There’s not much doubt that when Jesus was speaking to his disciples about death, he was not waxing metaphorical. It was a literal and candid message. You will be hated. You will be chased from the social centerpiece of Jewish life – the synagogue. You will die. We understand that this portent of physical death was given to his inner circle, but is there something here for us as well?
We quoted a small portion from Dietrich Bonheoffer’s work yesterday. Now, let’s have a look at the longer quotation: The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. ~The Cost of Discipleship
It is tempting to think of the death that Bonheoffer cites as something merely metaphorical and in so doing, perhaps less momentous than physical death. It may in fact be metaphorical, but it is in no way less momentous. If all we’ve been told in respect to eternity is true, then the physical death for a believer is a welcome promotion. All of everything that is evil, painful and confusing will come undone. Death itself will be dead, unlamented and sentenced to an unmarked grave. All fear, all dread, all remorse will be past tense. We’ll lose touch with those emotions. The ragged attempts we’ve made in this life to follow Christ’s command to “not worry” fall away – both the attempts and the command. When we reach the high country there will simply be nothing to worry about. It is all, in the words of CS Lewis, “Further up and further in.” Thus, the looming physical death Jesus mentions to his disciples, while alarming, is not as consequential as the death of which Bonheoffer speaks. The real challenge for the Christian is to die before we die. And that is momentous. And that is daily.