On the 75th Anniversary of the Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on 9 April 1945

This year, Holy Thursday, 9 April 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the day on which Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Protestant theologian and pastor (1906-1945), was hanged in the Flossenbürg concentration camp in the Upper Palatinate under cruel and degrading circumstances, just weeks before the camp was liberated and one month before the end of the war.

After the closing of the underground preachers’ seminary for future pastors of the “Confessing Church”, where Bonhoeffer had served as pastor, administrator and teacher from 1935-1937, he wrote what could be described as a Rule of Life based on the common life experienced there. It became one of his most popular books, published in German under the title “Gemeinsames Leben”, and in English as “Life Together”.

It contains a very special passage. It could be that hearing it today, in Holy Week 2020, we may be able to hear it again with different, more attentive ears and also hear an orientation and clarity in it that we may not hear so clearly elsewhere. Bonhoeffer wrote:

“It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, howsoever important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth.

And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also.

A complete reversal occurs.

It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. Our salvation is ‘external to ourselves.’ I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.”

(D. Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Translated by John W. Doberstein, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1954, p. 53-54)