Remember when you use to go to the airport? You had a ticket in your hand or a boarding pass on your phone, but first you had to pass through security. (Now with the virus, we have all left security) Then you went out to the boarding gate and waited. That space with the uncomfortable chairs, crying babies, and lack of a plug to charge your phone, is what is known as a “liminal space.” It is beyond the limits of one place and not yet to another. Liminal spaces form mental thresholds. They are neither here nor there. So too, the tomb where Jesus was buried.
Imagine the disciples of Jesus. My favorite Caravaggio painting illustrates this. It shows five people carrying the Lord’s body. When I do workshops on transition, I often ask people to choose a disciple they identify with. Carry with that disciple the body of Jesus to the tomb. This week, we are aware of those who grieve and yet can’t bury their loved ones. Those who succumb to Covid-19 are being placed in make-shift morgues. This is liminal space. Jesus knows it. He descended into Hell.
The disciples should have been prepared for this. Jesus began their transition weeks before this. As they left peaceful Galilee, Jesus warned them that their relationship with him was about to change. He was going to Jerusalem to die. They would go on alone into the wilderness of a post-trauma world. Each of us grieves differently. We, not long after Ash Wednesday, began our own transition into the wilderness of the coronavirus.
The wilderness of grief is an essential step in any transition. Its purpose is to enable to let go of what we must leave behind. Grief powers our acceptance of loss. We will hold on to what used to be, if grief doesn’t pry it from our fingers. Grief works through its own five stages in order bring us to acceptance. Something deep in the nature of love and human beings requires us to travel this god-forsaken path. We aren’t abandoned by God. But, like the disciples above, we feel cut off in our sorrow. We only reach the plateau of acceptance by letting go, grieving, and putting one foot in front of the other.
Like the disciples, we will in time leave the liminal space. Peter and John ran back to the tomb on Easter morning to discover it empty. Because they had grieved and accepted their loss, they were prepared to see the empty tomb as a sign of hope. Mary Magdalene also come to the tomb. For a while, she wept near this liminal space. Then Jesus spoke her name. So may Jesus come to us in this most sacred and mysterious of Eastertimes.
Bill Kemp is developing a new website for our current time of transition. See: www.morethantheflu.com