|Snow Barista in Temple, Texas, Easter 2007|
This year Easter coincides with the anniversary of his death and Holy Week seems more than usually haunted by words and ideas of death in my reading and listening (not intentional on my part).
Yesterday on the phone, my grandmother said that after she goes to Mass Sunday she will go to the cemetery to see him. "When we used to go visit [the graves of our neighbors], Nonno would always say, 'They're not here, you know. These are just shells.' I know he's not really there either, but I go anyway." She spoke apologetically, as though needing an excuse for her actions.
The strands of my thoughts were too entangled to respond the way I wanted to at that moment, but upon reflection this is what I wish I had said to her:
It's okay. Bodies matter. His body matters.
It is with our bodies, largely, that we sin. With our bodies and not only souls or spirits we serve God and neighbor, obey or disobey, comfort or wound. With our bodies we love. It is our bodies we are called to present as "living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1, ESV). It is my grandfather's gruff, smoky (though he never smoked) laugh that I miss, his broad, square hand patting my shoulder as I left, his form standing in old slippers in the doorway as we drove up. Even in the case of my little dog Steinway, gone almost two years now, it's his smell I miss, the feel of his fur, his specific gravity in my arms, not some amorphous essence of Steinway-ness. Bodies matter.
It was in a body, a real body, that the eternal Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, was born and lived; it was His body which suffered, bled, thirsted, accepted nails and thorny crowns; it was His body which cried out, breathed His last. His dead body laid in a new tomb rose again the third day. Mary wept in the Sunday dawn because His body was missing; she tried to cling to His risen body when He said her name. The risen Christ was no disembodied spirit being but spoke, ate, could be touched, and still bore the wounds of nails and spear. Because of His Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and bodily Ascension to the right hand of the Father, our bodies matter even more.
Because He died and conquered death in resurrection, the remains filling the cemetery my grandmother visits, the remains of all who have died in Christ in all the world, will someday rise again at the last trumpet. They will rise again, renewed, redeemed, reclothed with resurrection flesh in the likeness of the risen Christ. If I understand the Scriptures correctly on that (and always, that is an "if"), in the new heavens and earth yet to come, we will not be disembodied spirits but like Christ will have new bodies, untouched and untouchable by death, disease, and decay (see 1 Corinthians 15). Bodies matter.
The Good Friday Christians around the world observe today is only good because Christ "himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24, NIV1984, emphasis mine). Without His death and resurrection, I would still be in my sins and my own death would be without hope.
I don't know if my grandmother would understand this; for that matter, I'm not sure I do. But if the subject arises again, this is what I would tell her: "It's okay to visit the cemetery. The remains in that grave do matter. Bodies matter. They matter to God as well as to you."
Besides, what better place to look back to Jesus' resurrection and forward to ours? Cemeteries are quiet now, but they will be a sight to behold on that "great gettin' up mornin'." I don't know about you, friend, but I can hardly wait.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21, NASB, emphasis mine).