“The only people afraid of immortality haven’t died yet.”
Thus says the character of Wolfgang Amadeus to Rodrigo in Mozart In The Jungle. The phrase caught some of my brain cells, and as I pondered this Good Friday, and all the things dying in my life right now, it got stuck there.
There is infinite wisdom in the statement. And it’s spiritual wisdom at that. Because I’m not just talking about physical death. I’m talking about all the kinds of spiritual deaths we die on our way to getting it.
And by getting it, I mean that quintessential Jesus, that state of being that emulates love, and all that Jesus is about. I mean the whole losing your life to find it, and the whole loving your neighbor as yourself thing. We have to die a thousand deaths to get it. When they nailed Jesus to the cross, maybe they were nailing all our deaths there, too. All the things we need to die to to get to him, inside him, where the unconditional love is.
I’m talking about tribal deaths. We are, after all, a tribal people. Even with all our individualism that looks just like everyone else. Whether you’re pierced or polka dotted, trust me — you have a tribe. And that tribe has boundaries it loves to use to keep you safe. You can read that word “safe” in two ways. Safe, as in, you will not be hurt as long as you stay part of the tribe. And safe as in you will pose no threat to the tribe as long as you tow the line.
Maybe your tribe is called Evangelicalism, and its hooks are deep in your skin, with all its patriarchy and who’s in/who’s out kind of stuff. Or maybe it’s science, and you miss all the miracles that unfold around you every day. Our brains are wired for tribal membership — brains are card carrying members and they insist upon it because they believe it’s about survival. And it is, when we are children. But we’re grown ups now. We actually can take care of ourselves.
The process of dying is ugly and brutal. Jesus showed us how it’s done, and still, we mess it up. We think self-sacrifice and martyrdom is the way into some strange, hierarchical kingdom. We are just like the disciples in that sense, jostling for who has the better seat in some other realm. As if seats in some other realm matter, when seats in that realm are probably only vibrational and the taller you try to make them, the farther you’ll fall.
Jesus himself told us he wants mercy from us, not sacrifice. So we must die every day to those things that make us withhold mercy. Our grudges and our categories — the things that make us think we’re “better than.”
Maybe we tow the line of fitting in, of not being special. Maybe your tribe tells you that to fit in, all the things that make you who you are need to be sanded down and smoothed over and not so shiny and definitely not pointy. This is especially true here in our American Christianity, our European lineage, our Roman roots. I think of all the so-called heretics burned at the stake for knowing God. I think of the tribal think that created the word “heresy” to begin with, as if we could ever know the fullness of the mind of God when we are ever only such a very small part of it.
Who are we to say anything with certainty?
And there goes another death. Throw certainty onto the funeral pyre, let its fragrance be unto the Lord.
Maybe the death we need to die is the death to all that we have been denying. The truths about who we actually are, what we are actually capable of, and what Jesus wants us to do while we’re here. We might have our plans, we might be comfy-cozy in our denial of everything we were created to be. But Jesus calls us to die to that comfort, let that old self fall away like the dead, and emerge from that corpse in a resurrection of the soul, of the self, and take our place in God’s kindom, where we do the work of our hands, fully ourselves in our resurrection bodies. Maybe that is the path we must walk, the cross we must carry, unafraid.
Because the only people afraid of immortality haven’t died yet.