|Snow Barista in Temple, Texas, Easter 2007|
Four years ago, my husband and I held our Easter worship driving north on I-35 through snow-covered bluebonnets. We had left his parents' home before church to detour to my grandfather's hospital room. He had just been diagnosed with kidney disease that would require dialysis. That visit on Easter afternoon was the last time my husband saw him and the last time I saw him strong enough to engage in dialogue. It turned out that lymphoma had caused his kidneys to fail. He passed away Tuesday, April 24.
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, the leathery feel of that brown hand in mine, the strong feel of his barrel chest against my face when I hugged him, 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).
an edited repost from the archives, shared with these lovely communities:
i feel a little bad for the cremated remains...smiles...nah i know that will be taken care of as well...this is an interesting thought though....and for me it points more toward how we are to care for ourselves in this world before we get there...ReplyDelete
they do, indeed. there is so much gnosticism in the church. yes, let's resound again and again, bodies matter. the incarnation matters.ReplyDelete
this is lovely.
Agreed about the persistence of the gnostic heresy. Thank you for the affirmation. Lovely to meet you, Suzannah. When time allows, I'll return the call at your place. Grace to you.ReplyDelete
Lots of good insights here, Christine. I'm so glad you brought this out of the archives. Yes, bodies matter.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Prasanta!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Sylvia. Grace to you in Jesus!ReplyDelete
Oh I LOVE that picture!! I've never thought before about what the cemeteries will be like that morning! WooHooo!!!! :)ReplyDelete
Our church now is across the street from a large cemetery. It seems fitting to have that reminder on Sunday mornings.ReplyDelete
I agree. Thanks for that insight. The Lord bless you!ReplyDelete
i really enjoyed this. it's consonant with what Thomas Aquinas says about us and our bodies. although, if memory serves, C S Lewis describes us somewhere as souls, Aquinas explicitly and emphatically disagrees. as he sees it, souls are something we *have*, but not something we*are*: what we are essentially is "rational animals" ("ensouled animals"), and being an animal (even a rational or ensouled animal) essentially involves having a body (though there are disembodied souls, there are no disembodied animals). so, Aquinas would say, although a part of your Nonno can exist in disembodied form (after death, and before resurrection) your Nonno--the complete individual--cannot. by Aquinas' lights, the essence of your Nonno, like the essence of Steinway, and unlike the essence of an angel, is corporeal (though not *exclusively* corporeal, since your Nonno, unlike Steinway, has a soul that can survive the death of his body). thus bodily resurrection is the only way your Nonno (the complete individual, as opposed to the immaterial part of him) can make it into the next life. quite possibly more than you needed to know about Aquinas, but you're interested in so many things that i hoped this might be one of them...
What a fascinating line of thought. You will forgive me if it takes more than one reading to appreciate fully, but I think I get the drift of the argument. I have not read any Aquinas and only know his Summa by reputation. Thank you for the intriguing introduction. Yes, it does interest. Grace to you for your every need today, my friend.ReplyDelete
I just love that Starbucks coffee cup on that snowman!!!!! I'm sure there are a LOT of people who would want to take a cup along with them to the grave. (smiling here!) Yes, the body IS important. Important enough that God tells us in His Word that He is coming to take that body Home. I personally can't wait for that great gettin' up mornin'. I've often let my thoughts go wild about maybe sitting in a graveyard when it happens ----- after all, the dead rise first, right???? So would I see it? would I know that I'm next???? What a thought!ReplyDelete
it is so very refreshing to hear someone say that the body matters. thank you for this powerful post, friend. e.ReplyDelete
Exciting prospect, isn't it? Thanks for coming by, Cora. Grace to you in Jesus today.ReplyDelete
You're welcome, dear Emily. Thank you for sharing your precious day with me.ReplyDelete
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.ReplyDelete
I love this! Such a wonderful thought!
Thank you! So nice to have you hear. Grace, love, and hope to you in the risen Christ today.ReplyDelete
This is true... I've been thinking on the issue of grieving for the person versus the body of who is gone and the spirit and hoping for a resurrected reunion sometimes... I think in grief though it helps to recognize the dead thing, see it as dead, and then move forward.ReplyDelete
yes, our bodies do matter( here and later)...what a thorough and thoughtful post...Randy Alcorn's book, HEAVEN, talks about how we will have resurrected bodies like Christ...our dog Jubi is going down the same path as your sweet Steinway...Blessings to you :)ReplyDelete
Yes, coming to terms with the death and moving on is necessary. I see your point. If your musings on grief arise from your own grief struggle, may the Lord comfort you with a real, experiential sense of His presence with and in you. That is the only real solace for our griefs. He catches your tears in His bottle until the day He wipes them all away for good. Grace to you in Jesus.ReplyDelete
Thank you, new friend. I'm so sorry about your dog Jubi. A faithful dog who loves you is such a precious gift. Their suffering is such a sharp example of the groaning of creation because of our sin as all God's creatures await the restoration of all things someday. May the Lord comfort you in that good-bye and give you deep peace in the parting. If you need an empathetic "listener," please feel free to email me at crumbsfromhistable at gmail dot com. Again, I'm so sorry. Grace to you in Jesus.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much...praying for wisdom and God's grace and mercy ...I really appreciate your kind offer...truly...thank you :)ReplyDelete
My pleasure, and I meant it. Amen to your prayer. Thank God that He really does give wisdom "generously and without criticizing" when we ask!ReplyDelete
We are spirit AND flesh, and this is so true. Sitting by my father-in-law's grave, I am comforted. Not because I think he is still in the ground, but just because, on this side of heaven, it's where I feel quietly connected to him still. Love your words. Love the way you process things and put them down for all of us. It's so good. So very good. Sending love to your beautiful heart today.ReplyDelete
Thank you, sweet friend. I'm sorry for your loss of your father-in-law; that must be very hard to have endured. You miss him because you love him; someone told me that when my grandfather died, and it comforted me to find love hidden in the hard. Thanks be to God for giving you encouragement here and comfort in your grief. Sufficient grace to you in Christ today, Bernadette.ReplyDelete
Bodies hug! Wrap our children in our arms! You explain it all so beautifully! I can't wait till that day!ReplyDelete
This? It has me crying this morning. Even after 3-1/2 years, there is still grief in the remembering of the friend lost, and so much of what you have written here is what I have learned in the aftermath of his death. Firstly, I am with your grandmother. I never expected to *want* to visit the cemetery. But after Nathan died, it was the only place I still felt connected to him. Because, yes, that separation of spirit and body? It is a loss. It is something that must be grieved. And having that place where his name is carved in stone? Somehow it reminds and reassures that his life mattered, that *he* mattered, that it is okay to grieve. And your thoughts about the 'gettin' up morning'? Oh, Friend. I had never pictured it that way and it makes my heart ache and yearn and, yes, rejoice for the hope of what's coming.ReplyDelete
Have you, by chance, ever read N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope?" I have only read the first half, but it is precisely about all these things you are saying (and the things Chris wrote about below regarding Aquinas). And oh, there is so much healing in the realization that it's okay to grieve--that death is not "nothing." Death is a wrenching apart of who we are--body and soul. And, yes, there is HOPE. We do not grieve without HOPE. But we do grieve.
Just--thank you for this. The reminder of this truth and the reassurance that I am not alone in holding to this truth. Because I lost one of my best friends for this very reason--I grieved death and she thought it selfish and dishonoring to God. And now I grieve the loss of her, too.
What a wonderful post, friend. Bodies do matter. Your thoughts here are substantive and spot on. May I be silly for a moment? (You encouraged me with that snowman picture:) Even "Frosty the Snowman" tears me up. . . because. . . yes, bodies matter! But wow, you had snow your direction on Easter 2007?!ReplyDelete
Thank you! I'm right with you on that.ReplyDelete