Can Life Come From Death?

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston

 I. The Ugliness Of Death 

Death! The overhanging, looming darkness of the end of life itself.  The big black dark cloud whose inevitability we often ignore until it’s staring us in the face.  We literally spend our whole lives trying to avoid the dreariness of death, because it makes us uncomfortable.  We don’t understand it, and we never like to sit in the midst of it.  It is not a warm companion to us, but an unwanted friend that likely hangs over us and meets us at some point, most likely the lowest moment of our lives,  whether we like it or not.  It terrifies us and makes us weep.  But it is a part of life that is inevitable.  We reject conversations with our family members that surround death – what is in their will, what should we do in certain situations, and where should we look for answers, how will certain things be paid – all these things, while important, haunt us, even if it asks what happens after one’s death and reveals their desires after they pass.  We don’t want to face our own death or the death of our loved one because it makes us reconcile with our own mortality and face our own loss.  So we avoid these conversations because it delays our moment where we have to confront death face to face, with ourselves and our loved ones.  We even try to push away our grief and our sorrow, our weeping and our heartbreak when we are sitting in the moments where we must confront death.  We don’t like it, and evidence would show that we cannot handle it, or at least we have extreme difficulty with confronting the reality of death in our lives.  But no matter how much we hate death, it is a steady part of life.  And it could even be argued that life cannot exist without death. 

 II. We Have To Face Death 

Yes, life has to wrestle with the concept that at some point it will come face to face with death, but it could also be argued that life can come from death itself.  This is an absurdity to say the least, but it is what is the quintessential foundation of our faith – and we see Jesus reference this within our scripture this morning – this theological expounding of our faith found uniquely in John’s gospel.  We hardly focus on it, but our faith itself says that through Christ’s death, there came life.  And yet we, for some reason, focus on death as a finality, and we ignore the process of sitting with death, that we might remain in a safe space of life while denying the reality of death.  The world has taught us that death is the very end of life itself, it is a dark point where a cloud overhangs us and life ceases to exist.  And even it fit is an untruth, some may try to proclaim that death is the moment of life where God leaves us and the partnership with God ceases to exist.  But as we know from our faith, this is the moment in which we are more intimately connected with God.

 But if we have learned nothing else through these last few weeks of Lent, we have heard God say that our faith is completely counter-cultural to our world.  And that the ways of God are nothing like what the world would have us to believe.  And the very foundation of our faith says that life actually comes out of death.  There is life that flows out of the way of the cross.  If it was not for Jesus suffering through the beating, bruising, and bleeding – if it wasn’t for the lashes that he endured from being whipped, if it wasn’t for the blood that trickled from his wounds, if it wasn’t for the sweat that dripped from his brow from pure exhaustion, if it wasn’t for the strain on his joints as he was stretched across the cross, if it wasn’t for the heaviness on his lungs as he pushed himself up to breathe, if it wasn’t for the rub burns on his skin as he struggled to breathe, if it wasn’t for the strain on his body that caused him to breathe his last, if it wasn’t for his death as he gave up his spirit and breathed his last – if it wasn’t for all of this there would be no salvation, there would be no new life in a resurrection, there would be no new life that occurs through connection and relationship with God.  Jesus actually went through all the rituals of death, he was anointed and wrapped in burial cloth, he went through a ceremonial death.  He was not just sleeping, he was dead for three days.  Dead where it seemed like there was no hope.  Dead where the disciples and his mother and brothers were moved to tears and gut-wrenching sorrow.  There was no mistaking that Jesus had stopped breathing, his heart stopped beating, and he was dead. Jesus went through all of this, that all might find new life, that all might be brought to God, that all might be drawn unto him. So even as that dark looming cloud of death hung over, that was not the end of the story, that was not the end of the disciples witness, and that was not the end of the disciples’ and our testimony.

            As we have discussed from weeks previously the gospel of John is specifically unique from the other gospels in that quite often it speaks of things with a spiritual and theological understanding which is more clear after the resurrection.  Jesus talks in ways that make large theological implications about the significance of his identity, spiritual happenings, and what is to come.  Many of his statements leave others around him quite confused until they have a greater understanding through the revelation of the Holy Spirit after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Our scripture this morning is no different, in that Jesus speaks in such a cryptic manner that many people do not understand the fullness of what he is saying in the moment.  Jesus says, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” But in this Jesus is not just making a statement that he is meant to be praised or that celebration is coming, but that he is approaching his time of death – he is approaching that dark moment that we often run from – Jesus is about to approach the moment of the deep dark shadow of death – the end of his earthly mission and life.  But he is aware of the fact that the end of his life is not an end, but a beginning that brings the possibility of new life to the whole world.  But that does not mean death did not come with its own pain, that  does not mean that death did not come with its own darkness, but that as we push through death, as we push through the healing waters that come about in death, as we move through death we reach another side of life, vibrancy, and growth.

 III. Life Can Come From Death 

            But as Jesus teaches, he does not stop there in how death brings new life.  He shows us how nature itself, the intricacies of God’s divine creation help us to see and understand how life can be birthed from death itself.  Jesus gives the example of a grain of wheat.  Before a grain of wheat can bear fruit, before a grain of wheat can be gathered, before a grain of wheat can be ground, before wheat can be used to make bread, before that bread can be used to feed a nation, before bread can be the nourishment that sustains life, the grain must fall to the earth and die, it must cease to be what it was, so that life might exist.  And with Christ it is just the same.  There is a physical death that must happen for life to be produced.  And while not shared in our scripture, there are other things in nature that show us life coming from death. We can just look to the caterpillar who transitions into a butterfly.  The caterpillar fattens itself up and spins itself into a cocoon or a shiny chrysalis.  And we get excited about the beauty that is the butterfly and we even look forward to the new life of spring and summer that the butterfly represents.  But the caterpillar does not just transform into the butterfly without a difficult process – the process itself is by no means easy.  After the caterpillar is wrapped up in the cocoon, the caterpillar begins to digest itself and begins to release enzymes that dissolves all of its tissue, chemically breaking down cells, decomposing, and becoming a soupy oozy mess – it must disintegrate all the things that are no longer needed and go through what might not be a complete death, but a dying of cells and tissue that are no longer needed.  There is then a rearrangement of cells that survive this process to form the body parts of the butterfly.  But what that means is that in order for this new thing to come into being, there are things that have to die and decompose, there are things that have to be shed, there are things that have to be disintegrated, this being must become a messy goop in order for it to take on its grandeur of beauty of being a butterfly that symbolizes the life that comes forth in the spring.  So, while the world tells us that death is the very end of life, creation itself affirms our theology and faith and shows us that life comes through death of some things.  Some things are going to have to die, in order for us to live into the newness of life.  And in this affirmation, we stand on the firm foundation that we have been brought new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We are made new through a suffering Savior who gave his life that we might find life anew.

 IV. Some Thing Have To Die For Us To Enter Into New Life

But what does that mean for us? How do we respond to this gospel?  What are our marching orders? First and foremost, we must share this gospel of Jesus Christ with all of the world, because we proclaim that God is not through with us yet, that death does not stop us, death is not a finality, but a brand-new beginning that starts a point of new life, a new point of salvation, and a new point of liberation.  

But secondly, it means that as we move through this Lenten season, as we move on through time with God, that in order to get to the newness of what God has for us, to get to the birthing of something new, to indulge in the great newness of ideas of things to come, there is some death that must come along with it, there is some death that we must go through.  There may even be the death of some of the things we hold so dearly and understand – there may be some death of all the things around us, tearing down all the things that we know and understand, so that the very essence of what is God can resurrect in the world around us. The scary moment is that everything around us may have to die in order for the new life found in Jesus Christ to exist.  Because the things that have shaped who we are and our mindset have sat with us so long that they have allowed us to shape our world with intrinsic habits of hatred, hierarchy, and oppression thinking they are normal, but the reality is they have even tainted the ways we interact with one another and see God.  The foundations of our faith say that for new life to flow and exist, we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. So what is it that must die? Well as we witnessed the death of at least 6 Asian women in a shooting spree in Atlanta, not to mention the hatred, vitriol, and violence that Asian people have experienced as people have incorrectly tried to blame COVID on the Asian population. This directed form of hatred must die And  yet many people of color still experience the commonality of hatred within racism – it is clear that what definitely must die is hatred – and that is all forms of hatred that rear its ugly head in racism, sexism, and classism.  And even as we talk about this shooting in Atlanta, there is an issue in which some Asian people come into this country and are also exploited in ways that force them into modes of employment that are more like places of imprisonment and subservience so that they can pay off some sort of debt – and we ignore their state of oppression because it meets our own sense of pleasure.  This must die.  We ignore the signs of human trafficking that are the highest around pivotal sports events.  This too must die.  We function in a world that upholds the superiority of men over women in patriarchy. This too must die.  Just yesterday there were reports of a shooting at a mall in Houston.  The presence of violence within our world must die.  The structures that hold the poor imprisoned in their poverty must die a brutal death.  The structures of society and religion that seeks to control the behavior and persecute people into staying in their space without challenging oppression and hierarchy must die.  The pieces of our religion that have not only agreed to but have been shaped in racism, greed, oppression, sexism, hatred, and anger need to die.  The prison industrial complex that make prisons more a business rather than a place of rehabilitation must die.  The feelings of hopelessness and misdirection need to die.  The anger and frustration that leaves us in a place of stagnation must die.  The desire to separate rather than build Beloved Community must die.  The pervasive thought and behavior that values certain people over others must die. The hatred of people who practice other religious expressions must die. The policies that exploit the poor must die.  All of things that do not express God’s love and future trajectory have got to die for us to move toward a new reality.  And as we move on to the great new future that God has for us we have to realize that there are some things that we not only have to let go, but have to actually die and disintegrate for us to live in the new life and beauty of what God has for us. 

But that does not mean it will be easy.  That does not mean it will not come with its own difficulty.  That does not mean it will not hurt.  That does not means that we will not mourn. That does not mean it will not cause grief.  Death comes with all of that. Even Jesus suffered as he endured death and even as we experience death within our lives our hearts ache our souls break and we weep within.  And this is also true for the death that we must endure.  But on the other side is hope. On the other side is new life.  On the other side is the reality of the newness that God calls us into.

But what we stand on is that as we let the things die that must die, we are stepping in a new place of new covenant with God.  We are moving to a place where the structure of the rules that seek to standardize what is “normal” and seek to control and define our sense of morality yet act more like an oppressive structure are experiencing a death and we are standing in the new covenant that is written on our hearts.  No longer are we bound by the laws that bind but we live in a way where the ways of the Lord come out in our actions because they are written on our heart, it is within us.  Because of this new covenant we have new life. So in the death of the things that are not like God, we are transformed and reborn as the people of God.  And we are able to think of new possibilities for ministry, new ideas to connect with God, new and rich abundance of life as a church in connection with God.  And as we move in the world, in this newness of life we will function in God’s love, putting on the mind of Christ and act in ways that reflect Christ is within us. 

Jesus said that if he was lifted up from the earth, he will draw all people to himself.  In this he is saying that as his death was made real and put on display, it was made possible that new life was brought to all people and reconciles them to God.  We are drawn into God through the life that is brought from death.  This is the very foundation of our theology.  Through Christ’s death, brought new life.  But even more than that, if we lift this up, if we proclaim to the world that through Christ’s death we are all able to live in the new life of Jesus Christ.  So brothers and sisters there are things that have got to die that we might be able to lift up the life, salvation, love, peace, and justice present within our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in our lives.

Maybe the question we ask ourselves is what are we willing to let die so that we can live in the newness of life that Jesus Christ has for us? What might we let go so that we can reach the masses, people of every birth so that in our ministry that if Jesus is lifted up from the earth, Jesus will draw all people unto him.  So, let us put some things to death that Jesus may be lifted up and all will be drawn unto him.

Lift him up, lift him up – till he speaks from eternity.  He said if I, if I be lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all men unto me.

How to reach the masses, men of every birth, for an answer Jesus gave the key, he said if I, if I be lifted up from the earth I’ll draw all men unto me.