The film, A Hidden Life (2019) depicts a true story of Austrian conscientious objector, Franz Jägerstätter, during World War II who refuses to pledge allegiance to Hitler when drafted into the Nazi army. His story is simultaneously sad and beautiful. Never have I seen death painted with such hope, joy, and glory.
In the midst of COVID19 – also known as the coronovirus, I call to mind the Christian discipline of mortality. Christians are called to immitate their Lord in death – it’s what baptism symbolizes after all – a death to what was (sinful flesh) and a resurrection with Christ in a new renewed life (the new birth).
The New Testament paints the Christian life as a seesaw between these two realities, on the one hand a constant dying to self and the remnants of that old nature, and a renewal that comes through that death.
In Western culture, an anemia surrounds mortality. It’s not polite conversation to speak about death, for in a secular mind it is the beginning not of heaven but nonexistence – the worst of all possibilities. Unfortunately, dying well is no longer considered a virtue in much of the Western Church. Sermons peppered with frivolity, and the spirit of the age which assumes we live forever infects more of the church than the coronovirus has infected mankind.
Returning to the film, Franz, the objector, grounds his resistance in a simple understanding of moral conviction in the gospel and he stays there despite seasons of doubt, discouragement, and desertion by his townsfolk, and family. His death is colored – literally – by the director with scenes of fruitful plants and greenery. It seems that God’s watering of the earth symbolizes the unconquerable nature of life. Though the Nazis took his body, they could not take his life.
Dear Christian, I say to you death where is your sting? In the midst of chaos, real or imagined, you have a hope which, should you venture to stand in it, cannot be robbed. While all others cower, you may be like the confessors of old – joyfully going toward the cross which unites us with joy incarnate – Jesus our Lord.
This is not a tragedy, like Jägerstätter’s passing was no tragedy. It becomes a fragrance which moves the heart of God, and tearfully cheers the spirit of the Church.
Therefore, let us drink the cup prepared for us.