Easter Sunday: The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against You


(Photo: The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem)

Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

Christ is building.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.

Death is the great inheritor of everything that exists. This is as far as death goes. Right by the abyss of the valley of death is the foundation of the church, the church that confesses Christ as its life. The church has eternal life precisely there where death is reaching out for it, and death is reaching out for it precisely because it has eternal life. The church that confesses is the eternal church, for Christ is its protector. Its eternity is not visible to this world. It is not subject to challenge by the world, though the waves wash up over it and sometimes it looks completely covered over and lost. But victory belongs to the church, because Christ its Lord is with it and has overcome the world of death. Don’t ask whether you can see victory but believe in the victory, for it is yours.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

-from The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 1, pg. 86

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Confess, Confess, Confess

church of holy sepulchre tomb

(Photo: The Tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem)

Holy Saturday, March 31, 2018

It’s really shaky ground. But it is still the rock, this ground; for this Peter, this reed bending in the wind, is called by God, taken prisoner by God, held fast by God. “You are Peter…” We are all Peter; not this person or that person, but all of us who are just living by our confession of Christ, as fearful, disloyal persons of little faith, but who are held fast by God.

Yet it is not we who are to build, but God. No human being builds the church, but Christ alone. Anyone who proposes to build the church is certainly already on the way to destroying it, because it will turn out to be a temple of idolatry, though the builder does not intend that or know it. We are to confess, while God builds. We are to preach, while God builds. We are to pray to God, while God builds. We do not know God’s plan. We cannot see whether God is building up or taking down. It could be that the times that human beings judge to be times for knocking down structures would be, for God, times to do a lot of building, or that the great moments of the church from a human viewpoint are, for God, times for pulling it down. It is a great comfort that Christ gives to the church: You confess, preach, bear witness to me, but I alone will do the building, wherever I am pleased to do so. Don’t interfere with my orders. Church, if you do your own part right, then that is enough. But make sure you do it right. Don’t look for anyone’s opinion; don’t ask them what they think. Don’t keep calculating; don’t look around for support from others. Not only must church remain church, but you, my church, confess, confess, confess…. Christ alone is your Lord; by his grace alone you live, just as you are. Christ is building.

-from The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 1, pgs. 85-86

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Divine Sorrow Leading to Joy

peter denies christ

(Photo: Sculpture of Peter denying Jesus at the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu at the House of Caiaphus in Jerusalem)

Good Friday, March 30, 2018

Being the church of Peter is not only something to be claimed with unalloyed pride. Peter, the confessing, believing disciple, denied his Lord on the same night in which Judas betrayed him; Peter stood there by the fire that night and was ashamed, while Christ was standing before the high priest. Peter was the fearful one of little faith who sank into the sea. He was the disciple to whom Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). Even after that, he was the one who kept faltering, kept denying and falling down, a weak vacillator, subject to the whim of the moment. The church of Peter is the church that shares his weakness, the church that also keeps denying Christ and falling down, being disloyal, of little faith, fearful, a church that again and again looks away from its mission and toward the world and its opinions. The church of Peter is the church of all those who are ashamed of their Lord, at the very moment when they should be standing up for him….

But Peter is also the one of whom it is said that he went out and wept bitterly. Of Judas, who also betrayed his Lord, it is said that he went out and took his own life. That is the difference. Peter went out and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). The church of Peter is the church that can not only confess, not only deny; it is the church that can also weep. By the rivers of Babylon–there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137). That is being church, for what does this weeping mean, if not that we have found the way back, that we are on our way home, that we are the prodigal son who falls weeping on his knees before his father (Luke 15). The church of Peter is the church of divine sorrow, which leads to joy.

-from The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 1, pgs. 84-85

Lent with Bonhoeffer: The Church of Confessing Christ

peter confesses christ

Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018

What is the difference between Peter and the others? Does he have such a heroic nature that he rises head and shoulders above them? He does not. Does he have unmatched strength of character? He does not. Does he have such unshakable loyalty? He does not. Peter is nobody really, nobody but a person who confesses, a person who has met Christ standing in his path and has recognized him, and who now confesses his faith in Christ. And this Peter, this confessing person, is now named as the rock on which Christ will build his church.

The church of Peter–that means the church on the rock, the church of confessing Christ. The church of Peter is not the church of opinions and views but rather the church of revelation; not the church that talks about “what people say” but the church in which Peter’s confession is always being made and spoken anew, the church that does nothing else but always and only make this confession, whether in singing, praying, preaching, or action. It is the church that only stands on the rock as long as it keeps doing this, but becomes the house built on sand (Matthew 7:26-27) that the wind blows down if it dares to think of going another way, for whatever reason, or even to look away for a moment.

-from The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 1, pg. 84

Lent with Bonhoeffer: There is No Perhaps

Caesarea-Philippi 3

(Photo: Ruins of the Temple of Pan in Caesarea Philippi)

Wednesday of Holy Week, March 27, 2018

Now Jesus asks them directly, “But who do you say that I am?” In this unavoidable, face-to-face situation with Christ, there is no “perhaps,” no “some say,” no opinions anymore, but only silence, or else the one answer that Peter now gives: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Here in the midst of the whirl of human opinions and perspectives, something truly new is visible. Here the name of God has been named; the name of the Eternal has been spoken; the mystery has been brought to light. This is no longer human thinking but rather the very opposite; this is divine revelation and confession of faith. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven…you are Peter, the rock, and on this rock I will build my church.”

-from The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 1, pgs. 83-84

Lent with Bonhoeffer: The Decisive Question

Caesarea philippi 2

(Photo: Ruins of the Temple of Pan in Caesarea Philippi)

Tuesday in Holy Week, March 27, 2018

Jesus himself asks the decisive question, for which the disciples must have been waiting for some time, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answer of the disciples  is: “Some say you are John the Baptist, but others say you are Elijah, and still others say your are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Opinions, nothing but people’s opinions. The list of them could be extended as long as one wants…. Some say you are a great man, other, that you are an idealist, others, that you are a religious genius, others, that you are a hero, the greatest of leaders. Opinion, more or less serious opinions–but Christ does not want to build his church on opinions.

Christ builds his church on revelation.

-from The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 1, pgs. 83-84

Lent with Bonhoeffer: In the Face of Death

caesarea philippi

(Photo: Ruins of the Temple of Pan in Caesarea Philippi)

Monday of Holy Week, March 26, 2018

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”   (Matthew 16:13-18, ESV)

It is a lonely place where Christ has gone with his disciples, on the edge of a heathen region, where he can be alone with them. This is the place where, for the first time, he promises them, as his legacy, his eternal church. Not in the midst of the people, not at the visible climax of his ministry, but rather out here far away from the right-thinking scribes and the Pharisees, from the crowds who will sing “Hosanna” to him on Palm Sunday and then on Good Friday shout, “Crucify him,” he speaks to his disciples about the mystery and the future of his church. Evidently he meant that the building of this church could not begin with the scribes, the priests, or the crowds, but it was rather this little group of disciples, his followers, who were called to do it. Evidently he also did not consider Jerusalem, the city of the temple and the center of the people’s life, as the right place for it, but instead he went to a quiet place where he could not hope for his announcement to make waves in any outward, visible way. And finally, he did not consider any great day of celebration as the proper time to speak about his church. Instead, he gave the promise of his church in the face of death, immediately before his first foretelling of his passion. So it is a church of a little flock, a church far out in a quiet place, a church in the face of death, about which we must be speaking here.

-from The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 1, pg. 83

Lent with Bonhoeffer: God Tramples the Devil


Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

Is the hour of temptation not bound to come? So is it not illegitimate to pray in this way? Ought we not rather to pray that in the hour of temptation, which is bound to come, strength may be given us to overcome our temptation? Such a thought claims to know more about temptation than Christ himself, and wants to be better than he who knew the hardest temptation. “Is temptation not bound to come?” Then why? Must God deliver up his own to Satan? Must he lead them to the abyss where they fall? Must God yield such power to Satan? Who are we to speak of temptation is being bound to come? Are we in God’s counsel? And if–in virtue of a divine bond which is incomprehensible to us–temptation is bound to come, then Christ, the most tempted of all, summons us pray against the divine bond–not to yield in stoic resignation to temptation, but to flee from that dark bond, in which God lets the devil do his will, and call to the open divine freedom in which God tramples the devil under foot. “Lead us not into temptation.”

-from Temptation, pg. 114

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Lead Us Not into Temptation

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Lead us not into temptation. Natural man and moral man cannot understand this prayer. Natural man wants to prove his strength in adventure, in struggle, in encounter with the enemy. That is life. “If you do not stake your life you will never win it.” Only the life which has run the risk of death is life which has been won. That is what natural man knows. Moral man also knows that his knowledge is true and convincing only when it is tried out and proved, he knows that the good can live only from evil, and that it would not be good but for evil. So moral man calls out evil, his daily prayer is–Lead me into temptation, that I may test out the power of the good in me.

If temptation were really what natural man and moral man understand by it, namely testing of their own strength–whether their vital or their moral or even their Christian strength–in resistance, on the enemy, then it is true that Christ’s prayer would be incomprehensible. For that life is won only from death and the good only from the evil is a piece of thoroughly worldly knowledge which is not strange to the Christian. But all this has nothing to do with the temptation of which Christ speaks. It simply does not touch the reality which is meant here. The temptation of which the whole Bible speaks does not have to do with the testing of our strength, for it is of the very essence of temptation in the Bible that all our strength–to our horror, and without our being able to do anything about it–is turned against us; really all our powers, including our good and pious powers (the strength of our faith), fall into the hands of the enemy power and are now led into the field against us. Before there can be any testing of our powers, we have been robbed of them. “My heart trembles, my strength has left me, and the light of my eyes have departed from me” (Psalm 38:10). This is the decisive fact in the temptation of the Christian, that he is abandoned, abandoned by all his powers–indeed, attacked by them–abandoned by all men, abandoned by God himself. His heart shakes, and has fallen into complete darkness. He himself is nothing. The enemy is everything. God has “taken his hand away from him” (Augsburg Confession, XIX). “He has left him for a little while” (Isaiah 54:7). The man is alone in his temptation. Nothing stands by him. For a little while the devil has room. How is the abandoned man to face the devil? How can he protect himself? It is the prince of this world who opposes him. The hour of the fall has come, the irrevocable, eternal fall: for who will free us again from the clutches of Satan?

-from Temptation, pgs. 111-112

Lent with Bonhoeffer: The Presence of the Incarnate


Friday, March 23, 2018

It is not good when the Church is anxious to praise itself too readily for its humble state. Equally, it is not good for it to boast of its power and its influence too soon. It is only good when the Church humbly confesses its sins, allows itself to be forgiven and confesses its Lord. Daily must it receive the will of God from Christ anew. It receives it because of the presence of the incarnate, the humiliated and the exalted one. Daily, this Christ becomes a stumbling block to its own hopes and wishes. Daily, it stumbles at the words afresh, ‘You will all be offended because of me’ (Matthew 26:31). And daily it holds anew to the promise, ‘Blessed is he who is not offended in me’ (Matthew 11:6).

-from Christ the Center, pg. 113