Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dying to Live

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12.24)

Easter expects us to believe the most supernatural event ever recorded in history. A man is tortured within an inch of his life and nailed to a cross, where he’s exposed to the elements for nine hours, bleeds out, and eventually suffocates beneath the pressure of his weight. His body is rushed into a borrowed crypt, with a massive stone and two guards placed at its entrance to prevent grave robbers from stealing his corpse. (There’s some wild talk predicting he’ll rise from the dead. So it’s best all around to ensure his burial site isn’t tampered with.) Two days later, his friends return to check on the grave and discover the stone has been moved and his body is missing. That’s when they learn that he has indeed come back to life and freed himself from the grave—an amazing feat for a man of uncommon physical strength, let alone someone whose body has been ravaged and who was undeniably dead.

That’s the story and if we’re to believe in the power of Christ in our lives and the world, we have to believe that’s what happened. We can puzzle out all sorts of alternative scenarios. Yet none of them satisfy. Maybe Jesus never died; maybe He lapsed into a coma and His disciples assumed He was dead. But if He was buried alive, how could someone in His condition muster the strength to push back the enormous tombstone? Maybe He was dead and His followers managed to abscond with His corpse. Then how do we explain the random sightings that occur in the weeks after His resurrection? Maybe the whole thing was a hoax. Then how do we explain why this myth has survived two millennia? On some level, this story was, is, and will always remain very real. And for us to benefit from all that it represents, we must retire our logical skepticism and accept its supernatural mysteries by faith.

What’s most interesting is that, six days prior to His death, Jesus explains the mechanics of His resurrection in the most mundane natural terms. He compares the process to a planting cycle. A wheat grain is buried in the ground, where it dies, and resurges to abundant life that produces more grain, which in turn will be buried, die, and yield even more life. In this context, the Resurrection is the most natural occurrence known to humankind. Although we don’t understand the actual phenomenon, the concept of dying to live is one we encounter every day. It’s what puts food on our tables, fills our gardens with beauty, and provides shelter in the shade of vast trees and lumber we use to build our homes.

As we anticipate tomorrow’s Easter celebrations, we listen closely to Jesus’s explanation, because He expands His story to include us. We carry in us the seeds of His resurrection. We are the fruit born from His death. And we must also die so that we too can bear fruit. How does this work? We can’t really say. All we know is it happens in us just as surely as one wheat stalk yields hundreds of grains that are sown into the ground, die, and resurge into new life that produces exponentially more grain.

It is the most natural process we know. Yet it is also the most supernatural transformation we can possibly experience. Our faith is perpetuated by willingness to release ourselves from the fear of death and all that it triggers: hatred, competitiveness, insecurity, materialism, and every other life-limiting woe we cling to in hopes of survival. We arrive at the empty tomb, astounded by its miracle, while also realizing the very thing that perplexes us is at work in us. We are dying to live. The resurrection phenomenon doesn’t end with Jesus at Easter. It resurfaces every day in our lives, in every moment when we refute the fear of death by placing love for others alongside love of self and love for God—the Creator Who ordained this astonishing life-death-life cycle—above all.

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