You are currently viewing A Love Stronger than Death

A Love Stronger than Death

When our beloved priest friend John died after a long illness, a small group of us gathered to plan his funeral. We prayed, shared memories, told stories, shed tears, and laughed until we cried. In the intimacy of that gathering, we chose scripture passages, selected songs, and suggested thoughts for the homily. One song in particular – a favorite of Father John’s – captured his spirit and celebrated our memory of him: “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.”

Our love for Father John and his love for us are stronger than death. We miss him dearly, but we continue to hold him in our hearts. We are joined forever in love.

On the night before Jesus died, he modeled a love stronger than death. The beloved disciple John tells us: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart of this world and return to the Father.” (John 13: 1) He describes a tense and emotionally charged evening with his disciples.

Jesus is troubled in spirit. (John 13: 21) Knowing he will only be with his disciples a little longer, their time together takes on an urgency. Jesus’ disciples sense the urgency, but they struggle to grasp what is unfolding. Peter can’t understand why he can’t follow Jesus, and Thomas fails to grasp that Jesus is the way to the Father. Then Phillip evokes Jesus’ frustration: “Have I been with you all this time, Phillip, and you still do not know me?” (John 14: 9)

During Jesus’ last moments with those he loved, he makes it clear that his love is stronger than death. In doing so, he leaves them – and us – with lasting wisdom to guide our spiritual journey.

During the supper, Jesus surprises his disciples. He gets up from the table, girds himself with a towel, and begins to wash the feet of each one. His example is compelling: the greatest is the servant of the least. John’s account of the washing of the feet is intriguing; he leaves out the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup. He emphasizes that the ultimate meaning of the Lord’s supper is self-emptying service. Jesus urges his disciples – including all of us – to remember: “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13: 15) With a love stronger than death, Jesus makes clear that the essence of discipleship is humble, self-emptying service carried out in love.

Jesus is acutely aware of the challenge his disciples will face when he is no longer physically with them. He uses this pivotal moment to call them to leave their anxiety behind and trust him: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14: 1) He assures them that his enduring presence is stronger than death. He is going to prepare a place for them, and he is coming back to take them with him. He calls them – and all of us – to place our trust in God’s presence within and among us. He urges us to let our anxiety give way to make room for the “peace I give to you.” (John 14: 27)

As Jesus’ disciples face an uncertain future, he uses a compelling image to reassure them that his presence is stronger than death. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” (John 15: 1) The image focuses their attention – and ours – on the essential relationships of discipleship. It urges us to stay rooted in the vine of Christ: “Abide in me as I abide in you.” (John 15: 4) He is the source of our life in God, our spiritual vitality, and our fruitfulness in serving others. As we abide in the vine, we need to stay open to the vinedresser. “Every branch in me that bears fruit, he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” (John 15: 2) The spiritual journey calls us to stay open to being pruned. It is a journey of learning, ongoing conversion, and surrendering ever more fully to the presence of God within and among us.

The disciples’ last evening with Jesus was intense and overwhelming. It is as though they were being asked to drink from a firehose. Jesus provides the ultimate reassurance that God will be with them after his death. He will ask the Father, and the Father “will send another Advocate to be with you forever.” (John 15: 16) The disciples will know the Spirit of truth because the Spirit “abides with you” and “will be in you.” (John 15: 17)

The Advocate, the Holy Spirt, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 15: 26)

The gifts the Spirit will give them – and all of us – include the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to see it through.

As our Lenten journey nears its culmination, we find ourselves with Jesus’ disciples on the eve of the defining events in Christian history. We face an intense time when our faith will be tested. We are about to endure Jesus’ arrest, his trial, his walk to Calvary, his crucifixion, and his death. As we accompany him through his passion and death, we are urged to trust his love is stronger than death and his presence will always be with us.

When we experience the death of a loved one, we are asked to continue to hold them in our hearts – just as we have done with Father John and so many others. When the moment of our own death approaches, we are invited to surrender to God – whose love is stronger than death. In that moment, we are called to trust the ultimate culmination of our spiritual journey on this earth – entering our Father’s house, discovering the room that Christ has prepared for us, and continuing to live in a love stronger than death. For all eternity, we will be forever joined in God with those we love.

Questions to Ponder

  • What is your experience of continuing to hold a loved one who has died in our heart?
  • What has your experience of enduring love taught you about love being stronger than death?
  • If you had been with Jesus’ disciples on the night before he died, what would the experience have been like for you?
  • What does the experience of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet evoke in you?
  • In what way do you need to let go of anxiety to embrace deeper trust and make room for the peace of Christ?
  • What does the image of the vine and branches ask of you?
  • What gifts of the Holy Spirit do you most need as you continue your spiritual journey?
  • As you consider your own mortality, what impact does it have on your understanding of a love stronger than death?
  • As your Lenten journey nears its culmination, what wisdom do you want to carry with you as you continue your spiritual journey?