Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who died at the hands of Hitler in 1945, has been a hero since first being introduced to him by a theology professor and reading his works at Morehouse. Bonhoeffer understood discipleship. He understood how following Jesus can lead to being persecuted, even being put to death by hanging. Yet, knowing all this, he never stopped following and challenging others to follow.
Bonhoeffer, in his most revered book, The Cost of Discipleship, said that when Christ calls a person, Christ bids him/her come and die. The statement sounds crude, but when we reflect upon the disciples of Jesus, those most intimately acquainted with our Lord, the overwhelming majority of the twelve died as martyrs because of their allegiance and faith to Christ.
The day of Bonhoeffer’s hanging, a witness captured his actions and wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
The closest person to our understanding of this aspect of discipleship would be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He, too, died as a martyr. The night before his assassination, he sensed death being imminent. On April 4, 1963, standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, he was gunned down. He died as one who followed Jesus and challenged this nation and global community to do the same. The one who preached non-violence was willing to give his life to ending discrimination. Yet, Dr. King died at the hands of an assassin, at the hand of violence.
As we move through the season of Lent, the last week of Jesus’ life will stand out as being important. We will hear great cries of, “Hosanna,” on Palm Sunday and by Thursday, the mood shifts to great sadness as Jesus marches up Golgotha to face death.
Discipleship is costly. It calls for great sacrifice and commitment. The season of Lent challenges us to follow Jesus. We may be called to follow Him even in death. Amen.