07 March 2015

Talking about Death - Lenten Devotion 3

As we continue our journey through Lent, let us pause for a moment to consider what it is that we are journeying towards.  Approaching the sacred time called Holy Week, we walk the road of deepest shadows.  Each painful step we take brings us closer to the betrayal, arrest, brutality, mockery, rejection, crucifixion and death of our Beloved.  It is a difficult, intense time to be a part of the liturgical Church.

There is something powerful about this time, though.  It is not something that should be glossed over or forgotten.  We cannot jump to Easter celebration without the difficult days of Lent and Holy Week.

As Tommy shares in the video below, our churches in western society, particularly here in America, have a very difficult time approaching the conversation of death.  Just as in our surrounding culture, we often avoid the topic in our pulpits, our prayer groups and our Bible studies.

Lent opens the door to the topics that can otherwise seem rather taboo.  Betrayal, arrest, brutality, rejection by friends and family, the intentional quieting of women and children, the abuse of power and authority in our spiritual and political leaders, the pain of the dying process, feelings of abandonment and seclusion, and death -- all of this and more are found in the Scriptures concerning the time we now refer to as Holy Week.

What does Holy Week bring about in you?  How do you explore these topics with your loved ones?  How do you talk about death, grief and loss?  Does your faith community speak about such things?

As I cared for and journeyed with my father through his decline, time in hospice and death last year, I had many similar observations as the man in this video. We have much to speak about as a church and as a society regarding the dying process. After watching the movie "Departures" I decided that I wanted to wash my father's body after he died. Washing him, as I had for many months leading up to his hospice time, and feeling the heat leaving his body in the presence of my siblings and extended family was one of the most powerful, therapeutic acts I have ever participated in. It felt incredibly natural and helped me to come to grips with the reality of the death that had just occurred in our midst.

No one had told me to do this. I wasn't taught how to be in the midst of death and grief. It was certainly not something that had ever been spoken about in any of the congregations I have been a part of over the years.

The western church, in general, does not prepare us to walk this part of our journey. Despite the pathway of shadows that we call Lent, we don't often come face-to-face with death in our midst. We avoid speaking about the intensity of our pain while we are watching a loved one die. Our congregations have much to learn from Eastern and Native traditions when it comes to the preparation for dying, burial, cremation and the releasing of our loved ones remains.

I hope that in the years to come, we will be more willing to be in open dialogue about death, loss and the dying process, in our society as a whole, and especially, in our congregations. I believe this will be part of our healing, of remembering who we are. We cannot awaken to New Life if we cannot first honestly experience the pain of death and loss.

Walk the road of shadows with me, dear ones. Let us journey together along this sacred pathway called Lent.

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