Holy Week is a reminder that death disrupts our lives.
I did not attend my first funeral until I was seventeen, and then I attended two funerals in a matter of months. The first was for my maternal grandfather, only sixty-seven, who died of cancer. My grandfather who was a minister, the family member I felt closest to in many ways, though we only saw each other a few times my entire life, since I grew up in Alaska and he lived in Pennsylvania.
The second funeral was not someone I knew well, but it was someone my age. Seventeen, and he took his own life, the son of a family friend. Instead of heading off to college like many of us, his parents were placing flowers on his grave.
In this life, I will never have my grandfather again. In this life, these parents will never have their child again.
Holy Week is a reminder that death is an ugly, terrible thing.
A good friend of ours from seminary died suddenly at the age of twenty-nine. It was unexpected. In the service held in the chapel of my alma mater, my husband led the call to worship, and he began with “God, What the ___” as he stomped on the floor. We all laughed, and we all cried, because the sudden death of a young adult doesn’t make any sense, and is one of those moments when we question God, we ask why, knowing we will not receive an answer. Those WTF moments are moments in which platitudes of “God needing another angel” or “they are in a better place” or “everything happens for a reason” get shot down. I’d rather say, “God, What the _____?
Holy Week is a reminder that even Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
(And yes, we all know he was quoting Psalm 22, but just as if one of us says “WTF,” we’re not saying anything original ourselves, either).
Three years ago, two weeks before Easter, my eighty-nine-year-old paternal grandmother entered hospice. She moved out of her senior living center into my aunt’s house for those last weeks, the only house of any of my relatives that I still remember from my childhood. I was able to visit her right after, and we had one of those days where we talked about everything and anything. I showed her all the pictures of my son on my phone and we talked about old memories, and we laughed and we shared together. She was still able to stand up and move about, and she told me she was ready to go and be with Jesus.
A week and a half later, we sat by her bed as she was no longer responsive and barely breathing, on Holy Saturday. We held her thin, bony fingers, we talked with her, we sat with her, but she barely was able to look at us, if at all. She passed on Easter Monday, appropriate for a woman who drove a large camper up through the 90’s with a “God is my Co-Pilot” bumper sticker. She never doubted where she was going and who she was going with. Her dying was as peaceful as any I have experienced.
Holy Week is a reminder that death is part of life.
Holy Week is a reminder that for all the goodness of life, and all the platitudes we say about heaven, death still can be awful and horrible to go through, even when it happens as peacefully as it can. Death still separates us, for now.
Holy Week is a reminder that it’s okay to say, “My God, My God, What the _____?”
Holy Week is a reminder that we can’t go back. We can only go on.
Holy Week reminds us that we all go through Good Friday. We all do. Year after year, death after death, we relive Good Friday, and we remain in Good Friday, no matter what day it is.
But we live with the hope of Easter. We live with the hope of the empty tomb and the stone rolled away and all that. New life. Eternal life. No more dying, no more mourning, no more grief and sorrow and sadness. No more young people taking their own lives. No more sudden, unexplainable loss. No more illness and pain.
I cling to the hope of Easter, in order to get through Good Friday, year after year, death after death. I cling to the hope that once a year, we celebrate an empty tomb. Once a year, we proclaim that death is not as ugly and terrifying and awful as we have experienced it. Once a year, we have Good Friday transformed into Easter.