Readings 2 Corinthians 4:13-15 and John 5:25-29
In the Stephen Sondheim musical, A Little Night Music, Charlotte – reflecting on the infidelity of her husband and the many indignities she is forced to bear as a wife he holds in little esteem, sings the song, every day a little death.
Every day a little sting
Every day a little dies
In the heart and in the head.
In the looks and in the lies.
Every move and every breath,
Brings a perfect little death
There are many kinds of death faced before we die. Many deaths and indignities. It is now commonly acknowledged that a kind of social death precedes literal death for many in old age, as the ability and opportunity to remain connected with social activity, friends, and family can decrease in a society that often resists varying its pace and making even the most basic accommodations for the needs of others. Similar experiences are often shared by people with disability, particularly in cases where the only appropriate available housing takes them far away from established connections and employment. In another way there is the death of opportunities, the foreclosing of futures faced by those in poverty – where the abundance of choice and individual autonomy (supposedly a key marker of our time) is but a pipe dream. Many children of immigrants, whose English quickly surpasses that of their parents, face the death of a particular form of childhood as they are quickly thrust into the role of translator and interpreter of the world, unable to enjoy the freedom and frivolity of others their age. Queer folks often speak of the particular death of the closet, the denial of the truth of one’s self, of having that ignored or overlooked by those closest to them, the death of an inauthentic life and suppressed desire.
In our gospel reading Jesus speaks of the hour that is coming when those in their graves will hear his voice and be brought out… in the epistle, Paul reminds the church that the one who raised Jesus from the dead, will raise us also into Jesus’ presence.
In the weeks following Easter, our readings brim with consistent references to God’s power over death and to the way this power is shared with and demonstrated by the disciples. We are reminded again and again that in Christ, Sin has been made captive and Death swallowed. And while these reminders point us forward to the final resurrection, the reconciliation and rectification of all things, they also point us to the way in which Christ came so that we might have life in its abundance now – how resurrection begins in us the moment we die with Christ. We are each of us Lazarus, we have heard the voice of Jesus saying “come out” and have made our way back into the world, transformed and revived.
We are, each of us, called from the various graves that we might have found ourselves in, that we might have been put in, that we might have put ourselves in. We are called forth into life – abundant, true, and glorious life, the life that truly is life!
This is why, traditionally (and like we did recently) the church performs baptisms on Easter Sunday. For in baptism we remember the great easter promise that those who die with Christ rise with him also. And while this dying and rising (this movement from death in Adam to life in Christ) is achieved by Jesus in the dramatic and decisive event of his death and resurrection – it is also ongoing and persistent. We are constantly dying and rising with Christ.
This does not mean we somehow (in dying) are falling outside of Christ and then finding our way back. No, we are never beyond Christ – for even our death is in him. To say we die with Christ reframes all the moments it feels like we are surmounted by social and existential death. When we feel deep in our graves we have not slipped into a void, but have died into Christ (died into his tomb which is known by its rather questionable ability to hold a body down). Those moments, when we face the little everyday deaths, those moments when we feel as though no future, no hope, no possibility remains… those deaths are not faced alone, for in those moments – yes even those – we have died into Christ (our comfort and care) who holds us, who tends to us and our wounds, until it is time to rise again.
And that rising is not solely something reserved for the end of the age. Every time hope breaks in on despair, tomorrow on today, every time we live on in the face of a little death, every time we take a step toward life and joy and peace and kindness in the face of its opposite we rise with Christ.
So if there is a grave you feel trapped inside, if there is a tomb you have lingered in for longer than you’d like, open your ears to the voice of Christ, he is calling you out from there… allow his voice to silence all others that denigrate and dismiss and diminish – whether they are the voices of our past, the voices of our society, or the voices of our own anxiety and sense of unworthiness. Allow his voice to declare who you are: a beloved child of God, a commissioned image bearer, a reconciled and redeemed co-heir, worthy of love and dignity and community and meaning. Allow that voice to break in and wash us clean. That voice, which lies beyond the threshold of death in the victory of the resurrection, and which is spoken from within the tomb with you. Heed the voice, tarry no longer, let it lead you into life.
And if it feels like the voice itself is not enough to grab onto, if it feels as though it is not enough to beat back whatever it is (socially, financially, psychologically, historically) that keeps you in that tomb, then turn to those around you, turn to those here, your siblings in Christ: the body of the voice! Turn to one another so that we support each other, empower each other, lean on each other, so we might walk out together. We have been called out of our tombs so we may help others as we go, so that we might not live lives defined and determined by death in its many and varying forms, but that we might know the life abundant, the life eternal, the life we have died in Christ for.
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