Let us pray:
Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. Take us to that place within You that heals, listens, and molds our longings and passions, our wounds and wanderings, and transforms us into a more holy human shape. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Amen.
Reading through some devotional material this week I came across this excerpt from the Companion to the Book of Common Worship (Geneva Press, 2003) teaches:
“[A]t the beginning of Lent, we are reminded that our possessions, our rulers, our empires, our projects, our families, and even our lives do not last forever. ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return’ (Gen. 3:19). The liturgies throughout Lent try to pry loose our fingers, one by one, from presumed securities and plunge us into unknown baptismal waters, waters that turn out to be not only our [tomb of death,] but surprisingly our womb of life. Rather than falling back into nothingness, we fall back on everlasting arms. Death? How can we fear what we have already undergone in baptism?” (p. 110).
That statement really struck me; how can we fear death when we have already undergone it in Baptism? The more practical side of me says, “Wait a minute…they are very much different things; one is theological, metaphorical, and very much an internal rebirth-but it is still within and a part of life as we know it. The other is a very real ending of life as we know it – an exit from this world – either in pain or in peaceful sleep. I know which one I would prefer, but still; death has two distinct meanings for me here.
In one of the readings for today’s daily lectionary, however, we have a glimpse of where we are headed come Easter: Paul wrote in Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Granted, this is the metaphorical, theological meaning.
David Gambrell, of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s national office for Theology and Worship, writes of this passage: “…There is an oasis of grace at the end of this dusty, desert road. There is a stream of living water that flows through this lonesome valley. Lent leads us ever more deeply into the great mystery of our faith: that in dying, Christ destroys our death; that in rising, Christ restores our life. What we might “give up” will be nothing compared to what we will receive—for we will be “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).
I have to confess, though, I am still hung up on the very real meaning of death-as-in-becoming-un-living. Yet Jesus seems to make light of it in today’s gospel reading from Luke. Some Pharisees come to warn Jesus of Herod’s wish to kill him. Jesus says to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ’Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’” …If that isn’t a blatant invitation to “Bring it on, Herod!” I don’t know what is.
I can’t help but compare and contrast that with the passion week plea Jesus calls out from the depths of his being in prayer: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). How are we supposed to treat these very real differences, these two approaches to real death, much less Paul’s theological, metaphorical approach to baptism and the meaning we ascribe to the very real death of our Lord Jesus Christ?
To be honest, I don’t know how to treat these two separately one from the other. Without Christ’s very real death and subsequent resurrection, our own metaphorical death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ could not take place. Beyond that, do we treat our metaphorical death and rising as a foreshadowing of our own very real death and subsequent rising in some mysterious way? If that is the case, is our rebirth a heaven removed from this life or is it a heaven embedded in the core of this life by way of a renewed perspective-or a new way of being, of living this life as we know it? Or is it both?
These questions haunt me during the 40 days of Lent, and I invite you to let them haunt your thoughts as well. I encourage you to read and reflect deeply on the scriptures, pray to God and ask for your eyes to be opened so you may see what it is God is doing now in this place, with an eye to the future of what God may be doing tomorrow. In the end, living faithfully with these deep questions is a part of what Lent is truly about.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Head of our Church, Jesus Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Adapted from a poem by Ted Loder