IVP - Strangely Dim - A Matter of Life and Death

March 16, 2007

A Matter of Life and Death

My sister and I have been mourning the death of our ivy. Its death is not surprising; we don't have a good history with plants. Most of them, this one included, have been gifts from our mom, and usually they die relatively quickly because we never remember--or bother--to water them. Particularly hearty ones might last a few months, in which case our mom waters them when she comes to visit, and they temporarily revive. But this ivy has been our longest living plant to date: it lasted three years, surviving a move from the small, narrow windowsill in our last apartment to a new, roomy windowsill, as well as our vacations when it was left to fend for itself. There've been a few close calls, but it's always survived. Until now.

I like to think it died because it outgrew its little pot. (Not, of course, from our neglect to water it.) We haven't thrown it out yet because we keep hoping it will revive one more time, in which case we will faithfully water it every day (or every other day?) and get it a larger pot and play Mozart to it in the evenings. But I fear it's too late.

At the risk of sounding morbid, I'll admit I've been thinking about death. Not just because of the ivy (though it is a daily reminder), but also because of Lent and the suffering of Christ we contemplate, and because of the pre-Lent sermons on mourning at my church, and because of the morning news, and because of my own sins and struggles and those of people I know. Death is everywhere, really, and it makes its presence known keenly.

I've been trying to imagine the despair the disciples must have felt that day Christ was crucified: the person they had placed all their hope in was Dead. But then--the depths of joy they must have experienced at his resurrection! As I observe Lent in personal and corporate ways but also anticipate Easter, I'm struck by the stark, extraordinary contrast of the two events: suffering and death and mourning and then almost incomprehensible rejoicing. The pain of one and the joy of the other cannot comprehend each other.

The same must have been true for the widow in Luke 7:11-17. Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd of followers encounter the funeral processional for the widow's only son as they reach the gate of the city of Nain. "When the Lord saw her," Luke writes, "his heart went out to her and he said, 'Don't cry.' Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, 'Young man, I say to you, get up!' The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother."

In the midst of the widow's pain--widow, of course, meaning that she already lost her husband--I'm sure she couldn't imagine joy, life, even not crying, as Jesus told her to do. All of those must have sounded impossible; she was dead in spirit, in hope. But in one moment--there is life from death, joy from despair.

It doesn't always happen that way, of course--not that quickly or easily. Jesus healed many and raised a few from the dead, but many more died while he was on earth, and even today, some people are healed while others are not. The road from grief to hope is rarely instant. But this account of Jesus reminds me that this is what Jesus is doing all the time: bringing life in the midst of death, to remind us what wins, finally, eternally. It may not be as dramatic as raising someone from the dead, but he is bringing dead things, places, relationships to life every day if we open our eyes to see it, constantly reminding us that death does not have the final word, grief does not have the final word, the current pain we're experiencing and the sin we're struggling with do not have the final word. The final word is his own: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

The death in and around us is as easily seen as the dead ivy on my windowsill: broken relationships, abuse, depression, loneliness, a funeral, a sealed tomb. Can any life really come in the midst of or after these? Jesus' resurrection tells us: Yes. And today, after a stressful, tiring week when I was forced to face my own brokenness and sin, spring coming outside after a cold winter and friends' healing and my own small steps of growth tell me: Yes, life can come, even when we--like a dead widow in Nain grieving her dead son--can't imagine it.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at March 16, 2007 12:55 PM Bookmark and Share


Amen. Alleluia!

Can I say Alleluia during Lent?

Comment by: Mark Eddy Smith at March 16, 2007 3:00 PM

Perhaps the best yet, - and so fitting for this time of year

Comment by: Gran at March 17, 2007 2:11 PM

Praise God, HE truly IS the final word! :)
Romans 6:9b-10a - "...death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, ONCE FOR ALL..."

Comment by: Danielle at March 17, 2007 4:15 PM

I think the "death" we overlook is the most obvious one. Sometimes we fall victim to "dying on the vine". We get so caught up in doing Christiany things that we forget why we're doing them. In a way, we outgrow our own pot. I think Christianity is a constant struggle with what we believe versus what we've been taught. God wants us to grow... not die on the vine.

Comment by: Ven at March 18, 2007 6:55 PM

thank you for this breath of hope in the midst of my own pain/death of this past weekend. clinging to the Word, who is the final one.

Comment by: erica at March 25, 2007 3:25 PM

Thanks to Think Christian for sending people over here to Strangely Dim. Good people, those folks.

Comment by: Dave Zimmerman at March 28, 2007 8:10 PM

Hi. Cool design. Keep up the good.
I'll be back.

Comment by: welluu at May 22, 2007 7:23 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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