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Death Can Die Part I

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

 

The other day my good friend Márcia (I call her Marci) sent me a blog article from Tamara Hill Murphy titled Protesting Death/Practicing Resurrection. I tend to read the things Marci sends me because they always prove to be deeply thought-provoking or spiritually convicting, and most of the times they are both of those things. Tamara Murphy’s article was both of these, and it drove my thoughts to a couple of passages of Scripture where Paul speaks of Christ’s death. Tamara Murphy had much to say in her blog article, but the section that gripped me were these words:

We are always, at all times joining in the protest against death every time we set our eyes toward Jesus, the risen Lord who is right this moment sitting in his resurrected body next to the Father interceding for us living amongst all this death. When we worship Him, name Him, shout to Him our anguish we are reminding ourselves and each other that DEATH IS DEAD and our ultimate reality is life, life, and more life.[1]

I want to look at Jesus’ words in John 6:53–59, and Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. These passages really bring to light the idea that Tamara is conveying in her article. Two things that are very dear and sacred to me serve as entry points into this idea of protesting death and practicing resurrection: The Eucharist (The Lord’s Supper), and my rosary, specifically the crucifix attached to it. However, I want to give some context before diving into this protest against death.

 

Eastertide

I am Anglican, Tamara Murphy is Anglican, yes, Marci is Anglican as well. What is important about this as it relates to this blog article are two things: we follow the Christian/Church Calendar, and we believe in sacramentalism to an extent (you can click on either of those two and you will be taken to an article giving an in-depth explanation of each). In our tradition Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of what is called the Lenten Season, this season stretches from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. During the season of Lent we “give up” certain things, in a sense we put them to death. The forty days (not counting Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday are representative of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, and during this forty days we, in a sense, journey to the cross with Christ preparing to die with Him and then be raised to life with Him on Easter Sunday. So from Ash Wednesday until Good Friday we are dying to self and the world as we learn and practice complete surrender unto Christ.

On Good Friday we die with Christ, and on Easter Sunday we are raised to life with Him. This liturgical practice is observed in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches; it is also observed in many Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches. Another key point that must be made is that in our tradition, and the several other traditions mentioned, Easter lasts from Easter Sunday until the day of Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter Sunday. We call this period of time Eastertide, and it is an ongoing celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

All of this is to say that when Tamara speaks of protesting death and practicing resurrection she is specifically referring to the liturgical practices and sacramental life we participate in and live out during Eastertide. However, this protesting of death and practicing resurrection is not confined to Eastertide, and Tamara makes this clear in her own article. The Eucharist and the crucifix that hangs from my rosary constantly engage me in this protest against death and invite me into practicing resurrection. It is here that both Jesus’ and Paul’s words in the aforementioned passages offer insight, comfort, and encouragement.

 

The Eucharist

The Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper or Communion, is very special to me, and possesses a sacredness of the highest order. In the Evangelical tradition I came from before joining the Anglican Church the Eucharist is viewed as an ordinance and purely symbolic. This means that it is a practice that was ordained by Jesus and that He commanded us to observe it regularly. Furthermore, because it is viewed as simply being symbolic the crackers and juice that are commonly used in those churches are themselves simply crackers and juice that serve to remind a person of an event that happened long ago.

In Anglicanism, along with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, the Eucharist is viewed as a sacrament. This means that the common bread and wine become uncommon, that is sanctified, and take on a heavenly and spiritual reality that they previously did not possess. With it being a sacrament this also means that the Eucharist is a means of grace. Means of grace “denote[s] those institutions ordained by God to be the ordinary channels of grace to the souls of men.”[2] We believe that when the priest prays over and blesses the elements of the Supper, namely the bread and wine, they are imbued with the real presence of Christ himself; that they become for the believer the body and blood of Christ.

This view is held by both the Anglican and Orthodox churches, and is not to be confused with the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation which states that the bread and wine are transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ. We simply believe that Christ is, in some way, really present in the elements, but the what and how is considered a divine mystery. When we approach the Table we believe that we are partaking of Christ’s body and blood and that through this we receive a measure of grace from God that empowers us to live out our lives in Christ.

 

Death & Resurrection In Us

You can begin to see how this ancient Christian view of the Eucharist brings one into the practice of living out the resurrection, or simply practicing resurrection. In John 6:53–59 Jesus says the following to those gathered in the synagogue in Capernaum:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. (John 6:53–59 ESV).

To eat of Christ’s flesh and to drink His blood is to have eternal life, and to not eat of it is to be dead already. Jesus says that He is the true bread of Heaven, that the manna in the wilderness given to the Israelites to sustain them was simply a type, a typography, of what was to come. To feed on Him is not simply to recall what He did in the past, rather it is to take in the life He gives us in the here and now.

The Eucharist is a protest against death because, as Christ Himself says, His body and blood are life giving, they purge death from a person and fill her with life everlasting. Christ is not dead, His body is not decomposing in a tomb somewhere, and His blood has not dried up and evaporated. Christ lives, and because He lives He offers His living body and life giving blood to us today to feast on that we too may have life abundantly. When we partake of His body at the Table we are consuming His resurrected body and His blood of the New Covenant,[3] and so we practice living the resurrected life because He has caused us to overflow with His resurrection life.

The Eucharist is special and sacred to me because it is not a reminder that a man died in the Near East back in the first century A.D., but rather it is a reminder that my God, my Lord and Savior lives now and gives me His body and blood that His life might be manifest in me so by His grace I can live and death can die.

I encourage you to read part two of this article where I will discuss why my rosary and crucifix are sacred to me as it relates to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 and how our lives are a protest against death and a practicing of resurrection.

 

 


[1] “Protesting Death / Practicing Resurrection [Eastertide 2018],” accessed April 24, 2018, https://www.tamarahillmurphy.com/blogthissacramentallife/practice-resurrection-eastertide-2018/2018/4/14.

[2] M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893).

[3] 1 Corinthians 11:25

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