"Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. There, accordingly, because of the Preparation Day of the Jews, for the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus.
--John 19. 41-42
Is there a sadder scene than those who stand around a grave of a loved one? It is so final and absolute. Oh, the preacher has read the comforting words. She has pronounced the Benediction. Friends come forward to hug and say how sorry they are and what can they do and call them if you need to and say they are praying for you. And it helps some. They begin to move away--who wants to stay this close to death? Only the family remains and they sit there looking, looking. The flowers, some even now beginning to wilt. The plastic artificial grass that tries in vain to cover the red dirt that has been dug for the grave. Emily Dickinson expressed it as well as anyone I know when she talked about "the morning after death." It's so quiet you hardly hear the birds off in the distance. Out there on the other side of the cemetery gate life goes on. People driving, smoking, listening to the radio--thinking of what to do next. Life goes on. And there in the cemetery you don't think much about life. You think about your loss and all its means.
I love Cecile Martin's last Station of the Cross. She is close to the Scriptures when she portrays the dark tomb and the linen shroud and the women--only the women remain. So many stayed away. One Gospel said, "They all forsook him and fled." And the writer was talking about the men--the disciples. Not the women. Here they are faithful to the end.
We do disservice to the story when we move too fast to Easter and the Resurrection. The Church understood these last hard stations--the unfairness of the trial, the beatings and the pain, the betrayal of Judas and Peter--and then the march--the via dolorosa--the way of sorrows. It has wound it's way around the church's heart and has touched so many of us through the years. So we must stop here as have so many pilgrims through the years. We must stand before the locked door and try to feel what they felt.
Oh, we have known it when the lab report came back so bad. And the day the little boy died. And the friends that turned their backs on you--and the loss of a job or the dark "black dog" of depression that seemed never to leave. Or trying to revive a long-dead marriage. Or be part of systems that deny others--women, blacks, gays, the disabled, the poor--these are indeed dark places.
The last Station is part of life. It really isn't the last chapter. But we need to stay here long enough to remember our own desperations, our own griefs, our own rages against those things in our lives we cannot control. There is nothing glib about these chapters in our lives or this last dark station. They are part of the journey. Jesus' journey, The journey of the weeping women who came and stayed when everyone else had left. This Station is part of our journey, too.
It isn't the end--thank God. But standing here before this closed, dark tomb it seems like the end. Even after Easter remember what they said to the stranger on the Emmaus Road: "We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel." Can you hear the sorrow and utter disappointment? This is the last station. It could be entitled properly: We had hoped. We know this Station well.
(I want to thank the artist Cecile L. K. Martin of Seneca, South Carolina for her generosity in allowing me to share her rendeirngs of the 14 Stations of the Cross with you. She teaches at the University of Georgia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)