In the Questions of Faith course the week of February 12, 2023 (led by Rev. Philip), we explored the life of Jesus: who he was, what his life was all about, and why he is so important to us. One question that really stood out to me was “Why did Jesus have to die?” We had a lively discussion around this question, with many participants sharing their sacred experiences with death. I highly recommend watching this week’s session on YouTube. You can also find all prior sessions on the St. Matt’s YouTube channel.
During this discussion I kept thinking about Paul‘s comment, “I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:31, NRSV).
What does it mean to die every day? How could death play a role in our day-to-day lives? To me, death is this faraway thing that I don’t have to worry about right now, and probably not for a long time. I haven’t had any close family members or friends die yet, so the experience of death feels distant. Also, today’s culture avoids talking about or having to deal with death. The topic of death naturally evokes fear in us – fear of the unknown, fear of losing the life we live, fear of losing those we love. It may also trigger painful memories when we remember those close to us who have passed.
In the life of Jesus, we see his death as the ultimate sacrifice. He willingly allows himself to be humiliated, tortured, and killed. He surrenders his human life to allow something much greater to take its place. Jesus says in John 12:24: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We can understand this fruit from his death to mean many things, quite thoroughly explored in our session that you can watch here (time-stamped for your convenience).
The example Jesus gives us raises some questions for us to reflect on: Are there things in our lives that need to be sacrificed? Are there things that we hold onto that no longer serve us? What part of ourselves could we allow to die to let something greater fill its place?
Off the top of my head, I can think of quite a few things in my life that should be put to rest (many of which my wife often notices): eating loudly, leaving my shoes in the middle of the entrance, sleeping in, buying more books than I have time to read, getting angry at slow drivers, being late, procrastinating, forgetting to call my parents, eating junk food, letting dirty dishes pile up, getting lost on the internet, not taking my daily vitamins.
The list could probably go on for a few more paragraphs. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day shuffle of modern life; its impossible to stay on top of everything. As I tackle a few of these bad habits, other ones that I thought were defeated start to crop up again. Like weeds in a garden, they seem to be relentless.
However, as I spend more time in reflection, I start to see the deep roots of these weeds. I begin to notice some heavy things I’ve been holding onto, and as I slowly start to let go of these things, fewer weeds naturally appear.
Things like needing to be right all the time. Needing everyone to like me. My childhood identity of being the victim. My adolescent identity of being a troublemaker. My adult identity of letting people down, of not fulfilling my commitments.
Paul does a great job of describing this process in his letter to the Ephesians:
You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Letting things die is a painful process. There is a comfort that comes with familiarity, even with things that hold us back. We resist change. We fear uncertainty. We get stuck in our old routines, old habits, old ways of seeing the world, and old ways of seeing ourselves. As Paul exemplifies, it’s a daily practice of dying and being reborn. Jesus reminds us in Luke 9:23: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
In this scripture-laden post, I would like to leave us once again with the words of Paul:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
May we heed the call and allow ourselves to be transformed by letting go of our past, our sins, and our old ways, to allow space for the Spirit of the Living God to inhabit us.