Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Little Death, Big Life

I will not be the first to observe that life is a series of little deaths. I remember once hearing a young woman on a radio program reflecting on her potential choices for a husband. She, like most young women, held a picture of her wedding day in a special place...the white dress, flowers, music, and above all, the smile of her Prince Charming promising happiness evermore. Then she looked around, even between the stars she still held in her eyes, and saw that if she wanted a husband, she would by necessity marry just another sinner. He would hurt her carelessly, he would ignore her unintentionally, he would just mess up. A bit of her dream died that day, and when she finally did marry, every time one of those little hurts came, another bit would die.

In a way, I am glad that this is mankind's common lot. It means that my own disappointments, my own little deaths are not unique to my stumbling life. It also means that life makes more sense in the context of the cross. You died, too. You died in little halting bits like we do, then in one incomprehensibly grand bit, right at the end. And they hurt You, too. You, however, did several things I cannot. First, and most importantly, Your death threw open a door to life, a life you demonstrated almost immediately by walking out of your grave. You also explained it all on the cross. Yes, you did, and I almost missed it. You told me and everyone listening exactly what You were doing.

In fact, you shouted it--"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" This was not a cry of desperation or abandonment like so many Christian commentators have posed. They all got it wrong. Of course they were never young Jews who hung their hopes on the Old Testament. If they had been Jews, like the crowd that surrounded You that day, they would have immediately recognized your words as the plea they had already learned by heart, the plea we know from the first line of Psalm 22, the sweet song of desperation, of little deaths, that became salvation.

In saying "My God, my God," you cemented forever in their minds the connection between what You were doing and its ultimate purpose. You did not have to say it the rest. They already knew it:

He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one... before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows... All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations will bow down before him--those who cannot keep themselves alive...They will proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn--for He has done it. --Psalm 22: 24, 27, 29, 31

Oh, we will have the little deaths and they will still hurt. But You went from Calvary to sit in heaven, and we will, too. This is hard to remember during the dying, but You did, and said so. Then You punctuated it with Your final assurance: "It is finished."

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