Looking for Normal in the Shadow of Death


Shadow of DeathA week ago I wrote here that I would post each Wednesday about a book I’m reading. Here it is Wednesday, and although I tried, I can’t. You see, last Wednesday—my first non-holiday, weekday off work in…I don’t know how long—I was hit with some fairly devastating news. Life and death news. And in a cruel twist of irony, I had just journaled that morning about another life and death: my brother’s. You see, last Wednesday was the eve of the 35th anniversary of my brother’s death by the cold hand of cancer. He was three months and four days shy of his 18th birthday; I was 16. Rick died the Wednesday before Palm Sunday. Last Wednesday was the Wednesday before Palm Sunday.

Holy Week—what Christians call the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, the last week of Jesus’ life—is a time of joy and anticipation, celebrating the resurrection of the one we believe conquered death, sin, and Satan. The joy is interrupted for about thirty-six somber hours as we remember His brutal and senseless death at the hands of jealous religious leaders and a gutless Roman puppet governor, but it returns with the first rays of the sun on Easter morning as we cheerfully share the greeting, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

I don’t recall a thing about Holy Week 1980. I certainly don’t recall much joy, but I know the somber hours of mourning lingered far beyond a mere day-and-a-half as Rick’s death cast a long, dark shadow that even Jesus’ resurrection couldn’t seem to erase.

Now here I am again in the middle of Holy Week, and the shadow of another death darkens the days. Not a death-in-the-past this time, but the expectation of one that will come too soon, too young; a death I anticipate and dread, that I strive to hold off, pray against, fight against, beg God to forestall. Yet in the midst of the foreboding shadow of death, life goes on. I go to work with unknowing coworkers. My kids go to school with blissfully ignorant classmates. On the freeway, at the gas station, in the grocery store…even at church I cross paths with people who don’t see the shadow, whose own lives may be bright with the joy of new birth or darker even than my own. And each day I seek a sense of normalcy.

This week, especially, I want to know the celebration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. I want to join in on His last Passover meal with His best friends. I want to feel the weight of Peter’s denial and the long, piercing thorns of the “crown” pressed into Jesus’ scalp. I want to wake up on Easter morning and wholeheartedly proclaim, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” Instead, I am voicing the same accusation both Martha and Mary leveled at Jesus when Lazarus died: “Lord, if you had only been here….”

And Jesus wept. And I weep. And our tears flow together. And maybe that, for now, is the most normal thing about the shadow of death: Jesus is present with me, weeping with me.

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