Here and Now in Death

March 25, 2018

The Gospel finds us listening to Jesus teach.  He tells us that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.  If it dies, it produces much fruit.  Even though Jesus has a heavy heart, He knows the purpose for which He came into this world.  It is dying so that there is new life.  It is Lent and the here is the now.  We are called to do the same.


The mystery of the resurrection is locked into how we view life.  I can remember speaking to a non-believer, one who did not believe in the resurrection and I was fascinated, yet sad.  This person believed they would never see loved ones again and never encounter anything after life.  The belief was when one dies, that is all that there was.  I honestly could not comprehend this.  Ingrained in me is a hope of eternal and everlasting life.  I realize I must go through the process of purgation because of my imperfections, yet there is new life.  This cannot be an end to all there is.  Jesus tells us not to love this life too much, for we will lose it.  Do we love this life too much?  Are we too attached?


In the moment of the now we are invited to go through a series of deaths each and every day.  We are called to die to ourselves, die to our ways of thinking.  This is not easy.  For many of us, we are proud of what we earn and of all for which we have worked.  Our ego sometimes goes unchecked.  We want to die to the things that do not feed our self-images.  Yet this is not what Jesus is asking.  His death is total.  His death, while not an end, is complete.  Played out on the big stage in recent days are the young people who are hurting, who have faced guns and violence in their schools.  They have seen tragic death and are searching for the answers as to why.  They have exposed a passion for life.  They have allowed themselves to search beyond themselves to make a difference.  Forever they will see life differently.  A sense of security has died.  A sense of their view of democracy has died.  A sense of their definition of violence has died.  The true moment of life happens in the place of death.  Can we trust that, can we surround ourselves with it?   Can it find depth in us?


Jesus knows that the purpose of His life is to surrender and die for our sins.  Jesus knows that only in His dying can there be a resurrection of life.  He who knew no sin dies for all sin.  We take the cross and sign ourselves with it.  When we do, we are inviting death to protect us, save us and bring us new life.  In the places of death within ourselves, new life happens when the death is complete and the grace enters that place of death.  Grace fills the tomb of Jesus and grace happens when the disciples enter into it.  The late Reverend Billy Graham once said, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it.  I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” This kind of faith takes death to its highest meaning.  It is a belief that this life has meaning in its teaching, but it is not the final destination.  Our ability to enter into death is not just to recall the death of Jesus, it is to prepare for our meeting the Lord.

As a priest, it is humbling to be called to the bedside of those being called home by God.  In some of these moments I have looked into the eyes of true believers and witness their solid belief in the afterlife.  In that recognition, they look past the hinges of this world and their focus is on the fact that death is not only coming soon but it is a necessity.  We are to face death and our mortality every day — not in a morbid way, but in the way of a pilgrim.  This all passes away.  What do we hold onto so tightly that we can’t let go?  There in that place death must come.  Our mistake sometimes is we treasure the treasures of this life too much.  When we treasure too much, we move to protect what we treasure.  Death is harder.  Each day is a new opportunity to die to ourselves.  Each day is an opportunity to find new life within ourselves. To escape this reality is to fool ourselves.

The here is the now, dying to oneself is the place.

Jesus is waiting,

Reverend John J. Ouper