As we approach Easter we must walk through the valley of death. Of course, if Easter is all about resurrection then we must enter through the door of death. Most of us in this room are quite acquainted with death. We have lost loved ones, friends, parents, wives and husbands. Some of us have suffered the death of our children, and most all of us are well along the second half of life. More years lie behind us then lay before us. We generally deal with death by trying not to think about it, and yet our own Christian tradition speaks often and encourages us to contemplate our own death, for the sake of embracing every moment of life.
Paul wrote, I want to know Jesus in his suffering and in his dying, so I may know him in his resurrection and his joy. Throughout Lent, a handful of us walk the Stations of the Cross. As I have walked the Stations, I think of the suffering and death present both in the parish and in our world. Healthy religion does not steer us away from death, but gives us grace, compassion, peace, and courage, to be present with others and to accept our own dying, with the faith that life changes but does not end through death.
We must have a spirituality that can be present in other’s and in our own time of dying, a spirituality that has seen the day break after long nights of darkness. A spirituality that can sit in a time of mourning, a spirituality that has learned there is no answer to “why”, but only the affirmation that before our own trail of tears and suffering, God, in Jesus, walked the path of suffering, grief, anguish, and death. If we are to know this Jesus, then we must know him in his suffering and death, before we can know him in his resurrection.
Life brings us to the dying places long before, and often before, our own time of dying. We enter into times of despair, depression, apathy, sadness, grief, disenchantment. Troubles through sickness – bad news – unfortunate events turn our laughter into tears, our zeal into apathy, our faith into disbelief, our belonging into estrangement. LIfe is filled with good and bad, sickness and health, financial stability and bankruptcy – life and death. A real spirituality does not call one a gift and blessing from God, and the other a curse or absence of God. Our faith tells us, we must know God in dying, before we can know God in living.
This is why the church does Holy Week. I do not believe those Christian communities and traditions that omit Holy Week to only celebrate Easter do their parishioners a favor. To see God only in the victories and risings and not in the losses and falling fail to recognize the very power of faith and grace and mercy and peace. It is knowing God in our times of being lost will we learn of God’s unfailing love for us. It is only knowing God in our times of suffering, will we learn of God’s mercies. It is only knowing God in death, will we learn that life survives death. It is only in knowing God in darkness, will we learn of God’s unquenchable light within us, restoring our fortunes and inspiring our dreams.