Holy Week ended with glory, sadness, a strange new sense of what Easter might mean. There were some small, quite unimportant pieces: Very unexpectedly, I found myself both in awe at the grandeur of the celebrations at Ascension and so missing Holy Week in the small community I served in Fort Lauderdale. On Saturday morning I drove into town on my favorite country road, probably driving a little too fast, with windows and sunroof open, sun and breezes playing tag in my car, Classical Gas playing full blast. I was thankful to be fiercely missing folks I love and fiercely loving the ones I am with.
At another point that same day, Sherod and I looked at each other in some bemusement: yesterday, Sunday of the Resurrection, he’d be celebrant at an Easter Service in St. Paul’s in Carlowville, and then join Bishop Sloan and the good people of St.Paul’s, Lowndesboro, for an Easter lunch. I’d leave the house by 7 a.m., be home for a short time after church in Montgomery, then go make a pastoral visit in Elmore and stop in at a gathering in Prattville. We would not get to be with each other until the very late afternoon. I can’t remember the last time we got to spend Easter together. In our almost 28 years of marriage, only once, in 1996, did both of us have Christmas Eve off. I can’t remember the last time we were actually in the same place of worship on either of the two “high holy days” of the Christian Church. There’s a peculiar grief that goes with that realization.
But it was yesterday afternoon when it all got really topsy-turvy in me. I went to visit someone who first suffered a devastating loss. Then she suffered a devastating stroke. And now, in the day of medical care tied to results and profit, she has been placed in a kind of limbo because her progress with OT and PT was not adequate to the standards established by ‘the system’; it is cheaper to condemn her to lie alone in a small facility, far out in the country. She is clean and comfortable, fed and given the basic medical care she needs, but this is not a place resourced to provide her the kind of therapeutic interventions that allow her brain, with all its miraculous plasticity and resilience, to do the kind of rewiring and resetting that would return some quality to her life. This is only a step above warehousing. Her family is fighting hard to get her more rehabilitation services, but quite simply, as a person who does not have many means, she does not count for very much and I wonder, if she does not get that additional care, how many years stretch ahead for her, trapped in a body that is both dead and alive.
I drove away from my visit with her, headed towards a lovely, gracious gathering of wonderful people, thinking sometimes there are worse things than dying. When I hear the ardent protectiveness of so many who are pro-life at a time when our country allows the kind of misery I witnessed yesterday, when it is OK in Arkansas to plan on executing 8 men in a row, at the same time that contraceptive care for women is fiercely opposed and undermined, it seems like the cross might be life and resurrection might be death, at least as we define the Christian life and faith in our time and place. These are not very cheerful thoughts on the second of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. I especially struggle with a sense of my own smallness relative to the enormous complexity of these days and times.
It occurs to me that “practicing resurrection”, as Andrew preached yesterday at Ascension, is precisely about finding my way into tombs like the one my friend lies in these days. For me, the work is straight-forward. I will be tempted to allow busy-ness to shield me from the distress of her failed efforts to communicate, the desperation I saw in her eyes yesterday. The cure is visits as regularly as I can manage. If all I can do is find a good story about cats—a particular love of this person—and stop in to read to her regularly, and then simply sit in silence, at least that I can do. Otherwise, the joy of Easter is nothing but but a white-washed cross and a denial of the stench of death.