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September 25, 2023

Risen life: Dying and rising before you die

Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed!

Every year on Easter Sunday, Christians begin the service with this proclamation. Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ who on the third day rose from the dead. 

When I was attending seminary, the New Testament professor was teaching the Easter stories from the bible. He asked the question to students, “What’s the first thing Jesus said when he rose from the dead?” He answered his own question with the answer, “Y’all, can you see me?” It was a joke and we had a good laugh.

A traditional thinking for Christians is that Jesus rose from the dead so that we can also be resurrected after we die. But this misses the crux of Jesus’ teaching. The emphasis on “Risen life” is not about happening after we die but happening before we die. It’s dying before we die and resurrecting before we die. Kabir, the 14th century Indian poet, wrote, “If you can’t cross over (to the other side) while you are alive, how can you when you are dead?”  

The risen life requires some kind of ego death which is no easy task. Ego will not voluntarily die and it will not go quietly in order for new life to emerge. Ego does not like to lose control over your life. It will kick and scream to avoid transformation at all cost. The difference between Saints and the ordinary Joe or Jane like most of us is that Saints voluntarily walk into the volcano knowing it will be annihilation. They do so with faith and conviction that it is a necessary step toward the Risen life. It is like “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over it became a butterfly.”

The Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami, in his novel Kafka on the Shore powerfully describes the experience of transformation in the section “Sand Storm”:

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’’ be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

Raimon Panikkar, the Indian Christian theologian and mystic wrote in his book, Christophany: The Fullness of Man, “What happened in the life of Christ will happen in us. In our transformed lives, God lives in us without us losing our own being.”

Risen life is not about accomplishing but manifesting. It is moving from doing to being.

It requires transformation of dying before dying and resurrecting before we die.

Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed!

Rev. John Juno Song is the pastor of Watsonville First United Methodist Church. For information, visit watsonville1stumc.org, call 831-724-4434 or email [email protected]. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.


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