“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
In the movie Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa, better known as the Black Panther, speaks these words in the moments shortly after his father was murdered in a terrorist attack; “In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping off point.”
It’s interesting, many of us fear death because it is a great unknown and an eliminator of life. What we know and understand is life here on this Earth. Even if we believe in an afterlife it is such an unknown that we are often anxious about the prospect. We want to live life here. We have dreams and aspirations. We want to spend time with family and friends, enjoying all of the great benefits of this life. We’re scared of being alone. Scared of leaving others behind. Scared of being without those who are close to us.
So it makes sense to us, that the fully human Jesus as he is preparing for his own death is full of anxiety. The stories relayed to us in John 12 are mixed with a range of emotions as Jesus prepares for his impending death. In the midst of these stories a trigger happens when some of the Greeks, some Gentiles, come to Jesus seeking to speak with him. The Pharisees had worried that the whole world was coming to Jesus, and now they are for even the Gentiles are coming. But now is not the time to continue to rise in popularity and draw crowds, now is the time for death. Thus, this request by the Greeks is a trigger for Jesus as he immediately declares “the hour has come,” and it’s time for death. Even though Jesus is anxious about his own impending death, Jesus also knows it is only through death that life really happens.
It’s interesting that the one thing that at times we seem most afraid of is the one thing that we so desperately need to happen. Whoever loves his life loses it. Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Yet, while we often fear physical death, it’s death to self, death to being in control, and death to making our own decisions that is often the hardest. We try so hard to hold onto our lives and be in control that it seems that the harder we try the more out of control our lives tend to become. But if we could learn to release ourselves, to in essence die to ourselves, then we would discover the good life we’ve always imagined.
Death is one of the basic practices of Christianity that we need to master. It’s one of the aspects that allows us to really follow God. The big theological word for this is a life of cruciformity. We are called to live a life of cruciformity; a life in which we put to death our control, our desires, and our will, so that we can live for God. Our fear is that there is nothing after death. That we will die and then we will be no more; that we will cease to exist. Thus we hold on to our lives with the tightest grip imaginable because we are afraid of being alone; or we are afraid of the unknown; or we are just afraid to trust God.
But if we could change our idea of death. Like T’Challa says, if death is not the end but a stepping off point, then maybe we could trust God enough to engage this upside down way of seeing the world that it is through death that life is ultimately found.
The truth is, we know resurrection life is coming. Easter morning is just a few weeks away. Easter morning, and the resurrected life that it represents, is coming soon. We haven’t been kept in the dark about what will happen in life, we’ve actually been given the final victory notes. We know Easter is coming. We know the resurrection is just moments away. We know that Jesus is the first fruits, and that just as he was raised to new life, we will be as well.
So, as we prepare for Easter and the Resurrection, we have a chance to put to death that part of our life that needs to die. We have a chance to put to death our sin, our control, our wanting to be right, and even the idolatry of self.
If we come to embrace the truth that real life happens in and through the resurrection, then maybe we can spend the next few weeks intentionally dying (in essence following Jesus to the grave) so that we can also follow Jesus to the resurrection.