The Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing introduced me to Eugene Peterson. I heard him speak there, and I’ve been reading his work since. He’s an excellent writer. It’s hard to say more without somehow diminishing him.
In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Amazon, Google Books, Eerdmans book publishers) Peterson talks about how Jesus framed his discussion of his death in the light of his resurrection. I highly recommend the whole book. But here is a short excerpt.
[Jesus’] death is finally defined in the company of resurrection. Each of [Jesus’] three explicit death announcements concludes with a statement of resurrection. This death is a means to life, a means to salvation. This doesn’t make it any less a death, but it is a quite differently defined death than we are accustomed to dealing with.
In contrast to this portrayal of death in Mark’s Gospel – Jeusus’ intentionality regarding it, its sacrificial nature, and its resurrection context – our culture (wheather secular or ecclesial) typically either characterizes death as tragic or deals with it by procrastination.
The view of death as tragic is a legacy of the Greeks. The Greeks wrote with elegance of tragic deaths – lives pursued with the best of intentions but then enmeshed in circumstances that brought a fatal flaw into play and, indifferent to heroism or hope, cancelled the intentions.
The death of Jesus is not tragic.
Procrastinated death is a legacy of modern medicine. In a culture where life is reduced to heartbeat and brainwave, death can never be accepted as having meaning beyond itself. Since there is no more to life than can be accounted for by biology – no meaning, no spirituality, no salvation – increasingly desperate attempts are made to put it off, to delay it, to deny it.
The death of Jesus is not procrastinated.
We counter our culture’s attitudes to death by letting Mark’s salvation story shape our understanding of Jesus’ death as precisely a death that is, as our Nicene Creed has it, “for us and for our salvation.”