I have been struggling somewhat with my lungs for a few years now, and my symptoms, while not severely acute, are continually present. They remind me of my diminishing capacity to exhale. Needless to say, there are moments when fear and paranoia take over, and I wonder if I might have lung cancer. A death sentence.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent; it has been, traditionally, a time when the Church pauses, slows and contemplates death, sin and judgement. A very popular notion today, BTW. It is a time to contemplate Jesus’ suffering and death, and our connection to his suffering and death.
Here the sacrament of Baptism is instructive. In the sacraments God bends time and space. In Baptism we recall the death and resurrection of Jesus, making it present and identifying with it. At the same time, we bring the future hope of resurrection and new creation forward into the now. As we move through life the memory of our Baptism, our identification with Jesus’ death, redraws the lines of reality; the memory of our Baptism – our death in Jesus – allows us to see with the kind of clarity that a death sentence brings.
This morning I had that panicked feeling I suspect most of us have had. My mind, without my conscious prompting, imagined my coughing was related to a lung cancer (to be clear I am not aware that I have any other lung disease than life long asthma that is worsening with age), and I felt the panic of that death sentence. What about my 4 year old son who would grow up barely remembering me? How would my wife balance work and being a single mother? If I had 40 days to live what would I do? I panicked a bit.
But, I quickly thought of Jesus. 40 days out from his death, as he travelled to Jerusalem for one final Passover celebration and remembrance, what fears gripped him? The anticipation of pain? The fear that His people he’d come to deliver in a new Exodus at the time of Passover would reject his sacrifice? His mother’s suffering? How focused did his ministry and life become under the pressure and immanence of his death sentence? For death brings clarity, and it brings power for life.
Yet, here we are 40 days out from his death, which in our Baptism is also our death. This should be a time of clarity. For 40 days. What matters? We are the walking dead – sorry. What needs to be renewed? What needs to be healed? What needs restoration?
Lent is a time to remember that we are carrying about in our bodies death, and the impending reality of of our death should bring about a clarity and power for living as the new creation we already are. We know, of course, this is true because in our Baptism we not only died with Christ, but we were raised with him as well. So, let us us inhabit our death that our resurrection might bring new life.