When the Light Changes
I have been a priest for nearly a quarter century, and before I was a priest I was the grandson of a funeral director. I know what that call in the early watches of the morning means. More often than not, someone has passed and the call is coming in from the family that it is time to gather and to attend to the family. It is time to see to the disposition of the body of the person who has passed on to a greater life in Christ.
When I was a small child and we were visiting my grandparents, when those hours would arrive the business phone outside my grandparents' room would ring. The ring was distinctive and louder than the house phone line. It would ring, and either my grandmother or grandfather would vault out of bed and answer, always with just the right tone and always alert: "Hello, Shelly Funeral Home...how can we help you?"
|Joseph of Arimathea, by Giancinto Brandi|
A few moments would go by as they would listen to the details of the needs of the family, and then, "Yes, we will be there shortly. We are sorry for your loss."
My grandfather would pull on his pants, the hearse keys jangling in the pocket and clear his throat as he prepared for the drive off into the night. When we got older, each of us knew that we could be asked to lend a hand. I was small in those days, and when I was able my job was to greet him when he got back to the funeral home and help pull down the legs of the gurneys as the cot was lowered to the room where the body would be prepared.
He was always kind and helpful, no matter the hour of the night. He was always ready to head out into the darkness to do what needed to be done for people who were in the first throes of grief-that time when sorrow is mindless and despair is erupting. His was often the first voice to speak that set the path forward through this new grieving time, to give guidance and direction for the next steps to be taken on this shadowed journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
|One of those early mornings, around 4 AM .|
Returning from a bedside....
I have seen many early mornings in my own way as a priest to people. I have gotten the call to go to homes and hospitals. I have had the phone ring in the night. I once had to be awakened by the police to help a family in need, having forgotten to turn my cell phone back on after a night out with a family at another funeral. I give thanks for the training, the formation my family gave me to learn how to answer the phone on those late nights...to keep clothing ready by the bedside to go out into the night, and to give thanks for the moments in the night when I am awake while others sleep in order to offer prayers for those who keep watch.
As we begin the transit of the great three days of our Christian faith, we are coming to a time when we all know the impact of those dark times of grief, loss and death. The night of Maundy Thursday was spent in sleepless anxiety, fear and displacement as Jesus is taken from us. Good Friday sees his abuse at the hands of those in power, and his execution on the Cross. We witness with broken hearts his suffering and death as so many have seen loved ones through in the millennia of humans dying before and after His death. We wonder at what we are supposed to do next....with his....body.
And then, we struggle to take the next steps-both those we know how to take and those we wonder if we will have the strength to take-in the days to come.
Into those dark hours comes a man, Joseph. He is from Arimathea. He bore witness to the death, and now he moves to attend the family and friends of this man who has died. He cannot make a horrible situation better, but he can provide care and support as those around the body of Jesus wonder what can next be done.
He arranges for the disposition of the Body. He gathers help to bring it down from the Cross. He provides the coverings for the Body to give it back some of the dignity it was denied in its last moments. He gently directs it to be laid...in his own tomb, a tomb that has never been used before.
It is in those dark hours that those little gestures of kindness and care mean the most.
I saw that again and again in the witness my grandparents offered to those who knew that early morning grief. I saw it again and again as the grey light of the pre-dawn dissolved into the light and color of a new day. I know it in my service to families moving through a season of grief.
And now, you and I, we stand as guides for all those who look to the Josephs of Arimathea as they wonder who will be with them as they mourn and grieve.
We are all the ones who will do just that when the bell tolls, when the phone rings, when the opportunity presents itself to affirm that soon we will remember again that every death now is not an end....but an invitation to a new dawn. Our love and care will see them through.....