Week 5 Suffering: Dying That We Might Live

Lectionary Readings for Fifth Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
                                                                                                                         —John 12:24

This week’s lesson brings us face to face with one of the great paradoxes of our faith—that in order to really live, we must die. Before we can reign with Christ we must first share in his sufferings. When God begins to do a new thing, old things must pass away. In order to experience resurrection we, too, must die.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the only thing we stand to lose is the false self, which is not real anyway. The only thing passing away is that crusty old thing that is no longer useful.

Lent, then, is a time to practice dying in small ways so that when the bigger deaths come, we will know how to let go of that which is no longer needed. It is time to learn obedience in and through the things we suffer, just like Jesus did. It is a time for experiencing what it is like to have our outer nature wasting away while our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

This prayer from Henri Nouwen beautifully expresses the spirit and the discipline of losing our life in order to find it:

“Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess. 

O Lord, I am self-centered, concerned about myself, my career, my future, my name and fame.  Often I even feel that I use you to my own advantage…

Yes, Lord, I know it is true.  I know that often I have spoken about you, written about you, and acted in your name for my own glory and success.  Your name has not led me to persecution, oppression, or rejection.  Your name has brought me rewards! I see clearly how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it.

O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones.  Let me find you again. 


©Ruth Haley Barton, 2013.  Not to be used without permission. Prayer adapted from Henri Nowen, A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee (Image, Doubleday, 2002)

Ruth is founder of the Transforming Center, and author of Pursuing God’s Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and Invitation to Solitude and Silence (InterVarsity Press).

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Ruth Haley Barton

Ruth (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is Founder and Chief Essence Officer of the Transforming Center. A teacher, seasoned spiritual director (Shalem Institute), and retreat leader, Ruth is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, Life Together in Christ, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Invitation to Retreat, and Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest (Oct 2022).
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