In our Lutheran tradition, like many other churches, we read the gospel story about “Doubting Thomas” on the Sunday after Easter. You’re probably familiar with this one: The apostle doubts his brother disciples’ claims about the resurrection of Jesus and says he won’t believe unless he can see the wounds in Jesus’ own body.

A week later, Thomas gets his “wish” and touches those very wounds. That’s what convinced him of the resurrection, not a word about the afterlife, or accounts of near-death experiences, but signs of pain — wounds.

That’s what suffering often is, a window into the divine. Not to glorify pain, but to say that we can often see the God of the cross suffering with those who suffer in our world. When I see the nightly news and witness the struggles of so many around the globe, I often feel like I am looking into the wounds of Christ.

Isn’t that also what attracts us to the lives of the saints and martyrs? In their struggles, we see something of God revealed.

That’s one of the things that attracts me to the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor, Confessing Church member and theologian. He was also a double agent in the German army and participated in a group that plotted Hitler’s assassination. Bonhoeffer was a resister. He resisted the Nazification of the state church and protested Hitler’s anti-Semitic liquidation program.

Next weekend (April 27-29), St. Ansgar Lutheran Church and our extended community will celebrate Bonhoeffer the martyr who was hanged 67 years ago on April 9, two weeks before his Nazi prison camp was liberated by Allied forces. Our interest is to learn more about Bonhoeffer for his own sake but also for what we can learn from his witness that has some bearing on our own times and for our own discipleship.

One of Hitler’s major ambitions was to blend nationalism and Christianity in his effort to win political support and in his drive to exterminate Jews. He played into an eternal temptation in the affairs of citizens and nations, to fan the flames of fear of “the other” and seek their exclusion. And he sought to justify this exclusion of others by wrapping his politics in the flag and with the use of semi-religious symbols.

Who are we afraid of today? Who are the “others” in our time? Who doesn’t fit our notions of “regular folks”? And, who in our times and in our country is in need of believers to stand up for them as the perceived “outsiders”?

I welcome anyone interested in learning more about Bonhoeffer’s life and work to join us. As part of our celebration, Dr. Clifford Green (executive director of the complete translation of Bonhoeffer’s writings into English) will give a presentation about the intersection of politics, religious beliefs and resistance. His talk will be followed by lunch and a panel discussion. (In this economic climate, I should probably mention that all celebration events are free.)

The history of the church is punctuated by martyrs whose suffering and wounds reveal the mystery of the God who will go to all lengths to bring the human family together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one such witness and is, I submit, a man for this season of our national life together.

Pastor Bill Barter serves at St. Ansgar Lutheran Church in Portland. You can contact him at

[email protected]