Across the street from where I live is a small old cemetery. Each morning, after arising, I go to the large patio window facing the old tombstones and I am reminded of the brevity of life. Yes, we all shall die. From dust we came, and to dust we shall return. But the daily look at the graveyard is much more than a future reminder of what awaits us all; it is also a very present call for me to die to myself.
One way of looking at our lives is to discern that it is a pilgrimage into the inner depths of our souls. As we move within, there is a great need to put away selfishness, arrogance, and the hubris of settled certainty about everything. When I became an adult, I discovered that life was not all about doing whatever I wanted (as I so naively thought as a kid). Instead, life was also full of responsibilities, stewarding my work, school, and relationships. I found that if I was to do anything well, it involved a significant degree of death to self. When I married my lovely wife, I quickly discovered that marriage was a whole lot more than sex and being fed grapes from a beautiful woman while lounging on the couch. Instead, it was a new journey of dying to my expectations and learning to meet the needs of this other person. And, just when I thought I might be getting a handle on this new way of life, I became a father. Now my whole life seemed upside-down caring for this helpless little baby girl that only screamed and pooped if she was not sleeping and eating. My goodness, more death to self so that I may care for another.
I could go on and on with this motif of death (the Apostle Paul certainly did! i.e. Romans 6). Caring for others as a pastor; becoming a grandfather; being attentive to the great needs of society and the world; it all involves being reminded each day that the cemetery awaits me. As I write, the Christian Church is well into the season of Advent. The coming of Christ is quite the fascinating and gracious reality. If you think about it, Jesus could have just appeared on earth. He could have shown up as a fully developed adult ready for his ministry. Jesus could have circumvented the whole thing about experiencing the pain of growing and learning. But, instead, he came to earth through a woman. The King of the universe gestated in the womb of Mary and was born in humble circumstances. He was a baby, a child, a young man, and a teacher and Savior. Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 2:10-18). And then he died. But death could not hold him in the grave.
When I look at that old cemetery I am also reminded of a bigger picture, and a larger portrait that God is painting. I am daily learning, even now, to continually die to myself so that Christ might live in me. He must grow and gestate within, overtaking me so that His life might be preeminent. More of Him, less of me. He must increase; I must decrease. But out of that death to self, something extraordinary and supernatural occurs: resurrection to a new life. Someday, just as Christ came in his first Advent, He will come again in a second Advent. The graves will open. With the presence of Christ in me, I shall rise again, just as He did.
There cannot be a resurrection without a death. All great spiritualities have in common the need to let go. Christianity just puts it in the frame of dying to self and living for Jesus so that the world will be blessed by encountering the great truth that He is Immanuel, God with us.
The graveyard does not have the last word. It is a daily reminder that I must die. But it is also an abiding picture that new life is possible through death, both in this life and in the life to come.