Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
In part one of Death Can Die I spoke of the Eucharist and its importance in conveying the idea of “protesting death and living the resurrection.” We looked at John 6:53–59 and Jesus’ words about His life giving flesh and blood. I’m indebted to Tamara Hill Murphy and her article Protesting Death/Practicing Resurrection, as well as my friend Marci who made we aware of the article and provided some thoughtful insights on the whole idea. In part one I provided some context for the idea of protesting death and living resurrection by giving a brief overview of the Christian Calendar with particular attention paid to the Easter Season (known as Eastertide), and the Lenten Season that precedes it.
Two Sundays ago, May 19 marked the end of Eastertide with the Day of Pentecost, also known as Whit or White Sunday. We now enter into what is known as ordinary time. However, lest one mistakes ordinary time for a period of mundanity, I want to focus in on the second symbol I mention in part one of Death Can Die. I spoke of the importance and sacramentality of the Eucharist, but I also made mention of the significance of the crucifix often seen hanging from rosaries. First let me clarify that a crucifix specifically refers to a cross that also contains the figure of Christ nailed to it. Thus, a cross pendant that does not have Christ on it is not a crucifix.
Second, the idea held by many Evangelical Protestants that the depiction of Jesus on the cross somehow undermines the fact that He is risen is a misguided and uninformed position. The Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11 make it clear that we are called to continually proclaim Christ’s death, specifically through the Eucharist. For without His death there is no resurrection. 1 Corinthians 11: reads as so:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (ESV)
It is that final statement that emphasizes the importance of the proclamation of Christ’s death. Yet the question remains as to why—It is often said His resurrection gives us the assurance that we too shall be raised up—we must proclaim His death?
The passage I want to look at in order to gain a better understanding of not only the proclamation of Christ’s death, but to also help ground us in this idea of protesting death and living resurrection is 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. This is a powerful passage that has often been an encouragement to me when things are rough, or when my own insecurities and fears begin to overwhelm me. It is a passage that reminds me of who I am and to whom I belong while also pushing me to continue in the faith. 2 Corinthians 4:7-18:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (ESV)
Many a sermon has been preached on this passage, and to fully work through the wealth of theology and doctrine it contains would require a book, or several. However, there are four things we can focus in on within this passage that will reach into our imaginations and resonate with the protesting of death and living resurrection, and how the crucifix captures that reality. 1) We carry Christ’s death in our bodies. 2) We will be raised to life with him. 3) Our mortal bodies waste away. 4) The weight of glory. We will look at the first of these now, and the other three will be explored in later additions to this series.
Paul starts this section with somewhat of a paradox by speaking of two things that we carry within us. First He says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay.” What “treasure” is he speaking of? The section preceding this one 2 Cor. 4:1-6 speaks of the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” and the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” So the light of the gospel and of the knowledge of glory are the treasure that we hold in these clay jars, these fragile earthly bodies. Our weak and deteriorating bodies hold within them that everlasting light that not only shines in the darkness, but actually destroys darkness because darkness cannot and does not exist in the presence of God.
God places such a valuable thing in such unsecured containers; it’s like putting a million dollars in a brown paper bag. Yet Paul says that God places this treasure in us so that His power is on display and not ours. If you place a million dollars in a safe and it remains there unstolen, no one is impressed with you, rather they say, “Wow, that’s a strong and secure safe.” However, if you place that million dollars into the aforementioned brown paper bag and it remains unstolen people say, “Wow, you really guarded and protected that bag, you must have watched it constantly, protected it and kept it very close to you,” people are impressed with you and you receive the glory, not the bag. So it is with us and God.
We are unsecured and unsafe vessels to entrust with so great a treasure, and the fact that this treasure remains in us, secure and intact, is a testament to the power of God not our own ability. Thus we can be, as Paul says in verses 8 and 9, afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down yet remain whole and the treasure still secure within us for it is God who keeps us and preserves us.
The second thing that Paul says we carry within us is, “the death of Jesus.” We see the paradox as Paul says we carry both the light of the gospel, which gives life, but we also carry the death of Jesus; both life and death then are held in us. If the Gospel is only about the resurrection, then why is it that we continually throughout this life carry His death in our bodies? Why is the death of Christ and its remembrance until He returns so important to our life of faith? Paul answers these questions for us in verse 10: “…so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in in our bodies.” We carry Christ’s death in us so that His life may also be in us. Without death there is no life.
John 12:24 Jesus shares some insight about His death with the disciples saying:
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25 ESV)
Christ emphasizes the fact that He must die in order for life to spring forth from Him to all those who will be in Him. From the seed that is His death a living vine takes root and rises up out of the earth in which He was buried. That vine bears fruit, and that fruit receives all of its nourishment, its life from the vine. The resurrection does not and cannot exist without the death of Christ, and if we breeze past His death in order to get to the resurrection we leave out the essential nature of the Gospel, namely that death was defeated because in Christ life came forth from death.
We talk about death being undone and its sting being nonexistent, yet we rarely think on what that really means. Death is the cessation of life, the complete removal of one’s vitality, the demise of one’s very existence. But what we find in Christ is a complete reversal, death takes hold of Him and His life has ended. Then after three days we see that His life has not ceased, His vitality is not removed, He does not cease to exist. We have to recognize the reversal that takes place, Christ does not simply overcome and conquer death, He changes our whole understanding of death and shows that the nature of death, for the Christian, is substantially different.
Jesus says that a person must lose their life, must journey through death, must die daily in order to gain their life. For the Christian death is not the cessation of life, rather it is the gateway to life and Christ Himself is the door of the gate.We carry Christ’s death in our flesh as Paul says because it is only through our participation in His death that we can enter into His life, the life eternal in the Kingdom of Heaven. This life sprung forth from death, so how can His life be manifested in us if we do not allow ourselves to take on His death as well? Or are we not called to daily pick up our cross? That is not a nice little metaphor meant to inspire us persevere through trials and troubles. It is a direct command to walk into death that we might walk out of the other side clothed in life.
Death once brought an end to life, but now in Christ death is simply a passageway into life. Death’s effects are no longer active, it power over life has been drained, the fact that through Christ life flows out of death is a protest against what death attempts to take from us. By carrying us the death of Christ we live out the resurrection because we look ahead to that time when these mortal bodies will be consigned to the grave yet our souls will be joined to glorified bodies. The crucifix that hangs from my rosary is a constant reminder that I carry Christ’s death in me, and like Him will be raised to life with Him. We live unto Christ who undid the power of the grave… So death can die.