"Going into the storm of our history"
On 9th April 1945, just days before the Allies liberated Flossenberg concentration camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged there by the Nazis for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. He had been arrested two years earlier, having already engaged in three year's resistance activity against the Third Reich, and was held on the relatively minor charge of "subversive activity" until papers were discovered which linked him to the assassination plots. The letters and papers he sent to family and friends during his imprisonment are a remarkable testimony to a man who, throughout his life, was both profoundly rooted in his faith in Jesus Christ, and also absolutely (and in the end, fatally) committed to involvement in the world and its concerns.
In 1939, when it was apparent that the outbreak of war was imminent, Bonhoeffer was in America on a lecture tour (he was a young and emerging theologian). He was invited to stay there in safety, but chose to return saying:
In all his writings this theme of participation is fundamental - his theology is all concerned with Christ's participation in the human condition so that we might participate in Christ and, reconciled with God in Christ, might participate in the world in order to share in God's sufferings there. This gives his own political activities and their consequences a peculiarly matter-of-fact quality, neither heroic nor martyrish.
Suffering, like prayer, was for Bonhoeffer a way of companionship with God and with those who could not avoid suffering. It was, therefore, simply a part of the "secret discipline" which undergirds action in the world, and which leads to the true freedom of life in Christ. Amongst some of his last papers from prison was this "station on the road to freedom".
Bonhoeffer, remaining faithful to Christ, finally entered his freedom shortly before the war ended. It can only be a loss to the churches - and indeed to the European community - that he did not live to participate in the rebuilding of post-war Europe and in the developing life of the church. At least we can continue faithfully in his prayer, "May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all may he lead us to himself..."
Quotations are from Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Tegel prison.