Memorial and Place of Encounter Bonhoeffer-Haus Berlin
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Bible for Sunday Jubilate from 2 Corinthians 5:17
The miracle of Christ’s resurrection has overturned the idolization of death that rules among us … Where death is final, earthly life is all or nothing …
Where, however, it is recognized that the power of death has been broken, where the miracle of the resurrection and new life shines right into the world of death, there one demands no eter-nities from life. One takes from life what it offers, not all or nothing, but good things and bad, important things and unimportant, joy and pain. One doesn’t cling anxiously to life, but neither does one throw it lightly away. One is content with measured time and does not attribute eterni-ty to earthly things. One leaves to death the limited right that it still has. But one expects the new human being and the new world only from beyond death, from the power that has con-quered death.
Within the risen Christ the new humanity is borne, the final, sovereign Yes of God to the new human being … The night is not yet over; but day is already dawning … The form of Jesus Christ alone victoriously encounters the world. From this form proceeds all the formation of a world reconciled with God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics as Formation, 1940, DBW English Version, volume 6, 91 f.
How did you spend Easter? Where you in Rome? How did you manage your homesickness? … For me the first warm days of spring are somehow wrenching, as they probably are for you. When nature comes into its own again but the tensions in our own lives and the historical com-munities in which we live remain unresolved, we feel the split especially strongly. Or it may just be a sense of longing, and perhaps it’s good for us to long for something again. For myself at any rate I must say that for many long years I have been living, not without goals and work to do and hopes that completely absorbed me, but without personal yearnings, and perhaps that makes one old before one’s time. Everything has become too “objective” [sachlich]. Almost everyone nowadays has goals and work to do. It’s all tremendously objectified and thingified. But who today can still afford strong personal feelings, real yearnings, and take the trouble and spend the energy to carry around a sense of longing within him, to explore it and let it bear fruit?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter from April 11, 1944 to Eberhard Bethge, DBW English Version, vol-ume 8, 351.
These are two very different texts related to the miracle of resurrection and Easter. When placed side by side, they show how head and heart, theological knowledge and sensual experi-ence belong together in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work. This connection has a special meaning for me – and I think also for many others – in the encounter with him.
Bonhoeffer’s theological knowledge and sensual sensation are both subject to split, longing.
In prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer lives intensely with the church year. Its structure gives it inner support especially until the execution of the plot. One year after his arrest, he wrote to Eber-hard Bethge on April 11, 1944:
“I have long had a particular affection for this season between Easter and Ascension Day. Here, too, there is a great tension. How should people endure tensions here on earth when they know nothing of the tension between heaven and earth?”
How do we endure the split when “the first warm days of spring” are upon us and our inner na-ture longs to join the outer nature, if only the virus, which is also part of nature, would not pre-vent us from doing so? How do we succeed in our praying and doing that we do not turn about ourselves and the prescribed distance of 1.50 m from the other becomes the inscribed felt infi-nite distance? How do we stay connected to each other and perceive the needs of the near and distant others and, together with others, take care not to leave anyone behind?
For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, knowing “the tension between heaven and earth” means trusting in the conquest of death by the risen Christ. The split still exists, the longing remains alive: “The night is not yet over; but day is already dawning.”
In the early morning dawn, believers experience the world in two ways: as the place of “the idolization of death” and at the same time as the place of life into which “the miracle of the res-urrection and new life shines into the world of death.” JUBILATE!
The expectation of the “new human being” and the “new world” is not a unique characteristic of the Christian faith. It also occurs in other religions and ideologies and it can be politically mis-used. In Bonhoeffer’s time this happened from this side, within the world – with all the signs of “idolization of death” – in the Nazi state. The expectation “only from beyond death, from the power that has conquered death” is not an escape from this world, but resistance against this abuse on this side. This expectation is reminiscent of the first thesis of the theological declara-tion of the Barmen Confession:
“Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in holy scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.”
The “new life” takes shape in our new focus on life. It resists forces of “idolization of death”, hatred, disenfranchisement, violence, war and its preparation. It “takes … from life what it of-fers” and thus does justice to reality. It takes responsibility for the own life and the lives of oth-ers.
“The final, sovereign Yes of God to the new human being” encourages us to act in the area of the penultimate, guided by the vision to be part of the “formation of a world reconciled with God.”
Christ, light of the whole world,
takes power from the darkness,
everything is put in the light
what keeps the world captive.