From: The Way of the Cross
Death is not a single action; it is many actions overlapping that haunt, plague, empty the soul of every strand of life and all at the same time. It is a time of mixed emotions. There is a relief that comes when the suffering ends. The one we love cannot be hurt again. And that is good.
But now the focus shifts from them to us. Everything that was glorious and challenging, uplifting, and meaningful in life has ended. What is there left for us in life now? Is there the means to go on? And if the means is present, is there yet the will to go on, the energy the down-deep care of even beginning to go on again?
There is the sense of weightlessness, the thought that life comes down nowhere at all. There is no tomorrow, no yesterday to steer by. All the normal signposts of life – what do do on Mondays, who comes by on Tuesdays, where we’ll go for supper on Wednesday, how many will come to the service on Thursday, what project will we start together on Friday – becomes one long gray corridor without color, without light, without hope. The last handful of dirt on the coffin ends whatever is the life of life within us.
It is an awesome moment. There are choices to be made now that will affect the rest of our lives: We may decide to simply stop where we are, sink into the dust of the soul, and wait for the death of the psyche to take the body, too. Or we may make some desultory attempts to keep the old life alive despite the searing reality of it. We may make the life that’s left a shrine to the past and ourselves become its keepers.
Then, the stories are all old ones told and retold to whoever will listen, the furniture of the mind’s life grows old, always olden, all scenes from years gone by. The plans that were made years ago become the dream that can never be real. Only the brave take the energy of the past and turn it into something else. For them it becomes new again because, they know, it can no longer be the same as it once was. And yet it springs into the future out of the vision of a past that was itself dynamic, never meant to be becalmed by listlessness.
Nevertheless, even if we ourselves are secure – the mortgage is paid, the children are raised, the days are full – there is the eternal gap in life now. The missing populate the present now in ways they never did when they were alive and days were regular and tomorrow was sure.
We find ourselves at the intersection between commitment and desperation. We can begin again or we can give way to despair.
It is precisely then when the tombs of our lives become one thing or another – a shocking propulsion into a world we never foresaw and do not want or a seal on the goodness of life past that demands we give our own life now to the completion of the unfinished journey. Otherwise, what is the value of the past? What was the good of the dream? What is the purpose of life?
It is the tomb itself that presses us to live and to grow out of the best of the past to the rest of the future.
It presses us beyond our stagnant hearts. It is then, at that moment, that the Stations of the Cross take on real meaning.
We can see now that the call of the Stations of the Cross is not to death and despair at all. The call of the Stations of the Cross to those who walk them, burdened by their own lives, at risk of losing faith, in the very throes of an impenetrable darkness of the heart is to take what is good from the past and go forward with it into a future pulsing with new life.
The fourteenth station of the cross brings us to grapple with the grace of closure. Some phases of life end and cannot be retrieved. They go by before we’re ready to see them go. Worse, their going may feel like ignominy at the time or may even look to the world like failure. Then the finality of loss may sting with grave injustice and may grieve us beyond all telling of it. Yet only in the ability to realize that life goes on from one stage to another, from one kind of presence to another, can ever come to new life. When Jesus submits to the death of his ministry, when Jesus allows both state and synagogue to still the thunder of his voice, one life ends so that another can begin – ours as well as his – so that the echo of his might thunders on in us.
The inauspicious reality of all the resurrections of life is that they all come out of the little deaths of life. When death itself is the ground of resurrection, it is particularly painful, sometimes achingly slow for the transition from death to resurrection to happen.
The truth, however, is that every new tomb signals that, for someone, another life is about to begin at the edge of it, wanted or not, foreseen or not, planned or not. It is the very nature of tombs to require new life from us. The resurrection moment at the tomb rises out of the demand that we must leave it alone, fend for ourselves differently now, bring the past to a new kind of life in us. Death deprives but it also enriches, a wise old monastic said to me when my father died. It took a year or so for me to realize that, indeed, that death brought out of me an entirely new kind of life. It was not an inauspicious moment at all. It was, in fact, a totally auspicious one as is every crucifixion, every tomb. If we will only wait for it.
The question that the fourteenth station of the cross leaves in our soul is a resounding one: Am I able to trust that the tombs of my life are all gateways to resurrection?