April/May 2013 - Vol. 67

The Resurrection of Christ is God's Yes to Us
Reflections on Easter by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and a founding member of the Confessing Church. He was the first of the German theologians to speak out clearly against the persecution of the Jews and the evils of the Nazi ideology. In spring of 1935 Deitrich Bonhoeffer was called by the Confessing Church in Germany to take charge of an “illegal,” underground seminary at Finkenwalde, Germany (now Poland). He served as pastor, administrator, and teacher there until the seminary was closed down by Hitler's Gestapo in September,1937. In the seminary at Finkenwalde Bonhoeffer taught the importance of shared life together as disciples of Christ. He was convinced that the renewal of the church would depend upon recovering the biblical understanding of  the communal practices of Christian obedience and shared life. This is where true formation of discipleship could best flourish and mature. Bonhoeffer’s teaching led to the formation of a community house for the seminarians to help them enter into and learn the practical disciplines of the Christian faith in community. In 1937 Bonhoeffer completed two books, Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. They were first published in German in 1939. Both books encompass Bonhoeffer’s theological understanding of what it means to live as a Christian community in the body of Christ.He was arrested by the Gestapo in April 1943. On April 8, 1945 he was hanged by the Gestapo as a traitor in the Flossenburg concentration camp. As he left his cell on his way to execution he said to his companion, "This is the end – but for me, the beginning of life."
The resurrection of  Jesus Christ is God’s yes to Christ and to his atoning work.

The cross was the end, the death of the Son of God, curse and judgement upon all flesh. If the cross were the last word on Jesus, then the world would be lost in death and damnation without hope, and the world would have been victorious over God. But God, who alone effected salvation for us all —  ”all this is from God” (2 Cor. 5:18) — raised Christ from the dead. That was the new beginning following the end as a miracle from above, though not like the springtime according to a fixed natural law, but rather according to the incomparable freedom and power of God that shatters death. “Scripture has proclaimed to us how one death devoured the other” (Luther). Thus did God commit himself to Jesus Christ. Indeed, as the apostle is able to say, the resurrection is the day that Son of God is begotten (Acts 13:33, Rom. 1:4). The receives his eternal divine glory back, and the Father receives his Son back. Thus is Jesus confirmed and glorified as the Christ of God who Jesus was from the very beginning. But so also does God acknowledge and accept the vicariously representative, atoning work of Jesus Christ. On the Christ, Jesus cried the cry of despair and then commended himself into the hands of his Father, who was to make of both him and his work whatever he pleased. The resurrection of Christ confirms that God said yes to his Son and his Son’s work. And so we do now call upon the Resurrected as the Son of God, the Lord, and as Savior.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s yes to us.

Christ died for our sins, and was resurrected for our righteousness (Rom. 4:25). Christ’s death was the death sentence over us and our sins. If  Christ had remained in death this death sentence would still be in effect; “we would still be in our sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But because Christ was raised from the dead, our own sentence has been repealed, and we have been resurrected with Christ (1 Cor. 15). This is so because we are ourselves in Jesus Christ by virtue of God’s acceptance of  our human nature in the incarnation. What happens to him, happens to us, for he has accepted us. This is not a judgement from experience, but God’s own judgment thatseeks acknowledgement in faith in God’s word.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s yes to the creature.

It is not a destruction of the embodiedness, but rather the new creation of embodiedness that takes place here.  The body of Jesus leaves the tomb, and the tomb is empty. Just how is it possible or conceived that the mortal, perishable body is now present as the immortal, imperishable, transfigured body remains a mystery to us. Perhaps the different versions of the disciples’ encounter with the Resurrected help to make clear that we ourselves are unable to imagine what is meant by this new bodiliness of the Resurrected. We do not know that it is the same body — for the tomb is empty; and that it is a new body — for the tomb is empty. We do know that God has judged the first creation, and has created a new creation in the exact image of the first. It is not an idea of Christ that lives on, but the real, physical Christ.  That is God’s yes to the new creature in the midst of the old creature. From the resurrection we know that God has not abandoned the earth, but has reconquered it, has given it a new future, a new promise. The same earth that God created bore God’s Son and his cross, and on this earth the resurrected appeared to his disciples, and to this earth Christ will return on the last day. Whoever affirms Christ’s resurrection in faith can no longer flee the world, but neither can they fall prey to the world, for in the midst of the old they have recognized God’s new creation.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ demands faith. The one consistent witness of all these accounts, as divergent as they are in telling what occurred and was experienced here,  is that the Resurrected appeared not to the world, but only to his followers (Acts 10:40f). Jesus did not present himself to some impartial authority to attest before the world the miracle of his resurrection, thus coercing the world to acknowledge him. He wants to be believed, proclaimed, and believed again. The world as it were, sees only the negative, the earthly impression of the divine miracle. It sees the tomb and explains it (albeit in conscious self deception) as a pious deception on the part of the disciples (Matt. 28:11ff.) It sees the disciples’ joy and  message, and declares it to be a vision or an auto-suggestion. The world sees the “signs” but does not believe the miracle. Only where the miracle is believed do the signs become divine signs and thus an aid to faith.

For the world, the empty tomb is an ambiguous historical fact. For believers, is the historic sign — one following necessarily from and confirming the miracle of the resurrection – of the God who acts in history with human beings. There is no historical proof of the resurrection, only a plethora of facts that are extremely peculiar and difficult to interpret even for the historian. For example, we have the empty tomb. For if the tomb had not been empty, this strongest counter-argument against a physical resurrection would certainly have become the basis for an anti-Christian polemic. Nowhere, however, do we encounter this objection. In fact, the opposing side confirms the empty tomb (Matt. 28:11). Or we have the sudden turn of events two days after the crucifixion. An conscious deception is excluded psychologically by virtue of the disciples entire earlier and subsequent behavior, and also by the divergent nature of the resurrection accounts themselves. Self-deception through visionary states is rendered virtually an impossibility for the unbiased historian, given the disciples’ own initially quite unbelieving and skeptical rejection of the message (Luke 31:11, et passim.), together with the considerable number and manner of appearances. Hence the historians’ evaluation of this matter, which from a scientific perspective remains such a riddle, will be dictated by presuppositions contained in their worldview. But this robs their conclusions of any interest or import for faith, which is grounded in God’s acts in history.

So for the world an insoluble riddle does remain, but not one that in and of itself could ever coerce belief in the resurrection of Jesus. For faith, however, this riddle is a sign of the reality which it already knows, an imprint of divine activity within history. Research can neither prove nor disprove the resurrection, for it is a miracle of God. Faith, however, to whom the Resurrected attests himself to as the living Christ, recognizes precisely in the witness of scripture the historic nature of the resurrection as an act of God which in its miraculous nature can only be a riddle for science. Faith receives the certainty of the resurrection only from the present witness of Christ. It finds its confirmation in the historic imprints of the miracle as recounted by scripture.

It is the blessing of Jesus Christ that he does not yet reveal himself visibly to the world, for the very moment that happened would be the end and thus the judgment on unbelief. So the Resurrected withdraws from any visibly salvaging of his honor before the word. In his hidden glory he is with his community, and is attested through the word before all the world, till at the Last Judgment he will come, visible to all human beings, to judge them all.

Theological Letter on “Easter,” commissioned by the Pomeranian Council of Brethren, Berlin, March 1940, translated by Douglas W. Stott

Overcoming death means resurrection

Easter? We focus more on dying than on death. How we deal with dying is more important to us than how we conquer death. [...] Learning to deal with dying, however, does not yet mean we have learned to deal with death. Overcoming dying occurs within the realm of human possibilities, while overcoming death means resurrection. It is not from the ars moriendi, but from the resurrection of Christ that a new, purifying breeze can blow into the present world. [...] If even a few people were really to believe this, allowing this belief to move them in their earthly actions, much would change. To live from the perspective of resurrection: That is Easter.

Letter to Eberhard Bethge, Tegel Prision, March 27 1944

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