When winter lasts so long, it only makes me anticipate Spring even more. With greater fervor, with deeper longing. It reminds me of the years in Africa when after a year of separation I would anticipate someone’s arrival or my departure with such intensity that I would nearly burst with excitement.
I miss that feeling.
But every winter I re-visit a similar anticipation. As I reach my winter threshold and ache for the sun to warm my face and grass to grow up between the toes of my children. It’s a wonderful feeling. We all turn a little giddy in these parts. We start running outside again, eating ice cream and pulling on cute skirts…..and this is only when it reaches 50 degrees!
In my longing for brighter days, color out my window, and life to grow all around us, I bring out my nests and birds and colors that say, Come, we’re ready.
This has me thinking about the resurrected life. And how my longing for it increases the more I experience the cross. How I’m becoming more available to Jesus and inviting the new life he brings.
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
These words of Jesus are strong. They cut right through our “Christians have a blessed life” theology. They turn upside down the idea that following Jesus is something we can do in addition to living the life we’ve always known. These words make being a disciple seem a little scary. For who wants to lose her life? What normal person really wants to die?
So what does it mean to lose your life in order to gain it? This. The life of a disciple. How is it lived? Jesus, himself, answers this question in the gospel of Mark. To the ones seeking, to the ones following, Jesus speaks the hard truth that muddied their understanding of who the Christ was, and the life of those who claimed him as such.
At the heart of discipleship is death – the taking up of a cross.
Friends, this cross we anticipate this Easter isn’t just the old rugged one that held our Savior. It’s our cross too. The one we’re called to carry. For if we want to follow Jesus into a resurrected eternal life, we must first follow him into death.
For God’s story isn’t simply life. It’s life after death.
We know (sort of!) what this looks like in our physical death and our resurrection into eternal life – a forever fellowship with God.
But what does death look like in the living? How is resurrection experienced on this earth?
The teachings of Jesus in the gospel of Mark reveal to the disciples how they should live and relate to God, to each other, and their broader communities. How to live as a redemptive reality in a broken world.
Reject the world’s notions of who is great, he says. And receive children. For welcoming children is like welcoming Christ, and welcoming Christ is welcoming God. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such children. Dependent, creative, innocent children. Don’t exploit them, abuse them, abandon or rebuke them. Receive them and bless them as Christ did. (9:33-37)
When people speak and heal and serve in the name of Jesus – even those who are different than us – Jesus teaches us that we are not to judge or hinder, but receive. (9:38-41)
Whatever causes you to sin, cut it out of your life. Period. For it’s better to enter Heaven empty handed, than keep it all and be separated from God. (9:42-50)
Relationships are meant to be whole. Restored. Abandonment and brokenness are not of God. (10:1-12)
Be willing to give up everything to follow Jesus. Money, land, home, family. And give generously. (10:17-29)
Choose differently. Live redemptively. Take up your cross and follow me.
These deaths. Of social order and status, of religious pride and judgment, of temptation, of broken relationships, of possessions. These are the beginning of new life, these are how to live different than the world.
Discipleship is surrendering to little personal deaths that strip away our natural instincts, our sinful responses, our inherited social values, our habits that hinder faithful living. And in our dying, God resurrects new life in us. New life that brings him glory and makes us more alive than we’ve ever been.
And this way of living through dying is God’s way of shaping us. To be more like him. To be more available to his purposes.
And the resurrection that comes, it happens now. Here. As we work out our salvation with our Redeemer.
Here’s what the living part looks like:
A death of social order and status. Humility resurrected.
A death of religious pride and judgment. Unity resurrected.
A death of temptations. Faithfulness resurrected
A death of broken relationships. Community resurrected.
A death of possessions. Abundance in Christ.
As we anticipate the death of Jesus, it is faithful and good to consider the ways we are called to die with him. As individuals, families and communities of faith — what are we called to? What must we give up, turn away from, die to in order to embrace the life Jesus wants for us?
These deaths aren’t easy, but we can face them with promise and hope that resurrection follows. That the life God intends for his people is more abundant than any life we would chose for ourselves.
What little and big deaths have you experienced in order to embrace the life God has for you? Share these resurrection testimonies this Easter season, and let us be a living people who aren’t afraid to die in Christ.