By Sam Gutierrez
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
The journey of Lent is an exercise in trust. The days and weeks of this liturgical season culminate in an intense series of events called “Holy Week.” Holy means set apart for a special purpose. The main lesson of Lent that is condensed and amplified during Holy Week is simple, but hard – If you want to live, then you have to die first.
If there is one universal experience that I’ve witnessed in my years as a Care Pastor, it is this: Dying is hard. Nobody wants to die. There is something instinctual inside of us – a powerful survival mechanism. We resist death. We hold on to life. We don’t want to let go.
Death is about letting go. In order to help us let go, we get a thousand “practice attempts” throughout our lives. We get a myriad of opportunities to practicing dying before we die so that when we stand before capital “D” death, we’ll know how to let go with confidence.
Why do I say with confidence?
When we practice letting go (dying) many times every day, we also experience mini-resurrections. We see that even we when “die” new life springs up. The more we practice the pattern of dying and life springing up (rising) the more confident we’ll be that right behind capital “D” death is capital “L” life. We’ll not only believe – but know deep in our bones what Jesus said about seeds in John 12:24 is really true: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
The Lenten journey and the intensity of Holy Week is a 40-day lesson with one key takeaway – don’t be afraid to let go – God will be there to catch you.
If all of this sounds a little abstract, then let me conclude with a story that Henri Nouwen likes to tell in his book Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring (Harper Collins, 1995). Towards the end of his life, Henri became fascinated by trapeze artists who seemed to effortless fly through the air. He writes:
“One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, ‘As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.’
‘How does it work?’ I asked.
‘The secret,’ Rodleigh said, ‘is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catch bar.’
‘You do nothing!’ I said, surprised.
‘Nothing,’ Rodleigh repeated. ‘The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.’
When Rodleigh said this with so much conviction, the words of Jesus flashed through my mind: ‘Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.’ Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, ‘Don’t be afraid. Remember that you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump. Don’t try to grab him; he will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust.’ “