Many today boast of near-death experiences. I do not. I have never had a near-death experience. But I am not intimidated by those who have, because I can boast, too. I have never been near death, but I have died many times.
Before I was born, I was living in a warm and cozy, if somewhat damp, environment, minding my business and sucking my thumb. Birth was a death for me, a death to the womb, a death to protection and security, a death to a life of blissful and careless dependency. I cried when I was born, not because I was being born but because I was dying. And I had not yet heard that there was a Resurrection.
Just when home had become another womb, I was forced out into the wide world of kindergarten. I died, and cried, again. For some reason, eating at school was particularly traumatic, and I can remember my mother, kindest soul, visiting during lunch to comfort me.
Many years later, I sat on the front row of a small church in Birmingham, Ala., during my ordination service. The pastor who was assigned the task of exhorting me told me that my ordination was a call to die and that I was being set apart to pour myself out like a drink offering for the sake of the people of that church. My ordination was not just a call to death, it was itself a death. As hands were laid on me, what I had been—a lay church member—ceased to exist, and a new man was made, a pastor.
I left that pastorate after six years. We had and still have many dear friends in that church, and leaving there was like toppling a tree whose roots have burrowed deeper than anyone can know. Weeks later, my wife and I, along with our seven children, found ourselves standing at the bus station in Cambridge, England, far from friends and relatives, and having absolutely no idea how to get where we wanted to go. I did not cry, but I wondered that night as I stared, sleepless and jet-lagged, at the shadows on the ceiling of our room in St. Peter’s Terrace, whether the death of leaving my pastorate would be followed by a resurrection. Was this the end of my life or its beginning?
I have died many times. So have you, for life is a series of such deaths.
To speak of resurrection is to say that death never has the last word, that a rising is promised for every dying, a new beginning for every ending. To trust in Jesus the Risen One is to trust that God will call us to new life after each death. This is the Gospel that we need to hear in the midst of a world of death and deaths.