“Just keep moving” was my mantra as I climbed down the shaft in the pyramid that was designed as an entrance to a coffin. A sense of panic hit me as I traveled into the deep darkness where the air got thick and stale. I felt certain I was either going to have an asthma attack or a Winnie the Pooh moment (the inevitable moment in his hunt for honey when Pooh gets stuck in a hole).
In the small chamber with the sarcophagus, I wondered if Jesus panicked after he was resurrected.
With the adrenaline that fear produced in my descent into one of the Giza pyramids in Egypt, I’m certain I would have been strong enough to dislodge any large stone that was keeping me trapped in the stink of death.
Good Friday, the day we remember the death of Jesus, we are asked to dwell in the gloomy realness of death. It’s a day to take in the awesomeness of Jesus’ death as an act of terror, as a gift bigger than our insecurities and doubts, and as an inevitable conclusion to our days on this beautiful planet.
In the deep darkness, we remember and wait for God to come again.
On the other side of the world on Easter Island, the gigantic stone heads, called Moai, are an ancient reminder of loved ones who passed away. The massive stones remind us of the big love that must have been felt for those whose names have been forgotten. The stone heads’ eternal views of the ocean and sacred volcano are less reminiscent of a sullen death and are a massive reminder of the faithful promises of the better ever-after that Lutherans believe is found at the end of a journey that begins at the baptismal font.
In Ireland, the burial mounds that dot the endless green pastures are the closest imagining of the landscape for Psalm 23 I’ve ever seen. At Newgrange, the huge stone entrance is even narrower than the pyramids’. After entering the darkness of the altars used for cremation, when you turn back to the light, you see a second entrance above the entrance. When the solstice comes, the rising sun sends a brilliant shaft of light into the room covered with Neolithic labyrinth carvings.
This ancient wonder of astrology and mathematics proves light’s power to transform death into something else is older than all historical records. This urge to lean toward the light, a light that conquers death, does not stifle our Lenten journey. Rather, it helps us remember why a dark day of death can be called “good.”
As I write this, I’m headed to South Dakota for my grandfather Ethan’s funeral. My family will gather, mourn, eat and remember. As we remember who he was, our comfort will come in remembering who he continues to be.
This Jesus, who we remember slumped dead on a cross today, journeyed through death, past all the missed opportunities, mistakes and meandering ways in which we departed from God’s call for our life. He died big to leave deep ruts in the ground that guide our way to the light and love that comes after we depart this fragile world.
Some of the sacred places where our loved ones are remembered have stones, graves, monuments and flowers. At Grace Lutheran in San Francisco, we write the names of the saints and loved ones we remember on index cards and use clothes pins to string them in our prayer room. Today, I invite you to gather the photos, names or trinkets that remind you of those you lost. During the next three days leave them out and pray near them each day until Easter morning.
Then on Easter, as you hear the trumpets sound and remember the stone on the tomb rolled away, lean into the light.