Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers.
(Life Together, p. 27)
Fewer than nine years after writing these words, only a few days before Allied forces liberated the concentration camp in which he was imprisoned, Bonhoeffer was hung by special order of Heinrich Himmler. Following his Lord, he mounted the scaffold utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers.
Neither Jesus nor Bonhoeffer wanted to die. Both prayered fervently to the Father that this cup might pass away from them. Yet both faced their enemies with faith and courage, enough faith and courage to die alone.
If one were to ask the source of such faith and courage, one might think that Jesus and Bonhoeffer were made of stuff unlike other human beings. And one might be right. But one would be grossly mistaken to think that either Jesus or Bonhoeffer were born of stuff unlike other human beings. Rather, it is quite clear that both were born of the same stuff as all, yet both became faithful and courageous over the course of their lives. The Scriptures describe how Jesus grew in faith and character. And Bonhoeffer’s writings and the witness of his surviving followers and friends tell a similar tale about him. Jesus and Bonhoeffer grew in faith and courage through the practicing of spiritual disciplines, in the world in which they lived, in community with others.
This is why one of Bonhoeffer’s most influential books is the short (120 pages) Life Together. It describes how living in community both transforms and encourages the individual Christian. In the end, we don’t need the Church for worship: we need the Church in order to live as Christians in this world. Jesus faced Pilate because his faith and courage grew in community with the Twelve. Bonhoeffer faced the Gestapo’s gallows because his faith and courage grew in community with his students and colleagues. And you and I will face whatever the world brings to us, if our faith and courage grow because of our relationship with one another.
This is why St Marks exists: to stir up one another to love and good works. To stir up one another to faith and courage. To transform us into a people: the people of God living faithfully and courageously in a world that desperately needs God’s Kingdom.
The Lord be with you.