The Joyful Journey: In the midst of life

April 21, 2021

“In the midst of life, we are in death.” These words begin the centuries-old graveside liturgy of the church. In the midst of life we are in death. We see it all around us. Over 550,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19. Gun violence has taken lives in mass shootings in Atlanta, Boulder, and Southern California. In the same week that former police officer Derek Chauvin was on trial in Minneapolis for killing George Floyd, a police officer in Boulder was mourned—his death the result of responding to a shooting. The pandemic has brought with it a significant rise in drug-related deaths. All these beyond our more usual encounters with death—the loss of loved ones. Coronavirus has not put a stop to the death and dying of family and friends from other causes.
There is literal physical death and then there are the figurative ways we die, ranging on a continuum from the kind of small emotional deaths that occur when life disappoints or we fail or we are unfairly criticized or the object of ridicule or we are devalued for how we look or where we come from, to a certain kind of soul death that accompanies significant trauma. Dreams can die, leaving us feeling less alive. When there is a division in The United Methodist Church, we will experience a kind of death.
In the midst of life, we are in death.

It is also just as true to say that in the midst of life, we are in resurrection. Easter is not meant to paper over the very real pain of death, deaths great and small. The crucifixion of Jesus is painful and brutal. Witnessing it, his family and friends would have been traumatized; maybe they even experienced a kind of soul death. There is the silence of Saturday, a time to feel that death. But then, resurrection. The stone rolled away from the tomb. “He has been raised; he is not here.” Death is real. So, too, is resurrection.

With resurrection comes hope. Death does not have the final word; life does. We can look death straight in the eye and work for life. We can be forces for healing. We can be forces for justice. We can be forces for reconciliation. We can be forces for peace. We can help those whose hearts and souls have been wounded, sharing the good news that God’s grace and love offer healing and new life.

What is even more remarkable is that assured of resurrection, we have the courage to embrace certain kinds of dying as necessary for new life. Change is a kind of dying. What we have known, what is familiar, has to die. On the other side, new life.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The question Dietrich Bonhoeffer poses in “The Cost of Discipleship” is perennial: “And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand?” What deaths might we need to embrace in courage and hope? We know that any death will come with pain, even when we embrace certain kinds of death necessary to create space for new life. In the midst of life, we are in death. We also trust that there is resurrection, new life. In the midst of life, resurrection.

What kinds of death have you experienced for which you need to hear the good news of resurrection, of the resurrection power of God’s love? What kinds of death might we need to willingly embrace with courage in order to create new space for the resurrection power of God’s love—in our lives, in our churches, in our communities, in our world?

In the midst of life, we are in death. In the midst of life, we are in resurrection. And in the end, we are Easter people. “Every day to us is Easter, with its resurrection song.”
Bishop David Bard is interim bishop for the Minnesota Conference. He also serves as resident bishop for the Michigan Conference.

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