Lent 2019: Embracing Death in the Land of the Living

April 20, 2019
Norman Yung

was crucified, died, and was buried.

The Apostles’ Creed

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about human flourishing. What makes a human flourish? What does real flourishing look like? One prominent Korean scholar and writer made a keen observation that one tragic reality of this world is that people don’t think about death anymore. He thinks it’s tragic because human flourishing takes place when we truly embrace death. I deeply agree with him but how do we embrace this truth?

Our family watched a fascinating documentary about Pacific salmon a few weeks ago. One amazing fact I learned is that it only takes a few drops of water from their stream of birth in the ocean for salmon to find the path to where they were born. Their journey upstream is plagued by hungry bears and birds. Their lungs don’t function properly in fresh water so they get less oxygen as they get closer to their home. Thus, the moment they embark on their journey, the dying process begins. When they make it to their birth place and lay their eggs, all that remains is to await their last breath. This death brings life not only to hungry animals but also to the whole forest. The flourishing of the ecosystem depends on their dead bodies. All three of us were awestruck by the life and death of salmon, by their determination, bravery, and instinctual sacrifice. The image of a dead salmon completely absorbed in the soil and becoming the source of food for plants and trees captured my imagination and kept me thinking about the fascinating cosmic design for flourishing encapsulated in the life and death of a fish. 

Today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter. This is the day Jesus’s body embraced death. Jesus’s body in the tomb. No voice from heaven. Everything stopped. The disciples likely spent the day in fear or in immense grief. We, thankfully, can spend this day contemplating the world of darkness that would exist without the hope of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus died and conquered death. By the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been moved from the land of the dead to the land of the living. Our eternal life is sealed. However, that’s not the end of the story. 

Now we are invited by the indwelling Holy Spirit to this profound paradoxical truth that embracing death will lead us to true living and flourishing. That’s what we should also think about on this day. Jesus strongly exhorts us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:24-26) 

This is the picture of true flourishing for us: embracing death in the land of the living. Christian writer and speaker Andy Crouch, in his book Strong and Weak, describes embracing death as “relinquishing power and authority, embracing a position of unequivocal vulnerability.” Where our selfish passions and desires die (Gal 5:24), we will begin to see our lives truly flourish. Jesus calls us to a life of flourishing, life lived to the full, living rather than merely existing. He wants us to flourish so that the rest of the world can flourish. How will we respond? 

Prayer (from Psalm 27:13-14)

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
        in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD;
        be strong, and let your heart take courage;
        wait for the LORD!

King’s Cross Church is a church of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
For questions and information, please contact info@kingscrossnyc.org.
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