human story

Not Just a Taste

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by Linda Rex

Lent: One of the things my kids have always hated is the taste of coconut. I myself, having grown up in southern California and been exposed to a variety of tastes as a child, am quite fond of the taste of coconut. I enjoy the taste of pineapple and coconut on top of cottage cheese, and in piña colada yogurt. I like cake with coconut icing. But since my kids don’t care for coconut, I don’t usually use it in my cooking.

There was one time, though, when I had a very large bag of coconut which my mother had left in her fridge when she moved to Texas. I took it home and thought, however feebly, that perhaps I could make something with it so it wouldn’t go to waste. My initial attempt involved hiding it in no-bake chocolate cookies. At first my kids surprised me by eating them. But then they realized they had coconut inside. And from then on I had to eat the rest of the batch myself. Not that I minded. They were chocolate, after all.

The other day my daughter opened a box of chocolates someone gave her, picked a nougat out and bit into it. Her face screwed up and I just had to laugh. “Coconut?” I asked. She nodded and handed the piece to me. She still can’t stand the taste of coconut in any form.

Truthfully I believe we all have the same response when faced with death. None of us likes to taste death in any form, whether it is our own death, the death of someone close to us, the death of a relationship, the death of a community or business, or the death of a career. For us, as humans, death seems so final and devastating. It is an end, and such ends are unbearable.

We tend to approach death a lot like the way my kids approach coconut—with tight lips and a clenched jaw, and a refusal to even give it a taste. Death to us is anathema in any form, even when it’s hidden in something we like. Death is not something we embrace but something we reject, flee from, or despair in the midst of.

I believe this is one reason why Jesus by God’s grace came to “taste death for everyone.” Jesus experienced death in a wide variety of ways—not only the death of his body at his crucifixion, but also, for example, in the death of his close relationships and ministry when his disciples abandoned him at the end, and the death of the public acclaim for him that he experienced entering Jerusalem, which turned into the shout, “Crucify him!” His death on the cross was a collection of many little deaths that culminated in the end of his life as Son of God and Son of man.

Jesus tasted the fullness of death. His body was placed in a tomb and he laid there just as every human being lies in death when the life God gives by the Spirit leaves his or her body. His disciples believed it was all over. His family grieved his loss deeply. Death was effectively and completely a part of Jesus’ story from that day on.

There is nothing about death that Jesus is not familiar with. No matter how bad the taste, Jesus drank death to the last drop, all for our sake. He tasted death for everyone.

The thing is, Jesus’ purpose in tasting death for all of us was so we would have our taste buds changed. In other words, death would no longer have a hold on us or be for us such an offensive, devastating thing. Because of Christ, the apostle Paul said, death has lost its sting.

How can this be? The reason is because death is now so intimately connected with the resurrection. For you and me, death is not an end in and of itself. Death is merely the flipside to a new beginning. Instead of dreading death or running from death, because of Christ we can embrace death as God’s means of bringing about new life.

This doesn’t mean that death isn’t painful and doesn’t involve suffering. Death is still a difficult and heart-rending experience for us as human beings.

The reason death hurts so much is because we were not created for death. We were created for life. God meant for us to eat only of the tree of life, not to experience the consequences of eating of the wrong tree. Death is the result of our choices. Our brokenness and the brokenness of creation mean that death is a part of the human story now.

But Jesus embraced our death in himself. He included himself in our story and he turned death on its head. Death and resurrection are now inseparable twins—in Christ God has made all things new. This means in our loss and grief, we have someone who shares it with us. And we have hope for life beyond death. There is so much more to our human existence than just this!

So really, when facing death, all God is asking of us is merely to taste it—for in tasting death, we find that God in Christ has given us victory over it. If we are facing the death of a relationship, we turn to Christ. In the midst of this death, as we turn to Christ, we will find our new life—whether healing of the relationship or the possibility of new, healthier relationships. The same holds true for all the other little and big deaths we face during our lives.

At some point we have to accept that the human experience is going to include the experience of death of some kind. How we experience death is going to depend upon our willingness to align ourselves with the truth of what Jesus has done in tasting death for everyone. We can see death as an end in itself or as it really is, merely the flipside to a new beginning.

The truth is, we died with Christ and we rose with Christ. And when he comes, we will share in his glory. This is our hope and our assurance—thank you, Jesus.

Holy Father, thank you for your amazing love. You did not leave us in our brokenness and lostness, bound by chains of death. You gave us your Son, who by your Spirit tasted death for all of us, so we could be free to truly live in you. What a blessing and gift! We have new life in Jesus! Thank you. In your Name we pray, amen.

“But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9 NASB

Being Human—Who Am I?

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candles

by Linda Rex

Recently I was loaned a DVD set which contains the TV series “Firefly”. From what I have seen so far, this space western contains all the necessary attributes of a western drama—knockdown drag out fights, shootouts, ambushes, a train robbery and much more.

It tells the human story in a post-modern way, so there is much to be gathered from the human interactions. But it is a much more graphic style of storytelling than I prefer, and I think some may even find it offensive. (It’s definitely not kid-friendly, so I’m not recommending it.)

The creepiest and most horrific part, I thought, is the role that was given to the Reavers. These are humans who are so twisted and depraved that they torture, abuse and cannibalize any humans they come near. They haunt the outer reaches of the galaxy where people are settling new planets and there is very little law and order.

In the piece “Bushwhacked”, the crew of the spaceship “Serenity” come upon a spaceship whose travelers have been ambushed and savagely brutalized and killed by the Reavers. As they try to decide what to do in the situation, they begin to argue over whether or not the Reavers were even human. Could people who did the things they did to other humans even be considered human beings?

Indeed, I wondered as I watched this, at what point do human beings cease to be human beings? And what would it take for a person to cease being the human being he or she was meant to be? Is there a description that we can go by to decide who is and who isn’t truly human?

If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we all have times and places where we are less than what we were meant to be. We are inhumane to one another, and sometimes even to ourselves.

The early church wrestled with the question of who God is, and who Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in relationship with God. Why were these important questions?

These were important questions because who God is, and Christ and the Holy Spirit are, determines who we are. Because we are created in God’s image. God, who is three Persons in one Being and who lives in an eternal relationship of mutual love and respect, defines our personhood. He is the God we were created to reflect.

This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is so essential to our humanity. God, who is Father, Son and Spirit, is one Being, but with three distinctive ways of being. We cannot separate the Father from the Son or from the Spirit, yet they are inseparable. The Son is not the Father, is not the Spirit, and yet they are one. Unity, uniqueness, and equality—this describes the Trinity. This transcendent mystery is the basis for our humanity.

When we fail to acknowledge or submit to the reality that God defines us and our humanity, and how we are to live in relationship with others—in equality, oneness, mutual love and respect–that is when we cease to be truly human. When we try to live out of sync with who we were created to be, then we begin being inhumane—not human—not who or what we were meant to be. And so we end up creating misery for ourselves and others.

The problem is—this is the human condition. We’re just that way. Somehow, from the beginning, we have chosen to define ourselves by our own rules, deciding for ourselves what is good and what is bad, and eliminating as much as is possible any memory of there being a God who defines us. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a tree we eat of on an almost daily basis—we, in our arrogance, have sought to redefine what it means to be a human being.

What we need is some genuine humility in the presence of the One who made us and gives us each day all we need for life and godliness. It is in acknowledging our inhumanity, our pride and arrogance, that we will begin to truly find ourselves.

God has already resolved the issue with our broken humanity—he came into our human existence, took on our human flesh and in Jesus Christ, lived out a truly human existence—one that he has given to each of us through the Holy Spirit if we will welcome him.

Will there always be those who refuse to live out the new, transformed humanity given us in Jesus Christ? For now, at least until the day God draws a line and affirms their choice to refuse and to live apart from the grace God has offered them in his Son, and allows them to live in the darkness of their consequences forever.

Meanwhile, it would be worth our while to begin practicing some humility and grace in our relationships with God and one another. It would be a good thing for us to express some genuine love and respect toward each and every person in our life, even though they may behaving in some very not human ways. We would find our lives would be much different if we began living out of the divine definition of who we are, rather than the one we have picked out for ourselves.

Holy God, forgive us our arrogance in trying to define you and ourselves according to our limited and often misguided human reason and wisdom. Forgive us for the inhumane ways with which we treat one another and you. Thank you, that ultimately, you are the One who defines us, and who has restored our true humanity in Jesus Christ. Thank you for warmly welcoming us into a personal relationship with you in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. In his name we pray, amen.

“Then David the king went in and sat before the LORD, and he said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far?” 2 Sa 7:18 NASB