Formation: The Circle of Life

When thinking about the meaning of the Easter event, the Christian tradition has often employed two metaphors: ransom and sacrifice. Both of these ideas have to do with Jesus death as some kind of payment. Whether it be payment for our freedom from enslavement, or payment to appease God’s wrath. As we discussed last time, both metaphors have been prominent at different times in church history, but there also have some challenges in the way they’ve been applied. 

So what else might we say about the meaning of this profound event? In this series we’re exploring this very question, and as we do so we are trying to avoid clinging to one metaphor in isolation, but to continue wrestling with the depth of meaning, allowing ourselves to be caught up into the mystery of it. To engage in conversation and be able to think: “ok, but maybe there’s still more to it than that.”

This week we want to discuss the idea of the death and resurrection of Jesus as archetypal of our transformation. It’s a mystical response to the story of Jesus. One of the primary New Testament ways of talking about Jesus death and resurrection was to talk about it as something we ‘enter into.’  And that this entering into, is fundamental to our own transformation. The New Testament speaks of our death and new life, but this is not a literal or macabre invitation. It asks us to consider symbolically, mystically, and experientially, what it means to participate in the journey of Jesus. So in thinking about the death and resurrection of Jesus in this way, we’re invited to think about how this journey of Jesus might also be an archetype of our own journey of transformation.

Let’s consider the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia:

Galatians 2:20 - “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…”

Galatians is a book written to first century church in Galatia, and many of them were confused about what the story of Jesus meant for them and their real everyday lives. Some of them had been convinced that to belong to the people of God they had to take on the markers of the Jewish people i.e. circumcision and following of Torah.

But Paul makes the argument that he dies (with Christ) to this way of being. The life he now lives is on the other side of a dying to his old way of seeing (and being). In this passage, engagement with the crucified and risen Christ is not about payment, and it’s not talking about our resurrection in the future to get into heaven. Instead, it is about participation; the death and resurrection as something we enter into – here and now – in this present life. 

This is about death and new life as a symbol of our transformation. It’s a continuing, ongoing, dying and rising (not a one-time conversion experience). Over and over again, there is a movement of death and new life. And the movement toward resurrection reminds us that it is ok. The path to transformation is paved with letting things die. 

There’s also a bigger mystical idea present here too. That in Jesus we see a revealing of that which is embedded not just within the human story – but also in a wider cosmic reality. Richard Rohr suggests that “Jesus’ death and resurrection name and reveal what is happening everywhere and all the time in God and in everything God creates. Reality is always moving toward resurrection.”

Death and new life is woven into the very fabric of existence itself. And so when we reflect on the story of Easter, this is not just about a transaction, involving payment and appeasement. It is about seeing and participating in the fundamental aspects of reality, and the risen Jesus reminds us that there is always a movement toward something new. The circle of life does not end with the dark nights of winter; winter will always be followed by spring.