In the reflections on Lent and the days that follow Easter, one of the central truths of life – or death – emerges. This truth is that we cannot hold on to those whom we love.
We are shocked when we see young lives in Goa mowed down by the scythe of Death, either through ‘self-accidents’ on the road, through another’s carelessness, or in the call of duty. This was not meant to be, we say as we join the state in collective mourning – that ritual we are so fastidious in observing.
But the message of Easter is that death is the door to a different kind of life beyond death. And for that one needs always to be prepared.
One of the most telling scenes in post-Easter readings is the one where Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb to find Jesus. She does not find his body. She finds Jesus Himself who says ‘Do not hold on to me’ (Jn. 20:17). Jesus had saved Mary Magdalene earlier from being stoned because of her ways. Here she is racked with grief to see Jesus’ suffering. Mary, shunned by society, remembers to be grateful.
But Jesus points her to a life Eternal, now that He is no longer human any more. Mary seems attached to the dead body of Jesus, that earthly reality, that ‘frail bark’(Shelley) which has fulfilled its role. How many cling to the dead body of a loved one at funerals? When my mother passed on, I shrank from the cold entity that lay before me, the skin waning to a paler hue. This was not her who had loved me and whom I had loved. I preferred to remember the gift of her life to us -- full of laughter, spreading joy. The funeral was a ritual.
‘Until Sunday Teodisia was with us,’ the priest was telling us in Konkani, in his sermon for a funeral Mass. ‘Today her life has gone. Where has it gone? Only the corpse remains. ’ This moment seems irrevocable. But it is easier to cope with if we have cared for the person when s/he was alive. Copious tears to publicize grief are suspect.
Those whom we love never leave us. In fact when their earthly life is over, they inhabit a spiritual realm and intercede for us to make possible things they could not bring about in their earthly life. Blessings follow, and life becomes more meaningful through absence.
The relationship does not break. They have been returned to the Lord and we must relate to them now on a different plane, at a deeper level. Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to Him because He knows He is going back to His Father. And Mary instinctively acknowledges this lesson by calling him ‘Rabboni’ in Hebrew– which means ‘teacher.’ We too have to go. And we have to learn to let go. The ache will subside in faith.
Pix courtesy Greg Olsen. Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa, 14 April 2013