC

Zinzendorf recognized that his little village of refugees was on the path to destruction, and resigned his position in the court in Dresden to return home and act as pastor to the community, visiting and calling the people together for prayerful study of the scriptures. During this period, the residents became convicted that their behavior toward one another had been inexcusable – that the Savior called His followers to exhibit love toward one another, to be “one” in his name. Out of this grew the remarkable document known in German as the Bruderlisch Vertrag, the Brotherly Agreement, now known as the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living. Rather than a doctrinal statement, the Moravians signed a code of Christian behavior. This was signed on May 12, 1727 by all the residents of Herrnhut. They entered a period of obedience to what they had found in scripture, spending increased time in prayer. The following three months brought about massive changes in the behavior of the community. Dr. Kenneth Curtis, founder of the Christian History Institute, wrote:

“On August 5, Zinzendorf and fourteen of the Brethren spent the entire night in conversation and prayer. On August 10th, Pastor Rothe was so overcome by God’s nearness during an afternoon service at Herrnhut, that he threw himself on the ground during prayer and called to God with words of repentance as he had never done before. The congregation was moved to tears and continued until midnight, praising God and singing.¹”

The Berthelsdorf Parish Church in Germany | Photo by Mike Riess

The next morning, Pastor Rothe invited everyone in the Herrnhut community to a joint communion service at the Bethelsdorf Church. It was held on Wednesday evening, August 13. Count Zinzendorf visited every house in Herrnhut to pray with the family in preparation for this service of communion. During this period of obedience to the Brotherly Agreement, of continued study of scriptures, and intense prayer, all had become convinced of their own sinfulness and need for forgiveness – from Christ and from one another. The service was one of confession; the words of forgiveness in the liturgy, and then the sharing of Holy Communion, had for each a profound meaning. Count Zinzendorf looked upon that August 13th as “a day of the outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon the congregation; it was its Pentecost.” It would later be said “This was the day that they learned to love one another.”

This reestablished the ancient call of the Unity – to live out the Great Commandment and the Beatitudes in community in a way that bore witness to the world of the love of God. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35, NIV. This is a call that the Unity has sought to live out for over 561 years, since our founding in 1457.

But what does August 13 mean for us today? For even if we are not arguing about who is the antichrist or when the End will be, we are a divided people. We are divided by the hot-button issues, by the ranting of politicians, by racial divisions. Shall we go through the motions of singing the hymns and receiving the Lord’s Supper this Sunday – and then go back to being divided and regarding one another out of the corner of our eyes?

Just like our forebears, we need a period of obedience to the Brotherly Agreement, a period of intense Bible study, and even more, a time of earnest prayer. We need to learn to love one another. Without the hard work of preparation, no magical renewal come with the waving of a wand.


1 Dr. A. Kenneth Curtis, “A Golden Summer.” Republished online at the Zinzendorf Jubilee site, http://zinzendorf.com/pages/index.php?id=a-golden-summer

About the Author

image of John Jackman

Photo courtesy of John Jackman

The Rev. John Jackman is pastor of Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem.


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Meditation for August 13 Communion

Home Moravian Church, August 7, 2016 


 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.”

WaspWhat 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. [1]

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.


 [1] http://www.moravianchurcharchives.org/thismonth/11_08%20August%2013.pdf

The Rev. Ginny TobiassenThe Rev. Ginny Tobiassen is the Associate Pastor at Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC.