Traveling through Lent with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Life Together
by Louise Westfall
Read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own words
*We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. *The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community. *A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother or sister for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. Their face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother or sister for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian and Christian martyr who was executed at age 39 for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Though his family was not particularly religious, young Dietrich showed early fascination for the larger questions of life and death, peace, and human rights.
He engaged in theological studies and did post-doctoral work at New York’s Union Theological Seminary. There he was introduced to African-American worship and the deep faith of oppressed people. He became convinced that Reformed theology always demonstrated concern for the poor and oppressed. Combined with faith in the historical Jesus, Bonhoeffer honed a vision of the church’s call to social justice. In New York, he also fell in love with jazz music.
But the brewing storm in Germany and the rise of Adolf Hitler drew him back to Germany, despite friends’ fears for his safety. He helped to form the “Confessing Church” which broke away from the German Church Hitler had co-opted with German nationalism, Aryan superiority, and the absolute power of the “Fuehrer.” Bonhoeffer publicly opposed both Hitler’s attempt to take over the German Church and Aryanism, and the Confessing Church was deemed illegal by 1938.
Along with other leaders, Bonhoeffer created a seminary for a few dozen Confessing German pastoral candidates. During the 18-month period before it was closed by the Gestapo, he did substantial thinking about the nature of Christian community, resulting in the publication of Life Together, the foundation for our Lenten Life Groups. He took another opportunity to study at Union Theological Seminary, but almost immediately was overwhelmed with the sense that he had abandoned the struggle for the soul of the German church. He returned to Germany in 1939.
There he was drafted into the Military Intelligence Department, where his work in the ecumenical movement worldwide was thought to be an asset as a means of access to leaders in England and elsewhere. What the world did not know at the time was that this department was at the center of German resistance to Hitler and was actively engaged in plots to kill der Fuehrer and take over the government before another Nazi could do so. Bonhoeffer was arrested in April 1943 and imprisoned until his execution in April 1945, just weeks before the fall of the Third Reich.
Thank you, gracious God, for the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Help us to live in faith, with courage to follow where Christ leads us. And remind us that we never go alone, but always with you, and with others. Together. Amen.
Make an intention
Explore Life Together with others in a Life Group gathering once a week for the next five weeks. Check the church website for times and locations.