So where do we go with all this hurt? Yesterday we saw him hanging from those slabs of cedar, and we sung our own sad hymns as all the blood drained out. We try our best to understand how the darkness of his death somehow blots out the bleakness of our own lives, to believe the promises that he made. We know the promises well, and when we look at his words preceding the moment of his death, there’s no denying that he knew them, too. A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me, he said to them. What? They probably couldn’t see beyond their own grief, but from my distant perspective, it almost seems like he was taking it all in stride.
He seemed to lean into his own death, in the way that a seasoned coal miner might crack his knuckles, then take a few deep breaths before sinking into the black pit of the earth’s crust. Sure, in the garden, he was so terrified that he sweated like he was bleeding, and of course we know that he, too, cried out why? when the pain was too much to bare. But even if he asked why he had to die, he never questioned if he would rise again. That was always a sure-shot, as far as he could tell. But even though he never doubted, that doesn’t mean it would have been easy for them, or for us, to believe he’d come again. Although we may throw the word around quite a bit, resurrection is not an easy thing for people like us to grasp. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that it is.
Life after death, life after death, he told them over and over. But then they took him down from the cross in their arms, like a priest might lift a nearly weightless young man from his hospital bed, humming along the way, and wrapped him in a linen tunic. And while it may not have been the bloody shock of death that yesterday was, he was still cold in their arms as they rolled away the stone. There was no life in him. If all we had to offer amidst yesterday’s brutality was a wordless melody and a simple why?, I can’t imagine that as they laid him in the tomb, they had anything to say except, what now?
And isn’t this the question we find ourselves asking on so many of these gray mornings, on these days where we stand somewhere in between grief and joy? Theologically speaking, 2,000 years after that eternal weekend, there is no day when Christ is not with us. But as we reflect on the historical day in between Christ’s death and resurrection—and I know I can only speak for myself—it shouldn’t be hard to imagine a literal absence of his presence. It’s as predictable as the rain April. We know the same promises that the disciples did, and we, too, left everything to follow him. So in that respect we aren’t much different from them; we’ve all been suddenly forced to cobble together a life after he’s gone, and in that process, we make choices that reflect either the blatancy of his absence or the mystery of his presence. It’s the nature of our journey. Do I still keep living as if he’s coming back? Do I still act as if he’s with me, even though he’s stuck in that tomb? As usual, my mind wanders to other writers who confront the question of hope in the midst of uncertainty and tragedy. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road comes to mind. A father and son wander through a post-apocalyptic American landscape, clinging to life and each other, and are forced to reaffirm the purpose of their existence:
You have to carry the fire, his father says. I don’t know how to, the boy replies. Yes you do. Is it real? The fire? the boy asks again. Yes it is. Where is it? I don’t know where it is. Yes you do. It’s inside you. I can see it, says the father to the boy.
Perhaps I’m mixing metaphors. But it all speaks of the same question that plagues us on this day between death and life: Son of man, can these bones live?
Image by Ben Anderson
Consider this short clip from Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder. Javier Bardem plays an aging Catholic priest in Oklahoma named Father Quintana. As loneliness and suffering seem to collapse around him, the voice of God grows fainter with every passing day. This six-minute clip is, to me, a vivid picture of the choices we have—to either affirm or deny— as we live in the ambiguity of Christ’s apparent absence.
Image by Ben Anderson
Thanks for joining us again. Don’t forget to check us out tomorrow for the final installment of this short series of reflections on the events of Holy Week. Have a great day.