In the name of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Coming to know God and eternal life includes getting acquainted with death. Coming to know the story of Jesus includes getting acquainted with the knowledge that there is nothing he has not suffered.
Our first acquaintance with death usually comes when we learn about the death of the mortal body, and sooner or later we come to know that is not the whole story.
The death experience is one we will have many times before we actually die.
Going through painful little deaths of loss and betrayal teaches us in our bodies what we can not learn with our minds. Death is something we can’t know in our head. It is not an academic subject we can learn about in a book or a lecture. We learn about the death experience in our bodies by the physical experience of grief and weeping.
Usually only when we are as grieved as Jesus was on the cross, do we find ourselves off balance, out of control, terrified, full enough of pain, that we let go of every last illusion we are in control or can be self-reliant. This desperate place, where we think all is lost, is where we can be found open enough to be confronted with the mystery of God. “Take the mercy, accept the help” (Hebrews 4:16).
God is at work in the midst of death transforming lives. New life is being born while dying is taking place. People are being saved from their own wretchedness.
The near-death and then new-life cycle is repeated throughout Holy Scripture. Joseph was thrown into the well by his brothers and left to die. Jonah was swallowed up into the belly of a giant fish; Daniel in the lion’s den; Job on the dung heap …
Each of these stories, and many more – including our own – is wrapped up and personified by Jesus on the cross. Once we understand the cross, we understand how to live life.
Death is part of the resurrection cycle. A requirement. The precursor to new life.
Define death as sin, trauma, grief, pain, loneliness or shame. The very thing we fear will kill us is the very thing that brings us to the place where we can be transformed. In the moment of wavering on the edge of death, we find out who really sustains us in the well, on the dung heap, in the hospital, in the jail cell, unable to pay bills or hold a marriage together. Your deepest pain is your cross.
When you stand in that place, you know who God is for you. The one who sustains you – and everything has meaning – even the painful, sinful, tragic and incoherent are transformed by God.
The crucified Christ is no stranger to our souls. Go through hatred, betrayal, rejection. When we have looked at pain, grieved losses, and mourned wounds, then (and only then) can we be healed and transformed.
It is suffering which pushes us to the edge.
Teetering there, we let go, rely on God, and find out what really living really is.