From the legacy of Advent, the Christian calendar follows an unyielding cycle of unavoidable events. The anticipation of Christ’s birth yields to his arrival in Bethlehem and each subsequent event seems to crowd out the other as in fast succession we crash through Epiphany, Lent and Easter week.
The season of Lent, especially leading up to Christ’s “death on a Friday afternoon” is often ignored or abbreviated by many in our own family of churches. Regardless of our practices we seem to have a clear biblical consensus that we must embrace Christ’s death (acknowledge it, affirm a responsibility/respond to it, in great and good thanks be grateful for it) BEFORE we can revel in the celebration of the bodily resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Let us begin today where the bible begins, at the precipice of the Easter weekend… the death of Jesus… and in beginning there, may we reflect on our own death… like Christ the experience we must embrace before our resurrection in Christ.
We are all Dying.
Some of us faster than others.
… because our years are long,
… or because our years have been reckless.
Some of us (like myself, in truth) have not believed that our physical bodies are gifts from God and should be treated as gifts… we praise and prize abstinence in its many forms and ignore gluttony and “sloth” (a great word from the old Anglican book of prayer). Nevertheless, we are all dying. Life is a biological resistance to entropy.
I have known, believed, acknowledged the above for a long time. There is a fallacious and near-on tedium to some of these themes that grip me… to my own shame. So imagine if you will, God’s graciousness “shaking me out” as it were, when I found myself in the midst of a spirit prompted epiphany last Sunday in church as we heard the words of the resurrection of Lazarus.
The Scripture was rendered by the playing of one of those endless biopic films of Jesus. You’ve seen them: perfect skin and teeth, a post 70 AD landscape; narrated by Christopher Plummer and all served up with proper English accent. I know God has a sense of humour but I was squirming. I was also missing the point. There comes a time in the future (the narrative is scripture verbatim, which is a plus) where Lazarus rises, comes out in his grave clothes/shroud in John 11:44 Christ calls out “unbind him, let him go.”
The words leapt out at me; gripping my heart and mind, shaking me “to and into” the heart of the Easter message… Inevitably I am dying, though through death and into new life my experience will and must mirror Christ’s… he who once was dead is risen but not before he renders death as a passage not an end.
In a film, on a Sunday morning, near the end of Lent… the rebuke of death was heard to be spoken. Christ raised Lazarus from the dead and speaking to Lazarus and to death itself Jesus frees us… Unbind him/her… Let him/her go… Caught, trapped, dead-ended, out of our mortality we are raised.
Wait for it… do not go to Easter morning unless you have gone fully through Good Friday. I cannot get to the resurrection of Christ before I have begun to be embraced by all the rest. Even now, come Holy Spirit and breath afresh on me that great truth – this great story.
I wrote this newsletter today aware of those for whom the brevity or compromise of life occurs not from lifestyle nor age but from unwellness, personal tragedy or any other number of circumstances that can cause life to be cut short. I should have explicitly referred to those of us who find ourselves in these circumstances.
I used two rather polarized examples that were not to be construed as the only circumstances we or those we know, find ourselves in but just as common examples. I feel in not addressing that full human experience of ill health and tragedy, that I missed including in this conversation of dying, the experience of many. I thank those who’ve drawn this lack of sensitivity on my part to my attention. I have two people close to me who are quite ill at this time and facing the challenges and concerns that come with being unwell. I regret that omission and trust that the essence of the Easter message is received fully.