The tomb's not empty yet

Today would have been his 64th birthday.

He was impossibly hard to shop for—like so many men are—so I probably wouldn't have gotten him anything, but I surely would have written him a heartfelt card, as I always did. And he surely would have kept it, as he always did. As these months after my dad's death pass swiftly by, my mom keeps finding more and more cards (and letters and notes and personalized wrapping paper) that I gave my dad over the years that he invariably stowed away for safe keeping, sentimentalist that he was.

But now, I have no more cards to write.

It strikes me as especially fitting that his birthday falls on Holy Saturday this year, this day of quiet, even bewildered waiting. "Something strange is happening," begins the second reading in today's Office of Readings, "there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness." Yes, today is strange indeed. I wandered in and out of a couple of churches on my walk through the city this morning, and I was yet again intrigued—shocked, bothered, almost offended—by the sight of the empty tabernacles. It just feels so wrong. Even the cathedral around the corner from me, with its grand facade and vaulted dome and ornate details from top to bottom, feels positively empty.

And there's another sight that those empty tabernacles brought to my mind: the sight of my dad in his hospital bed after he'd breathed his last.

There he was, my beloved father, gone. It just felt so wrong.

In some ways, I feel as if the rest of my life will be a sort of Holy Saturday. Of course, Jesus' death has conquered the grave. Of course, death no longer has the final word. Of course, we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. But just because we, the Church, will be celebrating Jesus' resurrection in a few short hours, doesn't mean my heart will cease to hang heavy with grief.

I've been thinking lately of that line from the first letter to the Corinthians: O, death, where is your sting? It's a glorious line, one that points so beautifully to the joy of Jesus' triumph over sin. But, St. Paul, I can tell you where the sting of death is: it's in my heart, still sorrowing and raw. It's at the empty place around our dinner table, in the missing quarter of our family pictures. It's laced through the memories of my being so wonderfully fathered by my flawed yet loving dad and the reality that there are no new memories to be made.

Oh, yes, death still stings.

So I straddle the line, as we all do today. It's the perplexing already, not yet so inherent in our paradoxical faith. Yes, I have the fiercest hope in God's unfathomable mercy. Yes, I know that death is not the end. Yes, I believe that I will meet my dad again. And I miss him. And I ache at the hole he's left in my life. And his death still stings, and likely always will, even if that sting starts to lessen over the months and years that will go by.

I'm learning to live in the tension.

I'm learning to as I give thanks for the gift that my dad's 63 years on this earth were. As I savor my memories of those last months and moments of his life. As I let my heart hang heavy with sadness and rejoice at the streams of consolation that God continues to grace me with.

As I heard the words of that second reading in today's Office proclaimed, my heart was again consoled, lifted by the tender love of another Father. We are invited to listen and hear these words coming from Jesus as He ushers eager souls into their long-awaited home: "The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity."

No, the tomb's not empty yet. But it will be.




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