Today we are celebrating and observing Easter, the culmination of Lent. Today marks the commemoration of Jesus’s resurrection, the beginning of a new era, a time of renewal and rebirth. I hope and pray that over the last forty days you have been able to spend time in prayer and soul searching as an opportunity to grow deeper in your spiritual union with God by whom you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
As Lent comes to a close this year, let us consider it a new beginning, a new opportunity to offer our gifts and live out our spiritual identity. For today’s devotional let’s study Paul’s words, inspired by the Holy Spirit in Romans 6: 3-11:
“3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6: 3-11 NIV)
Yes, this passage reminds us that, by faith in Christ, we have died to sin, but it is not only about sin. Christ died only to be resurrected. So, we also share in this new life. This is a story about renewal. I want to tell you a story about how I have experienced this renewal and how my personal experience with disability plays into it.
When I was a young child, I did not have any signs of disability. When I was three years old, I began to experience hearing loss followed by vision loss. A short time later, I began to struggle with balance and fine motor functioning. I have clear memories of what it was like to walk, see and hear and clear memories of the frustrating episodes of falling when my balance failed. It was a difficult time in the “unknowns”. I continued to progress downward without any medical explanation. At the age of five, I experienced respiratory arrest and spent nearly two months in the hospital where I received a trach. This was the beginning of a new journey, navigating life with new challenges which was very emotionally difficult for a young child. Throughout elementary school and most of my teenage years I experienced feelings of anger and despair. I wanted my old life back and that wasn’t going to happen.
At the time, I was embarrassed about most aspects of my disability although that has changed since. When I was eighteen years old, I was invited by family to attend the church Christmas program. Here, a group of youths invited my sister and I to join them for the youth Sunday school. Here I was in church, listening to people talk about God who I have been angry at, and listening to fellow youth share their own personal stories. One day during the sermon I had an “epiphany.” Jesus, the son of God, actually died on the cross after a long journey in ministry during which he faced grief, pain, and persecution. He died and rose again. He can understand my every feeling. Yet, he rose. This was THE moment of spiritual awakening and renewal for me. Yes, I missed my “old” life and the things I was physically able to do in the past. But that was not returning. I had a new life to live into and gifts to offer. For instance, I had endured many difficult moments which forced me to learn the importance of patience and interdependency. Which is more Christ-like: living in interdependent relationships where everyone helps one another, or feeling the need for self sufficiency and physical independence? This is the question I was asking myself and for me, the understanding of interdependency was a true gift because it reflects the image of God as a relational being. Therefore, it was time to start weaving this into my “new” self and life.
In reflecting on Paul’s words, I did in a way experience a death to sin. I had to put aside my contempt toward God for allowing me to develop a disability. I had to stop putting myself down for having a disability and accept the situation as an opportunity to embrace the person I was made to be. My disability has shaped how I live into this identity. In Romans 6:5, Paul says that when we die to sin, we put off our old self. For me, that meant putting aside my pride and my need for independence and self-sufficiency, and my fear of needing and accepting help. In verse 10, Paul says of Jesus “the life he lives, he lives to God”. In the following verse Paul tells us to count ourselves “alive to God.” For me, this means many things, most importantly the appreciation of interdependent helping relationships. This creates an atmosphere for us to practice the virtues of Christianity such as love and hope and patience, and all good things. In this way, my disability and the experience it brought has provided me with the opportunity to experience renewal and live a new life.
We all have our own stories and experiences. We all have a different past and a different living arrangement. But we all have the same Creator. We are all made in the image of the same God and the Holy Spirit who breathes the breath of renewal has been sent to work in all of us. As you close your forty days of Lent, take time to reflect on what you have put aside, where you have grown deeper, and how you can live to God in a life of renewal. Thanks be to God!
Zach Holler is a candidate for Ordained Ministry as a Provisional Elder for the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. He received a B.S. in Rehabilitation Services from Wright State University in 2012 and worked there after in Disability Advocacy. In 2014, Zach received his call to pastoral ministry and returned to school, this time attending United Theological Seminary, where he received his Masters of Divinity in 2019. Zach currently serves as Associate Pastor at Waverly Grace United Methodist Church in Southern Ohio where he is charged with exploring and developing his model for inclusive ministry that can be employed in churches of all sizes. Zach also serves as co-chair of the Disability and Ministry team of the West Ohio Conference of the UMC.