past Sunday morning, before driving to Church, I received two emails informing
me of the deaths of two different men that were Smokejumpers with me.Back in our smokejumping days we all joked
about “cheating death” every time we made a successful parachute jump into a
wilderness to fight a forest fire.I
will get back to that in a moment.
read the obituary of one of the men and looked at his picture.It was hard to remember his face and to
recall our times together.We were a
small, tight group of 39 that had trained together and received our “wings” as
Smokejumpers, but I couldn’t seem to remember a specific time with him.Amazingly, in the middle of last night I
awakened with Bernie and a jump we made together.
was a small fire, so only two of us would jump.I had jumped first and was already on the ground (having cheated death
once again…and if you knew my parachute landing skills, you might be in awe of
that fact!).Bernie was in the air,
spinning 360’s and hollering like a wild man (we were all a bit crazy back
then).As he approached the ground, I
shouted out for him to watch out for all the big rocks and downed timber.He seemed rather oblivious of it all and kept
circling me with his 360’s.As he neared
the ground, suddenly his parachute caught a tree and like a giant pendulum he
swung out straight toward me and then straight back to the tree.He crashed right into the trunk of the tree
and was suddenly hanging limp about 30 feet in the air.I began yelling:“Bernie…Bernie…”But he just hung there limp.The jump plane kept circling waiting for us
to indicate all was well, but it wasn’t well at that moment.Finally, after what seemed an eternity, his
body moved and his first words were something along the lines of:“Where am I?”Once he established that he was hanging in a tree, he made his let-down,
we put up the “all’s well” signal and went off to put out a fire.He had a bit of head-ache, but worked hard
without giving it a second thought…at least to me.
I share that story for a couple of reasons.One is of course to remember my friend and my jump partner in his
death.What amazed me was the detail of
my memory.It was like I was right
there, reliving that moment like it was yesterday.Psalm 130:14 says:“I will praise You, for I am fearfullyandwonderfullymade!What a mind God has given us that such
memories could be brought back on such short notice.I was longing to remember Bernie and suddenly
there he was…in vivid memory.
his obituary stated there would be no service.Instead, he asked all his friends to sit down with a beer and tell a
story or as he put it, listen to someone else’s story.Now that is a great idea. I think all of us
would benefit from that, but to have no service means to me that Bernie likely had
no Church…perhaps no faith…perhaps no belief in God…and perhaps, sadly, no hope
in life after death.
brings us back to that whole concept of “cheating death” and what that really
means.No matter how much I may have
joked around with my Smokejumper buddies about “cheating death,” the truth of
the matter is that it seems like none of us can truly cheat death.Sadly, many folks try not to think about it
(the ostrich approach to death) with the hope that it won’t ever happen.But in the history of humanity, only a couple
of people have ever had that not happen, such as the Holy Prophet Elijah who
was taken up by a fiery chariot.
much as I would like to have that fiery chariot arrive for me one day, the
truth of the matter is that it will likely not happen.I too will face death one day, just as Bernie
did.How I face it is a daily decision I
need to make.
greatest enemy of mankind is truly death.But it need not be so.Here is
the hymn that Orthodox Christians sing in celebration of the Resurrection of
Jesus Christ:“Christ is Risen for the
dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing
life.”That greatest enemy has been
defeated and we can look to Christ for our own victory over death.Wow…Death does not have to be the final
chapter of our lives!Christ has
trampled down death by His own death!
carefully to these words from Romans 6 in the Holy Scriptures:“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that
we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the
dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to
sin once for all; but the life
that He lives, He lives to God.”
Smokejumpers, we thought we had an “S” on our chests, like Superman, and that
we could “cheat death” with our invincibility (well at least some of us thought
that).The reality is that there is
truly only one way to “cheat death” for all of us.That way is through Jesus Christ. We will all
have to go through that “portal of death” to the next world…but with Jesus
Christ, it no longer has to have dominion over us.
the Lord grant you His peace each and every day!!
St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church Pueblo, Colorado