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Death and God’s Plan

The following homily was delivered at the funeral of the late pastor of St. Joseph parish, Fr. Pavlo Hayda by His Grace Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church.

Below the recording is a full transcript.

Bishop Nicholas at St. Joseph Church.

Bishop Nicholas at St. Joseph Church.

As dressed as I am as I stand here, in these regal vestments of the bishop, originally taken from the emperor, jeweled and gold and red, as beautiful as they seem, I feel naked standing here.

For three days I too have shared your pain, lost many hours of sleep, cried many tears. Last night in particular, I prayed trying to fall asleep saying, “if I’m asked to speak, what do I say?” I have no answers! When a tragic death hits at a young age, people say “why?”

But I stand here naked and can tell you, I don’t know why.

And as I prayed, I started to doze and fall asleep and I heard a voice saying to me, “you dummy! For thirty-seven years you’ve been preaching My Gospel. Preach what you believe. Tell them the Good News of My Gospel.”

We live in a very strange society, on one side many people like to hide death, don’t speak about it during their lifetime, when in reality the only sure thing we know in this life after birth is that we will die. The only sure thing. We don’t know when we’re young what profession we will be in, what schools we will go to, nothing. We know we will die. But yet people do not like to speak about it, hide it, many times children are whisked away, so that they don’t need to experience this pain because a loss is in their life and they need to experience it.

And yet on the other hand of our society, afraid to talk about dying for some, on the other hand, in the medical field, we try to pump every ounce of life into dying bodies so that we can prolong life, and many times we prolong dying with respirators and all the new machinery we have, and all of the therapies that we have created, we create and prolong dying, in sometimes very painful ways. When someone is dying in pain, we are prepares, we grieve a little bit, and many times, with incurable illness we start to pray that they go soon so that they don’t suffer the pain. But when the least expected death happens, with many years to live according to the way of life, the shock sets in and never, never, never is it easy to say we accept it.

So I tell you, what I believe, and what I believe you believe. God created us in love. Before this universe existed, the Trinity always existed, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, spirited with love between themselves. But love needs to generate, and God recognized that. The Father loved the Son, the Son loved the Holy Spirit, the Spirit loved the Father, that was very nice. But it had to generate, and God generated this love and created the universe and placed into it, on this earth, beside all the animals of the land and the fishes of the seas, and the mountains and the valleys, and the flowers and the trees, He planted a garden, and He made Man and Woman. And He gave them everything that they needed for their perfect happiness and his plan was perfect and good. There was no pain in God’s plan. He gave them everything they need to eat, the animals even didn’t fight. But He said to them, “don’t touch one tree.” Like you tell a child “don’t touch that,” they do, and they did. And by breaking that Law of God, they severed themselves somewhat from Him. And Adam and Eve, Man and Woman created sin; and Adam and Eve created death.

Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden, retroactively creating death.

Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden, retroactively creating death.

Death is not God’s will. God does not will that we die. God does not will that Fr. Pavlo was hit by a car. God does not will that a person die of cancer. But being God, and creating the world, and allowing humanity to sin, they created death. And we continue to sin in our lives because of that, and we continue to die.

But how could a God who loved and created just sit back and watch His people die?

No He couldn’t. He created a plan, a new plan to reunite that broken nature that we all have. We’re prone to sin and death – His plan was then unique. God kissed the earth by allowing His Son, Jesus, to enter human flesh. God becomes a human being, like us, in everything but sin. He comes down into our midst to live with us and say, “I love you. Follow My way. Live My Gospel. Teach My Word.” And the Incarnation saved us.

As we heard in today’s Gospel, “if you eat My Body and drink My Blood,” even if you die, you live. You have life everlasting.

Adam ate and sinned. Adam ate and died. We continue to eat of the Eucharist of the Lord, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Body and Blood of God, and we live.

Well, the plan got messed up by Adam and Eve, it got straightened out by Jesus, but death is still in the plan, but now that death is a transition to life.

We weep, we cry for ourselves. He gave us the message, and God said, “it’s time, come back home.”

He gave it to you to hear. He gave it to you to digest in your heart. He gave it to you to go live it in the world. For the short life that we live, whether it be one year, ten years, fifty years, a hundred years, it’s still short. We are called to live the Christ life.

In baptism we are given a new life, we are chrismated and anointed like Christ to be another Christ. We celebrate the Eucharist to be entrenched in the Body and Blood of Christ in us, to transform us into another Christ, to go live in the world as Christ, to experience that holiness in this Church. And then to go outside and make the community the holy place of God.

This is the Good News that I believe. This is the Good News that all Christians believe. So we have no answer to the why. But we know that we too are called to the same living and dying.

We learned this week that we don’t know the day or the hour. When a tragic death hits like this, we get a wakeup call from God. You don’t have to be ninety, crippled, and cancered, and have a heart attack to die. You can be any age.

So at a time like death, we also remember ourselves asking that we receive this peace and comfort, to begin to accept what has happened, and in God’s time maybe we will understand a little better.

Fr. Pavlo's Funeral, a season to mourn.

Death can be sudden, how have we lived our lives?

Tomorrow, we know not the day or the hour. Today Fr. Pavlo lies in front of us, tomorrow it could be me, or any one of you. Are we living our life according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Have we taken the moments in life, every possible one, to tell those around them whom we love that “I love you?” The words are important and the actions are important. Have we looked at the communities in which we live and do we think of building the Body of Christ  or tearing it down with the gossip that takes place in the community? Power struggles in parishes, for who’s in charge, of parish councils and societies, and whatever else it may be.

Life is too short, my friends, life is too short. We are called to live the Godly life.

Have we taken the time with our children, to spend more time with them? In the home in modern society it is difficult, but in home and family gatherings, in sharing our faith with them as we share the football games with them? Have we taken the time to look after shut-ins and see how necessary it is for them to have a visit? Have we taken the time to tell others “what Christ means to me?”

This is the belief, short and simple. This is the core of the Gospel. This is the core of the Bible. This is what the priest says when he stands here in the name of Jesus. He says it to you, open your hearts, hear it, recognize it, live it.

Vichnaya Pamyat’, Slava Isusu Christu.