“This man (Joseph from Arimathea) went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.”
-Luke 23: 52-Luke 24:1
These words from Scripture take me to a place just a few miles outside my home town, to a gorgeous plot of land outfitted with a small pond and cabin. This is where First Mennonite Church always held their Easter Sunrise Service. We’d arrive in the dark and my mom, who was often in charge of the service, would busy herself with service details. (Meanwhile I would start dreaming of cinnamon rolls and cider and whatever other goodies people were starting to bring.) Often misty or foggy mornings posed a problem for whatever Easter skit my mom had drummed up across the pond. I, on the other hand, have long thought the stories of Easter are more compelling while watching mist dance on water. The blurrier the drama the better. I suppose that’s because the matter of Jesus’ alive, then dead, then alive again body was (and still is) super blurry for me in terms of what it means. Still today, I much prefer to hear these stories at dawn under the canopy of a darkened, awakening creation versus in broad daylight or under artificial lights.
Fast forward 20 years and I found myself far away from my family and home town church at Easter. That year instead of spending Easter morning with loved ones by a pond, I was serving as a chaplain in a 600-bed hospital in downtown Chicago, standing under the canopy of artificial lights and sounds. Instead of sitting passively waiting for the Easter drama to unfold, I was now standing in the middle of real-life drama, caring for bodies born, alive, dying, and dead. Everything felt blurry as I sought to be present to family members who were facing their own blurriness, sometimes absolute darkness, that comes with grief.
The matter of morgue/funeral home preparations needed to come up eventually, but moving there often felt like its own impossible challenge. And then there was the matter of “late viewings.” This was sometimes available, within certain parameters, for family members who arrived at the hospital after a death, and after the body had been taken to the hospital morgue. I dreaded getting this late viewing page, and the nurses dreaded me coming to them, insisting that one of them come with me because I was too anxious to go alone. One night I couldn’t find anyone available to come with me, so I went to the morgue alone. It was quiet, except for what sounded like a faint, steady rhythm of some kind. Upon investigation, I realized that the nursing staff had not removed this individual’s watch, and so what I was hearing was the tick-tock of time. I had work to do and a family to invite in, but I do remember pausing to take in this mysterious moment in/of time. Tick, tock, tick, tock.
This moment of standing in the presence of a stranger’s deceased body, hearing the tick- tock of time, is one I have returned to often, perhaps as often as I return to the pond where Jesus’ movements through life, death and life again were first introduced to me. So often I feel overwhelming sadness for the endings that are part of life. Any concept of life after death still feels so blurry and non-sensical. But then I hear that tick-tock again, and as I did those years ago, I start humming the hymn to the beat of time, “My Life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations….I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn, that hails a new creation.” And so as I go about Easter preparations this year, I find myself yearning to hear the tick-tock of time and this promise embedded within it, and live as if a new creation is always right around the corner, always unfolding.