By Tom Boogaart
Both of my parents died in late winter of this year, and we committed their bodies to the ground: a real committal service. No hiding the hole in the ground and no covering the dirt with green astro-turf, we blessed the hole, and we took the dirt in our hands and threw it on the coffin. Dust to dust.
After each service, I took the time to walk around and visit the graves of my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and cousin, all of them now lying together, facing east, and waiting .
Strange really, when I stop to think about it. Waiting.
It is all advent, all the time. Life is a season of waiting for death to come, and death is a season waiting for life to come.
Waiting in the face of death is hard work. Holding the dirt in my hand and throwing it on the coffins of both my father and mother made dirt all too real.
Under the influence of a materialistic culture, I am tempted to believe that dirt is all there is, to believe that the human body is just a temporary conglomeration of organic molecules eternally changing form. I begin to fear that no one is coming to reconstitute my parents let along the billions of people lying in the ground along with them. I lament with the exiles of Israel: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” (Isaiah 64:1). I know it is not polite to say this in Christian company, but we all at some deep level have faced this fear.
After my father died, my mother set a large photograph of him—in his mid-forties with his characteristic half-smile—on the table next to her lazy-boy recliner. I did not pay much attention to it. But a few weeks after she died, my brothers and I were cleaning her room and found five sheets of paper in the drawer of the table under the photograph. It was in her handwriting, verses of a poem, a love poem to my father.
For weeks, she had been looking at that photograph and trying to put her love for him into words. The sheets were full of verses in no apparent order, many stops and starts, words crossed out and replaced. I took the sheets home, did a little editing, and put the verses in order.
The poem referenced how difficult her life had been as a girl and young women. How cruelly she had been treated—something we all intuited as children but something she never talked about with us. And then there were these lines:
Your love lifted me
From a life of misery.
I had the best by any measure,
A life full of every pleasure.
In you a lost girl was found,
Filled with love to spread around.
Embodied in my father, the love of God had come to my mother. It is all advent, all the time. My mother had realized the hope of advent in her life and had little reason to doubt it in her death.
Waiting in the face of death is hard work. Yet, however hard it may be for us to grasp on a grand scale that a loving messiah is coming to resurrect the dead and restore all things, we have on a smaller scale manifestations of this truth throughout our lives. Your love lifted me from a life of misery.
Tom Boogaart teaches Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.