“Jesus being laid in the tomb” is the one time everything becomes still in the Gospels. So ominously, in fact, that it has implications for each of us and the churches where we worship. God has lost His Son for the sake of love to this grave and the bewilderment we experience in serious meditation upon this fact brings everything to a precipice. Indeed, the silence of the sepulcher confronts us with a spirituality which is the scourge of a domesticated Christianity. And you thought Occupy rocked boats.
In philosophical terms, the tomb brings us to the edge of a desert experience and all the coarse, rough-and-ready comments about our lifestyle that goes with it.
But how can laying Jesus to rest send us and our ecclesial trappings into the wilderness and out of our comfort zone? The answer is found in the atmosphere invoked by Our Lord’s abrupt end and our intention to take seriously what has happened. All bets are off.
Like a rifle shot Jesus goes to Jerusalem and orchestrates a grand and symbolic entrance into the city. Of course he goes to the temple; confrontation is in the air. To be Jesus there is a certain inevitability to all this. Tension builds…his death is a terrible public spectacle.
Then, thud, he’s dead…just like the rest of us one day. Jesus is tenderly placed in a borrowed tomb—imagine laying out a dead child and closing the door. Invoking similar thoughts of a deceased loved one are helpful but such recollections—even memories of Jesus alive and well--separate us from the “now” of what is occurring.
Sitting alongside Jesus’ cold, dead corpse is troubling yet if we can do so with courage deep forces are stirred. When keeping a vigil with a body there is a feeling that the room is emptier than before. We feel troubled thinking, other than honoring the dead, “There really is nothing here.” In meditative terms that discomfort is a cue that a boundary has been approached. That restless emptiness, a panic maybe, can bring us to an open, featureless land. In this case it is brought on by thoughts of death yet it’s also an invitation from all spiritual paths to enter many sorts of deserts and places we fear. (1)
The desert is any uncharted terrain beyond the edges of structure, a world of order we cannot imagine ever ending. Yet it does. At that point where the world begins to crack, where disorientation suddenly overtakes us, there we step into wide, silent plains of a desert we had never known. We cross sands, stripped of influence and reputation, the desert caring nothing for (our) worries and self-importance. In the desert everything is lost. (2)
If we enter this uncharted territory by matching the desert’s indifference and with our own prayerful attentiveness to what’s really important a new level of clarity comes into view. Pretense, suffocating niceness, and too-cozy support of the status quo are items tossed off the caravan trail by a church now focused on lean and honest survival.
And what of our footsteps…can we allow God to direct our desert walk as He will? Can we linger in those impromptu meetings we so often avoid? If so, we find companions like ourselves, broken, fumbling in courage, on this journey of discovery who live fiercely, strive honestly and love uncompromisingly. We are bewildered by their offer of affection and loyalty with no strings attached. We know that’s so because our worth is summed up only by our person; it’s all we’ve got. “The deepest mystery of love is never realized apart from the experience of having nothing to offer in return. Only there does love reveal itself in unaccountable wonder.” (3)
(1 ,2,3) The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Belden C. Lane, Oxford Univ. Press, 1998, (Desert Father Evagrius, among others, commended this “desert habitus of contemplative prayer”), pp 11, 249, 252, 195, note,271.