Dying today is a much different thing than I remember from childhood or even the early years of ministry. The hospice movement has made dying a peaceful, even beautiful time as life’s end approaches. Not all deaths are easy nor are they all painless. But contemporary angels of mercy do all they can to make our passing as easy as circumstances allow. What a marvelous thing it is.
But today, Good Friday, cannot be about an easy death. Jesus’ death is a death of agony – of body and spirit. It is a death preceded by physical torture and spiritual humiliation. A death made more painful by mockery.
It is this kind of death that Jesus invites us to share. I hope my passing from this life to eternal life is peaceful, even joyous. Not so coming to the cross in this life. Perhaps Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s most well-known quote comes from this reflection on the death of the old man (by which he meant humans):
“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, 99)