Baldeo: Accepting the ultimate reality of death

I’m writing this column on Ash Wednesday. Why is it called Ash Wednesday?

I’m writing this column on Ash Wednesday. Why is it called Ash Wednesday?

Because it marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar.

It derives the name from the practice of placing an ash cross on one’s forehead as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.

I remember Monday and Tuesday being the huge carnival celebration  in my native Trinidad and Tobago, followed the next day by Ash Wednesday.

It was a time of repentance, and after celebrating the carnival for two days, it was indeed appropriate.

We were encouraged to give up some pleasure, some favourite food, some enjoyable activity, etc. during the 40 days of Lent.

It was forbidden to play calypsos, or have fetes and dances during this time.

Smokers were encouraged to give up smoking.

It was a time of reflection and sacrifice, of prayer and fasting.

The Lenten period ends with Easter. What is Easter?

A young boy trying to explain his understanding of Easter once said that it was the time when everyone gave presents.

“No”, said the teacher, “That is Christmas.”

“Oh, then it is when we send hearts to everyone.”

“No, that is Valentine’s Day.”

“Oh, I know,” exclaimed the little boy.

“It is when Jesus got up, came out of the tomb after three days and saw his shadow and went back in.”

Easter deals with life beyond the grave. It is said that there are two certainties in life—death and taxes.

However, with a good accountant and right deductions, you can avoid paying taxes. But everyone, millionaires and paupers alike, will face the certainty of death.

Recently, among others we have learned of two particularly tragic deaths in our valley.

A lovely young 18-year-old UBCO volleyball player was killed in a car crash, leaving his family, friends and team in deep grief.

And a young beloved principal at a southern Okanagan school died in his home.

Death is so often accompanied by three heart breaking questions: Why me? Why now? And why this?

We live in a death denying society. We cover up our awkwardness around the subject by speaking of the deceased as if he or she has not died.

We use language like: “He departed this life; he passed away; he has gone up yonder.”

In Trinidad, a death announcement is made by saying: “Sunrise (Whenever the person was born) and Sunset (When the person has died).”

Dr. Nelson Bell, father-in-law of Billy Graham, once said, “Only those who are prepared to die are really prepared to live.”

The Bible says that it is appointed unto man once to die (Hebrews 8: 37); it is the most democratic of all experiences.

English Author John Haywood noted that “Death makes equal, the high and the low. We can fight it, we can even avoid it for a time, but it is still an ultimate certainty.”

There is a conspiracy of silence surrounding death.

Most people are not comfortable talking about death.

Some believe that telling the truth to a person who may be dying is destructive to his or her morale. Most people know that they are dying without being told.

I remember being called out to visit a man who was dying. He said that death was not on his daytimer and that he was not prepared for it.

I felt that I had to be honest with him, tell him that death was a reality.

Two weeks after that, he died and we had a celebration of his life.

I am reminded of a wife who was dying. She knew it but the family was in denial and kept telling her that she was going to get better.

One day, a friend called on her and she confided to her: “I know that I am dying and nobody will talk to me about it. Please tell me about heaven.”

This dear friend shared about her heavenly home, laughing, talking and praying with her.

What a precious and comforting time they had together.

The Easter story deals with the resurrection and the conquering of death.

I remember visiting the Holy Land and standing in the empty tomb of Jesus.

In my imagination, I could hear the angels saying through the corridors of time, “He is not here. He is risen.”

Those seven words are the pillars on which the Christian Church stands.

Jesus is alive and lives today. Therefore, the Easter message is one of hope and assurance that there is a life to come.

Jesus has promised that He has gone to prepare a place for us and that He will come again. (John 14:2)

I encourage you in this time of Lent leading up to Easter to reflect on the reality of death and life.

Rev. Albert Baldeo is a retired United Church minister.