Living Dead

For the joy set before him...

I imagine Jesus on this Monday all those years ago. I imagine him because this is Holy Week; all of our straining toward Easter during this Lenten season has brought us here, to the week of his passion. For Easter does not come, we know, without Holy Week; Holy Week with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally—finally—Easter Sunday.

But first, the days before Sunday. The long road until Easter. Today is Monday. Imagine if you knew that this coming Friday, you would die. What would you spend your time doing over the next four days? Who would you talk with? How would you live?

Jesus lived knowing he was going to be dead within hours. Monday: 96 hours before his death. Tuesday: 72 hours before his death. Wednesday: 48 hours before his death. By Thursday afternoon, he was just 24 hours away from his own death—and he knew it. Can you imagine—really imagine—what it is like to stare down your own death from the short distance—a puddle-jump, really—of 24 hours? To look at it full in the face and walk toward it, unflinchingly?

All of us will die, of course. The hows and whens are, blessedly, unknown to most of us. We spend our days practically ignoring that coming death, thinking about anything but that day, fastening our seatbelts and taking our pills. But we are trying to stave it off as long as we can.

Jesus, fully God and fully human—fully human—knew what was unfolding when he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey in a parade of palm leaves and strewn jackets. He knew what was unraveling as Judas left the Passover meal on Thursday night, as the soldiers came marching with swords and torches. He knew.

And he did not run.

I think of him saying yes to all that was before him, embracing it for us. He stayed with his friends, walked into the city where he knew he would die, and spent his last hours talking and eating and praying with those he loved. He spent his last hours pointing the ones he loved back to himself, and thus, to God. And I think of the verses from chapter 5 of Romans:

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Christ spent the last week of his life, essentially, as a dead man walking. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew there was massive pain and suffering and sorrow around the bend. He was the living dead in the truest sense, alive but headed toward one thing: his own death, for our sake. He gave his own life up for us—no one took it from him. The actions that took place and ended with Jesus hanging from two perpendicular beams were not outside of his control. He went into his death willingly.

And he became the living dead so that this could happen—so that we could become the dead living:

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

We, the ones destined to die, have been given the richest chance of all—a gift greater than any lottery or prize. We have the chance to become the dead who truly live. Through Christ’s death—and that resurrection that is the miracle of Easter—we who are headed to the grave can become the ones who receive true life from him. We can look our own deaths in the face with trust, and with hope.

Jesus walked as a man marked for death—the living one, dead—so that we could become the dead who receive life.


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