To Conquer Death

On the drive to Appleton yesterday, one of the things Elena and I listened to was Jesus Christ Superstar. We both know the lyrics to the entire show (I was in a performance of it in high school and Elena – well, Elena seems to know the lyrics to everything). And we enjoyed singing our way across Wisconsin.

In one of the songs, Simon the Zealot is assuring Jesus that the crowds love him and that he will rise to great power. Jesus responds by telling Simon that neither he nor anyone else “understands what power is, understands what glory is, understands at all.” Jesus’ final line to Simon is: “to conquer death you only have to die, you only have to die.”

Seems a bit strange at first blush – to get past death, you just have to die.

The first thing the line brings to my mind is Jesus’ image of the grain of wheat. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground, it will never be more than a single grain; it will not bear fruit. But if it falls to the ground and dies, it produces a rich harvest.

At one level, Jesus was presaging his own death. And certainly Jesus’ death is an example of a death that conquered death, that gave rise to new life.

But each of us must also die to conquer death. The more we try to protect our small egoic self, the more vulnerable we are to death. When we die to self, however, we truly live in Christ.