Tomb Sabbath…


As I write about my experience of my father’s death, and since we have just come through the Easter season, my thoughts have been with the followers of Jesus in the stories after his death. Actually, I find myself in their stories, which isn’t too surprising because I usually find myself in many characters in the bible.

Obviously there is the trauma of the death, and the practical matters associated with burial. One benefit I had which was denied the followers of Jesus was the formal gathering of family and friends publicly to commemorate his death and celebrate his life: a funeral. Maybe that is what the Easter feast is for: to do as a Church, what our forebears in faith were unable to do. I’d like to mention several ways their experience and mine were similar…

Dreams and Expectations…

Life is full of death. In fact, in the natural world, death provides the foundations of new life. Death is part of the cycle of releasing nutrients back into soil so plants are nourished and seeds can sprout and have access to sunlight. The natural world exhibits resurrection every time a wild fire blows through a forest or prairie. Similarly, our lives are full of deaths. The followers of Jesus experienced not only the death of their friend, leader, and significant public figure; but also the death of their unrealized, and possibly unrecognized expectations and dreams about just who Jesus would become. There is a significant difference between dreams which occur during the day, and expectations. Dreams are manufactured by our imagination as to what would be a bright future. While we have personal capabilities to act towards bringing this bright future into reality, they also require the action of other people in our lives. Dreams are shared hope. Expectations on the other hand, are below the level of consciousness. They are reality as we have always known it to be.

The appearance of Jesus in the cultural life of Roman occupied Galilee, with the manifestation of power through him to bring about miracles, scattered seeds of hope along his path. The seeds especially began to grow and develop in his followers. They could begin to imagine a time when Roman rule would be crushed, and the Jews would once again be a self-confident nation, under the rule of God. Economic and political structures would be overturned, and the disciples would be part of the elite power structure. Although Jesus tried to work counter to these dreams by staying out of the local seat of power, Jerusalem, and teach that God’s realm wasn’t as they understood it to be; the dream still grew. They watched Jesus dragged away in the darkness of the garden, which in itself has symbolic overtones to Genesis’ Eden, taken before the political and military leaders of the Roman occupiers and puppet regime of Jewish leaders, then executed as if on a whim, and finally die. The dreams that had been growing died with him.

Jesus’ death also brought to surface their expectations of what Godly rule would look like, although his life also uncovered those expectations, if they could have heard what he said. However, when the expectations are buried so deeply within, only a crucifixion will uncover them.

Dad’s death was the first crucifixion in my life. I was laid open to the core, and my dreams of a stable, extended family received a knife shot to the ribs. All the expectations I wrote about two blogs ago were brought to the surface and crushed.

What’s Next?

Many of Jesus followers locked themselves away together, afraid of not only the authorities, but also from dazed confusion of what would come next. They sought comfort in being together with those who had walked the same roads with Jesus, heard the same words, and saw the same miracles. Embarrassment may have dogged their emotions, as well. They had believed in the dream, but the dream was now dead.

Emotionally, I did the same. I tried to keep my sadness and growing anger under lock and key as I began to get back into the rhythms of “normal” life, although my anger would often creep out as I continued to coach football. My mother moved from Ukiah to live with me as I finished school. While together, we both were faced with the realities of daily life without my dad. It was awkward and difficult at times, but ultimately beneficial in confronting our shared loss and new reality. I also found solace in one of my professors. Prof. Gary Moore was my voice coach. I took voice lessons from Gary for most of my years in college. While initially it was a little unusual for me to do so, because he was a bass/baritone and I was a tenor, our time together developed a rich friendship. Around the same time frame of my father’s death, Gary’s wife died from cancer. There were often lessons that were spent not in singing, but in sharing our grief experiences and remembrances of our loved ones lost. I fondly remember he brought an arrangement of a beautiful duet for baritone and tenor that we began to sing together:

The King of Love My Shepherd Is
By: Henry W. Baker

The King of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow,
My ransomed soul he leadeth
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me
And on his shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear Lord, beside me,
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spredst a table in my sight;
Thine unction grace bestoweth;
And, oh, what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never.
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house forever.

We sang together, often with tears in our eyes, and my voice often choked with emotion. Then, at the end of the lesson, we would hug, and bid each other to be courageous through the next week, and know of each other’s love, prayers, and thoughts for the other until we came back together. A safe haven of shared grief.

Tomb Sabbath…

It is significant and symbolic that Jesus lay in the tomb on Saturday…the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a traditional Judaic practice which echoes back to the Creation narrative in Genesis. The Sabbath is the seventh and last day of the week, on which “…God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work God had done in creation.” (Gen. 2:2-3; NRSV…with a little further revision from me…) It is interesting that Jesus…a follower of Torah…would lie in a tomb on the day set aside as holy as a remembrance of God’s finished work and God’s resting. Tomb Sabbath is a symbol that human effort and doing are insufficient in themselves to bring about the Eden of generative, sustainable relationships between people and the rest of the natural universe and each other. Frankly, God is in the mix whether we recognize….or authorize….it to be. Once we personally and collectively, no matter how many are collected, realize this, resurrection occurs. The resurrected Christ met his followers where they were both emotionally and geographically:

Mary by the tomb, bringing spices to embalm the now vanished body…

Friends travelling together to Emmaus…

Followers behind barricaded walls in dazed fear…

Thomas as he returned to the group after doing practical tasks in the practical world…

The resurrected Christ alternatively hid his identity, and walked through barriers to reach his friends. I can tell you that many times in my life I found Christ hiding his identity until I was able to recognize him. Often I was surprised when and where he met me. I must also confess that most of the barriers in my life have been….and still are….

barriers of my own making…

doors I have locked…

wanderings I have chosen…

…and yet…

the resurrected Christ meets me…

behind my barriers…

within the locked doors…

on the road of my wandering…

That is why…

all the death of dreams…

crushed expectations…

isolating fears…

searching journeys…

are blessed beginnings not endings.

Because there is no resurrection without death. Christ calls me…

to my own cross…

to my own tomb…

and to my own resurrection…

Dad’s death was but the first of many more deaths which would  come, and which are still to be. I am convinced that in each death, lie the nutrients for resurrected new growth and life for me, and for others.

That is why I defiantly hold to Christ, and…

graciously…

Christ holds me…

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