Death is terrible. It can be heart-wrenching, confusing, even cruel. It carries no prejudice and visits the rich as easily as the poor. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have just experienced the deaths of family, friends, businesses, and all of us, our comfortable rhythms of life. But this is arduous to look in the face. What do we do with our illogical avoidance of persistent reality? The Bible has wisdom about death that our culture finds difficult to accept. We desperately need it.
Jesus makes a simple claim as he points to his own death, saying, “I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever.” (John 12:24-25, CEB)
Jesus wasn’t trying to be mysterious. In the tradition of prophets, he was poetic as he shared enduring wisdom that could be applied to anyone’s life, at any point in history. Jesus pointed to his own death experience just a few days away to emphasize the choice before every one of us: to hold onto or let go of our own lives? It is a choice that is difficult for us to make repeatedly.
We often hold onto experiences too long. Whether it’s the job we hold onto because it’s comfortable, or relationship with the violent and unhealthy friend that needs to end, or the dinner gathering we continue to host but we don’t know why, or that ugly thing in our own heart that we have resigned to let live. We get to choose these deaths.
And then there are the deaths we don’t choose—those that have come prematurely. Many of those we are experiencing now and will continue to through the COVID-19 crisis. These deaths are tragic, chaotic, painful experiences in our lives. And yet, there is still wisdom that we must apply. If we choose not to grieve these deaths, or, when the time is right, to let them go, we won’t be free to “bear much fruit.”
For all of these kinds of death, we have a choice. And when we choose courage, and grief, and letting go, we will surely, eventually, find new life on the other side. And that is the terrible and hopeful picture of Good Friday through Easter Sunday. If we pass through Good Friday holding our breath just long enough to make it to Easter Sunday, we have missed an opportunity this brief season affords to begin grieving our losses. We can’t truly let someone or something important go into the hands of God unless we first grieve our loss.
Perhaps it is serendipitous for us that the apex of COVID-19 is around the same time as Good Friday this year. It’s hard enough for us to remember that the road to Easter passes through Jesus’ death on Good Friday. But with a reminder of death so close to home, I pray that all of us would take up courage to face something that has been hard for us to face. Perhaps we yet have some grieving to do, if not for ourselves, then surely for those who are suffering around us. May God give us all the courage to mourn with those who are mourning, and comfort each other in our loss, so that in time we can let life in and bear much fruit.
CEO of Dream Centers