Wednesday, March 11, 2015

On Dying...

Jesus came to die. The cross was there, on the horizon, for his entire life. He knew that each day of his earthly ministry was bringing him one day closer to Golgotha, to the place where he would leave the friendship of his disciples and step under the shadow of human violence.

The disciples never accepted that this was where the story was heading. Their Christ was too mighty, too clearly favored by God and filled by his Spirit. This was a happy story, they concluded, and a happy story was one in which the hero doesn't die.

But die he did, and it turned out that his death, rather than some unfortunate twist in the plot, was the entire point of the narrative. As he drew nearer to Jerusalem, he knew a stage was being set. When the crowds cheered upon his entry, he knew the seats were being filled. When the accusations and betrayals and abandonments began unfolding, he knew the curtain was being pulled back.

But what happened on that stage? What was being revealed to mankind in one bold, breathtaking stroke? Only days before the cataclysmic event occured, Jesus admitted to his disciples in a moment of shocking vulnerability:

"Now my soul is disturbed. But what shall I do-shall I say 'Father spare me from this hour?' I cannot! It was for this very hour that I have come! Instead I will pray this: 'Father, glorify your name!'"

Here we see it. This is what the cross was all about. It was the moment where God once and for all set the record straight. In the cross, in the self-sacrificing love of the Word of God made flesh, we see what God is like. This is the moment of the play when our mouths drop open, when our hearts beat faster, and we say, "Ah ha! So that is what this is all about!"

But the cross does something else as well. Yes, it reveals God. But it also reveals us, as we are meant to be. Jesus was Son of God, and also Son of Man. We see, in the loving obedience of the crucified Messiah, what mankind was always meant to be. We see Adam restored. We see humanity as the image of God.

Now we look back at Jesus's words like a film viewer who, after being shocked by a twist ending, rewatches the film with new eyes. When Jesus told his disciples, "You too must take up your own cross and follow after me," he was issuing a mysterious command that would only take shape once the story had come to fulfillment.

Paul echoes this command to come and die with Jesus repeatedly in his writings. He describes himself as bearing "on [his] body the scars of Jesus." He claims that he died daily, long before Nero quite literally finished the job once and for all by commanding Paul's beheading. And perhaps most famously, he declared: "I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!" Paul clearly took Jesus at his word-the cross was not merely the source of the apostle's forgiveness, but the inspirational focal point of his very lifestyle.

But what is this cross we are supposed to bear? How do we even begin to die a death like Christ's? What lies at the heart of Paul's claim that he died daily? I used to take such sayings to be referring to some sort of self-denial. I would take up my cross by sinning less, by controlling myself more, my being more disciplined and mature, etc. I still believe that fits in there somewhere, but the more I stare at the cross, the more I realize that increased self-discipline is only a small part of the picture.

The cross, after all, is about love. It is about love for the world. It is about love for one's enemies. It is about a willingness to be compelled by love into the brokeness of humanity. It is about emptying oneself, not in pursuit of some form of personal piety, but in pursuit of expressing a love that transforms others. The cross says that the problems of my neighborhood, my city, my nation, are actually my problems, and I must be willing to "die" (in this case to my right to hold on to my time, my energy, my resources, my preference to be with the type of people I naturally enjoy or who make me feel good) in order to meaningfully engage those problems.

Just when we would like to build our own little fortresses around our lives, our families, our communities, where we can engage in those tasks that we enjoy, and leave the rest of the world to deal with its own problems, the cross shouts to us, "Come! Come to the broken and the needy. Come to the messy and the annoying. Come, and care, and spend yourself."

And then, of course, we have our choice to make. Shall we say "Lord, spare me from this hour?" Or shall we say "No-this hour is my purpose! Father, glorify your name!"


Post a Comment

<< Home