In the fragility of that space, I tried not to rush family and friends through the process. Yet I knew that we could not remain in that space indefinitely. A couple clouds passed behind the tall trees on that bright sunny day, a stark contrast to the grey cloud of grief that loomed over us as we sat in silence. After a few minutes, each person was given a poppy. They were invited to bring it forward and place it on the table next to a picture of Poppy's tiny feet lying next to her parents' wedding rings. This was our symbolic act of letting go of Poppy's life and entrusting her into the hands of God.
Then we took Communion together. Never before had I noticed how fitting the ancient Christian practice is after a death. It neither leaves us without hope nor rushes us past the gruesome reality of death. Paul's words, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26, emphasis mine), cultivate hope by enlisting us in protest against death until it is trampled under foot (1 Cor. 15:25–26).
Mourning rituals are rare in modern Western society. Instead, death comes to us like a passing advertisement displayed on a website: The news flashes and we pause for a moment before returning to our day as if nothing happened. Having spent all my life in evangelical communities, I have encountered few activities that engage churches in the process of facing death and remembering the dead.
But this has not always been the case. In a little book, For All the Saints?: Remembering the Christian Departed, New Testament scholar N. T. Wright describes the role Easter Lilies have played in a liturgical approach to remembering the dead. In the weeks leading up to Easter, churchgoers are invited to bring lilies into the sanctuary as a way to remember their loved ones with "grief, gratitude and Christian hope." As the lilies tangibly call to mind those who have died, the worship practice makes space for grief and hope to reside together, leading our longings to stretch out for the Resurrection. Practices like this usher the believing community into a healthy memory of the dead.
Longing for Victory
Every year on the anniversary of Isaac's death, I return to his grave. I do this as a way of observing what the Jews call Yahrzeit, an annual memorial of a loved one's death. When I arrive at the cemetery, I sit in my car for a few moments, then ask God to help me glorify him by remembering Isaac. At the foot of his grave I begin rehearsing the memories I have of Isaac and the joy he brought to the community. Invariably my memories run out too soon—he was only 17 months old. And so I kneel down to pull away the weeds that have crept over the headstone where his body lay. In this space, the grief over Isaac and the anger over his premature death cultivate in me an inexpressible ache. The longer I remain in this place surrounded by markers of death, the stronger the cry of "Maranatha: Come Lord Jesus!" grows. I pray that Christ would bring his resurrection life into the world soon.