This weekend I spoke the benediction at the funeral of a dear friend. Two days later I ate lunch with another friend who recently lost his spouse to cancer. Both experiences still taste of death, the stripping finality, the grinding loss, the unappeasable loneliness. How could anyone associate death with joy? Isn’t this something approaching sacrilege?
Nevertheless, surprising clues have surfaced that point me elsewhere. One clue comes from my previous avoidance of funerals. I disliked thinking of death and often found excuses not to attend. But now I am eager to go, to celebrate the life and mourn the loss. I no longer deny the reality of death, and somehow it feels more robust to do live that way.
Another clue surfaced when I went skydiving. To be flung out of a plane at 14,000 feet was fearful enough, yet it was followed by fifteen seconds of raw terror as I accelerated into a void. But when I reached terminal velocity, I opened my eyes and felt as if I was floating on a pillow of air, experiencing the wonder of free fall for one whole minute. It occurred to me later that this may be a helpful parallel to death, when the terror of the unknown yields to something wondrous.
A final clue came with Jesus himself. He was always talking about his death and then asking his followers to join him in it (see Mark 8:34). But the point was never just to die. The whole point of dying was to be able to follow him, and in that following to feel his presence and know his personal counsel.
What would that look like to walk into his death every day? Perhaps it’s letting go of a grudge or giving away money you have clung to. Perhaps it’s fighting a long-held addiction or releasing someone you have been overly dependent on. Perhaps it’s fasting a meal or fasting technology for a day. However we enter Jesus’ death, we will begin to feel a growing freedom to detach from what is truly causing death and reattach to him. And then we make a stunning discovery.
We aren’t dying. We’re coming alive.
And when we face the death of our bodies, it will only be more of the same. Death will be the gateway into more life, more joy. Only Jesus could take something so ugly and turn it into beauty.
So where do you need to start dying today?