Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who died at the hands of the Nazis in 1945.  He had been involved in a plot to kill Hitler.  Before then, he had been part of a movement which sought to protect the Protestant Church from coming under the control of the state.  He had to live with suspicion, hardship and criticism.

It was not easy. But he was acutely aware that the cross of Christ called all Christian people to be prepared to suffer for their faith.  He was worried that often the Christian life was made to seem cost-free.  In a famous phrase he once told his students to beware of cheap grace.  ‘Cheap grace is ... the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession ... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross ...’ 

He was quite clear that the cross of Christ called into question our self-satisfaction, our vanity, and above all our self-justification.  On the cross we saw God endure humiliation out of love for us;  how then, could we puff ourselves up?  And if God was prepared to suffer for us, then we should be prepared to embrace the cross, where necessary, ourselves.
In the gospel today (Mark 8.27-35) Jesus accepts that the cross lies across his path.  It is a moving scene.  Seconds before, there has been a breakthrough:  Peter acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah.  But immediately, a temptation follows:  that Jesus should go the path of glory, free from suffering, avoiding humiliation.  He rejects the temptation.  For him, there will be no cheap grace.  To be who he is, to bring the message of God’s love for all people, he must be like the Suffering Servant we hear of in the first reading (Isa. 50.5-9) who neither resists his tormentors nor turns away, but looks them in the face even as they attack him.  He must be strong in the face of suffering.
The cross comes to us now in different ways. For some it is physical suffering, such as illness or handicap, or the infirmity that comes with the passing of the years.  It can also be bereavement.  At times like these Christian people remember that Christ hung on a cross and suffered, and then, in their suffering, they can feel him close to them, knowing that he understands.

Sometimes the cross can take another, very different aspect, as it calls on us to make a stand.  There may be situations where we feel that there is a line we cannot cross, even if fashion and convention say that we should.  Bonhoeffer know this cross in particular.  He would also have encouraged us from time to time to look at our achievements in the light
of the cross, to protect ourselves from false pride.  The cross, he once said in a sermon, is God’s rejection of ‘all human arrogance, being puffed up, trying to be important in our own right.’ 

How the cross will appear, what it will ask of us, will differ from person to person.  There is an element of the unpredictable about it. But the cross needs to be part of our spirituality.  Without it, we live a shallow version of the Christian life. 

Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Brook Green, London W6.

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