Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 / Luke 9:22-25

Dethe spareth not low ne hye degre
Popes kynges ne worthi Emperowrs
When thei schyne moste in felicite
He can abate the fresshnes of her flowres
Ther briÊ’t sune clipsen with hys showres
Make hem plownge from theire sees lowe
Maugre the myght of al these conquerowres
Fortune hath hem from her whele ythrowe.

 On any reasonable view of the world, loss is inevitable. Physicists assure us that entropy, to move from order to chaos, from dynamic energy to stasis, is the unavoidable future of the cosmos. Our own experience in life, so poignantly if shockingly portrayed in Medieval renderings of the Dance of Death, reminds us that nothing, however good, lasts forever, and that mortality is the great equalizer. At the end of every life, whether lived long or short, poorly or well, befriended or alone, the is the inexorable coming of death.

We might like to think that the spiritual life proves an exception to this rule. In a crucial way, of course, it does. We are confident with blessed assurance that in Jesus Christ there is new and eternal life, that in him and through the shedding of his blood on the Cross, his rising from the Tomb, and his ascension into glory, we can come to know a life without loss. This promise is at the heart of the Gospel, that life in Jesus Christ just is a sharing in God's own inexhaustible life, a light which never dims and admits no shadow, an unconquerable joy.

Even so, our coming to this life is no less marked by loss than anything else in the world. As Jesus reminds us: Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. We do not do well to focus so much on the final words, that we will save our lives, if in doing so we become vulnerable to confusion and despair what the loss assured by Jesus comes our way. What the Gospel tells us, what Jesus wanted his disciples to see by foretelling his suffering, his rejection and betrayal, and his being put to death, and then in his invitation that they, and we, should take up our crosses, was that the loss rooted in the world is not merely present in the way to God, but is indeed at its heart.

The difference, however, is that Jesus wants us to see that we can, in a significant way, dictate the very terms of that loss. We will be crucified, but it can be we ourselves who, like Jesus, choose to pick up the cross in freedom and love, rather than have it imposed on us. We will be denied, but it can be we ourselves who, like Jesus, knowingly and with forgiveness and mercy, choose to deny ourselves, rather than face a denial that will inevitably come from others. In short, the question is not whether or not there will be loss. The question is whether or not we will claim that loss as our own, and by embracing it in freedom, in generosity, and in mercy, find that we have lost nothing that we have not had returned to us, that we have, in losing, gained the deepest desire of our heart.

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