Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected…and be killed.
He said to Peter, when Peter objected to hearing this: You are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.
And finally: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
Contemplating death is an important part of our work in Lent. Of necessity, death precedes resurrection.
We are called not only to confront the death of Jesus, but to confront the necessity of our own deaths.
St Paul wrote, later in the letter to the Romans: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
These are hard sayings – that we must deny ourselves, that we must lose our lives if we are to follow Jesus and to experience newness of life.
What can it mean for us living in the place and time where WE find ourselves? What are the deaths we need to be ready to undergo?
For Mark writing for the followers of Jesus about forty years after his death, willingness to lose one’s life for the gospel was a literal reality. Emperor Nero in 64CE had instituted anti-Christian policies that could result in believers’ execution.
Some Christians – notably, in recent years, Coptic Christians in Egypt – still put their lives at risk by commitment to the gospel.
For us, the deaths that we need to face up to and undergo are the death to the ways of thinking, of acting, of being, that prevent us from full commitment to the work of the gospel – all of the ways in which we are “setting [our] minds not on divine things, but on human things.”
Our work in Lent is to identify some of those habits and patterns and to take steps in freeing ourselves from them.
In her Ash Wednesday sermon, Heather spoke about being intentional. She reminded us that growing closer to God often involves letting go of the things that prevent our living fully into the way of life to which Jesus calls us.
Each of us needs to figure out what, for us, those things are – they may be
I had an aunt who was a hoarder. She wasn’t a hoarder like you’d see on reality TV, and she was accomplished in many ways, but she was still a hoarder. I loved her very much, she was in some ways an inspiration to me, (and I have benefitted from her pathology in that among the things she hoarded was yarn, and when she passed away, I inherited the yarn.)
But my aunt spent a lot of time and money thinking about things she wanted to do in the future, and acquiring what she would need to carry those dreams out. In reality, her life was in some ways rather narrow and restricted, and I wonder whether her imagining a brighter and bolder future and equipping herself for it was a way of protecting herself from full engagement in the present.
It’s an example of a comfortable life protected, and abundant life, perhaps, missed.
But here’s an example of a readiness to die to that which isn’t life-serving:
My friend Pam Mott – a friend to all of us in her work as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese – has done some wonderful self-reflecting in the last year or two that I have found especially thought-provoking. Here is an excerpt from an essay she posted this week:
I have not been politically active in my life, I have had the privilege of not “having to” march to claim “my rights” and – more to my shame – I have not often used that privilege very effectively for the rights and humanity of others. Not until this election. Since then I have marched in Washington, and in Boston, and locally in support of immigrants and Muslims. I have subscribed to “Daily Action” and called my legislators. I will march again in March for March for our Lives in Washington, even though I sometimes wonder what my presence does. Even the ability to march assumes some privilege. My boss supports me completely, I have the means to fly to Washington, I do not sacrifice an hourly wage by doing these things…and these are all reasons why we need to march, for justice, for peace - because there are those who cannot march, and who have no voice. And, these are all reasons why we need to pray – to open ourselves up for a life larger than our own comfort, privilege or convenience. (Pam Mott, www.diocesewma.org)
What I find important and inspiring in Pam’s reflection is not her conclusions – though I admire and agree with them – but rather, her process, her commitment to examining her life and her assumptions and to expanding into new ways of living her faith that go beyond easy words and good intentions. Pam demonstrates the intentionality that Heather invited us to.
The ways we have learned to think about ourselves and to look at the world help determine our ability to live in service to the gospel.
Changing the way we llive in the world can be TERRIBLY hard. But making these changes may be the deaths that Jesus requires.
Another piece that has moved me, recently, in thinking about the deaths we need to face, was a sermon by Br. David Vryhoff of SSJE. (www.ssje.org)
Br David’s focus is on our relationship to TIME, and the need to examine that relationship:
We believe time is a gift from God, and that often we abuse that gift by rushing through life, or by overcrowding our days, or by squandering our time on things of lesser importance.
Br David cites a study that concluded that people in cities now move at a pace that is 10% faster than they did in 2000. A faster pace leads to:
Some more of Br. David’s words: It takes discipline to do and to achieve; but it takes an equal amount of discipline to know when and how to stop doing and achieving.
Could we make a conscious choice to do less? Could we learn to focus on what’s really important, what really needs doing, and then let go of the rest? What is it that we could stop doing, or at least do less of?
Perhaps the letting go of our assumptions about what we need to accomplish is one of the deaths Jesus requires of us.
So let me suggest a paraphrase:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves (or, perhaps, let go of restrictive and self-protective approaches) and follow me. For those who want to save their life (or perhaps, who insist on maintaining their breakneck and self-destructive pace) will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, (or perhaps, who are able to let go of some of their drive to produce what the world values) will save it.
May God give us the wisdom to discern what needs to die in our lives in order that we might fully live, and may God give us the courage to make the changes that will free us to live into the way of the gospel of Christ.
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