Monday, November 17, 2008

The Glory of Dying

I’m sitting on the patio of my grand-in-laws’ country house, overlooking a lake and acres upon acres of Georgian woods. It’s November, and all non-floridians know what that means. Color. Crimson, hues of orange, burnt yellow and baby chick yellow, purple and stubborn green. These, and so many other colors, flank tall, gangly trees as they submit to the changing of the seasons. Some trees emanate an orange-red, as electric as a Las Vegas sign. Others have soft yellows that only glow when rays of sunlight shine through them. Over the past few days my husband and I have been eagerly scanning the trees for the most glorious, the most ostentatious displays of color.

Yesterday morning, as my husband and I sat on a fallen log near the lake, the irony hit me. The beauty in which we delighted was an outward sign of the tree’s death. The healthy trees, which had maintained the process of photosynthesis, were still green and we took no note of them. The leaves whose life was slowly seeping out of them caught our attention and earned our admiration. As the life of the tree escapes through its leaves, it announces its death to the world. The leaf is never more glorious than right before it dies and falls to the ground.

We were in awe of death.

I wonder if this is what Jesus intended for those who would follow Him. Before Christ, we had a death grip on life as we knew it. The cares, pleasures, and worries of this world consumed our thoughts and lives. We were like every other person, indistinguishable from the history of humanity that has preceded us. When Christ took hold of us, he told us to let go. He said that those who seek life in this world would lose it and those who lose their lives would find true life in Him. We let go of this life and submit to Christ’s death, symbolically, in baptism. As we’re raised from the water, we take part in a sacred ritual that represents the resurrected life.

Our lives should reflect the mystery of the Georgian trees. When we submit to dying to ourselves and this worlds’ agenda, our plans, ambitions, identities and passions seep out of our hearts and away from our souls. We begin to echo Paul’s words, “this life I live is not my own,” and we begin to identify with Christ and the losses he incurred while living here. It’s only then that we take on a glory we could never attain on our own. Radiant color emits from our beings as we announce to the word our death.

I’ve never before thought of death as beautiful. Baptism is celebrated because of the new life it represents. Easter is celebrated because of the resurrection. But right now, I think nature is speaking. I think that God is whispering a secret truth—that we don’t have to wait for perfection, we don’t have to wait for His return or our own resurrection to celebrate what is now transpiring.

Our daily choices to die to ourselves and thereby find life in Christ, separates us from the masses, from those indistinguishable evergreen trees. When we pass on the job promotion due to where God’s calling us, when we share God with our friend at the risk of losing the friendship, when we forgo dining out to be able to share our resources with the poor, these are the marks of life in Christ. The job opportunity may never come back around, the friend may reject you and God together, and the home cooked chicken may never get that craving fulfilled. The glory of these choices is that they speak to something beyond today, beyond this world. They challenge the world’s obsession with self and now. They demand a pause, and maybe even a thought, directed towards God.

Just as the sky is most radiant right before the black of night, and the trees are most beautiful right before the dead of winter, a Christian’s life is most glorious as she releases it from herself.

In this, there is an announcement, a proclamation of submission to One greater than ourselves. We do look forward to heaven, to resurrection, and to all things being made right and new. But, for now, let’s acknowledge the strange splendor of our lives; let’s celebrate the irony of this death we daily live.

This is the glory of dying.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a wonderful piece of writing April. It brought a smile to my face. Brian and I are doing Purpose Driven Life with our 20 Somethings small group and this goes along perfectly with it. I am going to print it out for us to read tonight. Thank you.