Come and die

‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship). Bonhoeffer was one of those who realised the rise of  Adolf Hitler meant Germany was entering a time when law, culture, tradition, religion – every area of life – would be subject to an all-embracing power, pursued for its own sake. 

The Nazis followed no rules, were guided by no moral code, were restrained by no beliefs – beyond their own lust to dominate and create a reich, a kingdom, which glorified their own twisted satisfaction.

To a greater or lesser degree that has been the way of malign dictatorships from the beginning. To stand up before such a power and protest, as Bonhoeffer and others in Germany at the time did, took and – even today – takes the kind of moral courage that I, and many of us, do not have. If the season of Lent is to have any bite with us we can at least lament its absence in a world that needs people like Bonhoeffer.

He did eventually pay the ultimate price when he was hanged as the war was ending but it was the climax of a long period of preparation. Bonhoeffer prayed and reflected and wrote over many years.  The words quoted at the beginning of this piece were not those of a man trotting out platitudes he had just thought up. He knew the words could well apply to him. He struggled with what his Christian faith might mean when faced with a political regime that is only motivated by its own power and preservation.

If we ‘are doing something for Lent’ at the moment it could well include some prayer and reflection on the theme of moral courage.  When we look at examples of it – Martin Luther King or the Dr Li Wenliang who, despite opposition, alerted China about the corona virus – we know these men did not get up in the morning and say, ‘I will make a stand today’. They were able to do what they did because they had prepared themselves by the choices they had made over many years.

Still, the words of Bonhoeffer stop us in our tracks.  We read that Jesus said, ‘Come, follow me’ but the extra bit, ‘and die’, we do not include even though Jesus implied it when he talked of ‘losing your life’. Still, we hesitate.  Surely he meant, ‘Come follow me and you will be happy’.  Yes we will be happy, but first we must die. Not in the death that is inevitable when we part this life but in the death we are called to each day.  If we are faithful to these ‘little’ deaths we will be ready when the big one comes – the one where I find I have the moral courage to protest.

I often hear people say, ‘can’t the Church do something about our situation?’ The short answer is the Church will never do anything unless the members of the Church – you and I – want it to.  This ‘wanting’ is not just a woolly wish but the hard determined ‘wanting’ of which the people who have their eyes fixed on the benefits of this world give us such a focused example. This Sunday we have that ‘high’ moment in the life of Jesus when he allows his friends to have a glimpse of him in glory on the mountain. When they get carried away by the experience he tells them to ‘tell no one until the Son of Man has risen for the dead.’  Death is the way to life here on earth.

8 March 2020              Lent Sunday 2 A        Gen 12 1-4         2 Tim 1:8-10 Matt 17 !-9

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