Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Death and Easter

Today I was reading from Matthew when Jesus urges his disciples to "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me." [ch. 16]  This happens shortly after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah who they have been waiting for. Oh, and Jesus decides that these 12 closest to him are ready to hear that he will be brutally killed by the leaders of their community. nbd.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and while my vision is more like 20/200, even I can look back at this conversation and think, "Oh, this is in reference to the fact that Jesus will die on a cross. He had to carry it himself, so he's telling the disciples that following him requires them to also experience some level of self-sacrifice, pain, denial, and suffering." But today, I realized that the disciples didn't know that. Sure, Jesus had started talking about his death - but did they already know how it would go down? Not from what we're told of the conversations.

So. This radical, wonderful man they have been following through the countryside. Watching him heal and perform miracles. The occasional zinger to the authority figures in the community. Loving and befriending the common man. Sending the disciples out into villages with power. Suddenly is telling them that he's going to die, and he expects them to follow. "Whoever loses his life for me will find it."

Uh, Jesus? I joined this bandwagon because of the cool miracles and awesome perks of being on the road, barefoot and carefree and loving people. . . . but dying? Really. Doesn't sound like something I'm quite ready for yet. Can I just do the first part, the thing you said about denying myself? That sounds manageable right now. Maybe denying my need for facebook for a couple weeks. I think I can do that. You know what, let me take a couple weeks to pray about this whole "cross" situation. I'll get back to ya.

Carrying a cross. It involves humiliation. Being made fun of by everyone, put on display for all your friends and neighbors to see. Searing pain and physical strain. Embarrassment. Shame. Nakedness. Sweat. Blood. Eventually, death. Because you aren't just carrying a cross - you're carrying your cross. So we've gotta die. I don't see a way out of it.

Death precedes life. It's backwards from how we usually think about it. The newborn child, precious little Easter chick, green grass beginning to poke through the brown Missouri mud. Beginnings of life, and death doesn't happen until way down the road, at least we hope. And yet, Jesus says, DIE FIRST. Then, you'll get to "find" your life. Terrifying. Unknown. Regrets. These are things we experience in death.

But the best is yet to come.

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