Peace movement in East Germany Poster 'Swords into Plowshares' with a note to a peace prayer at St Nikolai Church, Leipzig by Unknown, German

Unknown German artist

Peace movement in East Germany Poster 'Swords into Plowshares' with a note to a peace prayer at St Nikolai Church, Leipzig, 1988/89, Paint on paper, Location currently unknown, ullstein picture - Harald Lang

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Shaking the Principalities and Powers

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Harry O. Maier

The Berlin Wall came down on 9 November 1989 without a single gunshot, largely thanks to the church’s role in organizing non-violent resistance to the East German regime. Every Monday night, prayers for peace were conducted across East Germany. One month before the fall of the wall, in and around St Nicholas Church and other churches in Leipzig, more than 70,000 people gathered to pray for peace.

This poster announces these prayerful demonstrations. The logo of a blacksmith hammering a sword into a ploughshare, illustrating Micah 4:3, is modelled after Eveniy Vuchetich’s statue donated to the United Nations by the Soviet Union in 1959. In 1980, graphic artist Herbert Sander adapted the image for the East German Protestant church, which created 100,000 copies for distribution through its congregations. Through the eighties the image was widely reproduced on metal buttons, decals, posters, banners, and placards. When students started to wear it as a badge, the German regime prohibited its public display and expelled anyone who wore it to university, with the result that people began to appear in public with a hole cut out of the clothes where the logo had once been fastened.

Though Micah 4:3 sits alongside the image, an exegetical gloss might well be Colossians 1:19–20. Colossians celebrates peace and non-violent reconciliation in a provocative way. The words ‘to reconcile’ and ‘making peace’ are imperial terms celebrating the power of the emperor to pacify enemies through war. But in Colossians peace and reconciliation come through Jesus’s self-sacrifice. This is where the fullness of God is revealed, where swords are beaten into ploughshares, as the little one from Galilee dies in obedience to his own command to love one’s enemies and not to retaliate with violence.

In Leipzig, 70,000 little ones gathered to express Jesus’s way and for a moment the fullness of God was once again made flesh as the Son became incarnate amongst them. Such incarnation causes powers and principalities to quake as God moves the world towards justice and love. It happens in as small an act as praying with one another for reconciliation and peace, at 5 PM every Monday.