I’ve been thinking about dying a lot lately. Not my physical death, which I have little control over, but the spiritual one. We love words like Resurrection and Regeneration but Jesus talks about the death part a lot and we just kind of nod and change the subject. It’s one of those things that sounds okay on a philosophical level, like helping the poor, but we’d rather write a check than sit in their living rooms. Peter passionately blurted out that he would follow Jesus, “even unto death”. But then a few pages over, we are surprised to find him ashamed of even knowing Jesus, and irritated by the annoying questions circulating about him. “I’ve never heard of the man!” Peter hadn’t really given this type of death much consideration. And to be fair, like our real death, you can’t know it until you are stepping into it. We are made to resist this. It’s called humility.
Lately my husband and I have been knocking on doors. But most of the doors have the screens punched out, the hinges busted; sometimes the steps are treacherous. Standing face to face with someone who lives behind these doors is refreshing because usually the ground is leveled. We are sinners, all of us, and that fact is hard to argue when life has obviously taken a wrong turn. Sometimes it’s just a bad deal; abuse, growing up believing you will fail, isolation. It makes you poor – not just ending up in a cruddy apartment complex where grass never grows on the dirt patch outside your broken steps but inside; in spirit, in hope.
I remember many years ago, living in a tiny house in Orleans. There were five of us in a two bedroom cottage and I ended up sleeping out on the uninsulated porch with a propane burner. I never felt poor or embarrassed. But one day my son had a friend over to play, a friend that came from a beautiful neighborhood where his parents had bought a large colonial for their family of four. I was trying to teach my kids about giving and in this great spirit, Miles joyfully gave Steven a brand new box of matchbox cars that had just been given to him. It was a sacrifice and I watched Miles’ heart lighten as his little friend, face aglow, beheld the shiny new box.
When Steven’s dad came to pick him up, he ran to him shouting with joy.
“Dad, look what Miles gave me!”
Then his dad did the strangest thing. His face flushed red and angry and he said,
“Give it back!” He was shaking.
We were all stunned, and I watched bewilderment cover Miles’ little face.
“Give it back now Steven and let’s GO!!! His dad was sputtering and would only look at the shiny box.
Steven looked at Miles, embarrassed and gently placed the box back in his hands. We couldn’t speak but I knew then I had just witnessed the most magnificent display of raw pride. So full of himself, he was unable to receive, especially from someone who seemed to have so much less. I know Miles and I learned something peculiar and sad about people that day. Roy Hession, in his book When I Saw Him, says,
“As long as we love our righteousness and are not prepared to lose our reputation, our pride forbids us to repent. But when we see Jesus losing His reputation, His all, for us, then we are melted by the love of it and are willing to be broken and take a sinner’s place. We are willing to be known as we really are.”
The snow is melting; not fast enough for any of us that have weathered the endless storms and endured the unbroken white or dirty gray landscape for the last two months but it will melt and spring will arrive (Thursday as a matter of fact) signaling new life. I like that Easter is placed right in the midst of it all. And I think its good that in the midst of lilies and colored eggs and jellybeans is a plain wooden cross that you can’t cover or change. It’s there and in its shadow we are sinners, our hearts all busted and corroded just like the doors my husband and I knock on.
We are caught in the midst of our lives by this unavoidable paradigm. There must be death before there is a new life. You can redo your old life on your own terms and probably still look good but you will never know resurrection life and the amazing power behind it unless you stand alone, before this bloody cross and surrender. Repentance is one of the most mysterious gifts God has left us. There are no deals, no part-ways in. It’s all or nothing. As we lay down every little thing that we think we can’t make it without, we enter into His death. And as we emerge from this death, we are changed. We are not a better citizen or some type of hyper super-Christian. We are humbled. And in this beautiful posture we find we are joined to Christ, in death and in resurrection. This is what made Paul, who had more prestige and power to boast of than anyone of his day, state plainly: “I count all things loss…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.” All things.
I struggle in this place and honestly; my pride totally blinds me sometimes. God is quick to point it out when I ask him, and it’s unpleasant at best to see the dark selfishness of my soul. But there is always room at the cross.
I was surprised to learn that the suicide rate is highest in the spring. Psychiatrists theorize it is a physiological response to longer days or a warmer climate but I think some folks are just too worn out to dress up the old self one more time. I remember resenting spring after my son died. I didn’t want things growing and changing. I was too tired to move forward. But there is a better death, that leads to a hidden path winding upwards, towards God’s glory, towards a whole new life, free from self and full of a joy that is unspeakable.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…
There must a death before a resurrection. Come to His old rugged cross. He is there, as we repent, to lead us to life; abundant, overflowing and everlasting.
**** This is a beautiful version of a favorite old hymn.