Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42
The REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE
Earlier this week I had lunch with another Episcopal priest who is a Rector of another church here in Houston. In the course of our conversation, we both shared about the churches where we serve – he told me things about the church where he is a priest, and I shared with him things about St. Andrew’s. Eventually, we ended up talking about mistakes that we had made, things that we had learned, and new opportunities that seemed to emerge once things fell apart.
I was grateful for the honesty of our conversation, and I left lunch that day with new insight and clarity. We both shared that the mistakes we had made, the things we got wrong, the failures, whatever you want to call them – rather than being depressing or draining, instead were the opposite. Failure for me is painful of course – and so is admitting any mistakes we have made. And the work of owning failure and making mistakes is about dying. Our mistakes and failures highlight the lies we tell others about ourselves, and when we are honest about them, we can let them die. We can bury them in the tomb.
In years of owning my own brokenness, in the years of gradually letting parts of myself die – the parts of myself I wanted others to believe, but were in fact not true, I have discovered great freedom. And letting those things die is painful, but I have learned, over doing this many times, that allowing the parts of ourself to die that are not our truth, is one of the most liberating acts we can commit.
Death is integral to who God is. It is in the dying, that space is freed for something new to be born. That’s the gift of honesty, which allows us to shine an uncomfortable light on those things that we need to bring to the tomb, to bury them.
Resurrection is impossible without death. And as many Christians will flock to churches on Sunday to proclaim the Easter message of resurrection, the message will ring hollow if we don’t first do the painful work of dying. It’s not much fun. And you can tell by the number of people here today, verses those who will be here on Sunday, what people are more comfortable with.
I like the dying, because it is honest. But more than that, when I have allowed some of my own unhealthy expectations of myself to die, when I have acknowledged my brokenness, it feels painful, but it sure does feel good. It feels good because it is honest, and that honesty and ownership brings freedom that feels right.
Its astounding to me how in our culture we are so afraid of dying and of death. We don’t even like to use the word “die” or “death” if that is in fact what has happened to a person. We instead say they’ve “passed on” or I’ve even heard of a person not dying, but “transitioning” from this world to the next. Why is it so uncomfortable to call dying what it in fact, really is.
I think one reason is that dying is an affront to our culture obsessed with appearance and perfection. If you have ever been with someone dying or who has recently died, you know it’s not pretty. But it’s honest. And dying is holy work.
On Good Friday, that work is front and center as we consider God dying on our behalf, so that we might live. In every death there is resurrection, and in every death there is freedom, and in every last breath there is hope, because God creates life out of dead things.
Whatever it is in your life that is dying right now – it might be your ambition, an expectation, it might be your health – know that God is as present in things falling apart as God is present in their resurrection. That is why we call this day “Good” – that even in the most barren, death-filled landscapes, God is present, already bringing new things to life. AMEN.