A favorite little verse of mine comes from American poet Emily Dickinson:
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
(The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, ed. [New York: Little Brown, 1960], pp. 534-535).
I suppose being a preacher makes me want to believe that the words I spend in sermons somehow “just begin to live” the day they’re spoken. In other words, they have an impact beyond the moment of delivery. They may not be remembered verbatim but because sermonic words dig deep into the dynamic power of the Word of God, they will have a life beyond delivery, even into eternity. It’s hard to preach without this confidence.
Jesus’ words are clearly like that. His promise that we who live and believe in Him will never die (John 11:26) still carries power today because His victory over death has sealed those words in history and in fact. Jesus’ words, on both sides of His resurrection, were first passed on by His followers, then given by inspiration to the writers of Scriptures, and then recalled and taught over generations in the church. His words just began to live the day they He first spoke them.
Imagine the loss if Jesus had kept His words to Himself. Imagine Jesus’ words falling from his lips like wilted flowers, dead before they hit the ground, said but dead. Imagine your life without Jesus’ parables, or His Sermon on the Mount, or His teaching in the upper room.
At Easter especially we value all things eternal. Among these things eternal is our confidence that “the word of the Lord endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8). We have been given His word as a gift. We have the words of Christ, and we have words to say with those we love that will be remembered and cherished, carrying power all the way into heaven.
So as parents we take time to share words of faith with our children. We set aside a walk in the woods or even a weekend to have them hear us say what is on our heart concerning Jesus – our hope and prayer that they will join us in following Him and that we will see them in heaven. The same eternal conversations happen between grandparents and grandkids, between neighbors, between co-workers and colleagues. Each conversation is tailored to the other’s needs and personality. It is the gospel according to us for them.
And the word we say in these eternal conversations – “it just begins to live that day.”