Maundy Thursday & Endings

The other evening I was grabbing a quick sushi dinner at the local grocery store’s deli when I saw him.  An old man sitting alone, eating his roast beef and mashed potato dinner.  He wasn’t the only solitary diner that night, but for some reason I couldn’t look away.  There was an almost ineffable air of sadness emanating from him.  He wasn’t used to eating alone.  His hand quivered as he ate, and he stared off into the distance, lost in thought.  I watched him for a few minutes, wondering what he was thinking about.  Was he remembering meals shared with a wife who was no longer living?  Did he look back on home-cooked meals in a warm kitchen, the sound of laughter mingling with the comfort of belonging?  Was he still saying good-bye, day after day after day?  Does he still mourn?  What fills his days?  What keeps him hoping when so much of what he loves is gone?

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I just finished reading a book called “How it Ends: from You to the Universe.”  The main concept (which is pretty self-evident when you think about it) is that everything has an ending.  From may-flies to macaws, walruses to whales, hamsters to humans – we all will die.  Snails and sequoias alike will one day meet their end.  And as much as we may not be aware of it, everything has an expiration date: from the Sun’s impending (in 9-10 billion years or so) transition to white-dwarfdom, to the eventual cooling and heat death of the massive black-holes at the centers of galaxies (1098 years, or a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years into the future) – everything comes to an end.

11 years ago I spent four months studying in Jerusalem.  One of the highlights of our time there was participating in the drama and pageantry of Holy Week.  We dove into every experience, reading along with the events of the last week of Jesus’ life, often in the place they were said to have taken place.  Many of us went to a Palm Sunday celebration and waved palm branches on the Mount of Olives.  We spent time on Thursday evening praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  And then, a few of us gathered in a basement classroom at JUC and spent some time singing, praying, listening, and washing each other’s feet.  This intimate act of service drew us closer, and cemented in my mind the kind of life I wanted to be living – a life marked by acts of extravagant beauty, fierce kindness, and deep grace, even when the world is crumbling around you.  After all, this is what Jesus spent the last night of his life doing – sharing a meal with the friends he loved, teaching them, serving them, washing their feet, assuring them of his love and care, that in the end “all shall be well…”  A few short hours later, he was taken, arrested, and executed.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about endings recently.  They’ve been all around me, it seems.

The other day I drove by the cemetery where my mom is buried.  We talked about her and her death the other evening with some ladies who knew her, and remembered, and laughed, and then grew quiet.

A few weeks ago I sat in the cancer center of a local hospital and interpreted for a patient who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and only a few months to live.  I was the conduit for the flood of information and emotion between the doctor and this family who were informed that their husband and father was going to die soon.

I could have easily been killed in my car accident a few months ago, and in a hundred other situations throughout my life (well, at least 20 or so…  that I know of…)

The other day I interpreted for a family that had lost their newborn baby.  I sat in the hospital room as the priest baptized the dead body of this tiny infant that never really had a chance to live, as the mother and father wept, and as we mourned a life that was extinguished before it began.

In the past few months, dreams and relationships have changed, ended, and are no longer what they once were.  Every one is a little death to be mourned.

The week of the Passion is upon us, as we remember Jesus’ final week of life and ministry here on earth before his death and resurrection.  All these things seem to be pointing me towards something that I’d rather not think about.  They remind me that even though we live in a culture that denies the reality of death, that values youth, beauty, and vitality – even so, we are all going to die.

All things come to an end.

Our only choice is how we will live our life in light of the fact that one day, it will come to an end.  When relationships fall crashing to the ground, will we retreat into a shell to avoid being hurt, or continue to step out in authenticity and vulnerability, risking and giving our self to others?  When loss seems to haunt our every step, does our faith in God’s goodness grind to a halt?  When questions and doubt overwhelm, where do we turn?  And can knowing that all things come to an end actually enable us to live a little more wisely?  Love a little more lavishly?  Forgive a little more extravagantly?  Trust implicitly?  Dream a little larger?

What does it look like to live as Jesus did, fully aware of the endings, and the questions?

These are the questions that are bouncing around in my head and my heart as I seek to enter into the mystery of these next few days – trying to, as Rilke would say, “live the questions…  Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

What are your questions this Maundy Thursday?  What are the things ending in your life that need to be mourned?  What are the choices you need to make in light of endings?

An Easter Meditation – Part Two…

So many people have said it so much better than I can. But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to jump in and say it all again – less eloquently perhaps, but no less heartfelt.

I’m not really sure where we go from here. On Friday I talked about entering into the pathos of Jesus’ death. Sunday is supposed to be a day of joy and awe. He is ALIVE! Jesus, who was dead, is dead no more. He lives. He breathes. The heart that grew still and cold beats once more. The blood that thickened in his veins now runs warm and fast. His toes crinkle. He sneezes. His chest rises and falls. He begins to sweat and itch and be hungry and thirsty. It’s too much for me to take in.

Why is that? I think it’s because I want it to be true so badly. But, I am afraid of getting hurt. I am afraid of fully committing to this belief because I fear what it will try and draw out of me. I hesitate and hem and haw and commit to it 80 percent… Keeping that bit in reserve so I can try and keep my heart safe. I want Jesus’ ressurection to be true. I believe it is. But I can’t imagine what it looks like… I can’t imagine Jeferson standing up, laughing his laugh and smiling his smile and singing with his voice, and being stubborn and a brat and angry and hurt and tired and cold and happy and joyful and just so fully himself. I want to. But that hope seems so far away. I can’t imagine what it would be like to see my mom walk into the room again – to hear her laugh with her entire body, to see the love in her eyes, to have her put her arms around me and feel like a little child again – to grin when she gets frustrated again, and be sad when I’ve dissappointed her and to have her be her old self, before she got sick – to hear her scream when Dad would throw her in the water or watch her glow with righteous indignation and action when the poor, abandoned, and weak were left without an advocate, and were abused and exploited and taken advantage of… Oh, to see them again.

But all we were left with is memories. Only their absence is present. Until that day when Jesus came back to life, defeating death. Two thousand years ago, something changed. The disciples, who cowered in numb broken fear, received the scare of their lives. Their hope was dead. But all of a sudden, everything changed… He’s alive. He’s alive!

And in that hope of his resurrection, we know that death has been defeated. There is hope, not only for the life to come, but for this life now! His eternal, Kingdom life fills us in the here and now, transforming us into something beautiful – flawed and broken, yet being repaired – becoming who we were born to be… Becuase of Him we have hope. Becuase of who Jesus is – his beauty, his life, his death, his resurrection, his promises – we have hope. Because of him, everything has changed. And there’s no going back to the way things used to be.

In celebration of Easter, I want to post the lyrics to one of my oldest favorite Easter songs. I remember listening to it when I was a child, and it never failed to run chills down my spine. It’s kind of long, and a bit cheesy, so you don’t have to read it… but it does hold a special place in my heart, and if you ask super nicely, I’ll sing it for you next time we’re together, if you really want me to… =) Here it is –

He’s Alive! – Don Francisco

The gates and doors were barred, and all the windows fastened down,
I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound,
Half in hopeless sorrow, half in fear that day
Would find the soldiers breakin’ through to drag us all away.

And just before the sunrise I heard something at the wall.
The gate began to rattle and a voice began to call.
I hurried to the window, looked down into the street,
Expecting swords and torches and the sound of soldiers’ feet.

There was no one there but Mary so I went down to let her in.
John stood there beside me as she told me where she’d been.
She said “They’ve moved Him in the night and none of us knows where.
The stone’s been rolled away now His body isn’t there!”

We both ran toward the garden. Then John ran on ahead.
We found the stone and empty tomb just the way that Mary said,
But the winding sheet they wrapped Him in was just an empty shell,
And how or where they’d taken Him was more than I could tell.

Well something strange had happened there, just what I did not know.
John believed a miracle, but I just turned to go.
Circumstance and speculation couldn’t lift me very high
‘Cause I’d seen them crucify him, and I saw him die.

Back inside the house again, the guilt and anguish came.
Everything I’d promised Him just added to my shame,
When at last it came to choices I denied I knew His name.
And even if He was alive, it wouldn’t be the same.

But suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume.
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room.
Jesus stood before me with his arms held open wide,
And I fell down on my knees and just clung to Him and cried.

He raised me to my feet, and as I looked into His eyes
Love was shining out from Him like sunlight from the skies.
Guilt and my confusion dissappeared in sweet release,
And every fear I’d ever had hust melted into peace.

He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s alive and I’m forgiven!
Heaven’s gates are open wide!
He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s ALIVE!!!!!

An Easter Meditation – Part One…


Tombstone for Easter
Originally uploaded by Lost in Rio.

I sat beside my mother’s grave this morning. I don’t know how many years it has been since I’ve been there. Somehow it seemed appropriate, today of all days – the day when we celebrate (an odd word choice at first glance) the death of Jesus. I sat beside my mother’s grave and remembered. I sat there and missed her. I felt her absence, even there, because even though her body was buried there, SHE was no longer there.

As I think of death and bodies and absences, my mind turns again to today – Good Friday.

It seems difficult, if not impossible, to look back thousands of years, and imagine what that first “Good Friday” must have been – must have felt like – to the friends and family of the murdered man. I read the stories about the betrayal and death of Jesus from the perspective of the Resurrection. I look at Friday through the lens of Easter. And in doing so, I miss much of the pathos and the reality in what happened. In my mind, Jesus’ death has none of the power that my mom’s death had, or the deaths of my friends on the street. That’s because, in my mind, my mom and Miriam and Jeferson and Tiago and Everton’s deaths were all REAL. The effects are lasting. They are gone. I still miss them. Somehow, when seen only through Sunday’s events, Jesus’ death is transformed into something fake – a pretend death. But nothing could be further from the truth. Only when we enter into the brokenness and the anguish of that first Friday can we begin to understand the joy and hope of that Sunday.

On Friday, Jesus was dead. He was tortured. He was mocked. He was killed. He was dead. He stopped breathing. He stiffened up. His body grew cold. He was GONE. His loved ones watched, helpless. His mother and friends wept. They wept because they had lost their son, their friend, their brother, their hope. They believed, but their belief had betrayed them, left them hung out to dry.

Jesus’ lifeless body was taken from the cross. His stiffening corpse was carried to the tomb, prepared for burial, and then placed inside. Those who hadn’t run away in fear bent over and kissed his cold forehead with their warm lips as tears slid down their faces. When the tomb was shut, there was all the finality of the earth being thrown on my mother’s coffin, or the casket lid being tightened over Jeferson’s stillness. He was gone.

Feel the hopelessness. Savor the despair. Soak up the fear, the hurt, the betrayal, the numbness. For everything has changed. Where hope existed, now lies doubt. A few nights before, joy and love and laughter and life filled this room. Tonight, it is only ashes and dust, tears and mourning. His absence is everywhere. There is no escape. The vine has been ripped from the ground, and the branches are withered and dying. The shepherd has been killed and the sheep are scattered and helpless. The center could not hold.

This is the bitter cup of death. Jesus drank his own death down to the dregs. His friends, his disciples, drank it too. For each different, yet for each the agony and heartache and fear is the same. No one understood. All they knew was they missed him, and he was gone. Everything had changed.