“If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, you must pick up your cross and follow in my footsteps.” Those of us who have the audacity to call ourselves Christian, those of us who seek to follow Jesus, must deny our very selves, we must pick up our cross, and we must follow in the footsteps, of Jesus. Follow in the footsteps of the ONE who understands that pain can lead to liberation, but suffering, rejection and challenges are unavoidable. Oh. My. God.
Change the channel, I can’t stand to watch this one again. I’ve seen it a hundred times. The hero, the freedom fighter, justice seeker, peace maker, that one, the one we’re all rooting for, our saviour, suffers and dies. Change the channel, I’m not up for this. Don’t give me Jesus. I don’t want Jesus. I don’t want anybody telling me that suffering and death are the inevitable; especially my suffering, and my death. Isn’t there something on another channel I can watch?
I don’t want to know. Distract me. Distract me from the pain and the suffering. Change the channel. Find me something more interesting, more uplifting, more hopeful, more cheerful.
I am not the kind of guy who is willing to die for a cause. Ever since my father shared his passion for WW2 history with me, I’ve been very interested in historical stuff. Maybe some would call it child abuse, but I remember watching black and white films on large spools with my dad, watching highlights of the war and the liberation of Paris and the terrible grainy images from the death camps.
Later, when I traveled to France with students to Utah Beach and Arromanche, listening to the granddaughter of one of the builders of that man-made port explaining how the war had impacted her family, I was moved beyond words. But I also knew something she wasn’t telling us, namely that the French had largely collaborated with the Nazis when it came to getting rid of the Jews. And I wondered how many French really knew what their hatred was resulting in in other places?
Did they know? Did they know what was going on in the camps? Did they know what was being done by their government, in their name? Did they know? And if they knew, what did they do? What could they have done?
We can dream about the Reign of God, a world where everyone has enough and where the planet is protected, and all creatures thrive, but that’s all it is a dream. And yet we keep dreaming it. We dream it in our deepest truest selves. The dream surfaces in the work of our imaginations. The dream lives in our finest literature, in our most beautiful works of art, in our greatest movies and in the most moving music. The dream drives some of our greatest thinkers, inventors, engineers, explorers and dancers. It’s a dream of justice for all. It’s a dream that despite humanity’s best and worst efforts will not die. Yes, the dream has suffered untold defeats, and millions of deaths but somehow the dream lives on. The dream lives on because we are fearfully and wonderfully made we human beings. Yes, we are capable of despicable things. Yes, we are responsible for the injustices in this world. But we are also capable of such beauty, such truth, such life, and our capacity for greatness means that the dream lives.
But there can be no life without death. There is no resurrection without crucifixion. Unless we are prepared to die there can be no rebirth. We are after all is said and done: human. Human, unique among the creatures of the earth because we know that we are going to die. Our consciousness is defined by our knowledge that we are finite beings. From dust we came and to dust we shall return. Being human means learning how to die.
Each one of us is on a grand pilgrimage from the womb to the tomb, and as we travel we learn the meaning of what it means to be human. Human, from the Latin “humando” which means burying or burial, think humus, earth, on our way back to the earth. Humans are the ones who are on our way to back into the earth from whence we came, and that means part of our most important reason for being here is learning how to die.
This isn’t as dark or crazy as it sounds, trust me on that! All the great philosophers, the lovers of wisdom like Plato insisted that to philosophize is to learn how to die. Seneca the great Roman philosopher insisted, “He who learns how to die, unlearns slavery.” Learning how to die frees us from slavery to our distractions. So consider this: any time we examine our assumptions or biases, whenever we question the way we view the world and decide to change it, that’s a form of death. There is no growth, no development, no maturation, no rebirth without death. When we go into the wilderness and confront the wild beasts in ourselves and in our world we have to be brave and let old ideas die so new ones can shape us. The idea that there is nothing that we can do enslaves us to quiet acceptance of things exactly as they are.
St. Paul insists that followers of Jesus have to learn to die daily. Die daily! So if he knows what the heck he’s talking about, what needs to die in our hearts today so the dream of real peace and justice can be reborn? Justice by itself, of course, is impossible because justice has to be midwifed into existence by love and only love. LOVE rebirths justice. LOVE is the power that lies at the heart of all reality. LOVE is the source of the courage we all need in order to die. LOVE gives us the courage to let our suffering speak to us.
Yes, the problems are immense. Yes, the suffering is intense. Yes, we have tried and failed so many times. Yes, we are only one person. Yes, there are untold reasons to be cynical and do nothing. The courage to pay attention to the world around us will come from the LOVE that lives in each of us, love for ourselves, love for our families, love for all our neighbors, even the ones we name as enemies.
Just like Peter, I don’t want to follow where Jesus is leading either. I very much want to deny death. I don’t want to know! I want to change the channel and lose myself in something else—anything else!! But then I take a breath and the stillness I feel the attraction of that LOVE that first called me by name as a young boy, the voice of that LOVE whose voice I heard tell me in church when I was 8 yrs old that I belonged to Him.
And then I realize I can’t just turn away or tune out. I can’t let my distractions lead me to deny death. And like every other person I know, I have to let the LOVE that lives in me give me the courage to let all my personal suffering and loss speak to me on the deepest level. Because my pain isn’t unique: it’s part of the death and dying process of all my sisters and brothers. It’s the necessary part before new life can come forth.
They said Germany would never recover after the war. They said the Berlin Wall would never come down. They said civil rights would never come to the American south. They said apartheid in South Africa would never end. They said gays and lesbians were mentally ill and would never be allowed to marry. They said women could never be pastors, and that Catholic priests could never be pastors of a Protestant congregation. They say that poverty will always be with us, but in fact, there are fewer people living in poverty than ever before in North America. They say crime is on the increase, but the reality is that
Most crime rates are lower than they were 30 years ago. They say that peace is impossible. They insist that poverty is a reality. They say that our politicians will never be anything other than greedy selfish charlatans obsessed with their own power. They say there’s nothing we can do. They say its hopeless to try. They say sacrifice is a thing of the past. They say no one is willing to pick up a cross.
With Satan out of the way, O God, let these presuppositions, cynicisms, racisms, prejudices, and blindspots die so that Love can be born in us and reveal itself in the world as justice. Let us have the courage to listen to all our suffering so we can finally allow all the fear, doubt and excuses die, in order that LOVE be born again. That’s the Easter earthquake in a nutshell. That’s resurrection. That’s collateral beauty from all the damage we’ve managed to do. Choose Easter! Die daily!