On the anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom

MCG-AFL2020There will be no footy on Good Friday this year. But then there’ll be no services in churches either. And both “codes” are asking searching questions of themselves, wondering what they’ll be like on the other side of COVID-19.r0_218_4272_2629_w1200_h678_fmax

Footy and church are both inherently communal activities. And while both have complex layers of professional and other paid staff, responsible for maintaining the quality of the product and brand, both “denominations” depend on the participation of a vast, voluntary, supporter base – now dispersed to their homes for the safety of all.

It has been weeks of frenetic, moment-by-moment crisis management with almost no opportunity for reflection, let alone strategic planning. But the Easter long weekend, stripped as it is of the normal round of fixtures, might offer a little headspace to do just that. In the worlds of both football and church, strikingly similar questions are being asked: What is actually essential to who were are and what we do? What are our core values? What are our primary objectives? What will we be in the Australian society that emerges from this experience of a global pandemic?

But before we rush into nailing down answers to those questions, churches at least ought to take a breath.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the two years that he languished in jail, arrested for his association with a plot to assassinate Hitler, he was largely cut off from opportunities to participate in Christian fellowship and worship. At the same time, outside the prison, the organised church was falling into disarray under the impact of the war and, particularly, the saturation bombing of Germany.

In 1944, he wrote down some “Thoughts on the Day of the Baptism of Dietrich Wilhelm Rudiger Bethger”, which included some of his reflections on the emergence of a religionless Christianity.  He observed that the church “has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself”. However, he said,

“…our being Christian today will be limited to two things; prayer and righteous action among men. All Christian thinking, speaking, and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action … any attempt to help the church prematurely to a new expansion of its organization will merely delay its conversion and purification. … [For the time being] the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair, but there will be those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time.”

So there’ll be no footy on Good Friday this year, and the familiar religious fixtures have been cancelled too. But on this anniversary of the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it’s worth remembering his call to resist being anxious that we can’t be church in any of the familiar, assumed ways. Rather, we are invited to be “those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time”.


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