It’s late. Everyone is asleep. I realize my life is in transition. Unable to sleep myself, I quietly get out of bed and cautiously leave the bedroom, hoping my wife will not be disturbed.
The house is dark but for a dim light coming from the kitchen. I make my way down the hall, walking by photographs on the wall. They are people I love. Some are no longer living. I seem to hear their voices, nothing special is said, just brief flashes of memory. Humor or embarrassment colors these thoughts, no serious moments. We bury our dead, mostly. Some of mine have been incinerated, but mostly my dead have been buried. The words I spoke at my father’s service flutter around my consciousness. They seemed profound when I wrote them, but now they feel contrived somehow. Less than they might have been. But it has been years since then. Regret passes over. My mother died more than a decade past. I stood by her bed and watched as she slowly sank into oblivion. Not the beautiful death so hoped for in generations past. It was merely the shutting down of systems one by one until breath was robbed of its reason.
On the wall is another image. A brass rubbing of St. Margaret and the Dragon. It reminds me of my own sometimes desperate dreams, the dreams I’ve soothed in others on occasion. The next room is in deeper shade. On the wall hangs a framed image from the Ladies Home Journal of 1918. It is labeled “The Christ Head.” From the classic brush of Hofmann.
A rush of thought comes. Passing the sacrament that very first time. How nervous I was! Preoccupied, I managed to bang the tray of broken bread on some obstacle, spilling nearly all of it. Red-faced, I didn’t stop to repair the damage, my sacred duty twice nullified it seemed, by distraction and clumsy accident.
Darker thoughts invade. What mortal evils await me? One hides in mist and obscurity, the one that has overtaken family and friends. I can’t foresee it, but I know it is creeping forward. Like a cloak of blackness, it will someday cover me, shield me from others who think of me with loyalty and love.
But I can see beyond that moment now. The sorrow and loss will fade from the minds of those who care. The sharp pain of separation dissipates like echoes among lonely mountain cliffs. They will forget. Others who never knew me will take their places. My name is preserved on documents hidden in library stacks or hard disc drives or lost in entropy of sight, sound, weak and strong forces, gravity. Everything about my life will disappear. My name but not its context the only thing preserved.
I walk slowly past the door leading to the basement. My thoughts pass to my sons and daughters whose shrieks of almost-fear echo up those stairs. No, not really. They are not here. What is it about a basement that seems slightly uncomfortable? Even without someone following you like a Boris Karloff monster. It is the grave, I think. We baptize below ground level in temples. Doubly symbolic, the dead do not rise, their proxy burial/resurrection is but future promise.
I walk to the living room and sit near the piano. Jesus is dead. I think I know something of the thoughts that must have rushed into the minds of family, friends, observers, believers. What happened? How could this happen? I see their depression. Yes, there were the stories, some claimed that he raised the dead. But *they* had not raised the dead. And by all accounts, they had no hope now, going to his grave to mourn, to anoint, to weep for their friend, their teacher, their guide, their loss.
A friend passed away last week. Perhaps this is the reason for my night wondering. Institute teacher, gospel enthusiast, lover of people, friend to all. His end was slow in coming but it was inexorable. Death and decay. Jesus is dead.
Many people are reconciled to nothingness on the other side of the black shroud. It is relief of a kind. Not to be fought, but welcomed or ignored and everything in between. But no matter what you believe, it is coming.
Our collective textual memory affirms that Jesus regained life. That he walked, talked and taught again. In this big bang world, these stories of Jesus, handed down through communities of believers, collated, redacted, sieved and finally frozen in texts, are incredible. How can they be taken seriously?
The Book of Mormon offers that Alma saw God in the world, but it seems clear that he saw this because of a more personal vision. It is that more personal vision that convinces, not the winding of planets about a second-rate star. Sure, it’s easy to make claims about an afterlife and a God if you’ve had personal experience with said God. That colors everything, if you’re Alma.
I’m tired finally. I glance at the painting on the wall of Mormons departing the City of Joseph. I have to get up early and my sleep quota is now decidedly shortened. But my heart whispers in answer to a lingering prayer: Jesus lives. Thank God.