Denying death seems to be the primary preoccupation of Western culture. Our religions reflect (or maybe inspired) this in their wholesale denial of Jesus’ death. How can we stop denying death so that for once we might live?
As I was moderating and reflecting on the student discussions in my online Magdalene Priest and Priestess Training this morning, I began to wonder:
Have we ever really dealt with and appropriately acknowledged Jesus’ death?
Theologically, socially, collectively, I believe we have not. Very much in the same way that Western Culture collectively denies (or tries to deny) the very real truth that each and every one of us are on a slow (and in some cases hasty) march toward our inevitable death.
Jesus was whipped, tortured, and hung on a cross to die the slow and painful death of crucifixion – the most painful and torturously slow deaths reserved by the Romans for only the worst criminals. Jesus suffered and died while Mary Magdalene, his mother Mary, a few other female companions and (perhaps) John watched. While the aforementioned accompanied and did their best to offer prayer and words of support for their beloved Jesus, the rest of the disciples were hiding in the Upper Room – afraid that by their presence they too might suffer Jesus’ fate.
Jesus died because 1) death is the inevitable outcome of the human experience. And 2) because some human beings are jerks.
But nowhere in our Christian theology are the aforementioned given as reasons for Jesus’ death. Instead, we are given platitudes like:
It was God’s will.
Jesus died to atone for our sin.
Jesus was the sacrificial lamb.
Jesus died to save us.
He’s in a better place.
At least he’s no longer suffering.
Blah Blah Blah.
What kind of God kills his own son so that we might be free??????? A jerk of a God, that’s what I think. My God (as Jesus said) is a God of “mercy not sacrifice.” My God is the prodigal Father/Mother who is standing with open arms waiting for his/her children to come home to the love that they are – never judging or condemning her/his children for BEING HUMAN – making mistakes so they might grow, exploring the world so they might learn, venturing away so they may return. The God of love that I have come to know in my relationship with Jesus wasn’t the cause of Jesus’ death, human beings were.
As such, it was NOT God’s will that Jesus would die. There was no atonement or sacrifice needed for the “sin” of being human. Jesus died for one simple reason – because some human beings are jerks. They were afraid of who he was and what he tried to teach….so they killed him. Period. Death, as we all know, is the natural consequence of the human journey – some just get there earlier than others.
BUT…in Western culture, we live in a constant refusal of death…and I sometimes wonder if the source of this denial is a projection of the male disciples’ guilt for not having the courage to be a source of support for their teacher and friend when he was dying. We demonize and try to delay aging. We plasticize and paint the bodies of our dead to make it appear as if they are still living. We separate ourselves from the process of decay and death. We avoid those who are ill or dying. Then we do everything we possibly can to numb ourselves so that we don’t have to face the inevitable outcome of our human experience – which is death.
When we can no longer deny death, but still need to hold it at arm’s length, we come up with platitudes to make ourselves feel better – the very same platitudes our religion has offered us in response to Jesus’ death: It was God’s will, he’s in a better place, at least she’s no longer suffering. If we believe it was God’s will, etc. then we don’t truly have to acknowledge the very real pain of death and the loss we experience because of it, or the guilt of having (for now) survived it. Denying death by holding it at arm’s length allows us to deny the very real fear we all experience in the face of our ultimate demise.
We live…..so that we might die.
I don’t believe there is anything morbid or defeatist in acknowledging this truth. The journey of life is the same as the journey toward death….and we make of it what we will.
Jesus made the most of the life he was given. Then human beings took it from him.
We are given the very same choice. We can make the most of the life we are given until human beings, disease, an accident, etc. take it from us. God knows when we will die, but God isn’t the one doing the killing. It is a natural and inevitable consequence of the human experience and the quicker we embrace this truth, the more free we are to enjoy what life has to offer. In accepting death, the fear of it no longer has power over us. Herein lies the path to our true freedom…the same path that Jesus discovered when he overcame his own bargaining, denial, anger, fear and sorrow over death…and in this we can truly say that Jesus died so that we too might live.
As a trained Spiritual Director and Transformational Educator, Lauri Ann Lumby, OM, OPM, MATS, provides support for those moving through the grieving process – whether it be the loss of a loved one or brought on by one of life’s many transitions. Email Lauri today at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.