Our church in Ottawa asks people of the pews to share on Good Friday, and last year I was one of them. Each speaker is assigned a portion of scripture which are the words Jesus spoke from the cross. “Why did I get the ‘“Eloi, Eloi, lama sab ach thani’ reading?” I asked Brent. I didn’t practice pronouncing the words as much as I practiced the boldness required to just start and keep going, no matter what. That’s how to read hard things. And how to do them, I think.
I didn’t know then what I know now. Brent was still alive, and I thought healed. In my first draft of what ended up being a reflection about death, I wrote, “I was scared of Brent dying.” That’s because Covid was such a fear for us with Brent’s lowered immune system, which helped his body not reject his new kidney, but made him so vulnerable to all the other things. I edited that down to “I was scared,” because I didn’t want to be dramatic, and maybe I would cry when I said it, and it was just all too vulnerable for me to speak in front of the church where he was the priest, and in front of people who loved us.
I’ve been thinking about this piece this week, as my family limps through Holy Week. I choose to believe that it is true. Thankfully, we get to pray, “Help my unbelief.”
Last Good Friday
I’ve been thinking about death a lot recently. Because of covid, yes, especially in those early days and months, pre-vaccine. I didn’t need a dream interpreter to tell me what my recurring nightmare of a giant snake lying in wait in my bedroom meant.
I was scared.
During the early days of covid I went to see my parents where they live on the Northhumberland strait of Nova Scotia. Dad and I walked almost every day, and we often wound up in a tiny graveyard just down the road. “This is where your mother and I will be buried,” my dad said, on one of those walks, and waved his arm over a dry patch of grass in a far corner of Miner’s Cemetery. Twenty years ago, I would have burst into tears and cajoled him out of such a bleak conversation. But we’ve all grown up and older, and even though his mother lived to be 101, there is no doubt that time is not on his side.
I have noticed with especially the fathers I love, that the older they get, sleep is harder and crying is easier. They tell longer stories and fall off the ladders they used to almost run up, until they finally agree to stop climbing them.
They speak casually about burial plots.
Brent’s mom just turned 90. At her birthday party, her closest family sat around and spoke words of love and gratitude to her, and then she rose up like a mighty woman warrior at the end of the long table and told her grandchildren what was what. Pray. Serve. Listen. Give. Stick together. War is evil. At 90, she knows some things. Now when we make family plans, she sometimes matter of factly says: “If I’m around for that.”
Death is so stark. There are so many more years behind us than in front of many of us, and we will all lay ourselves down in one way or another, one after another.
When Brent went through his kidney transplant, just months ago, I realized once again our vulnerability and our strength, our sheer physicality, how we are soupy and bony, and how amazing that a tiny kidney can go from one to another and bring so much life with it. We are fearfully and wonderfully and physically made. And we are dying. And we are living.
The comfort I take from this passage is remembering that yes, Jesus breathed his last and someday so will we, and he knows exactly what that is like, in the very worst form I think it could take, with the betrayal and the whipping and the hanging and the nails and the thorns, and the loneliness more lonely than any other loneliness could possibly be.
But we can also know that because of the curtain that tore, and the perfect brave truth the Centurian said in those six words that whisper through history: Truly, this man was God’s son, that it was okay in the end, and it will be okay in the end, and it will be okay at my end and your end, and that the end will be the moment of our truest beginning.