Tumbling in the Sand
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” – Hebrews 5:7
But, but, but… he died! How is it that Jesus was heard by “the one who was able to save him from death” when, in fact, he died? Yes, he was raised from the dead—but he still died. That doesn’t seem like being saved to me. That seems like having to struggle with, experience, lose to, and suffer death. Then be raised.
I guess “saved from death” to me kind of means not having to suffer it at all.
But the author of Hebrews clearly disagrees with me on that one. The author here clearly feels that even though Jesus suffered a horrible death by crucifixion, even though his body was bound in cloths and laid in a tomb, even though for three days he lay—dead—in the grave, even despite all of that, Jesus was saved from death … because, well, he didn’t stay dead. And that’s the point.
This, I think is a really hard lesson. In Jeremiah, God promises a new covenant, a new hope, a new promise. In our own lives of faith we claim that God is doing a new thing in us, that God will save us, that God is with God’s people. And we tend to think that means we will be saved in the sense that I want to understand it—not the way that the author of Hebrews understands it. We think that God doing a new thing in our midst, that God promising to be with us—that the Church being saved from death—means that it, that we, won’t have to die at all. We won’t have to practice “the art of losing” as the poet Elizabeth Bishop writes in her poem “One Art.”
But in John, Jesus says: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” If we serve the crucified one—the one who draws all people to himself when he is lifted up on the cross—can we really expect to avoid the cross? the tomb? the inevitable death of our selves? Can we really expect, following the one who mastered the art of letting go of everything, to avoid having to let go ourselves?
But the thing about letting go is this: that the one who is able to save from death witnesses that reverent submission of letting go, the relaxing of the clenched fist in death, the exhale of that final breath into God—and indeed, we do not stay dead. And that’s the point.
For an excellent reflection on the art of losing (from which some of this post is inspired), read Richard Lischer’s article in the Christian Century: Stripped Bare: Holy Week and the art of losing
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