Day 17: Tenderness Mocks Death
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.--John 19:38–42
Those who cared for Jesus did so without any promise or expectation of his resurrection. For them, it was the end. This was not the playground of hope...it was the playground of tenderness.
If you have cared for a dying loved one, you know. You know things that others don't know. You have bathed them, fed them, held them; all the while knowing this is the end. You do it because you love them. You do it because it is necessary. You do it because there is dignity in every human. You do it because it is beautiful.
Tenderness is your defiance.
There is something of the Divine in the moments where death is close. This is where the glory of the Imago Dei shines brightest. There is something of the defiance of the powers of darkness in the refusal to let death tuant us during its greatest moment. It doesn't seem like defiance. It seems like anguish and defeat. But it's there..subtle but strong. Our tenderness makes a mockery of death.
It's the quiet bedside mantra of, "This is SO not how it's supposed to be," that quietly affirms the reality and resilience of eternal life. This mantra stands strong in the face of the hurricane that is Death, its wind blowing around you with a nearly overwhelming evil laughter. All the while, you quietly and tenderly take a clean towel and a little soap and water and you wash their dying body with a love that mocks Death. You pour out your hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes in the form of hospital and funeral bills because your loved one is no ordinary human (as if there ever was such a thing). Every gentle touch, every loving whisper is as if to Christ himself, whose body you tenderly wrap in spices and linen clothes.
Tenderness is prophetic defiance.
I don't like preaching in nursing homes. I don't like the way they smell. I don't like the aura of defeat that lingers through the hallways and into every room. I am not preaching to folks who find my take on theology "interesting" or thought provoking or uplifting as they seek to dynamically apply it to their lives. Some folks sleep through it while others gaze off into oblivion. For some who have no use of their hands, I push the communion bread into their eager but feeble mouths and try as best I can to not let the cup spill juice as I guide it to their lips. The only time they half way perk up is when I sing an old hymn. "Oh victory in Jesus my savior forever…" I sing as lively groans and mumbles fill the musky air.
I look around at this most unimpressive worship service held at the footsteps of death and I feel defeated. "What am I doing here? What good is all this silly religiosity?"
But I've realized that regardless of how defeated I feel while I sing, preach, and serve communion, it's not about me or the nurses who help me serve communion or even the individuals who are brought into the common room on their wheel chairs. It's what the culmination of all these individuals and all of these elements produces. It's what we do together...
Together, we ragtag and bedraggled few clumsily pull our souls up so we can be seen clearly by The Accuser and his guardians of the gates of hell as they wait eagerly for their next victim and we declare at the top of our voices, "This is my Father's world! And his Son holds the keys to death and hell!"
Exhausted, we sit back down. The shaking of our fist at Death has tired us out so we say a prayer and go our separate ways, the residents to the isolation of their rooms, the nurses to their busy jobs, I back to my lonely car.
What glorious salvation there must be when the moments before death can be so holy...when during a loved one is a defiance of deat...when a clumsy worship service can be the very thing that mocks sin and death...when we seem to be held firmly in the giant grip of our greatest enemy and we smile with a joyful smirk as we sing "Victory in Jesus"...as we sit through the telling of the good news...as we let a piece of dry bread dissolve in our mouths and then wash it down with some grape juice...as we celebrate, at least for a moment that the story did not end on Friday...that our momentary affliction is nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ...that death, as its grip seems to tighten, has no power or authority over us. It is these moments that something magnificently triumphant has just taken place and in the most unlikely of places, the place where death is its strongest.
It's here that we get to say, "Oh Death, where is your sting?"
I confess that I would rather flee the holy ground that is located near the moments where Death is close. Remind me that this is where you are and this is where your people make a mockery of sin and death. So I will let the sad things of life be sad for the time period needed to produce a wholeness in me...but let tenderness be my defiance as I long for Resurrection. Amen.