Updated: Sep 10, 2019
Yes, I know Easter was yesterday and we have officially moved into Eastertide, but allow me one more thought about death and dying and crosses and tombs. Our Holy Week services proved to be immensely important to me this year. They allowed me time to reflect on the culmination of Lent, and offered me an opportunity to approach the cross with Christ, along with all the death and sorrow that necessarily accompanies it.
Here’s where I have landed: death is part of life. I do not mean that death comes at the end of life or that death is the inescapable culmination of life, but that death and life might not be as far removed from one another as I used to think.
In fact, I don’t think Christ’s death and resurrection are two separate events at all. Quite the contrary. They are one and the same, in deeply mysterious ways. The resurrection is the only possible outcome of Christ’s death, and this becomes true for us as well. But now I’m broaching Easter language—See? Easter is grafted into Lent!—and it becomes quite difficult to separate the two. If you die with Christ, intrinsic in that death is also the reality of your own resurrection. You cannot die in Christ and not be raised again.
This only becomes true for us if we allow Jesus' death and resurrection to become more than something we know about or believe in. You confessed the Apostles Creed? Well that is right and good, and I am thrilled that you did, but that does not always mean that you have actually learned to die well. Nor does it imply that you yourself have been raised to new life.
I am not saying that you don’t believe enough—you probably believe enough for the both of us. But belief in historical events, even the ones of God, comes to an end, and the belief must be met with personal experience.
Wesleyans call this the “personal dimension” of theology, the place where we move beyond knowing and believing into dynamic experience. This is why I am no longer satisfied believing in the death of Jesus or what it accomplished for me. I desire the personal dimension of Christ’s death. I want to learn how to die well. I want to learn how to climb up on the cross. I want to enter the tomb with my Lord, knowing that dying is actually a necessary element of living.
Yet death is that from which most of humanity is fleeing, and the Church is no exception. Richard Rohr says it this way, “There is no renewal without loss. There is no new birth without death….Until there’s a very real death to the old self of security, status, power, money, guns, and war, any talk of a rebirth or new self has become laughable to most of the world” (The Divine Dance, 150). Without experiencing the death of Christ ourselves, how can we hope to witness to its truth, power, and promise to the world?
I fear we cling to Jesus, yet we are not living in his death at all. This is Paul’s critique of some Christians when he writes, “They’re completely out of touch with the source of life, Christ, who puts us together in one piece, whose every breath and blood flow through us” (Colossians 2:19, The Message). I invite you to let go, and to enter into the death of Christ. Here’s a prayer to get you started.
May you find us in our tombs, even as we find you in yours.
What have you got to lose? After all, it is Easter. You already know the end of the story.