So many are familiar with the classic film The Princess Bride; a wonderfully romantic film, and a perfect choice to watch on St. Valentine’s day. Among the more memorable scenes in the film is the climactic scene between Inigo Montoya and the six-fingered man (Count Rugen). Inigo as he is fighting with the count repeats the phrase, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Growing increasingly louder and more confident. The count as he realizes he is beaten begs and barters for his life, offering to provide Inigo wealth, power, and anything he can to salvage his life. While it is tempting to jump on the theme of revenge and how it ultimately does not satisfy Inigo, today I am focusing on Count Rugen’s end. Inigo repeatedly tells the count “Prepare to die.”, but, the Rugen is simply not prepared and must try to postpone his death as best he can. But, death comes for us all in the end.
This is the point of celebrating the season of Lent. On Wednesday past millions of Christians around the world had ashes smeared on their forward visibly reminding them of this simple fact, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. What was a living celebration of joy last year (the palms of Palm Sunday), is now dead and gone. Lent becomes a real and present conflict with our preparedness for our own demise; and it comes with a timetable. Lent reminds us that “Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death” (Rom 6:4a CEB). We have gone all in with Christ, joined his body, and are living life with him. Prepare to die, because Jesus dies in forty days and so do you.
What does it mean to prepare to die, say a prayer, draw up a will, make peace with those around you? I think the first step in preparing to die is coming to terms with one’s own mortality. I am human and all humans I cannot control that fact. I cannot control it, but, I can submit to the fact that the sovereign of the universe has deemed it fitting, that I like all humans must pass to the other side. God has chosen to create a world that has the potential for death in it and I must accept that fact and submit to this controlling narrative. Nor, do I have to resign myself to this fate as some kind of defeated rabbit, who falls over even before the hound reaches it. No I can live in joy and hope while I am here, while life lasts. But when my time should end, I will recognize that my time here is completed and I now must fill a different role for my King.
Granted, it is much easier to submit to the decree of death if one has been living a life dedicated to submission. I will be much more ready to meet my Maker is I have consistently looked to my Maker for guidance prior to my demise. If I am in the habit of listening to God and following through on what I hear, I will be ready for that step in death. How can I expect to be prepared to give up my place on earth to the next generation, if I am so conceited as to not leave my seat to talk with another person? Can I truly expect to be ready for death when it comes, if I cannot even get myself ready for the hour of worship? If I cannot submit myself to little things like these I will not be at all prepared to submit in the larger things. Flannery O’Connor pointed out that everyone is a good person staring down the barrel of a gun; but, our call is far higher, it is to be good so that obedience comes without the gun. Her story A Good Man is Hard to Find ends with a woman who thought she was good staring down the barrel of a gun held by death. Death ends up shooting her, explaining that she was only good when she was staring down the barrel of the gun. Many are like this, trying selfishly to prove how unselfish they are at the end of their lives, when they have not lived a life of submission. submission is a constant throughout life or it is nothing. It does not matter how many millions you leave behind you if you have hoarded those millions during your life.
When we read Matthew 26 (Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane) we are reading the ultimate picture of submission to death. Jesus recognizes that his path leads him into conflict and death and is willingly submitting to that future. Those who marked their head with ashes have said, “I am identifying with this man who gave himself up and willing submitted to death.” They have willing taken up his mantle and that mantle has significant consequences. We read about some of these consequences in Colossians 3. There we are told that putting on Christ (and the new life which comes in him) requires us to take on a new lifestyle. The lists presented in this chapter are usually seen in terms or virtual and vice, however, today they should be understood in terms of submission and rebellion. Those who endeavor to live and die with Christ are commanded to follow the list. This is not an arbitrary command, the virtues identified are those practiced by Jesus, and the vices are those things he turned away from. The lists are composites of Jesus’ life a way for us to identify what his submission to the Father meant and what our submission to his life and death means. Preparing to die means submitting to the will of God and to the lifestyle of Jesus, not as a first-century Palestinian Jew, but, as someone seeking to submit to God and remove all of the selfishness and controlling aspects of our personalities.
Some, like Count Rugen or the woman in Flannery O’Connor’s story are selfish, submitting to no one, only looking for self-preservation. These people are not prepared to die, they barter and bargain trying to prolong life, because they cannot cope with the fact death puts an end to what they have worked for. The one who has been marked in ashes, who has decided to stand with Jesus in the Garden, this one has an opportunity. Submission is the understanding that I have obligations to another and like it or not I am going to work within those obligations, even if my self-interest would lead me elsewhere. Forty days until you die, are you willing to submit and live by the code which Jesus demands, are you willing to follow along with Jesus in the ultimate act of submission.