Living Fully Into the Death of Christ

I must admit that as my turn to write something for the SalvationLife blog approached there was a bit of nervousness and uncertainty about what to say. Most who will read this blog will have no idea who John Grant is, or why they should even read what he may have to say. I am excited about Daniel’s vision for SalvationLife, and am equally excited and honored in being asked to be a part of it. But still the question lingers: who is John Grant, and why listen? 

It seems to me that is one of the questions that lingered in those days between the resurrection and Pentecost. Those early disciples must have wondered about their collective identity. Just who were they in light of what had just taken place? Things were different. The nascent church—meeting in secrecy, shrouded with fear, uncertain, unsure—knew things had changed, but what did it mean? I think that is one of the main questions answered on Pentecost: the question of ecclesial identity. Pentecost introduced the church not only to the world, but to itself.

Augustine faced some of those same questions—identity and introductions. At 43 he had been a Christian for 10 years, a priest for 6, and the bishop of Hippo for only two. Certainly there were many in his own diocese (and beyond) who knew little of who this brilliant bishop was. No doubt there were also many others who had heard of his involvement with the Manicheans and his early attacks on the church. Just who was their new bishop, and why should they trust his words? To answer these questions Augustine took up his pen in 397 and wrote The Confessions

Reading The Confessions has had a big influence on me, an influence that continues to grow each time I open its pages. One of the many things that stands out about it is that it is written as a prayer to God that is meant to be overheard by the reader. Augustine directs his words to God, but he does so in a way that lifts the reader beyond the pages and carries them into God’s very presence. Though it contains biographical information, it is really a work of theology. But it is a kind of practical theology that is grounded in the transformative relationship established between God and humanity through Christ. It’s a kind of practical theology that is at the same time both immanent and transcendent, touching us in the concrete reality of our historical condition, but transcending that condition by opening us to the eternal. 

It makes me wish I was brilliant and could write for you a theological introduction of who John Grant is. So, even though I’m no Augustine, perhaps I can say something theological that will help to introduce myself to you without writing a long boring biography. After all, my life isn’t all that interesting anyway. As a matter of fact, it can be summed up in six words: “I have been crucified with Christ.” Of course, those six words are in and of themselves theologically loaded. They are theologically packed with implications for finding one’s identify and true self. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”   

These words of Paul have been the heart and testimony of my Christian experience. They have shape my life and my perspective on life, forming and transforming me from the inside out. They have challenged me, often holding a mirror up to those many times I have failed to live this verse out in the kind of kenotic love towards others that Christ has called me to. They remind me, too, that following Christ is ultimately a matter of dying with Christ. Life and living is about death and dying.

Lately I’ve been reading quite a bit about death and dying. It’s not because I’m morbid or anything. It’s because of a paper I need to write for a class. Karl Rahner wrote a whole theology of death. In it, he talks about the universality of death—everyone dies. He talks about death as being a judgment on sin. But, at the same time, he also talks about death as being redemptive. Depending on how we die—in Christ or without Christ—it becomes salvific or perdition. And so Rahner sees that there must be something neutral, so to speak, in the actual event of death that permits both judgment and salvation to exist in the same event of death. Ultimately, what he sees in death is a finality, an end. He speaks of death as both end and fulfilment. Death brings a person to a finality and consummation that makes a person’s decision for or against God final and unalterable. So in death a person becomes the consummation of that which they have made of themselves during the whole of their life. In this way, a person is, in a sense, enacting their own death through the very deeds of their life. In every action, in every free act, one’s death is always and already present. In our freedom, we shape who we are. Our identity is formed. And one day that identity will reach its fulfilment, its consummation, in the moment of our death.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It is how I strive to live. It is how I strive to enact my death in every moment of my living. Often I fail. Sometimes the crucified subject, the “I”, forgets that it is really Christ living in me that is my life. Sometimes my will instantiates itself in ways that seem inimical to faith in the Son of God. Sometimes the love that God has poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit is ignored as I seek to once again live according to the flesh. Yet still, in spite of—or perhaps because of—all these failures I continually strive to live each moment as one who is crucified with Christ.

I suppose, in the end, that is who John Grant is: a mixture of struggles and strivings. In my dying I strive to live. In my living I strive to die with Christ. Each moment I enact my death, striving to live fully into the death of Christ, to give myself kenoticly in love. It is the journey of discipleship, the walk of faith. It is what it means for me to follow Jesus.