This last month marked two years since my mother died. As I do, from time to time, I drove up the street to the shady garden area – tucked in between a popular gym and a busy stretch of freeway – where she’s buried.
I always go with ill-defined expectations, and I’m always disappointed.
The movies assure us that deep and moving things transpire in cemeteries. People have meaningful moments of insight, thoughtful one-sided conversations with the tombstone of a parent or a spouse or a friend, and come away renewed, inspired … more settled in their souls.
Mostly, I just see a patch of grass. A little marker with some words that sounded so profound when we chose them but now just kind of lay there, flat as the ground they adorn.
What I usually feel, reading my mother’s name and the dates of her birth and death, and the name of my dad who will lie beside her someday, is … restless. I know my mother is in heaven. Suspect she is deeply engaged with whatever’s happening on high. And as much as we cherished our time and talks together across so many years, I’ve no doubt her Lord is able to hold her attentions there better than I ever could here.
So that leaves me, standing over the grass, listening to the breeze in the trees and the nearby traffic. It’s pretty anticlimactic.
I breathe a few words of fond appreciation for that soul I so love, and find myself walking back to the car, anxious to get back in the game.
I’m sure not everyone understands that, but angels do. Angels, and good ole C.S. Lewis.
Luke 24 tells of that early springtime dawn when a few women, with their own ill-defined expectations, showed up at the sealed tomb of Jesus, apparently intending, somehow, to anoint his broken body. Whatever they had in mind, they surely were not expecting an empty hole in the rock. Or to meet up with angels.
What’s interesting is, the angels were surprised to see them, too.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” they asked. “He is not here, but is risen!”
That last statement is the great hope of our souls and the stuff classic hymns and Easter sermons are made of. You couple those extraordinary words with what Jesus said in John 14:19:
“A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.”
… and it changes everything. Every thing.
Only, mostly, it doesn’t.
So many of us live our lives in fear. In a banked-down-but-never-far-away uneasiness about what terrible shoe is about to drop. And that’s without a global pandemic inching closer to our door.
We invest so much of our hope in things like, well, things … money … government that really can’t do too much to guard us from a lethal germ – or a car wreck. Or a mugger. Or getting old.
Why do we look for life in graveyards? Bank our hope and security on such frail, fragile stuff?
The angels aren’t the only ones asking. We move, every day, among dying people who keep looking around for someone with a little bounce in their step, a little light in their eyes, a song in their heart, a winsome word of truth on their tongue.
Too often, they sense in Christians the same whiffs of desperation, the same insecurities, the same hollow-eyed stares they find everywhere else.
“There are many,” the psalmist noticed, “who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’ Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.” His countenance. His living countenance.
It’s Easter. And so many driven people need a lift. Time to get back in the game.
What game? We’re all in quarantine. How are we supposed to lift anybody? Well, as to that …
The estimable Mr. Lewis, writing in 1948 to people as sick with dread of atomic bombs as we are, dreading the sickness of COVID-19:
“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb,” Lewis said, “let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things. Praying. Working. Teaching. Reading. Listening to music. Bathing the children. Playing tennis. Chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts [or over Facetime]. Not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
Death is in the air, no doubt. But eternity has already begun in our hearts.
And there’s such a lot of living to do.
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