One afternoon during Holy Week, I sat with a woman who had decided it was time to die. She told me stories of her childhood, of her parents and her grandparents. She told me stories about her husband and their life together. It was a good life. She had no regrets. There were many things she didn’t understand, but she was done asking questions. She was done, period. This was a woman who had always done exactly what she set her mind to do. Now, she had set her mind to die. I anointed her forehead and hands with oil, scented with myrrh. We prayed together for God to give her peace.
I didn’t want to tell her that deciding it is time to die and actually doing the business of dying are two different things. From what I’ve seen, dying is hard work. I remember another woman, who lay on her deathbed for weeks. When she awoke one morning, she exclaimed, “Oh no, I’m still here!” When I asked how I could pray for her, she answered, “Just ask Jesus to bring me home.” She was ready for death, but death was not quite ready for her.
Last night, I anointed congregants’ hands with myrrh as part of Good Friday worship. Myrrh was one of the spices brought to Jesus when he was a baby. It was one of the spices brought by Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Christ’s body for burial. The beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, wrapped in the same perfume.
We enter into Holy Week waving palm branches. It doesn’t take long for the joyous shouts of “Hosanna!” to change into “Crucify him!” The hard work of Christ’s death is described in vivd detail as the week progresses. Each year, we enter into the mystery of death that becomes life, the finite becoming infinite, as we move toward Easter. But before we can fully experience the joy of resurrection, we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And it is hard work.
Original artwork by Rev. Chris Suerdierck, used with permission.