The church becomes a tomb
On the day after ‘Good Friday’, all Catholic churches lack the presence of the Sanctuary –Light, that is a reminder for the faithful that the Light-of-the-World is present under the form of bread. The Eucharistic presence is a true sign of what it means by the scriptural term “God with us”. God tents with us in our tabernacles, which is also a sign pointing to the heart of each human being, which is also a tabernacle. Whatever we do to another human being, we do unto Christ Jesus.
When I got up this morning to make coffee for the guest, as well to prepare myself for my morning meditation before vigils, the first thought that came to my mind is the darkness and emptiness of our church. After the coffee was made, I went into our Abby Church and it is always a shock to me on how dark it is. How cold it feels, the nothingness that seems to be present where the Sacramental presence of Christ Jesus is now absent. It truly brings to my mind, the horror of death, and the pain, that it leaves behind. The coldness that dwells in a human heart, which once held the warmth, and love, for a living human presence in the world,
that is now absent.
In the corner that I use for my meditation, there is a night light that is not too bright but covers a large area. We keep it on for our guest when theyenterfor our vigils service. The low illumination deepens the darkness that surrounds the tabernacle area. The silence is deep and penetrating, in the early morning hours, and as I looked into the darkness of our sanctuary, hidden from view, I find myself thinking of nothingness, coldness, emptiness and yes, my own future, as I will one day enter into that very cold, apparent oblivion. I can often fool myself that I do not fear death, but on Holy Saturday this illusion is taken away from me for a time.
As I closed my eyes, I placed myself in the tomb, with the now lifeless body of my Lord, Jesus Christ. He was overcome by his enemies, they won, his mission was over, his followers scattered in fear, and so, there was only the tomb. As I found myself within its walls, it was a cramped space, though I could not see anything, nor could I hear any sound. It was as if I was both deaf, and blind. So cold, I found myself shivering, and fearful, since I was bereft of any sense of direction. So I felt around and found the spot where Jesus lay. I touched the side of the shelf where his body was placed.
I was totally alone, there was no presence of any life, and Jesus was gone. God was absent, and I found myself just sitting in silence. All death was there, every man and woman, and yes, child, was there with Jesus, in the embrace of death, as seen from this side of the veil. Not a place of rest, but of oblivion. It feels this way when the community keeps vigil with one of our monks who has died. So yes, Jesus shows us all our deaths, our future, what we fear most, and seek to flee from. Yet, like with Jesus, this cup will not be lifted from us, we each must go through our ‘Garden of Gethsemane’ experience, where God seems far away, and deaf, to our prayers for ourselves, and our loved ones, when sick, dying, and in pain.
Why? That question often comes to mind, but I know that there are some questions that must be lived with, embraced, because we can only go deeper in, but perhaps never get the finale, simple, answers we are looking for.
At the beginning of our Good Friday Vigil service, this one part of the prayer always jumps out at me. This is the heart of the prayer, that at the bottom of it all, it is about “Love”.
I sometimes use my imagination to try to hear what Jesus would say to one of my questions. Below is a simple poem that was his (imagined) response to my query of ‘why’.
I broke the cycle of evil and death
Yes, my child, as you sit with me in my tomb,
you experience the coldness of death,
the emptiness left when life is poured out,
it was a horror for me,
it was not pretend,
for I took it all on out of love,
all the deaths of all my children throughout time, and still,
carry that within my heart,
for love never forgets, and is stronger than death.
My death seems to be the end,
yet in my sufferings, like in death,
I took on all of mankind’s anxiety, fear, and pain,
and yes the most terrible of all, each one’s death.
I was betrayed, abandoned, denied by my followers,
tortured and imprisoned for a night, by my enemies,
yet through it all, I did not hate, or seek revenge, my love swallowed up the hatred shown me,
and it was found to be nothing in the face of Infinite Compassion.
So on the cross, I broke the cycle of evil and death, I did not participate in its dance of absurdity
but only loved, and in the end,
I forgave all because I see that humans, all of them, truly do not know what they are doing,
that they do not know their left hand from their right,
hence my compassion for the endless pain they cause,
to themselves, and others, and yes to myself.
Yes, the tomb is cold, empty,
the silence leading to despair,
yet in my saying “yes” to my Fathers will,
all will be swallowed up in victory,
though for a time each must walk their path,
until the end.—Br.MD