Saturday, April 16, 2022

Passion, death and resurrection

I went to morning prayer at the parish today, followed by an all hands scramble to unload the flowers and get them out onto the altar for the decorating team coming later. As I headed out afterwards, my heart lifted at the sight of the trees in bloom, the fallen petals from the cherry tree stirring like confetti from a long past parade on the walk, the sounds of the birds. It was a beautiful morning in Bryn Mawr. The air held that spring warmth, just a hint of March’s cold damp still caught in the corners of the stone walls of the church. And just like that I was transported 35 years into the past.

I walked out of the hospital, perhaps around 8. It was a beautiful morning in Bryn Mawr. The air held that spring warmth, with just enough of March’s cold damp to remind you to be grateful that winter’s rigors were past. The birds sang, the trees were aflower, the daffodils across the way were brilliant. Who knew? I’d spent the night in an empty and dimly lit family lounge on the surgical floor and was blinded by all this light and beauty.

It was Holy Thursday, 35 years ago today. On Sunday I had thought I was prepared to wade into the Paschal mystery. Passion, death, and — without a doubt — resurrection. On Wednesday of Holy Week I would discover how woefully unprepared I was to face the Paschal mystery when it was pulled off the pages of scripture and poured out before me. Take this cup, and drink from it.

Tom was thirty. I had just turned 29. Not much older than my sons are now. We’d been married five years, finished our PhDs, moved, got jobs, bought a house, settled into a parish and a neighborhood. It was a very ordinary life, with grass to mow and walls to paint and futures to dream on. But we didn’t know about the bomb inside Tom’s chest. The ballooning artery that would eventually drive a channel into his heart, torn open as he swam laps in the college pool while I sat through the penultimate faculty meeting of the year. 

The Triduum for me would begin with a ride in a ambulance, everything left behind. I would stand by and watch as they resuscitated Tom in the ER. I would make phone calls. I would see that he was anointed with the holy oils. I would talk to him as they prepared him for surgery, though I do not think he could hear me. And I watched and prayed through the night. At 5 am, the surgeon would concede that the damage was beyond repair. At 7 am I would see him wrapped in white sheets, and make the sign of the cross on his forehead with my tears. And walk out of the hospital a few minutes later into that bruisingly beautiful spring day.

So on that Good Friday morning I picked out a casket, flanked by my shell-shocked in-laws and my distraught parents. On Holy Saturday morning I sat with the associate pastor to pick out readings and insist that Easter notwithstanding, there would be no music. No sung alleluia. No alleluia. It was too fast. Three days was not enough time for me to wrap my head around wrenching grief and recognize within it blazing resurrection. I grasp in some small way why the apostles couldn’t believe the women — it was too much of a shift in too little time. I am yet more floored by Mary Magdalene;s ability to see beyond the passion into the resurrection.

There would be a wake on Easter Sunday, a funeral on Easter Monday. Both achingly perfect spring days. Despite all the time that has passed, or perhaps because of it, I can never fail to see the passion and death swirling through the resurrection. It clouds our vision, tests our faith and stretches out our arms between heaven and earth. Like those perfect spring days, where there is still just enough winter lurking in the air to remind you of things unseen.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this profoundly beautiful and heart-breaking story.