From The Way of the Cross
Every birth of Christ into this world is in one sense a parting from his mother. It must be so. Now he is lifted from her arms by his disciples and made ready for his burial.
His burial is like his birth. When he was born his mother was in a strange city, she was not in Nazareth in the little home that she had prepared for him. She had with her some swaddling bands to wrap him in; the beautiful little garments she had been weaving for him were left at home. She did not know, when she and Joseph set out for Bethlehem, that years would pass before they could return, or that the wooden cradle that Joseph had made for him with such love and care, such scrupulous craftsmanship, would never be used by him – or that he must lie in a borrowed bed, a manger borrowed from humble animals, with a mattress of straw.
Mary must indeed have remembered that night now, when hurriedly, because all must be done before tomorrow’s feast, Jesus was laid in a borrowed tomb. “In the same quarter where he was crucified there was a garden, with a new tomb in it, one in which no man had ever yet been buried. Here, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus, because of the Jewish feast on the morrow,” (John 19:41-42). Just as he came into the world, with nothing of his own, it seems now that he will go out of it, possessing nothing, not even his own garments, the garments that his mother wove for him; not even his own resting place, his own tomb.
Again history repeats itself. When he was born, wise men came to Jesus bringing him myrrh and frankincense and gold and offered them to him as he lay in his swaddling bands; and now Nicodemus comes with myrrh and aloes, and, “They took Jesus’s body, then, and wrapped it in winding-cloths with the spices,” (John 19:40).
So night fell. Everything, it seemed, was over. The faithful apostle, Nicodemus, who lent him his tomb, and the holy women could do no more. It was like the dreadful anticlimax that follows every funeral, every death. Everyone who had loved him was exhausted, emptied out. It seemed that the whole world was emptied out, that there was no longer any meaning or purpose in anything.
Yet it would seem, looking back down the years, that there has never been a night so pregnant with life, so full of mercy and eternal love as that night, a night of such meaning and such purpose.
Christ was in the tomb; the whole world was sown with the seed of Christ’s life; that which happened thirty years ago in the womb of the virgin mother was happening now, but now it was happening yet more secretly, yet more mysteriously, in the womb of the whole world. Christ had already told those who flocked to hear him preach that the seed must fall into the earth, or else remain by itself alone. Now the seed of his life was hidden in darkness in order that his life should quicken in countless hearts, over and over again for all time. His burial, which seemed to be the end, was the beginning. It was the beginning of Christ-life in multitudes of souls. It was the beginning, too, of the renewal of Christ’s life in countless souls.
For just as Christ was soon to rise from the dead with his human body and life again on Earth, he would rise from the dead over and over again in the spiritual sense, in the souls of countless sinners everywhere until the end of time. From that hour for as long as the world lasted there would be resurrection everywhere. Christ-life would return to souls of sinners who wept for their sins as spring returns in all its loveliness of delicate grass and wild flower to the dark, hard earth watered by the rain of April.
On the night of Christ’s burial, many who loved him must have been overwhelmed by grief and exhaustion that threatened to become despair; yet never has there been a night in the whole history of mankind so pregnant with the secret of the unending life and joy that was to break upon the world with the dawn.
For Christ himself, pain and suffering had ended. Only in his members, those “other Christs” in whom his life on Earth would go on through time, would he suffer any more. Their suffering would be transformed into his, and never could it be for them, no matter how terrible it might sometimes seem to be, the complete agony, the absolute darkness, that it was for him in his human life; because not only would Christ have already experienced everything they would do, but he would have already overcome all those things they feared. “Fear not,” he had said to his apostles and to all who would follow him in all time; “Fear not, for I have overcome the world”: as if he would say to each and every one of us whom he would indwell, “Fear not, for I have overcome your sins; I have overcome your temptations; I have overcome all things that you shrink from, all your sufferings of mind and body; fear not, for I am within you, I who have already overcome the world.”
Jesus, lying in the borrowed tomb, was at peace – his suffering was over, his love was consummated, every hour of darkness moved closer to the light, closer to the morning of resurrection, closer to the time when he would rise from the dead to live forever.
In every life of every Christian there are countless resurrections – just as there are always many times when every Christian is buried with Christ.
In the soul of the sinner Christ dies many deaths and knows the glory of many resurrections.
In the souls that have served him faithfully, too, there are long periods that seem like death, periods of dryness of spirit when all the spiritual things that once interested them have become insufferably tedious and boring, when it is very difficult, even sometimes impossible, to say a prayer; when the sweetness has gone out of the love of God, when the soul seems bound in the iron bondage of the winter of the spirit like the seed held in iron of the black frozen earth in the wintertime. These are the winters of the spirit indeed! But just as Christ suffered everything that all those who were to follow him would suffer, all those “other Christs” who have come after him have suffered, and will suffer in a spiritual sense, everything that he suffered in his human life on Earth.
One of these things is lying in the tomb, bound and restricted in the burial bands. There come times in every life when the soul seems to be shut down, frostbound in the hard, ironbound winter of the spirit; times when it seems to be impossible to pray, impossible even to want to pray; when there seems to be only cold and darkness numbing the mind.
These indeed are the times when Christ is growing towards his flowering, towards his spring breaking in the soul – towards his ever-recurring resurrection in the world, towards his glorious resurrection in the hearts of men.
Again and again he has referred to himself and to his divine life in us as seed buried in the earth, and so it is. There are times when we experience no sweetness, no consolation, no visible sign of the presence and the growth of Christ in us; these above all other times are those in which Christ does in fact grow to his flowering in us.
There seems to be nothing that we can do in these times to honor God, but by ourselves there is nothing that we can do at any time. In Christ we can do just what he did, remain quietly in the tomb, rest, and be at peace, trusting God to awaken us in his own good time to a springtime of Christ, to a sudden quickening and flowering and new realization of Christ-life in us.
It is always from the deaths of the spirit that Christ’s resurrection comes. When we know ourselves as sinners and are sorry, our resurrection is at hand. When we are ironbound in the winter frost of aridity, the springtime of resurrection is very near.
When it seems that we have failed, that everything is over, and we are in the darkness of the tomb with Christ, then the angels will come and roll away the great heavy stone, and resurrection with Christ will come.
There are many deaths before the death of the body. There are many, many resurrections, before that last eternal resurrection that will reunite our bodies and souls forever, to live forever full lives of love and endless bliss that will never be interrupted again.
All those little deaths of the spirit show us the mystery of that last death and that endless rising from the dead.
Death is not something to fear. Fear will be over and done with when it comes. Then the possibility of sin will be over, the danger of ever again being parted from Christ will be over, the pains and the desolations of body and soul on Earth will be over.
We shall not be parted from those whom we love on Earth, but only hidden from them for a time, a time that will pass swiftly; and when it is past, we shall be reunited with everyone we loved here forever, with no more fear of loss, with no shadow at all cast upon our human love.
We have nothing to fear.
Christ has died each of our deaths for us. He will be with us all, saint and sinner alike, in our rising from the dead.
It is to each one of us that he spoke on the night before he died, saying, “Peace is my bequest to you, and the peace which I give you is mine to give; I do not give peace as the world gives it. Do not let your heart be distressed, or play the coward,” (John 14:27).
So be it. Come, Lord Jesus, come! “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
buried in the tomb,
Jesus in burial bands,
you are life
and the source of life.
You are the seed in the earth,
the secret of the eternal spring.
You are the wonder of Heaven
and love’s unending flowering.
die and be buried with you,
rise with you
in your glory.
Grant to us all,
that in the soul’s long winters
we may wait patiently,
in the rhythms and seasons
of your love,
and so enter into your peace.
Give us grace
to wait patiently,
for the morning of resurrection.
May every little death in life
teach us how to die
the last death
that is the beginning
of true life.
Be our life to us
on Earth, Lord Jesus,
and our everlasting life.
from your merciful hands
what is to come:
the times of trial in this world,
the suffering of our death,
the sorrow and loneliness
of our last hours upon Earth,
unknown pains of our purgatory.
Into your hands, O Lord,
into your hands
we commit our living and dying,
knowing that you are
the dawn of eternal day,
the burning light of the morning star.