A pejorative term directed against some congregations is that they are “a dying church.” Either because most of their members are elderly or because they don’t get a lot of new members or because they don’t seem exciting enough. I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians, however elderly or not-growing or unexciting they may be. Then our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, preached this sermon on Palm Sunday:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. And we also prayed: Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience.
What does this mean? Do you know what this is saying? With these words we are really saying: Lord, help us to die. Help us be dying Christians. Help us be a dying church.
Ah, no. That doesn’t sound right! We don’t want to be a dying church! We don’t want to be dying Christians, do we? That sounds like failure. We want to be successful, we want to be admired, we want to be big, we want to be glorious. A dying church sounds . . . like . . . a story gone horribly wrong.
But this is exactly what it means to have the mind of Christ. We are to be a dying church, because we have a dying Saviour. For only by dying can we live. . . .
But what has Jesus done? What is this story we are hearing again today and will remember all this week? This story is not a story gone horribly wrong, but of our Saviour using suffering and death for life, for good. That what looks like defeat is really victory.And so we are a dying church because we have a dying Saviour. This is not our doing – our Saviour pulls us into His dying; for to die with Jesus is to live.
And so in baptism we are pulled into His death and resurrection.
We hear the preaching of Christ crucified and are pulled into the story of the cross.
We die in repentance and are raised in absolution.
The dying and rising body and blood of Jesus are put into your mouth, to pull you into that same dying and rising.
You see, that is what set the Apostles free to face death when they went out into all the world – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.
That is what set the early martyrs and the Reformers free to face death – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.
And this is what sets you free to face whatever this world and its evil prince may throw at you – you have already died with Christ! You have nothing to fear.
And so it is only by dying with Christ that can we then live. For dying with Christ, we live a life that suffering cannot take away, that the sins of others cannot take away, that the struggles of this world cannot take away, that disasters and tragedies cannot take away, that laying down our lives for others cannot take away, that not even death can take away.