Tuesday in Holy Week 2014 – 12 Step Eucharist
Death and resurrection
We don’t like talking about death. At least as a society we steer clear of talking about death. It’s a strange reversal on the Victorian era where they took almost a delight in all the things that surrounded death, they observed mourning very visibly and even took pictures of deceased loved ones – known as momento mori – to keep. But they were very uptight indeed about sex and (the urban legend goes) even covered up the legs of tables in order that the menfolk not get aroused.
We, on the other hand, talk about sex a lot. We have highly sexualised advertising, magazines proclaim the latest way to excite your lover and we get hung up about issues of sexuality particularly in the church – as if God really cares what happens in our bedrooms. But we don’t talk about death.
Jesus wasn’t quite so uncomfortable talking about death. Of course in the world he lived in death was much more visible and the death of younger people much more common so it would not be a subject anyone could really avoid. But still, he talks of his own death (often to the horror of his disciples) and about death generally. Today’s long reading from the Gospel of John is a case in point… verse 24 of John 12 says “unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.”
Now for those of you who remember your high school science you’ll probably realise the inaccuracy of that statement – seed’s don’t die when they are planted, they germinate and grow – but the image is still a striking one. It’s an echo of Jesus’ own death – which is also mentioned in the reading – but also a statement about the way God works.
For us who follow Christ we don’t follow a dead saviour, but a resurrected one. One who has passed through death to a new kind of life. Scholars differ on what exactly that means, but it is the key belief and understanding of the Church – Christ died and was raised to life again by the power and the love of God.
We’re quick to divide things in two, in the Church, and indeed as human beings – death one side, life the other, darkness one side, light another; hope one side despair another etc. But there is more to what Jesus says than simply one thing or another. Without the darkness we don’t see the shape or depth of things as pure light leaves no shadows. Without despair some of us never get to the point where we need to recognise that we need help – from God or from others – to bring us hope and set us free. Without death, says Jesus, there is no resurrection.
But of course he isn’t just talking about physical death, but of those things which have to die in order that new life may come. We see it in nature, every year the leaves fall, the trees seem dead, but are renewed in this wonderful spring season as the world burst with colour. We see it in childbirth where the pain and the struggle of labour have to be borne in order that a child may come into the world.
Perhaps it would help if we didn’t think in such black and white terms as death and resurrection – but of renewal and new life. The Church at its best takes things which are old and makes them new, bringing them to life with the light of Christ. So the pagan festival of light, saturnalia, is taken and made into a celebration of the light of Christ and called Christmas. The festival of springtime alonngside the powerful images of Passover from our Jewish heritage are taken and renewed in the story of Easter Day.
We are called to renewal. To new life. To resurrection.
But in order to do that, perhaps there are things that must die in us or around us. Perhaps our pride and reliance on ourself – so that we learn to trust in God and in others again. Perhaps our desire to achieve and always be ahead of the crowd in order that we find community. Perhaps those things, activities, substances, people or events which bind us and stifle us and drain the life from us – in order that we might be renewed again.
Are there things that we need to let go of, things that we need to allow to fall into the ground and die in order that our Christian Faith may truly live? Perhaps there are distractions, things we take us away from truly giving all to God. Perhaps we are afraid to what might happen if we truly gave up everything to God. Perhaps we are not sure what it means to hand over the whole of our lives to God. Perhaps we struggle to let go of these things – for it is true that we can do none of this without a power and a strength that is beyond ourselves – the power of God in the Holy Spirit as those of us who are Christians would say.
When we are alive in our faith, when we have allowed our distractions, fears, misunderstandings and apathy to fall into the ground and die, it is then that we can bear the fruit of renewed lives, resurrected lives – life – as Jesus himself says in this Gospel of John chapter 10 verse 10 – life in all its fullness, or life abundant..
And we pray that the seed of this old world may pass away and God may bring resurrection life to all of creation. That the fullness of life in Christ can come. May we be given the strength to let go, to let die those things which distract us from and destroy our well-being. That we may know resurrection life.