Holy Week 2020
Dear friends in our RCC family,
As we observe Holy Week, then celebrate Christ's resurrection this Sunday, I'm pondering lots lately of the value of Christian community, and of being physically present to each other. While there have been few times in history where people around the world have been in forced isolation, separation from those we love is not unique to the Christian experience.
This is a good week to remember those who've been persecuted or jailed around the world--forced into isolation, not because of a virus, but because of their faith in Christ. To remember believers in places like China who find themselves increasingly under surveillance, and where large and sometimes small gatherings of believers is increasingly forbidden. For our elderly and disabled who are not allowed to leave congregate living homes. And for missionaries who for years have been separated by oceans from their families and home congregations.
My thoughts have been drawn this Holy Week to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned by the Nazis and eventually killed for his faith. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer was forced to reflect on the essence of the Christian faith. Sadly, he concluded that the church "which has been fighting...only for its self-preservation, as though it were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world." Instead, in words worth considering today, he wonders whether "prayer and righteous action among men" are really at the core of our faith, out of which a new way for the church to think, speak and organize "must be born anew."
In another letter, he reflects on the importance of being caught up into the sufferings of God in Christ--as we find these sufferings in Jesus' call to discipleship, in Jesus' table fellowship with sinners, in the conversions of Zacchaeus and the sinful woman, in the healing of the sick, and in Jesus' acceptance of children, or standing with Joseph of Arimathea and the women at the tomb. As we follow Jesus into these ways of praying and acting, he proposes, we will find, not religion, but life.
Today, rather than being angry, frustrated or depressed by the limitations this virus or government officials have put upon us, consider one of Bonhoeffer's last reflections, written to his dear friend Eberhard Bethge several months before his execution:
Following Jesus, he decides, means "living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities." And as we do, "we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world--watching with Christ in Gethsemene." He then concludes, "That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia [transformation]; and that is how one becomes a man [a human, an adult] and a Christian."
With this in mind, I invite you to join me this Holy Week in embracing whatever situations we find ourselves in. Pray with me that we will live wholeheartedly with and for our Lord Jesus, as we give our whole bodies and selves to God because of all he has done for us (Romans 12:1).
In the meantime, I share Paul's sentiments in Romans 1:11-12 when I think of you: "For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours."
Looking forward to seeing some of you in front of the church this Easter morning, and on whatever day when all we will be together again,
Here is a prayer for Holy Week I want to share with you--a poem included in Bonhoeffer's last letter to his mother, at the end of 1944, shortly before his death:
POWERS OF GOOD
With every power for good to stay and guide me,
comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I'll live these days with you in thought beside me,
and pass, with you, into the coming year.
The old year still torments our hearts, unhastening;
the long days of our sorrow shall enure;
Father, grant to the souls thou hast been chastening
that thou hast promised, the healing and the cure.
Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
even to the dregs of pain, at thy command,
we will not falter, thankfully receiving
all that is given by thy loving hand.
But should it be they will once more to release us
to life's enjoyment and its good sunshine,
that which we've learned from sorrow shall increase us,
and all our life be dedicated as thine....
While all the powers of good aid and attend us,
boldly we'll face the future, come what may.
At even and at morn God will befriend us,
and oh, most surely on each newborn day!
--from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison