*This was drafted on Easter Sunday – not published til days later*
Of late, Jack has been asking questions about death. I think this is typical for his age – on the cusp of Six. The world is growing bigger for him these days – he sees more detail when he looks around, has more piercing questions. The mantle of innocence begins to slip. The magic of childhood is tenacious, but Six means Knowledge, in leaps and bounds. Six is the first glimmer of self consciousness while dancing, shame when undressing in public.
Anyway: Death. Jack and his father were driving along and passed by a cemetery a few months ago. Jack asked what it was, and the Professor attempted to explain in a way that was truthful, but gentle. Our eldest has a tendency to be anxious, and despite the Professor’s care in explaining what a graveyard is, the thought of being put in the ground forever was frightening to Jack. He fixated on the idea, and wanted to talk about it often, especially in the car. Dozens of conversations followed. We did our best not to scare him. We lied a little – just a little – and told him that although all of us would die one day, we would all live a very long time before that happened. Not to worry, son, you will be an old old man when you die, and live a long and happy life first. This is a lie we tell ourselves, too.
He’s been working through his thoughts about all of this for a while. At some point in the evolution of his understanding of death and life, Jack came up with the idea of reincarnation. It came to him one day, a revelation that he explained to me with great certainty. When he dies, he now confidently informs me, then he will just come back and start over as a baby. Liam will come back, too, and Craig, and we will all live together again, just like we do now. The idea has clearly comforted him, and I let him think it (who’s to say it isn’t true?) He talks with comfortable certainty of the day he dies and goes right back into Mom’s tummy. Ready to be born again.
Jesus is God made flesh, and when I reflect upon Easter, this is the thought that captivates me. I get hung up on the flesh. Jesus as zombie – even before zombies were cool, this caught my attention. He could have returned as a ghost, an angel. A burning bush, an apparition, a voice, or even a thought planted right in the heads of his grieving followers. Instead, his body, his decaying flesh, was reinvigorated. Reconstituted flesh was the chosen message. His heart pumped. The sluggish blood moved through the collapsed veins, the lungs opened and drew in air. Did his joints creak when he woke and moved? Did he wake slowly, wiggle his toes and crack his knuckles? Or did he leap from the stone fully awake and refreshed? Did the sensory stimuli from his newly invigorated body come at him in a mighty wallop? Was it cold and dark in the tomb – when his eyes opened, could he see a thing, was there any light at all? Was he happy to be back? Did he weep, like I imagine I would weep, if given a second chance in this beloved, familiar body of mine?
Some may find my irreverence blasphemous, but herein for me lies the beautiful mystery of Easter. I try to put my self in that tomb and see the practicalities of how this transformation came to be. Jesus was a human man. He died, and his body went through all of the things that a human body does when it dies. And then he lived again, and his body made alive again was to be, for generations of Christians, the message of hope. We symbolically eat it once a month at communion. The Blood of Christ, shed for you. The Body of Christ, given for you.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. He loved the world. Heaven is whatever heaven is, and no living person can say. But here in the world – this world full of fleshy humans dying each day by degrees – the hope of every Christian is bound up in the hairy, human arms of a man who died, too, and then lived. The solidness of his body in this gorgeous world makes me happy, in the same way that the birds chirping on Easter morning made me happy, in the same way that the plummy firmness of my baby’s cheeks make me happy, the blackness of my middle son’s eyes, the voluminous green ferns in terra cotta pots by the front door, the smell of the porch, newly varnished.
A friend put the following poem on facebook the other day, and how I loved it. The poet has captured my religion, in a nutshell – I have such a crush on this world, and since God sent Jesus to be a fully human part of it, I think He does, too. If we have nothing else in common, me and God – we have that. This Easter, I celebrate my shared love of the corporal with my spiritual Lord. (And I did go to church today.)
(But Palm Sunday we skipped and went to the beach.)
I Didn’t Go to Church Today
by Ogden Nash
I didn’t go to church today,
I trust the Lord to understand.
The surf was swirling blue and white,
The children swirling on the sand.
He knows, He knows how brief my stay,
How brief this spell of summer weather,
He knows when I am said and done
We’ll have plenty of time together.