Easter shopping at the grocery store today, Katherine and I filled up our cart with great stuff – strawberries, chocolate, ice cream, salmon, and even some expensive sushi that Katherine loves but we rarely buy. Eating sushi on the way home, she told me, “You know, Mom, I’m feeling pretty good about Jesus right now. . . . Because he died, we get to eat sushi.” 

 

I was tempted to launch into a minivan discourse on Jesus’ suffering and death and the sober character of Holy Saturday, but came to my senses pretty quick.  Katherine is right. We ought to be feeling pretty good about Jesus right now. Because he died and rose from the dead, we get to eat strawberries and ice cream and chocolate and maybe even some sushi.  If Katherine is getting ahead of herself this weekend, that’s understandable. She knows a party is coming.   

 

I spend most Holy Saturdays having fun with my daughters as we get ready for Easter. My only truly grief-filled Holy Week was in 2009 – a few months after my mother’s death. That Holy Saturday was given over to thinking about dead bodies – Christ’s dead body, my mother’s dead body, my grandmother’s dead body.

 

Here are reflections about Holy Saturday and dead bodies written while I was grieving.  This is an excerpt from my book on grief that is coming out with Abingdon Press later this month – When the One You Love is Gone.

Holy Saturday and Dead Bodies  

It is Holy Saturday—the still-point between the crucifixion on Friday and the resurrection on Sunday. To mark the day, I have been looking at paintings of Jesus in the tomb and ran across one that was unlike any other I had seen before: Hans Holbein’s  “Christ Entombed.” The Jesus of this painting looks so . . .  dead.  His face is grey; his mouth hangs open; his eyes are wide, in a fixed empty stare. The painting is horizontal, on a long narrow canvas.  We see Jesus as if he was enclosed in a narrow tomb, and we were viewing him from the side. His body is bruised. His wounds gape. It is a gruesome picture, repulsive frankly.

            Somehow, when I have thought of Jesus and the passion, I have tended to skip straight from the cross to the empty tomb.  It’s easier that way.  If I do think about the dead Jesus, something like Michelangelo’s Pieta comes to mind; there is an elegant beauty to his limp form, the clean white marble, his features so delicate.  That’s my kind of death. 

Holbein’s Christ is in no way beautiful, in no way clean, in no way delicate.  Here is a picture of Jesus that shows him as a corpse, a dead man, really truly dead.

            A dead Jesus is even more scandalous than a dying one. Christians should be wearing little tombs around their necks instead of crosses.  The astonishing thing isn’t just that God in Christ was dying but that God in Christ was actually dead, entombed. 

            Really, that’s a lot more shocking than the resurrection. After all, what is a little bodily resurrection for the Almighty? How hard could that be? But God dying? It’s beyond comprehension.  

            The dead, entombed Jesus with his ashen face and open wounds takes on new power for me this Holy Saturday.  Not quite ten weeks ago, in one of those private “visitation” rooms at the funeral home, I was standing with the women of my family by my mother’s corpse, her really, truly dead body.  She had asked for a simple burial—a plain wooden box, no embalming, no mortuary beauty treatments.

            There her body lay, just as it had come from the hospital, just as she had come from the hospital, on a gurney with a sheet beneath her.  She was in her skimpy hospital gown and still wore bandages.

            Because she had died of an infection, or maybe just because she was dead, we were advised by the staff of the funeral home to put on rubber gloves to care for our mother’s precious body. Our sister-in-law Susan brushed her hair, thin and grey in death as it had not been in life until the very end.  Deborah took off the stained bandages and cleaned her wounds. We tried to remove the adhesive from her skin and to fix her body as best we could, but there was a limit to how much we could do. She was so battered—the incisions, the abrasions, the bruises.  No amount of tending and care could change that heart-breaking fact. 

As we cleaned her body, I remembered all the times she had cared for our bodies. These breasts provided our first food. These lips kissed our wounds. These stiff hands, once so warm and soft, had held ours through illness and night terrors. Now she lay there, her body shrunken, her hands stiff, her lips cold. 

Earlier in the day, Katherine, with the help of her aunt, had picked out the burial clothes: underwear, a simple black skirt, a turquoise turtleneck and a jacket.  The sandals Katherine had picked out wouldn’t stay on, so I took off my knee-high black boots and gave them to Mom . . . for keeps. Our twenty year-old niece, Zoe, added make-up: a little blush, some lipstick. Mom’s friend Daudet put on simple gold earrings.  We decided she looked pretty good . . . for a dead person. 

            As we dressed our mother, I remembered a day nineteen years earlier when my sister and I had stood with our mother by the corpse of her mother, dressing her for the last time, trying to get her stiff arms into the sleeves of the dress, working to get the panty hose slipped over her not so yielding legs. We sang hymns. We cried. We laughed.  

As we prepared our mother’s body, just as we had prepared our grandmother’s those many years before, I was struck by how very dead they looked, really truly dead. In the weeks following my mother’s death, I could not get the images of her sick body and her dead body out of my mind.

            Holbein’s Christ, ashen and entombed, is so powerful for me this year because I see now that long before my mother was wounded, long before she died and lay before us, an ashen corpse on a gurney, even long before she was born, God had come in human form and taken on not only human life, but also its woundedness and death in all its ugliness and brutality.  Christ took on not just his own woundedness and death, but my mother’s as well.  He took it on not just for that time, but for our time and for all time. 

 

The Resurrected Body

At the end of this Holy Week, I have been thinking not just about the wounded and dead body, but the resurrected one, too. Christians have speculated for millennia about what the resurrected body will look like. Medieval paintings sometimes portray fields of bodies being resurrected from the grave in what was considered at the time to be an ideal form—that of vibrant young men without blemish or defect. The young men climbing out of graves are very beautiful, but it seems somehow obscene.  What about the children and the women, the old people and even the sagging middle-aged people like me?  What about the bodies of the wounded and the infirm? 

            When the resurrected Christ appeared to his followers, he bore the wounds of the crucifixion in his resurrected body (John 20:19-29). Might it be true of the saints as well? Augustine, reflecting on the bodies of martyrs, wondered what would happen to their wounds at the resurrection. The “marks of the wounds,” he wrote, “will add lustre to their appearance.” These scars will be considered not blemishes but “marks of virtue.”[1] 

            This Holy Week I wonder what will count as beautiful in eternity. The very wounds and “defects” that we consider ugly in this world may be marks of beauty in the resurrected body. Perhaps my mother’s wounded body was beautiful in a way beyond our imagining. Her resurrected body may bear the marks of the wounds she took in this life, and those wounds may be her adornment, her beauty.  Might the same be true of our grief?  The wounds of the heart borne in this life may be our adornment in the next.

 


 


[1] Augustine, Book 22:19, City of God in Basic Writings of Augustine, Volume 2 (Kessinger Publishing, 2006), 640. See also Beth Felker Jones, Marks of His Wounds: Gender Politics and Bodily Resurrection (Oxford University Press, 2007).


Easter shopping at the grocery store today, Katherine and I filled up our cart with great stuff – strawberries, chocolate, ice cream, salmon, and even some expensive sushi that Katherine loves but we rarely buy. Eating sushi on the way home, she told me, “You know, Mom, I’m feeling pretty good about Jesus right now. . . . Because he died, we get to eat sushi.” 

 

I was tempted to launch into a minivan discourse on Jesus’ suffering and death and the sober character of Holy Saturday, but came to my senses pretty quick.  Katherine is right. We ought to be feeling pretty good about Jesus right now. Because he died and rose from the dead, we get to eat strawberries and ice cream and chocolate and maybe even some sushi.  If Katherine is getting ahead of herself this weekend, that’s understandable. She knows a party is coming.   

 

I spend most Holy Saturdays having fun with my daughters as we get ready for Easter. My only truly grief-filled Holy Week was in 2009 – a few months after my mother’s death. That Holy Saturday was given over to thinking about dead bodies – Christ’s dead body, my mother’s dead body, my grandmother’s dead body. 

 

Here are reflections about Holy Saturday and dead bodies written while I was grieving.  This is an excerpt from my book on grief that is coming out with Abingdon Press later this month – When the One You Love is Gone.  

 Holy Saturday and Dead Bodies 

It is Holy Saturday—the still-point between the crucifixion on Friday and the resurrection on Sunday. To mark the day, I have been looking at paintings of Jesus in the tomb and ran across one that was unlike any other I had seen before: Hans Holbein’s  “Christ Entombed.” The Jesus of this painting looks so . . .  dead.  His face is grey; his mouth hangs open; his eyes are wide, in a fixed empty stare. The painting is horizontal, on a long narrow canvas.  We see Jesus as if he was enclosed in a narrow tomb, and we were viewing him from the side. His body is bruised. His wounds gape. It is a gruesome picture, repulsive frankly.

            Somehow, when I have thought of Jesus and the passion, I have tended to skip straight from the cross to the empty tomb.  It’s easier that way.  If I do think about the dead Jesus, something like Michelangelo’s Pieta comes to mind; there is an elegant beauty to his limp form, the clean white marble, his features so delicate.  That’s my kind of death. 

Holbein’s Christ is in no way beautiful, in no way clean, in no way delicate.  Here is a picture of Jesus that shows him as a corpse, a dead man, really truly dead.

            A dead Jesus is even more scandalous than a dying one. Christians should be wearing little tombs around their necks instead of crosses.  The astonishing thing isn’t just that God in Christ was dying but that God in Christ was actually dead, entombed. 

            Really, that’s a lot more shocking than the resurrection. After all, what is a little bodily resurrection for the Almighty? How hard could that be? But God dying? It’s beyond comprehension.  

            The dead, entombed Jesus with his ashen face and open wounds takes on new power for me this Holy Saturday.  Not quite ten weeks ago, in one of those private “visitation” rooms at the funeral home, I was standing with the women of my family by my mother’s corpse, her really, truly dead body.  She had asked for a simple burial—a plain wooden box, no embalming, no mortuary beauty treatments.

            There her body lay, just as it had come from the hospital, just as she had come from the hospital, on a gurney with a sheet beneath her.  She was in her skimpy hospital gown and still wore bandages.

            Because she had died of an infection, or maybe just because she was dead, we were advised by the staff of the funeral home to put on rubber gloves to care for our mother’s precious body. Our sister-in-law Susan brushed her hair, thin and grey in death as it had not been in life until the very end.  Deborah took off the stained bandages and cleaned her wounds. We tried to remove the adhesive from her skin and to fix her body as best we could, but there was a limit to how much we could do. She was so battered—the incisions, the abrasions, the bruises.  No amount of tending and care could change that heart-breaking fact. 

As we cleaned her body, I remembered all the times she had cared for our bodies. These breasts provided our first food. These lips kissed our wounds. These stiff hands, once so warm and soft, had held ours through illness and night terrors. Now she lay there, her body shrunken, her hands stiff, her lips cold. 

Earlier in the day, Katherine, with the help of her aunt, had picked out the burial clothes: underwear, a simple black skirt, a turquoise turtleneck and a jacket.  The sandals Katherine had picked out wouldn’t stay on, so I took off my knee-high black boots and gave them to Mom . . . for keeps. Our twenty year-old niece, Zoe, added make-up: a little blush, some lipstick. Mom’s friend Daudet put on simple gold earrings.  We decided she looked pretty good . . . for a dead person. 

            As we dressed our mother, I remembered a day nineteen years earlier when my sister and I had stood with our mother by the corpse of her mother, dressing her for the last time, trying to get her stiff arms into the sleeves of the dress, working to get the panty hose slipped over her not so yielding legs. We sang hymns. We cried. We laughed.  

As we prepared our mother’s body, just as we had prepared our grandmother’s those many years before, I was struck by how very dead they looked, really truly dead. In the weeks following my mother’s death, I could not get the images of her sick body and her dead body out of my mind.

            Holbein’s Christ, ashen and entombed, is so powerful for me this year because I see now that long before my mother was wounded, long before she died and lay before us, an ashen corpse on a gurney, even long before she was born, God had come in human form and taken on not only human life, but also its woundedness and death in all its ugliness and brutality.  Christ took on not just his own woundedness and death, but my mother’s as well.  He took it on not just for that time, but for our time and for all time. 

 

The Resurrected Body

At the end of this Holy Week, I have been thinking not just about the wounded and dead body, but the resurrected one, too. Christians have speculated for millennia about what the resurrected body will look like. Medieval paintings sometimes portray fields of bodies being resurrected from the grave in what was considered at the time to be an ideal form—that of vibrant young men without blemish or defect. The young men climbing out of graves are very beautiful, but it seems somehow obscene.  What about the children and the women, the old people and even the sagging middle-aged people like me?  What about the bodies of the wounded and the infirm? 

            When the resurrected Christ appeared to his followers, he bore the wounds of the crucifixion in his resurrected body (John 20:19-29). Might it be true of the saints as well? Augustine, reflecting on the bodies of martyrs, wondered what would happen to their wounds at the resurrection. The “marks of the wounds,” he wrote, “will add lustre to their appearance.” These scars will be considered not blemishes but “marks of virtue.”[1] 

            This Holy Week I wonder what will count as beautiful in eternity. The very wounds and “defects” that we consider ugly in this world may be marks of beauty in the resurrected body. Perhaps my mother’s wounded body was beautiful in a way beyond our imagining. Her resurrected body may bear the marks of the wounds she took in this life, and those wounds may be her adornment, her beauty.  Might the same be true of our grief?  The wounds of the heart borne in this life may be our adornment in the next.

 

 

 


[1] Augustine, Book 22:19, City of God in Basic Writings of Augustine, Volume 2 (Kessinger Publishing, 2006), 640. See also Beth Felker Jones, Marks of His Wounds: Gender Politics and Bodily Resurrection (Oxford University Press, 2007).

[The dash is in the title because the wordpress system doesn’t seem to like the word “un-clothed” (without the dash).  This line from II Corinthians gets flagged, I think, as potential ero-tica!]

This time last week, our family was crowded in a hospice room watching as my mother-in-law lay dying.  She died in the early hours of Saturday morning, and we  celebrated her life at a funeral on Tuesday.  Here is the funeral homily I preached on the strange teaching from II Corinthians that in death “what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”     For those of you who know our family and would like to read about Pat’s death, you can go to http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/patdelony  Now that we are back in Ft. Worth, I’ll be able to get back on track with my blog posting.

Funeral Homily for Patricia Reagan Delony, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Feb. 21, 2012

Last Friday I picked up our daughters early from their middle school, and we drove to Little Rock hoping to make it in time to say goodbye to their grandmother. In the evening, the family gathered around Pat’s hospice bed. 
As we kept watch, each of us – her husband Lawson, her sister, her children and her five grandchildren, went up close and talked to Pat, telling her how much we loved her.  She would open her eyes a little and lift her arm off the pillow as if to touch us.  She tried to talk but could make just one soft, little “o” sound.  We held hands in a circle around her bed and prayed. 

We sang a verse or two of old familiar hymns and then a few drinking songs that were favorites of her father. We told stories.  We laughed and cried.  A few hours later, in the middle of the night, Pat died with her daughter Diane there beside her. It was a beautiful death.

I’ve been thinking about deathbeds lately and not only Pat’s.  When my Great-Grandpa Miles was dying his last words came from our epistle reading for today.  He squeezed my Uncle Ivy’s hand and said, “Don’t worry about me son, I have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Growing up with that story, I always thought he was talking about a house, like that “mansion just over the hilltop” that we sing about in the old song.  But really in this text the “house not made with hands” is not about a house but about our immortality. Our earthly bodies become clothed in a heavenly body, a heavenly dwelling.

The text that Abbey read for us earlier is very strange.  Let’s look at it more closely.  [II Corinthians 4 and 5]

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.  [In other words, the difficulties and suffering in this life are getting us ready for something amazing, for glory, even the “eternal weight of glory.”] 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in [that is our body] is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. [The text is talking here not about a house like the ones we live in, but our heavenly body, an eternal body.] For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling. For while we are still in this tent [this earthly body] we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be un-clothed but to be further cloth-ed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  [Notice that our mortal bodies are not cast away here, but are clothed, swallowed by life, by immortality.]  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

I teach theology for a living and spend much more time than is really healthy thinking about the teachings of the church.  And there are some doozies.  What does it mean that in death our mortal bodies are “swallowed up by life” and we are clothed with a heavenly dwelling?

Over the years, when I have thought about the contrast between our suffering in the flesh in this life and our new covering, this house not made with hands, I have most often thought of Pat.

Pat lived a life of tensions.  For almost 65 years, she suffered with chronic pain and with the distress that came in its wake.  And yet she was still filled with laughter.  In her final years, she experienced growing confusion and bewilderment but still there was that recurring laughter and joy.  For years it has pleased me to think about the restoration and health that Pat would have in eternity.

For Pat pain and joy were intermingled.  As a young girl, Pat got into mischief.  I would tell you a few stories of the things that she said and did, but it would just embarrass Lawson … not that that every stopped Pat!

She was a star basketball player in high school. She loved to jitterbug and go to parties.  She was and remained an enthusiastic supporter of her ball teams – the Razorbacks and the Danville Little Johns. She was a proud yellow dog Democrat. When she could no longer drive, she agreed to give her car to her grandson Nathan … on one condition – that he vote for Democrats in the next two presidential elections.  Pat was full of life and fun and love for her family and friends.

But she also had chronic pain that began in high school and grew over time.  And as the pain increased, so did her anxiety and distress.  For Pat the joy and celebration and love always went alongside distress and pain.

In the last week of Pat’s life, she was very ill.  We soon realized that she would likely die.  I was in a melancholy mood and went around the house muttering that line from Isaiah 40: “All flesh is like the grass. The grass withers and fades away.”

Our 11 year old Katherine finally stopped me, “Mom, that may be true for you, but my flesh is not like the grass. It is not withering and fading away.”  I was tempted to say, “You just wait, sweetheart.” But then I realized that she was right.  Of course, on the one hand, our flesh is like the grass in the sense that it is short-lived. But, if this II Corinthians text is to be believed, our flesh also matters.  In this text mortality is taken up into immortality, our flesh is clothed in an eternal covering.  In this transient life of the flesh, including its suffering and distress, we are being prepared for the eternal weight of glory.

Our daughters are 11 and 13, so they’ve known their grandmother only in these last difficult years.  I have been talking with them about what their grandmother was like in earlier years and about the life that has been restored to her in death.  She has a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

A few days ago I found Anna drawing a picture of her grandmother playing basketball.  She was airborne and flying through the air with her legs tucked and her hand raised high slam-dunking the ball.  This image has stayed with me, as I think about the life Pat takes on after death, about the form that her immortal body might take.

Paintings of the physical resurrection will often reflect what was thought of at the time as the ideal body.  Some medieval paintings of the resurrection show whole fields of young, good-looking men rising from the ground.  In that era, this was considered the ideal form that, in the resurrection, would clothe the believers – male or female, young or old.  (I feel compelled to add this is sexist, of course. And almost as bad, for most of the men in the congregation, coming to life on resurrection morning and finding yourself surrounded only by other men could prove to be a great disappointment!)

What is this ideal form into which we are raised?  What might that be for Pat?

Might the ideal form be the basketball star, airborne and slam dunking the ball?  Might it be the young bride leaving the church on the arm of her new husband?  Might it be the young mother bringing her children for baptism at this very altar?  Might it be the grandmother sitting on her back porch with her grandchildren talking about everything and nothing?

What is the ideal form of beauty?  In what form might Pat’s new body appear?

St Augustine of Hippo talked about the resurrected body of the martyrs.  Perhaps the scars left from their wounds might be considered beautiful in eternity.  Perhaps their wounds were their adornment and their honor.

Maybe for Pat the ideal form would include the wounds she took in this life.  Our pain and suffering does not continue in eternity, but perhaps we still bear, as Augustine wrote, “the marks of our wounds.”

Might the ideal form for Pat include the ways that she was shaped by chronic pain, by the emotional wounds she took as she watched her teenage son suffer from cancer, and by the grief she felt at the loss of her parents and sisters?  Might the ideal form for Pat include even that frail woman in a hospice bed who could barely raise her arm from the pillow and could make only one small, soft sound?

Friday night, as Anna and I were leaving St Vincent’s hospital, I was telling her that the last time I was there was the night my grandmother died 22 years ago. I talked about Lawson and his sister Irene caring for their father at St. Vincent’s on his last night more than three decades ago. And now her father and her Aunt Diane were watching their mother die.  I talked my way through several other deaths, including my mother’s death three years ago, and then, still brooding, I said something to Anna that was perhaps not the wisest thing to say to any 13 year old:  “Well, sweetheart, that’s what it comes to. One generation after the next, we watch each other die.”

Anna looked at me for a long time and finally said, “Well, mom, that was awkward.”  Then we both started laughing and couldn’t stop.

At one level, I was right. That’s what it comes to; one generation to the next, we watch each other die.

But if this II Corinthians text is to be believed, there is more to it.  This, also, is what it comes to; one generation to the next, we take on new life.  One generation to the next, we are prepared for an eternal weight of glory.  One generation to the next, we are clothed with a heavenly dwelling, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

In the face of this truth and this hope, what can we say, we who love the Lord, but glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

My husband’s mother died a week ago, and I preached the funeral homily on Tuesday of this week.  In the homily, I reflect on the new life we take on in death. In death we are “further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (II Corinthians 5:4 NRSV)  Now that we are home, I’ll get back to regular blog posting.

Funeral Homily for Patricia Reagan Delony, Feb. 21, 2012, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock

Last Friday I picked up our daughters early from their middle school, and we drove to Little Rock hoping to make it in time to say goodbye to their grandmother. In the evening, the family gathered around Pat’s hospice bed. 
As we kept watch, each of us – her husband Lawson, her sister, her children and her five grandchildren, went up close and talked to Pat, telling her how much we loved her.  She would open her eyes a little and lift her arm off the pillow as if to touch us.  She tried to talk but could make just one soft, little “o” sound.  We held hands in a circle around her bed and prayed. 

We sang a verse or two of old familiar hymns and then a few drinking songs that were favorites of her father. We told stories.  We laughed and cried.  A few hours later, in the middle of the night, Pat died with her daughter Diane there beside her. It was a beautiful death.

I’ve been thinking about deathbeds lately and not only Pat’s.  When my Great-Grandpa Miles was dying his last words came from our epistle reading for today.  He squeezed my Uncle Ivy’s hand and said, “Don’t worry about me son, I have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Growing up with that story, I always thought he was talking about a house, like that “mansion just over the hilltop” that we sing about in the old song.  But really in this text the “house not made with hands” is not about a house but about our immortality. Our earthly bodies become clothed in a heavenly body, a heavenly dwelling.

The text that Abbey read for us earlier is very strange.  Let’s look at it more closely.  [II Corinthians 4 and 5]

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.  [In other words, the difficulties and suffering in this life are getting us ready for something amazing, for glory, even the “eternal weight of glory.”] 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in [that is our body] is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. [The text is talking here not about a house like the ones we live in, but our heavenly body, an eternal body.] For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling. For while we are still in this tent [this earthly body] we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  [Notice that our mortal bodies are not cast away here, but are clothed, swallowed by life, by immortality.]  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

I teach theology for a living and spend much more time than is really healthy thinking about the teachings of the church.  And there are some doozies.  What does it mean that in death our mortal bodies are “swallowed up by life” and we are clothed with a heavenly dwelling?

Over the years, when I have thought about the contrast between our suffering in the flesh in this life and our new covering, this house not made with hands, I have most often thought of Pat.

Pat lived a life of tensions.  For almost 65 years, she suffered with chronic pain and with the distress that came in its wake.  And yet she was still filled with laughter.  In her final years, she experienced growing confusion and bewilderment but still there was that recurring laughter and joy.  For years it has pleased me to think about the restoration and health that Pat would have in eternity.

For Pat pain and joy were intermingled.  As a young girl, Pat got into mischief.  I would tell you a few stories of the things that she said and did, but it would just embarrass Lawson … not that that every stopped Pat!

She was a star basketball player in high school. She loved to jitterbug and go to parties.  She was and remained an enthusiastic supporter of her ball teams – the Razorbacks and the Danville Little Johns. She was a proud yellow dog Democrat. When she could no longer drive, she agreed to give her car to her grandson Nathan … on one condition – that he vote for Democrats in the next two presidential elections.  Pat was full of life and fun and love for her family and friends.

But she also had chronic pain that began in high school and grew over time.  And as the pain increased, so did her anxiety and distress.  For Pat the joy and celebration and love always went alongside distress and pain.

In the last week of Pat’s life, she was very ill.  We soon realized that she would likely die.  I was in a melancholy mood and went around the house muttering that line from Isaiah 40: “All flesh is like the grass. The grass withers and fades away.”

Our 11 year old Katherine finally stopped me, “Mom, that may be true for you, but my flesh is not like the grass. It is not withering and fading away.”  I was tempted to say, “You just wait, sweetheart.” But then I realized that she was right.  Of course, on the one hand, our flesh is like the grass in the sense that it is short-lived. But, if this II Corinthians text is to be believed, our flesh also matters.  In this text mortality is taken up into immortality, our flesh is clothed in an eternal covering.  In this transient life of the flesh, including its suffering and distress, we are being prepared for the eternal weight of glory.

Our daughters are 11 and 13, so they’ve known their grandmother only in these last difficult years.  I have been talking with them about what their grandmother was like in earlier years and about the life that has been restored to her in death.  She has a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

A few days ago I found Anna drawing a picture of her grandmother playing basketball.  She was airborne and flying through the air with her legs tucked and her hand raised high slam-dunking the ball.  This image has stayed with me, as I think about the life Pat takes on after death, about the form that her immortal body might take.

Paintings of the physical resurrection will often reflect what was thought of at the time as the ideal body.  Some medieval paintings of the resurrection show whole fields of young, good-looking men rising from the ground.  In that era, this was considered the ideal form that, in the resurrection, would clothe the believers – male or female, young or old.  (I feel compelled to add this is sexist, of course. And almost as bad, for most of the men in the congregation, coming to life on resurrection morning and finding yourself surrounded only by other men could prove to be a great disappointment!)

What is this ideal form into which we are raised?  What might that be for Pat?

Might the ideal form be the basketball star, airborne and slam dunking the ball?  Might it be the young bride leaving the church on the arm of her new husband?  Might it be the young mother bringing her children for baptism at this very altar?  Might it be the grandmother sitting on her back porch with her grandchildren talking about everything and nothing?

What is the ideal form of beauty?  In what form might Pat’s new body appear?

St Augustine of Hippo talked about the resurrected body of the martyrs.  Perhaps the scars left from their wounds might be considered beautiful in eternity.  Perhaps their wounds were their adornment and their honor.

Maybe for Pat the ideal form would include the wounds she took in this life.  Our pain and suffering does not continue in eternity, but perhaps we still bear, as Augustine wrote, “the marks of our wounds.”

Might the ideal form for Pat include the ways that she was shaped by chronic pain, by the emotional wounds she took as she watched her teenage son suffer from cancer, and by the grief she felt at the loss of her parents and sisters?  Might the ideal form for Pat include even that frail woman in a hospice bed who could barely raise her arm from the pillow and could make only one small, soft sound?

Friday night, as Anna and I were leaving St Vincent’s hospital, I was telling her that the last time I was there was the night my grandmother died 22 years ago. I talked about Lawson and his sister Irene caring for their father at St. Vincent’s on his last night more than three decades ago. And now her father and her Aunt Diane were watching their mother die.  I talked my way through several other deaths, including my mother’s death three years ago, and then, still brooding, I said something to Anna that was perhaps not the wisest thing to say to any 13 year old:  “Well, sweetheart, that’s what it comes to. One generation after the next, we watch each other die.”

Anna looked at me for a long time and finally said, “Well, mom, that was awkward.”  Then we both started laughing and couldn’t stop.

At one level, I was right. That’s what it comes to; one generation to the next, we watch each other die.

But if this II Corinthians text is to be believed, there is more to it.  This, also, is what it comes to; one generation to the next, we take on new life.  One generation to the next, we are prepared for an eternal weight of glory.  One generation to the next, we are clothed with a heavenly dwelling, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

In the face of this truth and this hope, what can we say, we who love the Lord, but glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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