During this strange time I found myself thinking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You’ve probably heard of him, a pastor caught in the excessively weird time of being a Christian and a pastor in Nazi Germany. He led congregations. He founded an unauthorized and thus illegal seminary where he lived among and taught a gathering of young men studying for the ministry in those dangerous times for believers. He became involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler, which failed, and he was caught, imprisoned, and executed.
A day ago I pulled his little book, “Life Together,” off my shelf and browsed it. The book is Bonhoeffer’s teaching about Christians and their lives lived together as a family connected by their common love for and faith in Jesus. It is full of wisdom for us especially during a time when the church is scattered as we are. Bonhoeffer’s experience of aloneness, being cut off from fellowship with other believers, gives weight to his words.
I can think of him confined to his prison cell as I read him saying, “If you have one other believer to fellowship with you have received a treasure from God.” He reflects on those who have been called by God to faraway places and who serve there, alone, fellowshipping with other believers only through letters sent. He talks about those who throughout the years have been imprisoned for Christ and who hunger for even a word from a fellow believer. He never complains about his own circumstances.
He counsels gratitude no matter how feeble we may feel the life of our fellowship is. We give thanks we have it. In a memorable, long sentence he says, “If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” He emphasizes that only gratitude for the little things we receive and have received makes it possible for us to receive great things. By that he’s referring to gifts of greater depth and riches in the fellowship or our church.
There is much more Bonhoeffer has to say in those little pages, but this is enough. As we are scattered I am growing more thankful for you. I am thankful for your faces. I am thankful for hugs and handshakes. I am thankful for your gifts. I am thankful for the sound of the church singing together. I am thankful for the encouragement that comes just from seeing you and being with you.
You will be back, I know. And we will, as a church, sing together, pray together, worship together. Easter is coming soon, and we remember with it that no force, even death and hell, cannot stop Jesus. It cannot stop his church. It will not stop us.
One last word from Bonhoeffer. He said, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.” So, brothers and sisters, let’s pray for one another.
I love you all.