The discipline that I have embarked upon for this Lenten season is the consideration of the day of my death. You can read the previous blog post for context, if you’d care to – but the gist of it is that the gift of Resurrection comes only to those whose hands have been emptied by Crucifixion.
The North American culture I grew up in seems to do all it can to conceal from us the fact that we are all going to die. Other cultures prepare their children more realistically. In some tribal initiation rites, the child is taken from his family by the elders of the community and, as part of the rite of passage, must spend a night in a hole he has dug in the ground. His grave. He comes out of the grave the next morning to join the company of adults – the company of those who know they will die.
And it is not death as a general idea – it is one’s specific death that is considered. By denying the certain knowledge of death, our culture seeks to protect life, but can not deliver on its promise. Only those who have reckoned well with death are ready to live.
That is what makes this Lenten journey so important. Those who are close followers of Jesus know that the awareness of His death was never far from His mind. In the last few months, there would come over Him a certain wistfulness, a certain anguish, a certain joyful melancholy – a longing for home accompanied by a dread of the passage – marked by a look in His eyes, staring off into the unseeable distance. It was unnerving for the disciples – so they did what we do. They resisted the idea of death. Specifically, His death. Their vision of the future did not have room for death – that was not how a Kingdom comes. But still, as the day drew near, He focused more intently on them – the few who had become family by obedience, friends by love. And on those who would yet believe as a result of their witness.
In trying to follow Jesus as He is marked by this awareness, I notice a distant, but parallel track in my own contemplation over the past couple of days. The very first thoughts that bubble to mind when considering the day of my death are of those I would leave behind – loved ones, all. My wife and sons most of all. And, strangely, little ones not yet born. Awareness of the day of death carries a challenge to keep short accounts, to not let love go unspoken, to give grace and forgiveness before being asked. Perhaps that is the kind of Kingdom that comes with the awareness of death.