The sign hanging over the door of a medieval cobbler read: “We Dye to Live.” The message wasn’t complicated:  “We dye leather to make a living.”

Change a vowel, add a consonant, and you have a sign that could hang over the door of any Christian church, medieval or otherwise: “We Died to Live.” And this message also isn’t complicated, says St. Paul in Galatians 2:19, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” We have been so stricken and smitten by the law of God that we are left in despair—poor miserable creatures without hope of saving ourselves.

This must be a timely death, reminds C.S. Lewis: “We must die before we die.”  Once we take our last breath, it is too late—there is no further chance. Thankfully, for all of us associated with this blog, it wasn’t too late. We died to the law in our baptisms, when, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, even as we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were “baptized into His death” (6:3) and “our old self was crucified with Him” (6:5).

“Crucified with Him” takes on special meaning this week as we follow our Lord Jesus to cross and tomb—even one small part of that “crucified” too huge for us to take upon ourselves. I still have the crown of thorns dropped off at the parsonage at my first parish by Mrs. Kamm, made, she said, from the “Judas vine” growing on a fence outside their house. The crown is ugly and exudes pain even to look at, much less to wear. It has had a place in my office or study ever since, a reminder of a death I might have died.

One thing about that crown of thorns—it is obviously several sizes too big, like everything else that Christ bore and suffered during Holy Week nearly 20 centuries ago. His crown, cross, burden, forsakenness, tomb—all are many sizes too big for us. But not for Him, who took upon Himself our death so that we might be able to say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

What a helpful thought for the week before us. It places us with Christ as we make our way through its passion history. I remember reading a story from a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book when I was a child, The Shape of Illusion. The crux of the story was a painting of a scene from the passion of Christ which caused viewers to see their spitting images in the angry crowd that was frothing and screaming “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Needless to say, this changed the viewers’ lives, which made for an interesting story.

Paul goes one better. He enables us to see ourselves, not in the crowd where we might well belong, but in Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). Except that this is no illusion. We know from Paul how this happened for real: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Our lives have been changed immeasurably, for the lives we now live in this flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us.

May this week be truly meaningful and a blessing to each of us. It is about  our Savior, crucified and resurrected, but it is also about us: “We Died to Live.”

Ray Hartwig