On this day in 1945, pastor-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in Flossenburg, a concentration camp in the forests of Bavaria. The 39-year old Lutheran, indicted as a co-conspirator in the 1943 plot to assassinate Hitler, bravely faced his executioners and said, “This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.” Three weeks later, American troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp. Today, a memorial stone in the prison bears these simple words: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a witness to Jesus Christ among his brethren.
Bonhoeffer wrote several influential works, including Life Together, Ethics and the Cost of Discipleship, a book that blasts cheap grace as the “preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.” In contrast, Bonhoeffer championed “costly grace” that emphasized answering the call of God, following hard after Jesus Christ, and living in authentic Christian community. Bonhoeffer is also well-known for his Letters and Papers From Prison, a posthumous collection of correspondence and writings that he penned during his two-year incarceration at Flossenburg.
Most Christians would probably choose not to be martyred, yet Jesus seems to indicate that we must die by “taking up a cross” (Matthew 16:24). The Roman cross was a ghastly instrument of execution. Victims were nailed to the wood with six-inch spikes and allowed to die from exposure and asphyxiation, an agonizing process that could take days.
Lent emphasizes the death and denial of self. Not many are called to die for Christ, but all of us have been called to die in Christ. We are to mercilessly nail our unholy lusts, jealousies and angers to the Cross. Since God cannot resurrect something that is already living, we must finally remove life support from the unsanctified parts of our hearts. Only then will Jesus be able to say, as he did to Lazarus, “Come out of your tomb.”