In our ELW hymnal, there is a hymn we have never sung in worship, at least not in the 8 years I have been serving at LCOS. It’s the translated version of a hymn I grew up singing as a child in my German Lutheran church, a hymn I played as a teen- age church musician at many Sunday services, funerals, and gatherings. Let me introduce you to it.
“By Gracious Powers” (ELW 626) was written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and is the last piece of theological writing we have from him before he was executed in 1945 after being held in several Gestapo prisons and concentration camps. You see, be- sides being a prolific writer and Lutheran theologian, Bonhoeffer was also outspoken about the evil around him. As soon as Nazis began their ascent to power, he started both preaching and acting against them, encouraging the church to not only “bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam a spoke in the wheel itself.” Educated by and believing in an ecumenical ap- proach, he tirelessly worked with different churches across the world rallying people to unite against the Nazi regime, who tried to silence his preaching that entire time. In 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and spent the next two years in prisons and concentration camps. Yet he still shared his faith and his opposition, both orally and in letters and poems. In December 1944 he wrote this poem to his fiancée, whose translation is our ELW 626:
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered, and confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning, and never fails to greet us each new day.
Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented, still evil days bring burdens hard to bear,
oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation,
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.
[…] Yet when again in this same world you give us the joy we had, the brightness of your sun
we shall remember all the days we lived through and our whole life shall then be yours alone.[…]
Bonhoeffer was executed April 9, 1945, just four months after penning these lines. It was important to him to convey both the darkness and the light, the urgency and the assurance, the isolation and the presence of God. He spoke out against injus- tice boldly until his last days.
I pray that you will be inspired by this hymn (that we will sing when we can gather again in person!) and by Bonhoeffer’s life. Do not look away when you see evil. We have to name it and address it. May we act, speak, and sing boldly against the evil in this world and not let the darkness silence our voices. May we not shy away from the present challenges and work and look towards the better days ahead. God has given every single one of us a voice – may we use it. Lift every voice and sing!