Reflections on Mortality and Holy Week

 It only lasts a minute, maybe two.

That sense of stepping off a cliff –
when a lump rises in your throat,
and immediately catapults into your stomach. 

Or maybe it’s more like being blind-sided by a phantom,
a phantom with snarling breath that blows down the back of your collar 
and frizzes the ends of your hair.
You can be living your ordinary, everyday life – 
driving the car, for instance.
Or having lunch with someone you love.
Or resting after minor surgery. 
And wham! It hits you like a bracing splash of ice water:
death happens everywhere.
We are surrounded by it, 
entangled in it,
bewitched by it. 
And most of the time, we are oblivious.
Quite intentionally so, I believe.
We cover it up,
tuck it away,
move it aside.
And we do that with all kinds of things, 
in all kinds of ways.
We do it with food,
or alcohol,
or television,
or reading,
or even – gasp! – writing. 
It’s the spectre on everyone’s horizon,
the uninvited guest at the table,
the devilish imp around every corner. 

And we don’t want to see it.
And much of the time, we don’t.
We don’t

But then, you turn just a little,
and you cast a glance over the wrong shoulder,
you catch a glimpse 
just there – 
off to the side – 
and the rawness of it socks you in the gut. 
Two sisters, having lunch. 
Best of friends, longtime traveling companions,
singing life’s song together for over 85 years.
You stop to take a picture – 
and you see it.
Just there, in the sagging skin.
Or there, in the squinting struggle to see something –
anything that’s recognizable.
Or to the right – see it? – the big red walker,
just there,
the one that carries the frail, flailing, failing body
slowly and carefully from place to place.
And you know:
it won’t be long now.

Or you take a little drive,
off to find a new dress for a 90-year-old.
You go down familiar streets,
remarking on changes made here and there.
And then – there it is.
The shabby motel where he lived,
your youngest brother,
the one who hid so well –
who hid the drinking and the illness and the shame,
the one who died, far too young.
Over there –  
just there – 
lurking by the office,
just down from the dark, dank corridor
of his room – you spot it.
And your stomach clenches,
your eyes fill ever so briefly,
your breath catches
between the pleasantries you speak. 
Or you’re driving home from the dentist
after a routine surgical procedure,
and your face begins to pound and swell.
Within hours, you look like a prize-fighter,
so you pile in the car for some urgent care.
And you see it again!
Just there,
in the bright red gauze,
the deepening purple of bruise,
the slow, constant tender aching.
No longer a wraith, but a sharp, clear reflection
in the window pane behind the surgeon’s worried face. 
The ever-present visitor that no one
wants to see, to wrestle with, even to acknowledge:
we all age;
we all die. 

For these intimations of mortality are all around us,
constant reminders of the ephemeral nature of our
sojourn on this planet.
No one escapes,
no one is immune,
no one is immortal. 

But then…

Holy Week arrives,
right in the middle of the muddle,
amid the weariness of watching death in action, 
inexorable and overwhelming. 

 And a tiny green thing begins to wriggle its way 
to the surface of your soul.
A sprig, really.
A small, tender shoot of hope and life. 
Because somehow,
in the very middle of death itself,
there is this ever-growing wick of light.
As we follow the story 
to the upper room,
to the garden,
to the house of the high priest,
to the halls of Herod and Pilate,
through the narrow winding streets
of the city,
up that pathway marked by the blood of Jesus himself –
even there…
even there.

There is a whiff of green, a scent of spring. 
EVEN THIS, Jesus knows.
This sinking queasiness, this revelation and recognition
that death is an unavoidable part of life –
Jesus has been here, too.
Jesus has been here ahead of us.
And Jesus walks with us when the 
dark, shadowy fears show up and torment us.
Even this, Jesus knows.

So today, and tomorrow, and the next day…
I want to shelter this bit of life amid the ashes;
I want to water it with my tears,
and nourish it with my songs of thanksgiving.
And then I want to position it  
just there,
where the sunlight, 
streaming forth from the empty tomb,
can help it to grow strong and true,
always and forever stretching toward the Light.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
1 Peter 1:3-4
Joining with Michelle at Graceful and Jennifer and the Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood at Finding Heaven and the generous Kimberly at Journey to Epiphany, who is temping for Emily Weirenga for a while. I’ll also join it to the Lauras, even though it’s not a particularly playful post nor is it so much about a place physical as a place emotional and spiritual. And with Ann V, too. (Although I can never get her button to work here.)

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  1. I am weird (I know!), but this reality doesn’t scare me. It’s always in the front of my mind–for me, for everyone. Is it today, Lord?

  2. I’ve had some of these feelings this last week. When my mom passed, they reminded us that the spouse often goes sooner than later. And then the fall. And then the leaving my family who wants me home and wondering if and when I can go home. And watching him and Sissy and I wondering if this headache means we should call the doctor and knowing that the inevitable will come eventually no matter what we do or don’t do, because he’s 85 years old, and then that portion of our life is gone. And it makes my stomach clench and my head ache. 

    For myself, I think what frightens me the most is whether I’ve done all I could, been all I could. 

  3. This is riveting, beautiful, to be kept for more use than just a blog post. Thank you for this down-to-the-death, up-to-the-Life journey of words! Rich blessings in Christ to you this week.

  4. pastordt says

    Thanks so much, Sylvia, for your encouragement! And thanks for stopping by. I will bless you right back as you move through Holy Week toward Easter.

  5. pastordt says

    I surely know you have been walking this reality right now, Sandy! This constant feeling of being pulled between those who are almost dying and those who are very much living is one of the hardest parts of dealing with the dual reality of aging parents and young grandchildren. Although Megan is right – that it could be any day for any one of us – most of us don’t tend to think through that truth with any intentionality from day to day – it’s just sort of there. Until something happens, or some trigger occurs and it just slaps you hard. You and I both got slapped this last week and that’s tough. But it’s also good, I think, because it’s good to remember that fear is not all there is to this life. And neither is regret, Sandy. We will all have some regrets when our loved ones die and I do truly believe that those regrets must be released to the care of our Savior. By God’s grace, we do the best we can and somehow, God makes it enough. Please be free from that piece of this fear this week, Sandy. You are doing all of it very well indeed. Your heart is beautiful. Period. And that, too, is because you have followed Jesus on the way.

  6. pastordt says

    Okay, I’m just guessing here – but I imagine this may be attributable to the fact that you lived with this reality for your mom from a very young age. That does not make you weird, Megan. It makes you exquisitely aware of life and death issues, more so than most of us. And there may be blessing in that – a deliverance of sorts from some of the stuff that sometimes haunts the rest of us. 

  7. It was such a humbling experience to write my eulogy for our latest class. I wasn’t prepared for the strong reaction I had.  I don’t know why it takes us by surprise when, as you say, it’s everywhere. But we were made for eternity, right? That’s what is in our hearts.  Beautiful post, Diana. Feeling very close to this as we journey through Holy week. 

  8. pastordt says

    When you wrote about that experience, I thought it was a fascinating assignment – and an intimidating one. And YES, eternity is in our hearts…but this earthly life,  it’s in our cells, our very DNA, and we feel it. Yes we do.

  9. Jen Ferguson says

    All I can say, today, is Yes.  And as I’m missing my grandmother, I’m clinging to the hope of the resurrection and the beautiful, joyful reunion.

  10. pastordt says

    Thank you, Jen. I’m missing people, too so I’m right there, clinging with you. May you have a truly blessed Easter experience this year, Jen. Love to you.

  11. In so many ways we are reminded, but our kinsman redeemer knows that feeling too, of mortality… and that little sprig of hope is there and growing… sheltering and watering with you…. such lovely thoughts, friend.

  12. pastordt says

    Thank so much for stopping by and leaving encouraging words. Blessings on your Holy Week and Easter remembrances and celebration!

  13. Yes!  How awesome that death has lost it’s sting.  I need to be reminded of this daily.  Thank you!

  14. pastordt says

    Amen! Thanks for coming by, Kim. Always glad to see you here. Blessed Easter to you and yours!

  15. jdukeslee says

    Death all around. But Life? Even more. Praising God for the way He brings light into the darkest places; how He brings the fragrance of Christ to overpower the stench of sin and death. 

    Much love to you this Easter. 

  16. pastordt says

    Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer. Hope your Easter celebrations were filled with life and joy!

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