Take a Break for Faith Podcast Transcript
Take Five for Faith monthly meditation podcast – Death and New Life.
Welcome to your Take Five Monthly Meditation. This month our theme is “Death and New Life.” Let’s settle in with a reflection on the life and losses of the great American author Mark Twain:
Twain experienced his share of untimely deaths—more than his share, in fact. When he was a young man, one of his brothers was killed in a steamboat explosion. Early in his marriage, he and his wife Livy lost their young son to diphtheria. Then, in the last 15 years of his life, his daughter Susy died of spinal meningitis, his daughter Jean was diagnosed with epilepsy and died of a heart attack, and in 1904 Livy succumbed to heart disease.
In 1909, during what would be his last visit with his close friend Helen Keller, he told her: “I am very lonely, sometimes, when I sit by the fire after my friends have departed. My thoughts trail away into the past. I think of Livy and Susy and I seem to be fumbling in the dark folds of confused dreams.”
After Twain’s death the following year, Keller returned to his house, now burnt down. She said she felt someone approaching her. “I reached out,” she said, “and a red geranium blossom met my touch . . . the bright flower smiling at me out of the ashes. I thought it said to me, ‘Please don’t grieve.’ ”
Let’s move more deeply into our theme with a reflection on how Jesus modeled the act of giving your life back to God by giving it to others while you live.
Some years ago, a woman was standing outside a church in New York City, hesitating about whether to go inside. Her name was Elaine Pagels, and she was a brilliant historian at Princeton University. Though her specialty was the history of ancient Christianity, it had been years since she herself had gone to church.
Now she was in a desperate frame of mind. Her young son lay in a hospital a few blocks away, just diagnosed with an incurable disease. As she listened to the music drift out of the church and heard the liturgy begin, she found herself drawn in. Writing about this moment in her book Beyond Belief, Pagels said that she was looking for a place to take her fears and grief. Inside the church, she thought, were people who knew “how to deal with death.”
But is that true? Are Christians really people who know how to deal with death? Not in the sense that we have knockdown answers to the questions and the terrors that it brings. When the diagnosis comes back with our name on it, when brutal injustice is done to us or our loved ones, our world is shattered like anyone else’s.
What we have, instead of answers, is Jesus Christ. In him God was pleased to dwell, and in doing so entered into the fear and the grief, the questions and the terrors of this life.
This is the amazing, fearful, and saving story of faith. Fearful, for this reason: The anointed one of God did not escape suffering or death, did not escape injustice. As Isaiah says, he was “afflicted,” “pierced,” and “crushed.”
But this fearful story is also a saving story. Because God entered completely into Jesus’ journey through death, even into the silence of the tomb, then our journey down that same road has to be seen in a new way. Our journey to our own Good Friday is not a journey away from God or a journey away from life but part of the mysterious journey back to God.
This is why Jesus can say on the cross, in his final moment, “It is finished,” and mean by that not “It is over” but “It is accomplished.” What has been accomplished? The fragile gift of life has been handed back to God.
Jesus hands his life back to God in a particular way: by first handing it on to others. In the last moments on the cross he hands his mother Mary to a beloved disciple so they can care for each other, creating a new family. He takes their grief and despair and turns it into new relationship and new possibility.
This act of handing our life back to God is not something we do only at the end of life. It is in the nature of everyday existence. We are always expending ourselves, exerting ourselves, giving ourselves to the world.
The question is—are we exerting ourselves only to preserve our life and shore up what we have? Or, trusting that God is with us in this fleeting life, are we handing our life on to others?
The One who went to the cross, who embraces our mortal life from womb to tomb, calls us to follow him into the dark uncertainties of this world. In fellowship with Jesus, we can live in a way that hands life back to God by handing it on to others.
Let’s continue with a reflection that moves us forward.
What does it mean to lose your life for the sake of the gospel? Each of us has to answer that question, but certainly it involves letting go of some of the self-serving patterns of behavior we acquire in life. It’s not “all about me”—we are in this together.
That doesn’t mean you don’t take good care of yourself; it means you find a way also to take good care of others. You don’t have to seek martyrdom, but you do have to accept some of the “little deaths” that come every day from sacrificing something for the well-being of others. As the author C. S. Lewis had one of his characters put it, “Die before you die. There is no chance after.”
We’ll close this month’s exploration of “Death and New Life” with a meditative thought and a scripture reflection. The meditative thought comes from Nobel-Prize-winning novelist and poet Hermann Hesse, who wrote that “the call of death is a call of love. Death can be sweet if we answer in the affirmative, if we accept it as one of the great eternal forms of life and transformation.”
Our scripture reflection this month comes from chapter 16 of the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
This concludes our Take Five Monthly Meditation on “Death and New Life.” We hope you have found it of benefit and we welcome your comments and feedback. You can find us at TakeFiveforFaith.com or on Facebook. The music for this month’s podcast is by Lee Rosevere. The Take Five Monthly Meditation is produced by TrueQuest Communications. Thank you for joining us this month and have a blessed day.