Down to the grave

by Demi Prentiss

For Christians, Holy Week is a faith journey into death. Each year, as the culmination of our Lenten pilgrimage, we gather to remember the events of Good Friday.  We walk with Jesus to death’s door. There, in the valley of the shadow of death, we discover God, not blocking our entrance but walking with us through death’s fearsome portal. And ultimately we discover that God’s nearer presence opens us to new life.

The story of the path through death and into new life is recapitulated again and again in the natural world. In John 12:2, Jesus assures us, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” Similarly, we can experience the cycle of death and resurrection multiple times in our life span.

Why would Christians choose to re-live that death-and-resurrection story annually through the liturgies of Holy Week, repeatedly through the rite of baptism, and metaphorically through the Eucharist?  We go there for our liberation. As the Rev. Dr. Michael Piazza wrote in his Liberating Word blog, “We are all a part of the brokenness of the world. Our job is to work every day to also be part of its healing. [We are offered] an invitation to go willingly into that wilderness of introspection, examination, honesty, confession, and repentance. Only then can we know the redemption and resurrection that already is ours.”

 “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life” we proclaim in celebrating the Eucharist. When we have eyes to see, restoration testifies to God’s resurrection power at work in the world.  

In the Baptismal Covenant (BCP p. 292) Episcopalians affirm, “we are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life.” SSJE brother Curtis Almquist writes, “In our baptismal vows, we profess that we ‘have died with Christ and are raised with him.’ Jesus promises us resurrection power. We have to die before we rise, before we can claim his resurrection power. Again and again, we must die.”

Resurrection is not for the living. Resurrection is for the dead.  Death is the precondition for newness of life.  That’s the reason for our repeatedly making that liturgical journey: to en-courage us – to equip us for both death and resurrection.

One of the final prayers on Good Friday in Episcopal churches offers the reminder,  “…let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new…” (BCP p. 280) That same prayer is echoed at the Easter Vigil. At every ordination, the presentation of the candidate ends with that same prayer (BCP pp. 515, 528, 540).

Cast down and raised up. Growing old and being made new. Dying and rising. An order confirmed in creation. A promise incarnated by Jesus of Nazareth. A way of life for those who seek to follow him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.