I preached this past weekend on the Matthew lesson from the lectionary that our church has been working through. There were many reflections and interesting thoughts that I found while researching and ruminating to prepare for this message, but a couple things have stood out to me since the “a-ha”, Holy Spirit just hit me on the head, moment hit me near the end of my preparation last weekend:
– the cross, which of course stands for suffering and death, is at the heart (or the crux) of Christian faith
– we, and by we I mean mostly me, often avoid this central truth, ’cause its kind of a downer, a tricky topic, and frankly just doesn’t sit that comfortably next to our to- do lists and church obligations we compile
– the fact that death and suffering exist in our frail human world is something that we pretend isn’t real; Martin Luther says the good news of the cross is that it tells the truth about suffering and death to us, and so frees us from illusion. So the cross (or a theology of the cross) doesn’t bless or intend death, but is able to redeem even the worst experiences, the deepest suffering, b/c of what Christ endured.
– That reality, that death (both “big,” final death and “little,” difficult deaths to self) is truly all around us, all the time, is then somehow – GOOD NEWS! Crazy, right? Death, when set in its appropriate, honest, and redeemed light, is good news. It frees us/me up to embrace life, even when we are in the little and the not so little deaths, because we know it is going toward something else. It is headed toward life.
– So we just have to follow. I mean its hard, its difficult, it takes practice, requires help from friends, and necessitates discipline to follow – but that is how it is possible that “through losing our life we find LIFE.” By seeing the truth of the cross, accepting what Christ did with death, and following Him through it, nothing can (finally, at the end of the story), touch us.
– I am convinced that for most of our lives, for both Christians and non-Christ followers, the struggle is usually in the details of this reality. In other words, its in the remembering that death is true, and all around us, but that we will still get through this, and the three days in the ground never hold God and they never hold us. It is in the holding each other’s hands when we are in the dark, groping for the light, recalling where we are – after the season in the tomb. The struggle is in seeing other people proclaim Christ and then live in that awkward place of acknowledging death to self and then still keeping it together – seeing a community that models the freedom, grace, and long vision that those who follow Christ are empowered to steward.
– All those details, they aren’t really details as much as lifetimes of understanding who God is, where God is when things are dark, and where the hands of others are that reach out to us – or don’t – during our own times in the tomb buried in the cold ground.
Somehow, this mystery that losing is winning, and that death is life – is good news. Good news that doesn’t make any sense outside of what Christ did on the cross. And that doesn’t make much sense without tangible examples being lived out in front of us, as the expression of Christ followers who get this radical, upside down world kind of living. Otherwise it seems like someone is telling you to go to the back of the line while they stay up front. Or stay up on the cross of suffering, b/c that is your cross to bear so I am free to abuse you. But Christ went on the cross for us – and showed us the truth – about oppression, death, and the need to die to our own self for others. That truth somehow seems fresh to me today, renewed and interesting, as if it weren’t the most basic tenet of the Christian faith. And I am grateful. And I am in awe that it is such Good News. And I can hold my “little deaths to self” tonight loosely, even gratefully, as I realize this truth again.