“A Union student from east Tennessee named Myles Horton met him after he returned from his first visit to Abyssinian [Baptist Church.] Bonhoeffer, Horton recalled, was in an expansive mood and eager to talk. Horton accompanied him on a most animate walk down Riverside Drive, the whole way Bonhoeffer speaking excitedly–in both English and German, which Horton did not understand–of the preaching, the congregant’s participation, and ‘especially the singing of black spirituals.’ He conveyed the thrill of the flock voicing ascent with the preacher. Completely unguarded, at one point Bonhoeffer stopped abruptly and told Horton that this morning in Harlem was the only time ‘he had experienced true religion in the United States.’ Indeed, he had never seen such joy in worship anywhere before, certainly not in the melancholy north German plains. Bonhoeffer concluded that ‘only among blacks, who were oppressed, could there be any real religion in this country.’ His presence at Abyssinian that year coincided with important changes in Powell’s vocation as an urban minister. A skilled administrator as well as an eloquent preacher, Powell had already been senior pastor at the neo-Gothic church for more than twenty years. But with the Great Depression sweeping over the neighhorhoods of Harlem as bad as anywhere, he felt summoned to new convictions. For most of his ministry, he had traded comfortably on a notion of Christ as inaccessibly transcendent, the God-man in majesty. Lately, he had begun to dwell on Jesus as the one who wandered into distressed and lonely places to share the struggles of the poor as a friend and counselor. Bonhoeffer’s later formulation of the ‘Christological incognito’ bears the impress of Powell’s decisive awakening, of Christ going incognito into the world, ‘an outcast among outcasts,’ hiding himself in weakness.” Charles Marsh
“Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem”
Moving From Head to Heart
- Does your understanding of Christ make him so lofty and powerful that he seems distant and inaccessible? Is there a place in your religion for the “despised” sufferer of Isaiah–who “shares the struggles of the poor as a friend and counselor?”
- Would the Christ that your congregation worships have sufficed for Harlem’s forgotten people in the midst of the Great Depression?
- When you think of Jesus, do you think of “an outcast among outcasts … hiding himself in weakness?” Would making room for such a Jesus lead you to some kind of “awakening?”
Abba, grant me a decisive awakening to Christ incognito in my day, in my world.
For More: Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh
These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. I hope you’ll follow/share my blog. – Bill