Learning to stand before the grave

empty-tombJohn 19: 16-42

He has been laid in the grave. And the world is hushed. In grief, in silence, in an utter loss of words to name the experience that the Lord has died.

So it is when we lose someone close to us. There are no words and we stand as novices before the threshold of death in awe of its totality, its complete transformation of our reality. We struggle to come to grips with the fact: he is gone. She is never going to get up again. We will never be able to meet again like we did.

The noisy human being who always has something to say is finally silenced. We stand before the grave and there is nothing happening.

Yet we may also sense that the silence is pregnant, that we stand outside of an inner space in which worlds are contained. Death flips the world inside out. It makes us aware that our clamor and clatter here on earth is so much noise, and that inside the world, or just beyond it, a powerful life is unfolding in delicate tones and movements which our unrefined eyes cannot see, our coarse ears cannot hear.

We stand before the grave and wonder, “Where has he gone? What is he doing now?”

Christ’s entry into the realm of death is a mystery to us. There are reports in non-canonical gospels of a great light appearing to those fettered in the world between worlds, liberating the human being who could no longer, at that time, “properly die nor properly live”; those who we speak of in our creed: “those who had lost their divine nature.” For these souls in the underworld, according to the reports, the rising sun of Easter arrives first, in this inner space away from our perception.

Our way into the mystery is perhaps to remain standing at the grave. To allow its darkness to cleanse us. To pray into the not seeing and the not hearing and the not knowing. Who is in there?

We have a chalice in our hands, grief has made it clear for us, we long to offer all that we are and to be filled with all that we are not.

The spiritual world is not a big empty space, but is alive with being. Those who have died, angels and archangels, and all the hierarchies of God’s divine being. We long to know them, to be part of their flowing life.

And so we stand at the threshold and pray: We want to be healed that we may look up again and see.

The “grave of hope” can become an altar.


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