Holy Week Tuesday
“Very truly, I tell you, 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.”
April 12, 2022, Words By: Rev. Sarah Wiles, Image By: Wayne Forte
It’s Tuesday. Jesus has entered Jerusalem, and before everything else, he has been blessed by beauty for beauty’s sake. He has received humanizing kindness before the dehumanization and violence that is to come. But the week is rolling on, ready or not.
Now people are starting to gather and pursue. They want to see. I wonder, what did they want to see? What did they expect to hear? What were they hoping for, longing for? I know I would not have been longing to hear what he actually said: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain… those who love their life lose it…”
I love my life. My middle school email address was firstname.lastname@example.org. I am deeply attached to my life, to this life. I don’t think it’s too much projection to believe that Jesus also loved life deeply. He was no life-denying ascetic. He feasted and partied, embraced and healed, and even gave new life to the dead.
Jesus loved life. And I love my life. But the truth is, I also love my false self. I am inordinately attached to all the ways that I shore up and protect my fragile ego. I am in love with my excuses, my defenses, my distractions. I gossip and lie and sow violence. At times maybe I grow weary of all that, but I don’t let it go. Any honest accounting reveals that I’m not weary enough to die to it, even as that life—the life of the ego—gets in the way of my real life. It diminishes my joy, limits my depth of relationship, impoverishes my imagination.
One year at the Tacoma Preaching Peace table, we were talking about the beginning of lent, comparing what we were giving up or taking on. There were all the usual suspects: giving up meat, sugar, alcohol, taking on practices of generosity, self-reflection, acts of kindness. It came around to one of the freest thinkers among us, and I will never forget what she said. “I’m giving up defensiveness.” Can you imagine? Of course, we can’t give up the self-protective instinct entirely, but letting God root out that need to defend ourselves and our actions and opinions at all costs? She was living through a particularly difficult time with the churches she served. Mean words were being said. Approval was hard to find. But for a season she was going to let Jesus soften her, lean into vulnerability, drop the defenses.
Imagine for a moment what it would be like to be completely and utterly unconcerned about defending our own reputations. Imagine how much energy that would free up for us to defend those who truly need defending. To imagine this is to know something of the utter freedom of God who can then invite us to let go, die to our false selves and live freely into all that is true.
I’ve never been bold enough to try such a fast, but I think this is what Jesus is inviting us into. Hating our lives is not about demeaning or denigrating the gift of life, the breath of the Holy Spirit that fills our lungs. It is not a word of further oppression to the already oppressed. It is not a word of shame to the ashamed. It is clear, Jesus’ intent in these paradoxical statements is to lead us to a deeper, freer life.
We may even need to die to the illusion that we can accomplish this ourselves. It is something Jesus does for us and in us. He opens a way to being truly human–one who dies and in dying receives 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.” There’s the word of grace. Our limitations can, through the transmutation of vulnerability, become abundance. This is not painless. But it is true and saving. Letting that which is false fall away, giving up what separates and pits one against another, is hard, often bitter. But the promise is not just that we’ll be a better version of ourselves all on our own. The promise is that in Christ’s work in our lives we’ll experience abundance! Much fruit! Through vulnerability, through emptying, we discover not just our own lives, but a rich community we walk with, a life that never dies.
Dwelling Among Us
What within you needs to die? What might be born in its place?