John 12:24-25 (The Message)
“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
In the Christian liturgical calendar, we have just experienced the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday) of Christ. Depending on our spiritual practices, we may have used Lent as a time to let go of the things in our life that needed to die, in order to make room for what the Spirit wants to bring to life in and through us. Catholic theologian Ronald Rolheiser, in his book Holy Longing, calls this continued death and rebirth the Paschal Mystery of Christ. The Paschal Mystery of Christ is a theological term encompassing the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. The word paschal comes from the Hebrew word Pesach for Passover and Mystery comes from the Latin word Mysterium—or Godly truth. In other words the, Paschal Mystery is the truth of Passover—that in letting go of our current life, God gives us new life.
Jesus's parable of the seeds from John 12:24-25 defines the paschal mystery; namely, in order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly die and let go of present life and spirit.
In order to understand this more clearly, we need to differentiate between two kinds of death and two kinds of life.
First, regarding two kinds of death: There is terminal death and there is paschal death. Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death, like terminal death, is real. However, paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life. The image of the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying so as to produce new life is an image of paschal death.
There are also two kinds of life: There is resuscitated life and there is resurrected life. Resuscitated life is when one is restored to one's former life and health, as is the case with someone who has been clinically dead and is brought back to life. Resurrected life is not this. It is not a restoration of one's old life but the reception of a radically new life. We see this difference in scripture by comparing the resurrection of Jesus and the so-called resurrection (which is really a resuscitation) of Lazarus. Lazarus got his old life back, a life from which he had to die again. Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life—a richer life and one within which he would not have to die again.
The paschal mystery is about death that brings radical new life.
We see all of this, first, in the great mystery of Jesus' own passover from death to life, which we observe through the following holidays… Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Ascension and Pentecost. It begins with suffering and death (Good Friday), moves on to the reception of new life (Easter Sunday), spends some time grieving the old and adjusting to the new (Jesus 40 days on earth after resurrection), and finally, only after the old life has been truly let go of, is new spirit given for the life we are already living (Ascension and Pentecost).
Christ’s Paschal Mystery
Good Friday..."the loss of life—real death"
Easter Sunday... "the reception of new life"
The Forty Days ... "a time for readjustment to the new and for grieving the old"
Ascension ... "letting go of the old and letting it bless you, the refusal to cling"
Pentecost ... "the reception of new spirit for the new life that one is already living"
The church teaches that the Paschal Mystery is not only about Christ, but also about us. Through baptism we are asked to participate in Christ’s death and new life.
Romans 6:3-4 reads:
3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
We can use Jesus’s paschal journey as a model in our daily lives.
Our personal Paschal challenge
Name your deaths: Identify the seasons of your life that have ended. Endings are difficult, sometimes life moves so fast we don’t even recognize that something has ended.
Claim your births: Open your eyes to the new beginnings and situations you are actually experiencing.
Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality: Change is difficult. This is a time of transition—recognize how you feel about what you have lost.
Do not cling to the old, let it ascend and give you its blessing: This is often the most difficult part.
Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living
This cycle is not something that we must undergo just once, at the end of our life. It is rather something we must undergo regularly, in every aspect of our lives. If we are staying in step with the liturgical season, we have just experienced the death of Lent and the Resurrection of Easter.
Jesus is Risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Easter can be a busy time with family and activities. Have you taken the time to open your eyes and reflect on the new beginnings and situations you are experiencing in your life? Have you claimed your new birth? Spend some time in prayer and journaling, recognizing what new things God is doing in you.
Now we are entering Eastertide, the time when Jesus walked on earth after resurrection, dining with the apostles and walking alongside them. It was a time of disorientation and reorientation to a new reality.
Take the next forty days to create a new normal for yourself that makes room for what God is bringing to life in you. What do you need to create space for this new life? Accountability? Silence? A space to dream? Consider seeing a spiritual director during this next 40 days to talk about the truth the Holy Spirit has spoken to you. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or scheduling a time online for a free introductory session.
Jesus, we rest in knowing that you experienced death and new life, and that you walk along side us as we experience our own endings and new beginnings. Help us to create space for our new resurrected reality. Bring people to walk alongside us, to be in prayerful discernment and encouragement with us. Amen.
About the Author
Julia Styles is an ordained minister and spiritual director. She has a passion for empowering women in ministry, and creating welcoming environments where everyone can encounter the Love of the Divine. If you would like to learn more about spiritual direction and try it for yourself, you can schedule a free introductory session here.