Continuing my class on the Christian attitude to dying, here is my summary of the chapter from SPEAKING OF DYING: RECOVERING THE CHURCH’S VOICE IN THE FACE OF DEATH, Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith, and Joy V. Goldsmith:
THE DIFFERENCE JESUS’S DYING MAKES
- How does a theology of dying based upon Jesus Christ promise to make our dying a good dying? There are no how-to guides available. The promise is for a whole and total openness to God for a whole and total life. The way to receive the good dying offered in Jesus Christ is to die in him, now and forever. Once we truly die in him, the promise of rising in him becomes the new life for us, a life in which dying is no longer the problem it once was because we are no longer invested in the life that, in sin, we formerly lived to protect and augment. Only by dying could Jesus complete the work of identifying himself fully with us.
- How do we face the unknown and inexplicable but inevitable reality of our physically dying.
- Jesus took control of death, overcame it, emasculated it. Jesus Christ has the power over dying and any threats that dying presents. Dying cannot separate us from him or from God (Rom.8:38,39). Jesus invites us to become members of his resurrection body, a new reality. We become members through dying in baptism and his death in Holy Communion.
- Membership in the church, the body of Christ, was initially hard. It took serious, lifetime commitment in a culture that was hostile to the Gospel. It took place in the context of judgement, hell and meeting one’s Maker. It involved moral responsibility, ethical commitment and punishment for dereliction. People do not think they really need to make such a serious commitment in order to take part in the church’s life. They have embraced the popular secular story of a successful medical system. They do not appreciate the “death benefits” of the faith of the church. Most nominal members are absent from worship on a regular basis, scarcely ever discuss matters of faith, and are not involved in service or evangelism. Anyone can join the church on his or her own terms and churches are eager to add them to their rolls. But the church is where the gospel story is told and the life of faith is nurtured, where Jesus invites us into his dying and resurrection. The church is made up of people who have heard this story of hope and have allowed Christ to enfold them in his loving, forgiving care. We take the faith commitment to join the church very, very seriously. It is about accepting God’s invitation in Jesus Christ to be transformed, and to receive a new identity and to be rid of the old (sinful, selfish, possessive) person. If we have practiced the Christian life, when the time of dying approaches, the whole experience of our past is at our disposal as a treasury of coping resources. The story we live in the church can be the framework within which to experience terminal illness.
- Baptism was the event that ushered individuals into the resurrection body of Christ. Baptism is a death. It uses water as a symbolic message that we, like Jesus, have died; and like Jesus, we have risen from the baptismal act as new, utterly transformed persons. Infant baptism emphasizes God’s grace and the importance of the church community. Adult baptism emphasizes the importance of the new church member’s conscious and serious commitment to God in faith. “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:3,4) As Jesus died to the world so we too die to the world, the flesh and the devil and we commit ourselves to the new life of the kingdom of God. When we give ourselves to Christ in baptism we are saying that we no longer wish to live for self but to be open to whatever God has intended for us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives a summary of our new life through the death of Jesus:
- “God wills the conquering of death through the death of Jesus Christ. Only in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ has death been drawn into God’s power, and it must now serve God’s own aims. It is not some fatalistic surrender but rather a living faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us, that is able to cope profoundly with death. In life with Jesus Christ, death as a general fate approaching us from without is confronted by death from within, one’s own death, the free death of daily dying with Jesus Christ. Those who live with Christ die daily to their own will. Christ in us gives us over to death so that he can live within us. Thus our inner dying grows to meet that death from without. Christians receive their own death in this way, and in this way our physical death very truly becomes not the end but rather the fulfillment of our life with Jesus Christ. Here we enter into community with the One who at his own death was able to say, ‘It is finished.’
- Holy Communion has as its foundation the central fact of Jesus’ dying. The church as the body of Christ is mysteriously and truly bound together in him, in and through his dying. . “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). That dying is re-presented and underlies every celebration of this meal. The sacrament effects Jesus’ death in us, again and again. The Lord’s Supper frames our response to Jesus Christ in a communal fashion. It shapes us into the collective body of Christ, as his family around his table. It is truly the Lord’s Supper. In the meal, Jesus hands his Spirit and his life to us, and we are expected to receive those gifts so that we can hand them over to others. As we receive the bread we are receiving his body broken for our redemption. As we receive the cup we are receiving his blood shed for us as a sacrificial atonement for our sins. As we receive these elements into our body we, by faith, receive his salvation life into our souls. It is in our being sustained by the dying Christ we are able to face our dying, death and resurrection and we are enabled to sustain others in their dying.
- The Psalms contain laments when things are really bad. They help us direct our complaints to God. The use of the laments encourages us to cry out as we go through the valley of the shadow of dying, knowing that – because of the dying and rising of Jesus – we can have confidence that God awaits us as we make our final passage. When we come to die, we are still God’s. That is the “secret” to hopes for a good dying.
- How does being a Christian and a member of the church make the way(s) you approach dying and death different from someone who isn’t?
- When you think of the metaphors of dying in Christ or death to sin in baptism, how does that affect your thinking about physical dying and death?
- How does receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion help you in dying?
- What is there about dying or about death that is the main problem?