But I’m not done. As I listened to the message on Easter morning, my mind was racing. You know, Christmas is such an easier story to tell: babies and angels and gifts. How can you go wrong with those themes? Easter is tough to explain to little kids. It has betrayal, crucifixion, and tombs. But why do we sugarcoat death in scripture? None of us will escape it. Unless you are Enoch or Elijah – good luck with that.
On Easter morning 2015, I realized Jesus not only died on the cross for my sins, he taught me how to die. I think this is a skill we are all going to need someday. I hope I remember it when I need it.
1. Jesus asked others to pray.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus not only knew he was going to die, he asked God for an easier path. He wasn’t excited about the process of death or the separation from God that it represented. It’s not like Jesus was afraid of dying, he simply knew the path ahead wouldn’t be easy.
Some folks get an easy death. Personally I would like to get hit by a train. In my head I hear Warvey gal #2 in O Brother Where Art Thou: “Mama says you was hit by a train.” No anticipation, just “blooey!” But in our medically advanced society, I am likely to get prior notice. Any number of ailments is announced to us accompanied by survival rates providing us plenty of time to fret.
But Jesus shows us how to deal. Pray. Ask others to pray with us. Minister to one another as we face death. It is clearly okay to be “distressed and troubled” or “overwhelmed with sorrow” over impending hardship. But Jesus emphasizes the importance of community by asking his sleepy weak-willed friends to pray for him. Even though they fall down on the job, they were there. I thought I would hate the “dying folks” part of ministry. Instead, I have found it profoundly reverent to watch people meet their creator. Being called to “watch” with someone is a privilege and an important part of Christian community.
2. Jesus watched people abandon him.
We might need to gear up for this. The church is great at ministering to people in crisis. We actually love a crisis. But it is a different thing to minister to chronic issues. Folks struggle to hang in there with people who take a doggone long time to die. We get tired of taking them meals and doing their laundry and watching their children. It’s easy to rise to the occasion when a crisis lasts a week or less. But if we have a long-term illness, be prepared for people to fall off the wagon.
Jesus didn’t even have a lengthy death process and his friends still struggled to stay with him. When Jesus was betrayed in the garden, the disciples scattered to save their own skin. One guy ran off naked. Naked disciples: no one preaches this in the Easter story. With reason, they were in jeopardy of being seized as well. This guy wriggled out of his skivvies to escape.
51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
Hopefully our friends won’t be that anxious to leave us, but we should prepare ourselves to be abandoned by some of those we once counted on.
3. Jesus used his circumstances to minister to others.
On the cross, Jesus was in the company of those facing a similar demise. Of all the folks to reach on his way out, Jesus offered life and hope to the losers beside him. That is a behavior we can imitate. When we face a prolonged diagnosis, we often find ourselves in common company. We can choose to commiserate with victims afflicted with our version of misery. Or, we can take the opportunity to offer hope to those beside us. Can you imagine Jesus striking up a conversation with his fellow cross companions regarding pain management? “Hey, anybody offered you guys that gall/vinegar yet? It really cuts down the pain.” Jesus did not spend time on the cross discussing his ailments, real as they were. He used his circumstance to point others to God.
4. Jesus put his affairs in order.
Beyond the obvious sacrifice for all mankind, on the cross, Jesus was still thinking of others. Not just his buddies on the cross, but his own mother. He specifically asked John to take care of her. She must have been Jesus’s responsibility. In the midst of his death process, he put his affairs in order.
As we face death, do we resist reality? Do we scream and cry and demand healing? Do we pout and ply God with petty reasons for our continued life on earth? Do we refuse to prepare for death lest it indicate a lack of faith that God will intervene? Or do we reasonably face the possibility of death by putting our affairs in order? Do we provide as well as we can for our responsibilities? Not that Jesus left Mary a huge life insurance policy, but he made connections for her care. Jesus did not spend his last moments begging God to save him from death. Even if God heals us from some ailment, we all gotta die from something. Seriously, even when Lazarus was raised from the dead, he lived only to die again! If someone prays and raises me from the dead, I am coming after them. Leave me be. No offense, I would rather be in Jesus’s presence than yours.
5. Jesus forgave others.
This is the way to die. In spite of his unjust execution, Jesus manages to ask forgiveness for his enemies. Want to die in peace? Forgive people who have wronged you. Do that as fast as you can. In the past 20 something years of ministry, I have seen people on their deathbed worry about securing their own forgiveness. One guy had my husband write a letter to someone from his past because in his youth he had shot out a night guard in someone’s yard. As a young man a bunch of young people held a “chivalry” for newly married couple where they snuck up on the newlywed’s home at night to create a lot of racket. In the pursuit of stealth, this fellow’s task was to eliminate the yard light. Note to self: always pack when attending a “chivalry.” Apparently, he had been feeling guilty about it for half a century. The dying man included a check for the cost of a light bulb complete with 50 years of compounded interest. This is some silly and serious restitution from someone who struggled to receive God’s forgiveness.
Instead of working to earn our own position, how about we spend time asking God’s forgiveness for others?
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
This is the time to… sing it with me….let it go! Hanging onto grudges on our way out does nothing for us. For that matter, we don’t know when our time is up. We never know when we might “get hit by a train.” Let’s forgive others and be ready.
“If we live ready, we don’t have to get ready.”