The thirty-first day of Lent

Wednesday after 5 Lent

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that discipleship is a matter of costly, not cheap, grace. It is costly in the same way that the Incarnation itself was costly:  "it cost God the life of his Son." And yet, as he wrote about discipleship, Bonhoeffer did not equate the cost of discipleship with martyrdom. When he eventually came to the most quoted sentence of The Cost of Discipleship, "when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die," he was not speaking about physical suffering, much less death. Rather, he was speaking about giving up our attachments, giving up the old person, the old life, as the first disciples did who left behind home and family to follow Jesus. Very often, rejection and suffering will follow and are to be accepted, but the fundamental cost of discipleship is a different kind of death.

Personally, Bonhoeffer came to understand that discipleship had to mean that even deeply held convictions, such as loyalty and love of country and even his commitment as a Christian to pacifism and non-violence, might have to be relinquished. He believed that no attachment may be higher than our attachment to Christ. In a letter to friends and associates at Christmas 1942, he wrote: "Who stands firm? Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God's question and call." So, when the path ahead is risky and the moral choice is clouded, we must act with the confidence that costly grace will prevail.  Again, from The Cost of Discipleship, "It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner."

The Cost of Discipleship remains timely more than seventy years after it was first written. Its fundamental challenge is the call to give up, to let go of, any and all attachments that draw us away from our primary attachment to Christ. This is more "giving up" than most people have in mind when they decide what to give up for Lent. Needless to say, that has been our point from the beginning of Lent. On the eve of the week of the Passion, we come to the central events of our salvation history and the only way we can truly prepare for the representation of those mighty acts is to raise the stakes of our Lenten observance to a new level. What are the attachments that you hold most dear, no matter how essential you believe them to be? Do they prevent you from giving yourself entirely to Christ--and, if so, are you prepared to give them up?

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