Memorial and Place of Encounter Bonhoeffer-Haus Berlin
ASCENSION DAY: pulled up the whole world with him to life and to the light
DBW 11.444 ff., June 19, 1932 Sermon on Colossians 3:1-4, (4th Sunday after Trinitatis),
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche Berlin, on behalf of Gerhard Jacobi
We have not been left alone at all in our lostness; instead, there is one who has stepped across the boundary that separates us from the Creator and from true life, has broken into our territory of death, has tasted all our living and dying to its deepest depths, and has still broken through this death, broken through to the eternal Father, to eternal life, where he is seated at the right hand of God. And he has pulled up the whole world with him to life and to the light, has swallowed up death in victory, has taken our whole prison captive and brought us freedom, the glorious freedom of the children of God.
DBW 12.468 ff. May 25, 1933, Sermon on 1 Peter 1:7b-9, Ascension Day,
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche Berlin, on behalf of Gerhard Jacobi
Christ’s ascension has two meanings. It is Jesus’s farewell to his disciples, to the world, which he loved … Now the end of his time on earth had come. They had gone one last stretch of road to-gether–then came the final moment; he laid his hands on them in blessing, and then he was taken from their sight. They were alone. The curtain had fallen. He had left this world of evil and gone home to his heavenly Father; he is preparing a place for you, a home in his kingdom; he will take you home when his time comes. Just wait–and rejoice. He will come again …
Luther once said something like this: Since he was on earth, he was far from us, since he is in heaven, he is close to us. [Luthers Sermon zum Himmelfahrtstag 1523, WA 12,562, 24-26: „Darumb hut dich, daß du dir nit also gedenkist, das er yetzund weyt von uns kommen sey, ßondern gerad widersyns, do er auff erden war, war er uns tzu ferren, ytzund ist er uns nah.“] What does that mean? It means that now he is no longer king of the Jews but rather king of the whole world; it means that from heaven he reigns over his whole kingdom and is near, though not visible, and present to his whole church, wherever it is scattered, among Jews an heathen, through all the world. He is close to us in his church, in his Word, in his sacrament, in love among the brethren. Here he comforts us who are abandoned; here he soothes our homesickness ever anew; here he takes us who are estranged from God, who are in barren, empty places, who don’t know the way, who are alone, and makes us joyful n his Christly presence. Joy in the sermon, joy in the sacraments, joy in brothers and sisters–that is the joy of the believing church in its unseen, heavenly Lord …
Christ’s ascension–the curtain falls, the church of faith waits, and its joy is the sacrament. Christ’s coming again–heaven opens up. Home at last, our thirst is slaked–the community of the blessed sees the incomprehensible mystery. Its joy is Jesus Christ, none other than God. At present we are still strangers, wandering in the time between his ascension and his second coming, waiting long in hope and fear. But the ransomed of the Lord shall return with singing, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads. Rejoice, O Christendom. Amen.
DBW 4,220 (Discipleship, 1937)
Through the Holy Spirit, the crucified and risen Christ exists as the church-community [Gemeinde], as the “new human being”. For Christ truly is and eternally remains the incarnate one, and the new humanity truly is his body …
The unity between Christ and his body, the church, demands that we at the same time recognize Christ’s lordship over his body. This is why Paul, in developing further the concept of the body, calls Christ the head of the body (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18; 2:19). The distinction is clearly preserved; Christ is the Lord. There are two events in salvation history, namely, Christ’s ascension and his second coming, which make this distinction necessary, these events categorially rule out any idea of a mystical fusion between church-community and Christ.
DBW 16,476 ff., The Ascension of Jesus Christ. A Reflection on Its Christological, Soteriological, and Parenetical Meaning, enclosed with the April 1940 monthly newsletter of the Pommeranian Council of Brethren of the Confessing Church to its pastors.
The ascension of Jesus has transposed us into the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6) and thereby orients our gaze toward heaven (Col. 3:1) … Where he is, we are also. We are already in heaven with Christ … That which is future is present, and the present already past. In this way we live in the power of Christ’s ascension.
The ascension of Jesus places us between having and waiting. We have heaven, and therefore we wait for it. We have been transposed into the heavenly places; our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
DBW 8,96 f., To Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer, Day of Ascension, June 4, 1943
I had already finished a long letter to you when, just now, the mail brought the letters from Maria and my mother-in-law and with them and indescribable joy into my cell … Maria writes with such happiness about the day with you, and yet how difficult it must have been for her despite all the love you showed her. How she copes with everything is a miracle, and for me a source of happiness and an example beyond compare … I do hope, far more for her sake than mine, that these hard times won’t last too terribly long. However, I am certain that these months will someday prove infi-nitely important for our marriage, and for this I am grateful. I can hardly express how much I was touched by the letter from my mother-in-law [Ruth von Wedemeyer had written to him on May 27, 1943: “I am so happy that I have permission to write to you-that all the obstacles have been cleared away by the events of the last weeks–that I am now able wo write to you as to y very dear son.”]. Since the very day I was arrested, I have been tormented by the
Thought of having inflicted on her even more trouble in addition to all the sorrow of the past year [Her husband and her son were killed in the war]. And now she has taken these very troubles that have befallen us as the occasion to shorten the waiting period, and with that made me happy …
Today is Ascension Day, that is, a great day of joy for all those who are able to believe that Christ rules the world and or lives. My thoughts travel to all of you, to the church and the worship services from which I have been separated for so long now, but also to the many unknown people who move through this building, bearing their fate in silence. Again and again, these and other thoughts truly keep me from taking my own minor privations too seriously. Doing so would be very unjust and ungrateful.
Between longing anticipation for the joyful reunion and impatient waiting – this violent tension de-termines the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in prison. It is a double wait: for freedom to be regained and for marriage to Maria.
The Ascension Day reminds of both: farewell and return, curtain down – curtain up – separation and abolition of the separation “for all those who are able to believe that Christ rules the world and or lives” – “as true as he has become man and forever remains”. Who “led our whole prison”. “Where he is, we are also “. Because “our citizenship is in heaven.” God’s will be done with us “as in heaven, so on earth”.
Way and truth, source of life, you are Christ of God.
You lead us the way to God and prepare the house for us.