Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer Memorial PlaqueSixty nine years ago, on April 9, 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazi regime for his part in a failed assassination plot on Hitler. The memorial plaque pictured here reads:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a witness of Jesus Christ among his brethren. Born February 4, 1906 in Breslau. Died April 9, 1945 in FlossenbĂĽrg.

An English officer imprisoned with Bonhoeffer later recorded Bonhoeffer’s last day: “On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, the thoughts and the resolutions it had brought us. He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.” That had only one meaning for all prisoners—the gallows. We said good-bye to him. He took me aside: “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.” Bonhoeffer’s final text on that day was “With his stripes are we healed” (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 2).

The idea of being a witness of Jesus Christ, and of participating in an assassination plot seem to many Christians to be incompatible. Bonhoeffer, too, wrestled with the implications of his decision and act. Seven years earlier he had written:

Every day brings to the Christian many hours in which they will be alone in an unchristian environment. These are the times of testing. This is the test of true meditation and true Christian community. Has the fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made them weak and dependent? Has it taken them by the hand for a while in order that they may learn again to walk by themself, or has it made them uneasy and unsure? This is one of the most searching and critical questions that can be put to any Christian fellowship. … Has it transported for a moment into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it lodged the Word of God so securely and deeply in his heart that it holds and fortifies him, impelling him to active love, to obedience, to good works. Only the day can decide.

The citation comes from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (88). Over the next week or two I will remember Bonhoeffer by posting some reflections on this little treatise, which has become a modern theological and pastoral classic. Why not grab a copy and read along?

 

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