Friday, March 9, 2012
Christ’s Journey and Ours
“We declare the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” These words, from an ancient Eucharistic celebration, proclaim the essential Christian message with such simplicity and power that they live in the liturgies of many churches to this day.
The Lenten journey deepens as it brings us to face this mystery of faith. Jesus speaks clearly of his impending suffering and death, tying it to his Messianic vocation. Peter tries to talk him out of it, and in his argument Jesus hears echoes of the wilderness temptations. He is personally bound to follow the road of suffering and death, and will not be diverted. Even as he contemplates his own destiny, he sees a deep principle at work, one that also applies to the human struggle to find meaning and hope. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) It is a paradox: we must be willing to let go of life, as we know it, if we are to find the new life to which God invites us.
Recently I was thinking about those words, and the truth they contain, while rummaging through a box of snapshots. Photographs in our house belong to a class of projects that we're going to get to "someday." I'm not sure when someday is, but it never seems to be today, and the result is that pictures from many different years wind up sharing box space with each other. Photographs of long since deceased family members mingle with those of recent family occasions, graphically speaking of the reality of death and life mingled together.
So too, the infant faces of our now-adult children, for though there have (thankfully) been no physical deaths, the stages of child rearing are a succession of small deaths. The infants who once looked to us to meet their every need are no more. The toddlers, whose eyes found wonder in the patterns of the wallpaper, and high adventure in a walk to the mailbox, are no more. I look at those pictures and catch a lump in my throat, and yet I would not go back - to do so would require the sacrifice of the adults those infants and toddlers are today.
The same is true of the pictures of Flo and me. There we are: our younger selves, doing the things we did the year we met, crossing the country on a shoestring, settling into our first parsonage. Those young people, too, are no more. Would I go back? Not for anything, because the deaths of those younger selves always, without exception, cleared the way for the birth of new understanding and deeper living.
What our boxes of photographs illustrate on a personal level, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ illuminate on a cosmic level. It is through his journey that we see a basic principle of life: that in hoarding and clinging to life we face incessant and unceasing loss, but in using up and spending our life for others we can find the way to unending and fulfilling life.
We see it in the Gospel accounts of the journey to Jerusalem. The disciples want to perpetuate the relatively carefree days of the Galilean ministry, going about doing good, enjoying the teaching of Jesus, sharing with him the attention of the adoring crowds. Though the Galilean days were good, Jesus tells his disciples that they cannot last forever, but are a prelude to harder days, the days of Jerusalem, when the adulation of the crowds turn first to disappointment and then to hostility. To all appearances, the days of Jerusalem are an unmitigated disaster, and for Jesus the disaster culminates in a brutal death.
Yet out of that disaster comes undreamed of triumph. The resurrection of Christ is God's stamp, validating the way of loving service and self-sacrifice, which he taught and lived. Because his death was not defeat, but the prelude to resurrection, we can put in perspective the small deaths that threaten our own equilibrium, knowing that while even the smallest or most natural losses can be painful, they can provide the gateway to new life, if we will let God show us how.
Life, death, resurrection. Thanks to God's grace revealed in Christ, and offered to us, we can receive them as a continuum, a process lived out repeatedly in our day-to-day experience, and coming to completion when we face the moment of our personal death, which we trust will, like his, lead to resurrection.
© March, 2012