When David’s illegitimate son was dying, David put on sackcloth and began to fast and pray, begging God to save his son. However, messengers arrive and David learns that his son is already dead. Upon hearing this he immediately puts aside the sackcloth and prayer and goes to his house where he bathes, anoints himself, eats, drinks, then sleeps with his wife, who conceives a new life, Solomon.
When he senses that he has scandalized those around him who feel he has not properly mourned his son, David replies: “While the child was alive, I fasted and prayed, imploring God to save the child. Now the child is dead. I must move on to create new life.”
Death is a significant overture in Christian spirituality.
After all, we are dying all the time,
struggling painfully to let go of youth,
and possible dreams,
and, in the end, of life itself.
Yet, we do not accept death.
refuse to wake up
and do everything except accept that we must let go.
Like the ancient Egyptians who reacted to death by embalming and mummifying their dead, we tend to embalm and mummify what has died in us through contemporary forms of embalming:
our youth and sexual attractiveness are embalmed through cosmetics, dyes, face lifts, pretense and lies about our age;
our wealth and privilege are buried with us through memorabilia, named buildings (we have an edifice complex) and legacy funds;
our plans are ritualized through blogs, journals, and home movies – worshipped in the religion of who we think we should have been.
This also occurs in our loves and friendships. When we first meet, when love is young, there is period of infatuation, of emotional electricity, of honeymoon. But all relationships grow and change and all honeymoons end.
Too often when the honeymoon ends the love begins to die, to grow sour, bland and resentful. Almost always a large part of the problem is the unwillingness to let the honeymoon end. We cling to it in a panic; but love and friendship, like Jesus, need to “rise on the third day,” so to speak. Our loves must ascend to new levels. They must release a deeper spirit.
This is also true for our dreams and hopes. We often go through life refusing to let go of a hope that can never be for us. When we refuse to accept that we are not as physically attractive, slim, athletic, talented, bright, unblemished, strong and connected as we would like to be, then we will always live in resentment and bitterness, frustrated and caught up in a daydream which prevents us from living by constantly saying “if only.”
This cannot endure. We must let these things die. Some things must be killed off – sacrificed, like our old selves, our former selves – the parts of us that displease God.
But do not despair – for God always gives us new life. Whenever something passes, be it youth or sexual attractiveness, something else takes its place.
See, there are two kinds of death and we need to distinguish between paschal death and terminal death.
Terminal death is the death that ends life forever.
Paschal death is death following by new life.
Terminal death is the loss of a child.
Paschal death is the loss of a child through childbirth – the child is lost from her mother’s womb, but born into the world.
We all rightly fear terminal death. It is never good. It is the condition of our broken world.
But – too often – we fear the paschal death as well. We all have little things we’re keeping alive…even though those things are killing us.
We sense that certain things we love (or once loved) are coming to an end and so we cling. It is the clinging that is the crime – clinging to the past, clinging to past hurts, refusing to be made whole again, refusing to embrace the movement of God, or Time, or Life.
We must embrace paschal death. We must let go of some thing – even some good things. This is the cry of Good Friday – something has to be sacrificed in order for us to be whole.
It is the refusal to let go that is the cause of so much unhappiness,
bitterness and despair in our lives.
We must die,
we must accept new life,
we must refuse to cling to the old
so that new life can ascend and a new spirit be given to us.
This brings new love,
and new depth;
but to do this requires that we trust God.
We must trust God enough to let ourselves die.
We’ve previously spoken of the Koru fern at Westwinds. In New Zealand the Koru fern contains within it a tiny, curled frond that needs space in order to grow and live. The only way it gets that space is by the intervention of the Maori people, who walk through the bush and burn off the old growth. The Maori burn off the undergrowth in order to encourage new life.
The cycles of death and decay are the compost of new life.
None of us are whole, everyone is broken.
For more and more people there is a major something to live beyond,
some skeleton in the closet;
a broken marriage,
a religious commitment that did not work out,
a pregnancy outside marriage,
a betrayed trust,
a broken relationship,
a soured affair,
a serious mistake,
a searing regret;
sometimes with a sense of sin, sometimes without it.
These things hurt, but we must remember that pain is prophetic. It indicates that something is wrong - not just with the individual, but with the whole body.
What we need, perhaps more than anything else, is a theology of brokenness that takes sin and failure serious enough to redeem it.
We need a theology that teaches us that even though we cannot unscramble an egg God’s grace lets us live happily and with renewed innocence.
We need a theology which tells us that a second, third, fourth, and fifth chance are just as valid as the first one.
We need a theology which tells us that mistakes are not forever, that they are not even for a lifetime, that time and grace wash clean, that nothing is irrevocable.
As you reflect on the death Christ suffered, reflect on the deaths he is inviting you to suffer as well:
What things are there in your life that are dying?
What are you clinging to that God wants you to let go of?
What are you embalming that needs to be put to rest?
Are there hurts
That need to be let go of?
What is killing you?
What things in your life need to be put to death?