“So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” (Mark 15:46 NIV)
How have you encountered real-life death?
I don’t mean death in a film or on stage, where we know the actor will wake up again. I don’t mean death in the daily update of pandemic statistics that flash across our news feeds from around the world. I mean death in your own real life, where you yourself were forced to grapple with the reality that someone who was alive is now dead.
I’ve been to funerals before. Sometimes there is a body visible, sometimes not. In any case, it’s pretty clean, especially when you aren’t the one crying. The passing of a friend’s 90-year-old grandma from out-of-town who lived a full life hits you differently than the passing of a father, a friend, a classmate. Someone you’ve spoken with and listened to. Someone you’ve known, but can’t know any more, apart from memories. Someone you’ve loved. I grieve these losses with you.
Death also shows up in dramatic ways: suddenly, violently, randomly. Even if you didn’t know the deceased, death’s ugliness is stark. I’ll never forget the moment I stumbled across the body of a naked man who had died from exposure after he wandered into the snowy woods. Your encounters with death may be less bizarre, but no less significant. And for those of you who have had traumatic encounters with death, I grieve with you.
Sometimes we attempt to justify death when it is a catalyst for positive change. And perhaps we will find ways to prevent people with dementia from wandering into the woods. Or we will find a coronavirus vaccine, saving many lives. But for those who already died, all the prevention measures in the world won’t do a thing. There is much grieving to do.
Real-life death is a horror. It smacks us in the face with the reality that death is irreversible. The finality is sickening. There is no undo button. Words of forgiveness or love go unheard. There is no option to turn back the clock to live out all the if onlys. The dead just aren’t going to wake up or walk back in the room.
This real-life death came for Jesus. Jesus died. As truly dead as the most real dead person you’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. He was not playing dead, pretending, waiting until the right moment to jump up and say “Just kidding!” Unlike Wesley in The Princess Bride, Jesus wasn’t mostly dead, with a Miracle Max pill on its way. Jesus was all dead. Wesley’s friends dragged his body around hoping for a cure. Jesus’ disciples didn’t bother: they weren’t expecting Jesus’ death to be any more reversible than the ones you’ve witnessed.
On this Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Christians around the world will remember the horror of Jesus’ real-life death.
They will wait while he lies truly dead in the tomb. In hindsight, we wait expectantly for Easter morning when Jesus’ death will be triumphantly reversed. But there were two whole nights in history when Jesus was all dead. Heart beat and breath gone. Body cooling, cold. Lifeless. May this reality give you permission to grieve the deaths that have touched your lives, for with these, Jesus has chosen ultimate solidarity. May God redeem your encounters, if only slightly, by what they can teach you about the death that Jesus died. And only as he gives you grace to do so, may you grieve with hope: Sunday is coming.