In Caddyshack, Bill Murray’s character Carl Spackler recalls carrying the Dalai Lama’s clubs during a round of golf in Tibet:
“So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.”
Total consciousness. Some call it an “aha” moment, an epiphany, the instant everything comes into focus. Whole religions have been founded on what was supposedly “revealed” to a person in a time of crisis or clarity, or following a “near death” experience.
Jesus gives us just such a moment but it doesn’t come as we might expect it to, especially not in the ways described by those who promote their own insights to gain fame, followers or fortune.
No, Jesus offers us truth in the most upside-down, earth-shattering, utterly transforming way possible: through His life, death and resurrection. His life we study and seek to emulate, His resurrection we celebrate on Easter. But we often overlook what we learn from His death — not the how or the why, but the state of being dead.
Any honest and intentional study of Jesus’ life should shock us. He continually acts in unexpected ways. Defies cultural expectations. Challenges deeply-held presumptions and offers what is truly needed, if not at all what is wanted.
Then, He radically changes even death itself.
"By redefining death, Jesus opens the way to
a truer, more vibrant, more meaningful life."
And man, is this tough for us to clearly see. Our culture has such a crazy-unhealthy “relationship” with death. The deep-seated fear, misunderstanding, denial and avoidance of anything dealing with death distort all of our relationships and fuel a significant part of our economy in destructive ways. Ultimately, they prevent us from truly, fully living.
Think about it: We can’t even stomach the thought of getting old, much less dying. So much energy is spent denying death that we bet the bank on anything that keeps us from having to deal with our own mortality or the mortality of those we love.
And it totally works. Until it doesn’t.
Because death is one thousand percent fatal. And we’ll all die. You, me, your kids, their kids...all of us. When that time comes, nothing we invest in ignoring and denying death will keep it from crashing in on us and seeking to utterly overwhelm us.
Thank God — literally, thanks be to God! — that by redefining death, Jesus offers a way through this. By redefining death, Jesus opens the way to a truer, more vibrant, more meaningful life.
Jesus came so we might have life, and have it to the full. Nowhere is this promise more powerfully realized than when He gives us a way to face death without being overcome by it.
John Ray is a missionary, spiritual director and the elder responsible for teaching at Grace Church of NWA. John and his wife Jane spend way too much time packing and unpacking, vacuuming dog hair and chasing raccoons off their porch. They much prefer sharing good food and good coffee with friends, reading and trying to keep up with their daughters.