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Friday, March 1, 2013

"God is on the Cross" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

TITLE: God Is on the Cross: Reflections on Lent and Easter
AUTHOR: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, (112 pages).

We are at the midpoint of the Season of Lent for 2013. Ideally, this devotional is best used at the beginning of Lent, that is, Ash Wednesday. That said, it is good to go, we can still benefit from learning how to reflect and ponder over the meaning of God on the Cross. It is one thing to read something from an author in a world of peace and comfort. It is yet another to read something from Bonhoeffer living in a time of war with much distress and discomfort. Thus, we have a book here from an author who has been called a modern prophet, a passionate pastor, and of course a suffering martyr. Executed just days before the end of World War II, Bonhoeffer identifies closely with the season of Lent, chiefly because of his deep love for Jesus and an earnest desire to follow him all the way, even surrendering his life. Five weeks of meditations are laid out. Note that these works are selected from Bonhoeffer's other writings, and Bonhoeffer himself did not compile the whole book as it is in our current form. This has been done by the editor. The editor has also put together the selected writings into five major themes, one per week. This too is the work of the editor.

Week One focuses on "Prayerful Reflection." Bonhoeffer leads readers through meditations on the temptations of Christ in the wilderness, how to adjust our heart's attitude to God when praying, that our desire to pray must be independent of our moods.

Week Two follows with "Self-Denial," a trait of Bonhoeffer's writings, especially the "Cost of Discipleship." We deny ourselves not for ourselves' sake. We do so for God and for love of our people. We avoid cheap grace. We do not idolize our own needs. In fact, self-denial means being fully focused on following Christ, only Christ. Is that a difficult thing? No, says Bonhoeffer. In fact, the irony is that such a "yoke" that we are called to carry is light, for the heaviest yoke has been borne by Christ.

Week Three is about "Temptation." Going back to the temptations of Christ in the wilderness, we are reminded that temptations are not to be taken lightly. We must be on our guard. We need to be prayerful for temptations will come to us in a matter of time. We must cultivate an inner power of resistance. We need to resist any attitude of reciprocal evil. We need to be prepared to die for Christ' sake. This time is also about watching out to resist temptation and waiting for the coming of Christ.

Week Four touches on the "Question of Suffering." Based very much on personal experience and deep meditation on Scripture, Bonhoeffer dives into the meaning and motivation behind suffering. In doing so, we identify with the weak and powerless, the sick and the distressed, the bullied and the despised. Most importantly, suffering is temporary. Salvation will come. Following Christ means following at all costs, both good and bad times. It means participation in Christ, who himself suffered. It means learning to be patient and in constant remembrance of Christ.

Week Five is the culmination of Lent, where the highlight is the Cross and the Resurrection. Commonly referred to as Holy Week, our attention is on the cross, and how God's love is expressed. From Palm Sunday to Easter, one must go through Maundy Thursday when Jesus was betrayed, and Good Friday where Jesus was crucified.

Devotional books are meant to help us develop an awareness of the presence of God, and not meant to be theological journals or philosophical analyses. The way to use books like these is consistency, reflective, slowly, and purposefully. This book moves gently from Week One to Week Five of Lent in such a way that the reader will find it helpful not to rush, but to ponder carefully the purpose, the power, the people, and the passion of Christ. There are short quips from his letters and notes. Scripture verses are placed at the end of each day to aid prayer. It's a great book for Lent.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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