Dying to Live
How do you feel about dying? Does the thought of it scare you? This is the time of year when Christians focus on issues of death and life. Holy Week and Good Friday lead us into Easter and Christians will take the opportunity to follow Jesus to the cross before on Easter Day celebrating the resurrection life that conquers death. It is worth reminding ourselves that in the Christian understanding we cannot have resurrection without first there being death. Jesus had to die before he could be raised from the dead, without his death there could be no resurrection.
At the start of Holy Week last year I read an article, in “Reform”, the monthly magazine of the United Reformed Church, written by John Bradbury who teaches at Westminster College, Cambridge. In it he was challenging the Church to truly face up to the radical message of Easter in recognising that it has to die in order to experience resurrection. He raises questions such as, “what if the church is being called to die?” Could God be at work in our decline and as our institutions face their demise?
Then a little later he asks the readers to think about what would happen if our faith in resurrection was strong enough that we could embrace the institutional death of the church? Could we live that way and if we did what would happen?
These are challenging questions for they ask us to put our Easter faith into action the belief that, dying we live. Does our experience of God lead us to believe it is true, so true that we are prepared to live in a way that is not fearful of death either individually or institutionally? The temptation is always to hold on to what we have, to believe that any kind of existence must be better than death, when our faith teaches us that death is not the final word.
That is something that I also know from my own experience following my Mum’s death. She had been diagnosed with cancer three years earlier and she also had dementia that meant that in many ways we had lost the person we had known and loved a long time before she actually died. On the day of her death and in the weeks that followed I was aware of her being present to us in the way that she had formerly been. Her death enabled me to recall her as the whole person that she had been years before and to be alive in a way that was unencumbered by her illness of recent years. It was a reminder of the faith that I have sought to live by and to proclaim.
John Bradley concludes his article by encouraging us no longer to say that dying is bad but rather to recognise that it is gospel-shaped. My own reflection is that if we want to experience resurrection life there is no short cut that bypasses death. That we cannot jump from Palm Sunday to Easter Day and bypass the cross and the journey to it. It is a journey that we have to continually remake both individually and as a Christian community. I pray that God will give us all the courage and the faith to make the journey as we look to the future. That we might all come to know and accept that it is by dying that we live.