It surprises me how often I find Christians uncomfortable with the thought of dying. You’d think they did not know Jesus said: take up your cross daily and follow me.
The cross was a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. It was used to end its victims’ lives in humiliation, exposure and vulnerability. A person’s life ended in a pain-filled death.
Faith in Christ invites us to prepare to die.
So when Jesus invited his followers to a cross-carrying life he was not inviting his followers to a picnic. He was making them recognise the serious consequences of becoming a disciple. He was not inviting people to follow a few novel ideas or discover a new way to pray. He was calling them to a life and death experience.
Jesus was inviting them to a contemplation of their mortality. Such contemplation was not to be left until a person knew that their time was up; it was to be part of their daily devotion. Death was not a future enemy. It was a present reality.
This series of Sunday evening reflections are based on the hymn by Ambrose Before the ending of the Day. It is a prayer of trust in the protection of God as the day closes. Its third verse hints at the close of life’s little day: thus
O Father, that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ your only
And Holy Spirit, by whose breath
Our souls are raised to life from death.
I have come to believe that reflection on our own mortality and death is part of discovering the presence of God.
It is not be a morbid exercise. In fact it provides a pathway to the deep resources of the Spirit which lie deep within us. As the author of Hebrews in the New Testament declares: we are to look to Jesus,the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross.
So over the next few weeks this series will consider Jesus in his last hours before his eyes closed in death through what he said as he was dying as he hung on the cross. They reveal someone who had picked up his cross daily long before he carried it to Golgotha. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, both his own and that of others.
Death had its horrors for him but as we shall see, he had prepared himself for its arrival.
God had been leading him that direction all along.