Death and Dying
May 2008 Pastor's Newsletter Article Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a leader in the Confessing Church - a group of Lutherans in Germany who were striving to stay faithful to Christ during World War II. Bonhoeffer was a wise and courageous leader - and eventually became involved in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. He was arrested, imprisoned and eventually hanged by the Nazis in the Flossenbürg prison camp on April 9, 1945, just before the end of World War II. He is one of my heroes in the faith, and I am deeply grateful for his witness.
I recently picked up a book of his writings - a daily devotional book - and have been starting out each day with him. Today (April 16) he writes about the difference between death and dying:
How we deal with dying is more important to us than how we conquer death. Socrates overcame dying; Christ overcame death. "The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:26). Dealing with dying doesn't mean dealing with death. The overcoming of dying is within the realm of human possibilities; the overcoming of death means resurrection.
Based not on the art of dying, but on the resurrection of Christ, a new, cleansing wind can blow into the present world... If a few people really believed this and let it affect the way they move in their earthly activity, a lot of things would change. To live on the basis of resurrection - that is what Easter means.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I Want to Live These Days with You. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, (C)2005. Page 111.
Bonhoeffer knew first-hand what it meant to deal with both death and dying. He was surrounded by it in Nazi Germany. As a leader of the confessing church, he faced the possibility of dying at the hands of Hitler's regime every day. Bonhoeffer came to terms with the possibility of his own dying. He was willing to risk whatever pain that might cause him, if that should be the cost of his discipleship. Like Socrates, he too overcame dying.
The prospect of dying was less frightening to him, because he lived unafraid of death. For him, Christ had already conquered death. For him, death no longer lay hold of him. It was the power of the resurrection that gave him hope - the hope that allowed him to be at peace, even while surrounded by a dangerous and hostile environment.
The message of Easter changes everything for those who believe. The announcement of Jesus' resurrection, and the promise that we will share in it, allow us to live unafraid of anything the world can throw our way. The power of God, seen in the resurrection, assures us that with our God, all things are possible. We, like Bonhoeffer, can look death square in the jaws and be unafraid, because our God has defeated death, once and for all.
It has been just over 63 years since Bonhoeffer's death. As we reflect on his faithfulness, may we pray for the same courage of conviction, and the same capacity to trust in our God. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! And that makes all the difference in the world.