“Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.” C.S. Lewis

I remember leading a retreat for pastors some years ago in which we talked about that place in the spiritual journey (variously called the Dark Night, the wilderness, the movement from the false self to the true self) in which there is a very profound kind of death and dying that must take place in order for something truer to emerge. We talked about the fact that it is a time when even those who have been faithful to the spiritual journey may experience loss and disillusionment, when we are humbled, confused and even begin to question those things that we used to be so sure of. It feels like dying because in some sense it is. We are dying to what is false within us—surrendering that which is passing and needs to pass—in order to be more completely given over to God.

After that teaching, I walked to lunch with several young men who were in their late twenties/early thirties. They were elders at a hip and happenin’ church that was growing and developing in good ways and they had a question. I don’t remember the exact words now but it was something like this, “Does everyone have to go through this kind of death and dying?  How can we do ministry in such a way that we don’t have to pass through such a dark night?  And if we can’t, is there any way we can speed up the process so we can get it behind us?”   What they were really asking was, Isn’t there any way we can be good enough so we don’t have to die?

Well, I had never been asked that question in quite that way before so it gave me pause.  And after falling in love with them for their earnestness and sincerity the only thing I could even think to say was, “Even Jesus had to die in order for the will of God to come forth in his life. If Jesus had to go through it, I don’t think any of us are going to get away without it.” I’m pretty sure that’s not the answer they were looking for.

Surrendering to the Mystery

So here we are at the beginning of Holy Week—a week when we are invited to practice the most basic and most sacred rhythm of the spiritual life: the rhythm of death, burial, and resurrection. The Paschal mystery. It is not a rhythm that any of us would willingly choose or even know how to choose; it is usually thrust upon us. Even Jesus admitted to having mixed feelings about the inevitability of it all. Now my soul is troubled.  And what should I say—”Father, save me from this hour?”  No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. (John 12:27)

“Really?” we might say.  “We’ve come all this way, done all this work, become this good just to die?”  The answer to those young elders and to us is yes, always yes. But it is not something we surrender to easily; it is something we need to practice.  As Richard Rohr writes, “We all find endless disguises and excuses to avoid letting go of what really needs to die for our own spiritual growth…It is always our beloved passing self that has to be let go of.  Jesus surely had a dozen good reasons why he should not have to die so young, so unsuccessful at that point, and the Son of God besides! It is always ‘we”—in our youth, in our beauty, in our power and over-protectedness—that must be handed over.  It is really about ‘passing over’ to the next level of faith and life.  And that never happens without some kind of ‘dying to the previous levels.’”[i]

Handing Ourselves Over

So let us enter into Holy Week as a way to practice the most holy and sacred rhythm of our faith—death, burial and resurrection.  Let us enter into Jesus’ passion by “handing ourselves over” to the events of this week–Mary’s costly act of preparation for Jesus’ burial, Jesus’ final teaching regarding the cost of discipleship, the tenderness of the Last Supper, the pain of betrayal, Jesus handing himself over to his enemies in the garden of Gethsemane, the arduous journey to the cross, the despair of Holy Saturday, the joy of resurrection Sunday.

As we begin this week together, let us ask Jesus what area of our lives at this time needs to be transformed through the rhythm of death, burial and resurrection. Let us ask him to be our teacher on the way… from death to burial to resurrection life.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


[i] Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2011), p. 134, 135.

©Ruth Haley Barton, 2011. Not to be reproduced without permission. Ruth is the founder of the Transforming Center. As spiritual director, teacher and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous articles, books, and resources on the spiritual life.


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If you live nearby, please join us for our Good Friday Stations of the Cross Prayer Service at the Loretto Center Chapel in Wheaton, IL.
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Revised Common Lectionary Year A
Readings for Holy Week

Monday of Holy Week
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 36:5-11
Hebrews 9:11-15
John 12:1-11

Tuesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 71:1-14
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
John 12:20-36

Wednesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 70
Hebrews 12:1-3
John 13:21-32

Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Good Friday
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42

Holy Saturday
Job 14:1-14 or Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24
Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
1 Peter 4:1-8
Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42


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