Resurrection of Christ is God's Yes to Us
Reflections on Easter
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
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,
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
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
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.
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