A Christian Search For 'Costly Grace'

April 10, 1995|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

A group of Christians began Holy Week yesterday in downtown Baltimore with two somber services of repentance for the sins of the Holocaust, and a silent procession from one service to the other that took them past sleeping drunks on The Block.

The observances added a new dimension to the usual joyful celebrations of Palm Sunday, marking Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The day also marked a half-century since the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor hanged by the Nazis on April 9, 1945.

About 100 of the worshipers began their participation in bright afternoon sunshine at the Holocaust Memorial, at Gay and Water streets.

There, Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl of Baltimore County's Temple Emanuel movingly accepted the words of sorrow spoken by an ecumenical group of Christian clergy, which included Lutheran and Roman Catholic bishops and a Southern Baptist minister.

"The sad and sordid past was not an accident nor an aberration," Rabbi Buchdahl said. "It was the logical culmination of centuries of venality."

In this unusual celebration of Palm Sunday, as Lutheran Bishop George Paul Mocko remarked from the pulpit of nearby Zion Lutheran Church two hours later, the search was for the "costly grace" that comes with repeated effort. Recalled were words of Pastor Bonhoeffer, who wrote eight years before his execution that "the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance" is "cheap grace."

About the interdenominational outpouring of Christian regret for past sins, including complicity in the murders of 6 million Jews, Rabbi Buchdahl said, "To hear that history acknowledged, to see the reversal of the teachings of hatred, to feel the hands of friendship now, is also history, is also reality. May the God of history and memory, the God of hope and faith, bless us in our common striving."

After the procession and the second service at Zion Church, at Gay and Lexington streets, worshipers concluded the commemoration of the words, deeds and death of Pastor Bonhoeffer with hopeful rejoicing in his brave example of resistance to the Nazis. "For all the saints who from their labors rest . . . faithful, true and bold . . . alleluia!" they sang.

The readings at the Holocaust Memorial to which Rabbi Buchdahl responded were by Bishop Mocko of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Baltimore; the Rev. John E. Roberts, pastor of Woodbrook Baptist Church and president of the Alliance of Baptists; the Rev. David B. Kaplan, pastor of St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Dundalk; and the Rev. H. J. Siegfried Otto, pastor of the host church, Zion Lutheran.

The rousing multicultural music at the Zion service was provided by three choirs, piano, organ and trumpets. It included spirituals by the gospel choirs of New Refuge Deliverance Cathedral and St. Philip's Lutheran Church. Bishop Mocko said Pastor Bonhoeffer had been "gripped and affected by African-American music."

Noting from Zion's pulpit that the congregation numbered "only 200" on an afternoon when "the malls are filled," Bishop Mocko said, "Words of regret and sadness . . . are not fashionable today [because] in religion's marketplace, we must be upbeat and, above all, we must make people feel good about themselves."

Nonetheless, he said, "we 200, pondering on the Holocaust," face hard questions: "Are we capable of such enormity? What kind of horror is inside of us?" Bishop Mocko quoted a civil rights worker in the South in the 1960s, "I'm not here to change the world, I'm here so that the world won't change me."

The bishop said that, while "religion's marketplace is full of bargain hunters," grace such as that experienced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and those who would be like him does not come cheaply.

Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was one of seven people who read during the service from Bonhoeffer's writings. Before quoting his assertion that "God both can and will bring good out of evil," she likened his contributions to America's collective conscience to those of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Zion's altar and pulpit were decorated with palms. The bells of the church tower cater-cornered from City Hall echoed through downtown streets before and after the service.

Other clergy who participated included Rabbi David Z. Ben-Ami of the American Forum for Jewish-Christian Cooperation in Harrisburg, Pa.; and the Rev. N. Ellsworth Bunce and the Rev. L. Carroll Yingling of the United Methodist Church.

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