Continuing my class on SPEAKING OF DYING: RECOVERING THE CHURCH’S VOICE IN THE FACE OF DEATH, Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith, and Joy V. Goldsmith, here is a summary of the chapter JESUS CHRIST LORD OF THE LIVING AND THE DEAD – AND THE DYING.
- A summary of Christian thinking about dying. Not a theology about death and the future life. A theology of dying is about what we experience before death. What facts and beliefs inspire hope and confidence? What does Jesus – his words, his life, his dying – have to tell us about dying and about how he can provide for our needs at that end-of-life time?
- Jesus was born a real human being. He entered this world in a life that would end in dying. The whole of Jesus’ life, like ours, is marked by mortality and dying. He was like us with a mother and a father. Like us, Jesus had to die in some particular way. He had a typical life-expectancy of about 28 years, with half of the newborns dying by age one, with no hospitals, clinics, insurance, nursing homes or drugs. Jesus would have expected to die young. He is like us and we like him.
- Jesus was the Messiah on an assignment from God. His mission as the anointed one included dying. He prophesied about his own dying. Three times he told his disciples about his dying. While dying was on his horizon he continued the work God had given him to do. He taught that if we try to keep our lives we would be lost. Only in losing our lives for God can we really live. His destiny was not just to die but also that he would be killed by the authorities. Peter tried to deny that diagnosis. Mary anointed Jesus for the day of his burial (Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8). Half of his public ministry was conducted under the threat of death by murder. He lived with a terminal prognosis. He knew how he would die. Jesus lived by his teaching: he undertook his mission knowing that it would lead to his dying.
- What did Jesus think about dying? How did he deal with those who were dying? Jesus did not shy away from the dying or the dead. He cared for those who suffered and died. Dying and death were not the main focus of his ministry. Instead he was focused on wholeness, forgiveness, restoring people to the image of God they were intended to have in the kingdom.
- What did Jesus feel about his own dying? He did not want to die when and how he did as is seen in his agony in the garden of Gethsemane. He needed human companionship and support. During his dying on the cross he continued to carry out his ministry of forgiveness and love. He prayed for his executioners, the thief, his loved ones, his mother and his disciple. His acceptance of dying removed the ultimacy and enormity of finality from it. He turned the tables on the worldly understanding of death and to see his dying as a powerfully effective action. He took an instrument of torment and turned it into God’s means of rescuing a sinful world. Jesus’s dying did not keep him from continuing his ministry up until the end of his life, nor did it embitter him toward anyone else. He experienced the emptiness and abandonment that any human might feel at such a moment of total powerlessness. But he commended himself to God.
- How do we depict the Cross? Protestants portray an empty cross. Jesus has been raised from the dead. His death is portrayed as a past event. Catholics and Orthodox portray a crucifix – Jesus is suffering and dying. Jesus is seen as performing his work of salvation in the present. Both portrayals emphasize an important truth. We have two true versions or one complex whole. ‘Empty’ or ‘full’ the cross shows that the dying of Jesus is central to God’s work of salvation.
- Jesus knows what we face in dying. In the dying of Jesus, God himself has a complete experience of human dying. In the dying of Jesus God knows what it means for us to die. Jesus has the keys of death and is Lord of both the dead and the living. The Christian message as proclaimed by the apostles included the dying of Jesus. His dying is a reality that we can experience: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10,11) In his dying Jesus created a new reality. Death loses its sting. By understanding our dying in the context of the experience of Jesus we can access the blessings Jesus promised and achieved for us.
- In what ways does Jesus seem significant to you? What does that have to do with your dying or the dying of anyone important to you?
- Would you agree with the claim made by the writer that the last period of Jesus’ ministry was carried out while he was aware of his own death or that he was in some sense “terminal”?
- In what sense does knowing that you are terminal give point to your life and affect your priorities?
- What does it mean to you to lose your life so that you find it?
- Does Jesus’ death seem to you like the death of any other person or was there something about it that made it significantly different?
- How has the lengthening of our life-span altered our perception of dying and death?
- How do you see the portrayal of the cross: ‘empty’ or ‘full’? Why?