The kind of death he was to die

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
— John 12:24

This was first the work of Maurice Nicoll. Jacob Needleman popularized the metaphor and named it "acornology". The version here is adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault’s telling of the tale.

Nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree, there once lived a kingdom of acorns. The citizens were modern, fully Westernized acorns. Thus, they went about their business with purposeful energy.

"Getting All You Can out of Your Shell" was among the most well attended seminars. For acorns bruised in their original fall from the tree, woundedness and recovery groups abounded. Local spas offered various acornopathic therapies.

One day a knotty little stranger appeared. He’d been dropped out of the clear blue sky, it seemed. He was capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression. Crouched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out the wildest of claims. Before his fellow acorns, this coming-undone-one pointed upward at the limbs. "We...are...that!"

Delusional thinking, the kingdom concluded. As if for sport, one among them engaged him further: "So tell us, how would we become that tree?"

" W ell, " said the stranger, gazing downward..."it has something to do with going into the ground...and cracking open the shell."

“Why, then we wouldn't be acorns anymore! That’s crazy,” said the crowd. “Not to mention, totally morbid!”

That crowd is alive and well. Or maybe neither adjective applies.

Jesus made a point to speak of death – his own, in particular. Come this point in John’s gospel, the subject just keeps coming up and I don’t think he’s trying to make sure we get our religion right. I think he’s trying to shape a community that talks about death precisely because of its uncommon commitment to life.

I realize I have already issued a Lenten challenge and that y’all don’t live for my assignments. So this one is for those who have in them to give these days a little more. Do one thing this week in the name of dying well. And do it in the name of the One who showed us how.


Rachel May