Walking toward the events of Easter, the suffering of the cross and the shock of the resurrection, has a way of dredging up the dust of existential questions that otherwise sit quietly along the way.
"Who can stay awake in this night of God?" asks Jürgen Moltmann of the events leading to the cross. "Who will not be as if paralyzed by it?... Is there any answer to the question why God forsook him? Is there any answer to the agonizing questionings of disappointment and death?... Is this the end of all human and religious hope? Or is it the beginning of the true hope, which has been born again and can no longer be shaken?"(1)
Beside the lacerated body of Christ, death is not a figure we can turn away from as if to say it is simply unwelcomed. And life, as it appears unhindered and uncontainable by the tomb and even the grave clothes, unexpectedly becomes a word we do not really know, despite our regular use of the term.
Many of the parables Jesus told worked to counter the unchallenged cultural interpretations that buried words in contemporary holes. In fact, his stories habitually seemed to unpigeon-hole concepts that had become so familiar they were no longer seen, words so often used in a particular way that their greater meaning had long been forsaken. Coming into a crowd, Jesus worked to remove the coded obstacles that blocked them from seeing words and truths in true kingdom-proportion.
But it is the same for us today. What do you do when a question about eternal life is answered with a story about robbers causing harm and neighbors who don't care? Every story Jesus told, every sermon he preached with and without words moves us to rediscover the words we use and the confessions we make. The weeks leading up to the cross remind me just how often I limit and even misuse words and notions pertaining to "life" itself.
Insistence of the "sanctity of life" is one such confession oft on the lips of Christians. Created in the image of God, the church confesses that life is sacred, loved, and valued. With good reason, this confession is often voiced in arenas fighting for the unborn or ethical practices of medicine. Even the phrase "sanctity of life" likely brought to some of your minds one of these often charged and public areas of concern.
But if "life" is a word at the heart of the very kingdom Christ proclaimed, should the Christian confession of life not bring to mind all of this and even more? Should the life of a Christian not be one that offers a representation and confession of life's sanctity on all fronts—on the streets, in forgotten prisons, in anonymous online banter? In other words, beyond our voices that rightfully cry out for the protection of the unborn and the dying, how else is our for-life stance being communicated to and within the world less predictably? In the words of Jesus, "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:33). What might Christ's kingdom-sized use of the word "life" include that we have overlooked?
I recently read an account of a pastor in Bellevue, Washington who reminded me of one such thing. Wanting his congregation both to represent and to identify itself with its missional calling, he called them to see life in its broadest context. He asked them "to recognize...that their missional calling involves the witness of their quality of life together as much as it involves service to real human needs and verbal witness to Jesus Christ."(2) I am so accustomed to the phrase "quality of life" referring to ethics and medicine that the idea actually took a minute to settle. But once it did, I realized in fact how short-sided I had allowed that phrase to become.
If the greatest message of Christians is that God "sent his one and only Son into the world that we might truly live by being united with him," it follows that our life together is a very representation of the life Jesus offers and the love God showed in sending his Son.(1) Here, quality of life is far more than a medical term, although it would certainly include our ethics in medical care and the means with which we treat the sick. Similarly, the sanctity of life is always more than a three-point argument or a voting record, but something Christ gives us to embody in every sense of the word and every manner of our lives together and in the world.
Moving toward the events of Holy Week, the multivalent words of Christ still mercifully confront our own, unearthing long-buried dimensions, revealing the unsearchable depths of the truly super-sized king and the kingdom our lives represent: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Jurgen Moltmann, "Prisoner of Hope," in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (New York: Orbis, 2003), 146-152.
(2) Lois Y. Barrett et al., Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 8.
(3) cf. 1 John 4:9.