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Contemplate the Grave

“Weep not for me, Mother,
in the grave I have life.”

So begins the poem “Crucifixion” by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966). “In the grave I have life.” “Yes, but . . .” we want to argue. We feel compelled to interject that “but.” But Christ didn’t stay in the grave; we don’t stay in the grave; there is life on the other side of the grave, not in it. This is all true. Yet maybe Akhmatova was correct in calling our attention to the grave itself.

We are people who shun the funeral service and its casket pall in favor of the memorial service complete with slideshow and shared remembrances. Not that slideshows and remembrances are inappropriate; they’re just incomplete if we don’t allow for the grave.

“In the grave I have life.” We join with Christ in his death and resurrection, but you can’t resurrect something that hasn’t first died. The grave, like a seed, holds the promise of life. We can’t have Easter Sunday without the tomb. Yet many, even those who consider themselves faithful disciples of Christ, overlook Ash Wednesday, Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. We much prefer the branch-waving children of Palm Sunday and our joy-filled Easter celebrations.

But if we haven’t experienced the darkness, we miss the brilliance of the light. Without the death—and not a peaceful death, a painful excruciating death, along with the mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish of feeling deserted—without the death, there is nothing to celebrate.

The grave, like a seed, holds the promise of life.

“Weep not for me, Mother.” Is it possible to stare the full weight of death in its face, in all its raw honesty, and not weep? How can a mother watch her son die and not weep? But in this case, Akhmatova suggests, the weeping cannot be for the one departed. Mary doesn’t weep for Jesus, but for herself. Her loss, her grief. The truth is that we’d prefer not to feel or see that grief either. But if we don’t feel that grief, we shut our hearts off from love and joy as well.

This Lenten season, don’t skip Ash Wednesday, Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. Linger there. Take the opportunity to attend a Stations of the Cross experience or create your own by reading Scripture and spending time in prayer and reflection. Take time, slow down, and contemplate the grave. Not as one without hope, for we know that our hope is birthed in that grave. Not as one without tears, for if we truly look at the grave, we are moved to tears of gratitude for the immense gift Christ gave in his death. We are moved to tears out of a sense of our own spiritual poverty, our own inability to be anywhere near as selfless as Christ. It is in the grave that we begin to find meaning.

Once we begin to fathom the mystery of the grave (and I say “begin” because it’s humanly impossible to ever fully grasp it) by all means join with our brothers and sisters around the world and celebrate Christ’s resurrection. For Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again!