My first encounter with Dietrich Bonhoeffer was certainly abrupt. I was a teenager who was badmouthing a camp counselor, when an adult leader (now a pastor and dear friend of mine) upbraided me for talking behind another’s back, and reinforced it with a quote about cheap grace and community from Bonhoeffer. From then on, I’ve been hooked. His feast day is April 9, 70 years ago today.
This Second Sunday of Easter, we are commemorating the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at both of our services by welcoming to our pulpit our own Clifford Green, who is one of the world’s foremost Bonhoeffer experts, and a retired Lutheran pastor.
Bonhoeffer, who is as close to a saint as we have in the Lutheran church in the 20th century, was a Lutheran pastor and scholar from Germany whose life and writings have been hugely influential in the recent history of our tradition. Bonhoeffer was a key leader in resisting the Nazis through his formation of the Confessing Church over and against Christians who were aligning their theology and church life with Hitler, eventually being martyred by the Nazis in Flossenbürg concentration camp in 1945.
Bonhoeffer has been important to me, in many ways, because of his enduring relevance to the world around us. His own experience of extremism, and how Christians might both resist and flourish in such a time, is of utmost important to our current age. His own experience teaching Sunday School in the Bronx and his conception of racial justice, recently outlined in Reggie Williams’s Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus, remains visionary, especially after a week in which another black man was killed by a police officer. Bonhoeffer’s conceptions of discipleship, life together in community, and the centrality and costliness of God’s grace, remain the foremost articulations of Lutheran theology in recent history.
I hope you’ll consider taking some time this Sunday to join us and hear about the life and relevance of Bonhoeffer. I have a sneaking suspicion it will be worth it.