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Last weekend I was in Kehl in Germany (just over the Rhine from Strasbourg in France) speaking at a preaching conference for Ukrainians working in church plants, and preaching at one of the church plants on the Sunday.

Due to flight times it made sense for me to travel out to Strasbourg on the Thursday before the conference on Saturday which gave me a day to explore the historical city.

Daily at 12:30pm the cathedral hosts a spectacular show as the astronomical clock bursts into glorious action. The huge clock, which is an astonishing piece of engineering, is a major tourist attraction.

I found the whole experience informative and moving for the following reasons:

This is a time piece but one of its features is a dramatic parade past the figure of death by a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man. It is a graphic portrayal of the brevity of our mortality.

Above this feature there is the procession of twelve apostles passing before Christ, which reminds the viewers of the good news that comes to bring us true life.

At the uppermost right corner there is a huge mechanical cockerel that flaps its wings three times, accompanied by bellows that produce a crowing sound. The mechanical metal cockerel is a vivid reminder of the three-fold denial of Christ by Peter, human sinfulness and the mercy of God.

Witnessing the clock in action was a feast for the eyes. This of course was the intention of its makers. It was intended to be a massive visual aid that lifted people’s gaze beyond itself to the living God.

I grasped what was going on because I know the story that it depicts. I was left wondering about the impact it would have on those who had no personal experience of the message the clock daily proclaims. It does stimulate the imagination but does not provide a sufficient interpretive grid that makes clear what is going on.

Historically Strasbourg played a significant part in the Protestant Reformation. Martin Bucer, who was based in Strasbourg, was a pioneer of the Reformation in Europe and, during an exile in Britain, a massive influence on the emerging reformation here.

The Reformation emphasised the proclamation of the word that reveals clearly what it means to know God and find salvation through the work of his son. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans:

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”(Romans 10:14–15)

That is one of the reasons I am enthusiastic about training preachers: they are the great interpreters who bring us to the touchstone of Scripture and point us to Jesus.

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