As we have been reading in John the past two weeks of Jesus’s crucifixion, I am struck once again by God’s upside down math — the death of One that brings life to many.
As I mulled over it yesterday, I got to remembering. One a cool, drizzly morning a while back I felt a bit suffocated by concerns and heartbreak, so I went out to my rather pathetic garden in hopes that fresh air and physical work would soothe me.
I decided to plant a row of corn and see what would happen. (Because that’s how I garden: Everything is an experiment.)
As I dug a trench into the sandy soil, laid the seeds in, and buried them, I remembered a video lesson from a Sunday School class I taught several years ago. It was an interview of a sweet octogenarian farmer — so adorable — explaining about how wheat grows.
I admit, I have days it feels like I’m dying. However, I suspect those are the days that I am in fact resisting the death that would bring greater life.
I pulled roots of weeds from my trench so they wouldn’t re-sprout and compete with my corn, and I remembered that elderly farmer describing the seed that fell among the thorns in Jesus’s parable. Those strangled seeds presented a picture of fragile faith being choked out by the cares of the world.
He then used his life’s work of wheat farming to explain the spiritual truths of Jesus from two thousand years ago.
I dropped the hard dry kernels of corn into the trench, covered them with soil, and marveled that if all went well, each single seed would produce hundreds of kernels in return.
The thought reminded me again of my darling Sunday School farmer as he held up a stalk of wheat and demonstrated how in ideal conditions just one tiny grain of wheat could produce a harvest a thousand-fold greater than itself. I remember as I watched that video, the thought that pressed onto my heart was this:
but first it has to die.
Jesus himself explained it in John 12:
“unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
I admit, I have days it feels like I’m dying. However, I suspect those are the days that I am in fact resisting the death that would bring greater life. Jesus went willingly to the Cross, because He knew why the dying was necessary — and that death wasn’t the final result.
He does call some believers to physical death for His glory. Jesus calls us all to be willing lay down our lives for Him.
However, before any physical death, Jesus calls us first to a spiritual death that results in abundant spiritual life. Life for ourselves — and quite possibly for others, too.
What does it look like to die like that?
When Christ breathed His last, the Word says He gave up His Spirit. Maybe that’s it. I die by giving up my spirit and receiving His Spirit. I release my hope of glory in order to reflect the Only Glory.
In the past few months, my family has bid goodbye to two beautiful souls who both understood keenly that earthly life and death are temporary situations. Consequently their lives — and their deaths — were exquisite reflections of God’s glory.
I know this much from experience: Because my flesh has not yet died, the spiritual one is not a death I can die once. Each day — and sometimes several times a day — I must die to Mary so that I can live for Christ. In this Lenten season, I have been especially awed by the sacrifice of the One whose life, death, and resurrection make it possible for a selfish creature like me to even consider dying to self.
This has been my prayer:
Oh, Father, even in seasons of sorrow and testing, I want to be a seed that produces a multitude, not a hard and unproductive seed. I realize that fruitfulness comes only with death. Show me how to die so that I can truly live.
Written by Grace Oviedo member Mary Odell.