For many Christians throughout the world, the season of Lent starts this week. Since the seventh century, Lent has been a forty-day penitential exercise, corresponding to the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, it leads to the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s church body, the Evangelische Kirche – known to us in the English-speaking world as Lutheranism, followed this tradition. Dietrich and his family would have observed this custom which includes fasting, mild forms of asceticism, or self-denial, and acts of charity. It wasn’t until his Nazi tormentors imprisoned him, though, that he entered his most intense Lenten journey.
True to the principles espoused in his seminal volume, Discipleship, Bonhoeffer treated his confinement, deprivation, and isolation as ordinary. From his cell at Tegel Prison, he wrote to his confidant, Eberhard Bethge,
“This will be the second time I have spent Passiontide here. I inwardly resist expressions, in letters . . . that speak of my ‘suffering.’ That seems like profanation. These things must not be dramatized. I doubt very much whether I’m ‘suffering’ any more than you or most other people these days.”
This kind of understatement proved Bonhoeffer’s point about the normative nature of the extraordinary for Christians and others who assume spiritual disciplines, even painful ones. Lent should do the same for all of us. As we deny ourselves life’s usual pleasures, including self-pity, and, instead, act to help others enjoy life a little more, we engage in the simple, non-dramatic emulation of Christ himself.
You’re invited to join TDBI president, Rev. Rob Schenck, as he reads from Meditations on the Cross, sharing Bonhoeffer’s thoughts and reflections, throughout this Holy Season of Lent. Read along with us, by purchasing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Meditations of the Cross, published by Westminster John Knox Press.
This devotional draws on the wealth of devotional material Dietrich Bonhoeffer left behind, vividly describing the kind of faith that leads a person to proclaim Christ even in the face of incredible evil. To begin this Bible study, click on this link and scroll to “Classic Devotions” where you will find “40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”
Originating in the thirteenth century, the Stations of the Cross is a Christian devotional practice whereby participants immerse themselves in the story of Jesus Christ’s final sufferings by metaphorically journeying with him from his trial to his entombment. Victoria Emily Jones walks us through this practice through ancient and modern art, giving us insight and thoughtful reflection along the way. Experience this online tour HERE.