The absence of mourning?

A few years ago, one of our young mums had sad news, her sister back in her home country had died. Due to her immigration circumstances, she could not return for the funeral. So, we offered the opportunity for a memorial service here.  It hopefully eased the pain but clearly was not the same as being with her family to grieve. We repeated this provision for another church family when a father died back home.

That sense of grieving together is important for a number of the cultures that make up our church family. Afro-Caribbean funerals in particular include everyone gathering together to share memories, the service is a large affair, family and extended family gather. All go to the grave side and sing hymns before participating together in filling the grave.

Our grief is made harder when we cannot mourn as we expect to. Whether it is that we are unable to attend the funeral or sometimes because there is the lack of the body (think of those who lost loved ones in the wars or through crime and the body was never recovered).  We are meant to share our grief together. We are meant to find closure in the burial or cremation.

This truth has been brought home to us by coronavirus.  Many are having to say good bye to loved ones without the help of a funeral. A small number are permitted at the grave-side, some crematoriums are not permitting any mourners at all.

Stripped of the usual dignifying elements death is exposed as a cruel, ugly enemy.

Maybe one of the things this painful experience will do is to help us to get a further glimpse into the horrific events at Calvary.  At our Good Friday breakfast, we always finish with a final reading describing the burial of Jesus.[1] There is no final hymn, no benediction, just the burial and silence. It reminds us that we are leaving mid story. Our service doesn’t end, rather we break to return on Easter Sunday for the rest of the story.

Reading those words again, I was struck by the starkness of it all. The main group of disciples have fled, a few women get to see where the grave is. A man comes forward to take the body and it is laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.  We are struck by the way this will have affected Jesus’ friends. Our experience now gives us a sharper awareness of the experience we read about in the Gospels. At this stage, they have not yet grasped that Jesus will rise. It looks like the end for them, all hope is lost. At least we have the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection.”

The bleak scene serves to further illustrate what Jesus did for us. There is no dignified funeral because Jesus has been put to death as a criminal. He has received the curse and took on the punishment we deserve.  His friends are at a safe distance because to identify with him is to identify with a punished and defeated rebel. Jesus on the Cross dies so that this rebel may be reconciled to him.

The bleakness of our situation now as we celebrate this strange Easter takes us deeper into the seeming bleakness of Good Friday. It is there that we realise that it is its very bleakness which brings out its goodness.

[1] This year from Mark 15:42-47.

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