I was rereading Bonhoeffer’s Life Together the other night. Definitely a book to consistently return to. On thing that struck me afresh was Bonhoeffer’s insistence in the early pages of the book on the nature of life together as gift. Thus “The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians” (p. 27). Communal life with other Christians is not something that is guaranteed or assured in the course of Christian life. Rather it is a gift which we must never take for granted. As Bonhoeffer drives home:
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. So Christians, too, belong not to the seclusion of the cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. They find their mission, their work. . . . According to God’s will, the Christian church is a scattered people, scattered like seed “to all the kingdom of the earth” (Deut. 28:25). That is the curse and its promise. God’s people must live in distant lands among the unbelievers, but they will be the seed of the kingdom of God in all the world. (pp. 27-28)
Thus, as Bonhoeffer drives home, “when Christians are allowed to live here in visible community with other Christians, we have merely a gracious anticipation of the end time. It is by God’s grace that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly around God’s word and sacrament in this world. Not all Christians partake of this grace. The imprisoned, the sick, the lonely who live in the diaspora, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible community is grace” (p. 28).
Life together, the actual experience of getting to go through life with Christian partners who mutually support one another in responding to the call of the gospel is not a given, but a gift. Not an ontologically given datum, but a dynamic gift that comes to us from the future, a foretaste of the kingdom of God, given as Bonhoeffer drives home, only in Christ (p. 31). And all of this should drive us to praise:
Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today. (p. 30)