Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Linglestown, Pennsylvania, USA

CELC > Devotions > January 5, 2001


"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, 'Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?' They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed." -- from the Propers for Martyrs Revelation 6.9-11


Kaj Petersen was born 13 January 1898 in Denmark; his father was a tanner. His parents died before he was six, and he was adopted by the Munk family, his cousins, and took their name as his own. The boy was tutored privately by a poet and literary critic, and although the family was poor, they were able to send him to the University so that he could become a pastor. While there he came under the influence of the work of Kierkegaard.

Munk was ordained in 1924 and became a pastor of one of the smallest parishes in Denmark. It was his only parish. He married a local woman, and they had five children. Munk was respected and loved by his people, and when he suggested that he ought to resign his parish to devote himself to his writing, the parishioners urged him to stay and called an assistant to help with the pastoral work. After the occupation of Denmark by German forces during World War II, his powerful sermons drew masses to the resistance, and his own resistance became so outspoken that his plays were banned.

He wrote his first play, Pilatus (published 1938) as a schoolboy. Munk was an exponent of religious drama with a strong sense of theater, and wrote with a passionate intensity. His three best play are En Idealist (1928, in English translation, Herod the King, 1955), Ordet (1932, in English translation, The Word, 1955), and Han Sidder ved Smeltedigein (1938, English translation, He Sits at the Melting Pot, 1944), a drama of Hitler's Germany, attacking the persecution of the Jews.

Because of his outspoken resistance, Munk was arrested in the fall of 1943, but was released at Christmas. On the night of January 4, 1943, Munk was taken from his parsonage by the Gestapo. His body was found the next day in a ditch near a road. He had been shot through the head. More than four thousand people defied Nazi orders and attended his funeral.

Kaj Munk is commemorated not only for his own bold witness to the faith, but also as a symbol of the many thousands who bravely but with less attention resisted Nazi tyranny. His sermons have appeared in English as Four Sermons and By the Rivers of Babylon.

A Reading

Do not trust the majority, which likes to take things easy and therefore is easy to please . . . Do not trust the great neglected masses. I believe that the heart of the nation is strong, but it has become encased in fat . . . This is what our nation needs; a rejuvenating power, God's rejuvenating strength, that a new people may come forth, which is yet the old, worthy sons of the fathers. The gospel will have to teach the Danish nation to think as a great people; to choose honor rather than profit, freedom rather than a well paid guardianship; to believe in the victory of the spirit of sacrifice; to believe that life comes out of death, and that the future comes out of giving oneself; -- in short, faith in Christ. What would it profit a people if it gained all the advantages of the world, but lost its soul? . . . We thought we were Christians when we sat in church and sang Amen. But No, No! We are Christians only when we go out into the world and say No to the devil, renounce all his works and all his ways, and say Yes to the Holy Spirit. -- from Four Sermons


Gracious Lord, in every age you have sent men and women who have given their lives for the message of your love. Inspire us with the memory of those martyrs for the Gospel like your servant Kaj Munk whose faithfulness led them in the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to your Son's victory over sin and death; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

-- Pastor Stickley


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Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA.