On Death – and How Jesus Turns Everything Upside Down
Lately my morning greeting has been the sound of birds chirping outside our windows. The glories of spring, captured in a single sound, invite me into each new day.
Joining in the song are white Bradford pear blossoms, newly bloomed tulips, and dogwood buds. The sounds, colors, and air, rich with fragrance, all harmonize as they proudly announce: Life is here!
Springtime. It’s magnificent.
It awakens us. Something in the array of colors and opening of buds tells us that things are being set straight once more. Winter’s gray chill is giving way to warmth and vibrant color. Things feel right in the world again. Everything is living, and something in our hearts recognizes the rightness of it.
Spring stirs up promise inside of us that goes all the way back to Eden. In the garden, life was full, relationship unbroken, and joy ongoing. It was a place of fullness that humanity was meant to inhabit forever.
Of course, humanity didn’t know what it had. We welcomed the villain into the story and with him came the nemesis of our natural existence: death. Life as it had been known in the garden was assaulted and cut short. Death became our expected end, and the garden’s fullness a distant memory.
And though millennia have passed, the human heart continues to carry Eden’s promise. Something inside of us wants to live. And not just live, but live forever. Yet, we find ourselves uncomfortably stuck in a reality that makes this desire seem foolish.
Eden is in our hearts, but the fall is what we’re faced with each day. Things don’t last. New homes rather quickly become dated. Buildings age and are torn down. Beauty fades. Faces wrinkle. Relationships often disintegrate. And people die.
Our world, grasping for a solution to the problem, tells us that if we want to keep something alive, we must be careful with it, preserve it, and cling to it. The idea is that clutching a thing will somehow keep you from losing it.
Jesus, in his counter-intuitive wisdom, disrupts us by telling us to do the opposite. If we want something to last, we have to let it go. Our very lives are subject to this paradox:
“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
Luke 9:24 [Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35]
If we belong to Him, we live this way, and we die this way. Each day, we renounce the counterfeit life of selfish ambition in order to receive authentic daily bread. And we hold our very lives with an open hand, knowing that our natural death is gaining for us the life that Eden’s promise has whispered of.
This ‘letting go as the necessary means to gain’ is one of Scripture’s most glorious paradoxes. Whatever we cling to, whatever we try to preserve through human effort, is all the more certain to be lost. But whatever we release into His hands is reshaped and renewed into something better, truer, and lasting.
Death turns out to be the gateway to Life. The forever kind of life that our hearts have always wished for. The life whose desire keeps surfacing no matter how consistent the attempts to suppress it. The life we’re reminded of each spring.
It does exist. And in Jesus, it’s a promise. But death is our doorway to it.
When we allow the best we have – life itself – to be stripped away, we set the stage for Resurrection. Our physical death makes room for history’s greatest promise to be kept.
“For since death came through a man,
the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
For as in Adam all die,
so in Christ all will be made alive.
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;
it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory;
it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;
it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable,
and the mortal with immortality,
then the saying that is written will come true:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
I Corinthians 15:21-22,42-43,54
In our dying,* winter’s chill gives way to spring’s warmth. Temporary loss is eternal gain. The promise of Eden finds its fulfillment. And the quiet whisper explodes into a Feast that knows no end.
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, and come with me.
See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come.”
Song of Songs 2:10-12
*The all-important context of “our dying” is those of us who are in Christ. Are you resting your faith on Jesus’ shed blood alone? That is our only access to this forever life I am writing about.
**Photo by Kay Walden 🙂