Christ must become present to us in preaching and in the sacraments just as in being the crucified one he has made peace with God and with humanity. The crucified Christ is our peace. He alone exercises the idols and the demons. The world trembles only before the cross, not before us. –Bonhoeffer
Sixty-seven years ago yesterday, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, along with other political prisoners, was executed as the Second World War came to a close. He was the most unlikely of victims: raised in a wealthy, prominent family, brother of a German fallen soldier from the First World War, pastor, theologian, artist and budding lover. Bonhoeffer did not belong in the story of war criminals, exile, starvation, Gestapo violence and hidden murder. If it weren’t for his faith in Christ, over and above his beloved homeland, he would certainly have lived to his fortieth birthday. But when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. That was his story from the beginning.
The beautiful and unique thing about Bonhoeffer’s story is his consistency. His words about the world trembling before the cross were expressed in 1932- that is one year before Adolf Hitler officially took office as official Chancellor and unofficial Fuhrer. Bonhoeffer was speaking to a world ecumenical council in a sermon called The Church is Dead. His point? The Christian, as he saw it, was being pulled in every direction away from allegiance to Christ. Everything from denominational loyalty to patriotism was being used to tear the world apart; all the while, Christ calls us to follow him. No agenda. No set course. No formula. No flag- just the GodMan who had made peace with humanity and the divine.
And from the very beginning of the mess we know as World War II, Bonhoeffer had his finger on the issue. The church was being distracted from Christ. The bride Jesus lived for, died for, took on hell for, resurrected for, prays for and will come back for was being wooed away by other lovers. The sad story of the twentieth century tells of a struggling artist-turned-madman leading a people who were narcissistic and lazy (we would say evil) enough to follow anywhere he went. And we can blame the Germans all we want for the atrocities of the past century, but we would do well to be careful today because, really, what has changed?
Are we any better than the church last century, who dubiously fought the Civil Rights movement in our own nation? Are we any less susceptible to being wooed away from our true Lover?
We are a people who decry the slavery from years gone by and perpetuate slavery in our own cities by our use of pornography. We refuse to see the log in our own eye while turning up our noses at the villains of the past. History is much more cyclical than we would like to believe.
It is so easy to talk about these things in a sermon, an article or a blog. But what are we prepared to do? Will we be ready to step forward when the time presents itself, or will we be too busy playing our x-box and watching baseball?
Christ calls us today, just as he did so many years ago, to come and die with him. It will look different for each of us, but the time will come. In that time, what will be our refuge, or safe place? Our jobs? Our families? Our churches? Or will we follow Christ to the cross?
One thing is for sure, though. We will only be ready for what he has for us if we follow him today, in our mundane adventures.