“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
Christian spirituality does not try to deny or ignore the fact that contained within it is one of the most compelling mysteries; the sacrificial Lamb who died for the sins of mankind. This is a mystery of suffering, death, and transforming resurrection. Christ is the center of Christianity, and central to Christ is His death, resurrection to life, and the sending of His Holy Spirit. Central to Christianity is the fact that Jesus was sent by the Father to suffer and die.
What does this really mean and how do we apply it to our own lives? What is the paschal, sacrificial Lamb, or Passover mystery of Christ and how do we apply it to our lives?
To understand this we must discern between two types of death. First is the terminal death and second is the paschal death. Terminal death ends life on this earth as we know it. Paschal death is a death that ends one kind of life, opening us up to a new deeper and richer form of life. The image from John 12:24 illustrates paschal death, where a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies to produce a new life. This is about death and resurrected life.
The paschal mystery of new life is a process of transformation in which we are given a new life and a new spirit. It begins with suffering and death, and moves toward reception of new life. We spend a period of time grieving the old and reoriented ourselves to the new, and after we have let go of the old life, the spirit empowers us to live the new life.
The Scriptures picture for us five movements of the paschal cycle: Good Friday, Easter Sunday, the forty days leading up to the Ascension, the Ascension, and Pentecost. Each movement is a single process and each can be understood in relationship to the other. Each one of these is a process of dying, leaving the past behind, and moving forward in new life.
Good Friday can be seen as the loss of life and painful death. Easter is the picture of resurrection and the entrance of new life. The forty days is a time of grieving the old and adjusting to what is new. It is a time of putting off the old ways and putting on the new. The Ascension is a letting go of the old, receiving the blessings of the new, forgiving what needs to be forgiven, and refusing to allow it to have a hold on us. Pentecost is embracing the Holy Spirit who lives in us and hearing His voice with clarity.
This cycle is not something we go through once and are done; rather it is a process that we undergo on a rather regular basis in our daily lives.
Many of the women I have counseled over the years are single, or single moms. They may have been married and are divorced or have never been married, and they come from varying walks of life. One life story stands out as an example: Cindy was a healthy, attractive, smart and savvy woman. She had a great connection to her family and a good number of trusted long-time friends. She was a loved and respected person. She was approaching 50, without children, and unmarried. Her heart was breaking over the fact that life has passed her by and she does not have a husband or any prospects, and the potential for having children was soon going to be gone. She feared she was doomed to a life of loneliness.
She was getting very depressed, losing site of all the good things she had in life for the fact that she does not have what she really wants. She tried online dating to meet and date a few men only to be rejected. She feels so hopeless, thinking on the dreams she had as a little girl of growing up to meet a tall, dark, and handsome man, marry him, have children, be a stay-at-home mom, live in a big house in the suburbs, and the list went on. Over the years she has been scaling back her dream to become desperate to marry anyone, not just someone who is tall, dark, and handsome.
In the pit of her desperation after one last rejection, the fog started to clear. She realized that it doesn’t matter if she is married or not, her happiness does not have to depend on another human being, but on the peace that resides inside of her because of her relationship with Christ.
John 12:24 enters here to add deeper meaning and define the paschal cycle. In order to come into fuller life and spirit we must let go of the present life. The picture of the grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying illustrates how new life is produced. Like a person can die in the body and all life ceases, in the same way, a paschal death ends one type of life and opens us to receive a new and richer life. This new life includes resurrection life. When Jesus was raised from the dead He did not come back the old Jesus He came back with a new life and body, one in which He would never die again. The Paschal cycle is about death and resurrection. It is about a process of transformation in which we receive a new life and spirit.
The cycle begins with suffering and death, moves toward resurrection life, grieves the old and adjusts to the new life, and finally embraces life in the spirit. Scripture reveals five stages of the paschal cycle Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday, forty days leading to the Ascension, the Ascension, and Pentecost. The stages are part of a single ongoing process of transformation, of letting go and receiving new life.
This is an ongoing daily process of having a Good Friday of facing and naming the losses and deaths of life, having Resurrection Sundays receiving new life, and dealing with the forty days of grieving what has been painful and lost and accepting your new life in Christ. Moving from the forty days to the Ascension is most important because we must let go of the past with its holds on us, moving toward forgiveness, letting it bless us, and refusing to hold on to it. When we process through these stages we can then move to Pentecost and receive the life the Lord is giving us.
Do we all at different points in our lives have to spend forty days mourning all the unconsummated dreams in our lives? Is it true that when we have not done this have we become bitter, angry, and disappointed? Do not let incompleteness in our lives cause a restlessness that robs us of delight and joy in the Lord?
Take some time to mourn the dreams and let them ascend to no longer rob your life of its simple joys.