Would I Have Told You

Would I Have Told You April 4, 2021

I’m over at Stand Firm today.

[Basically what I said at the Vigil last night] “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week”—records Matthew, in the gospel for the first service of Easter. I get stuck on the word “now,” or have all this year. Having, a month or two ago, to have written about that expression—You Only Live Once, hashtag YOLO–only increased the trouble. Besides there being a lot of different ways to sell stuff with that idea—You Only Live Once—the expression is meant to impress upon you the shortness of the hour. Quick, make a decision NOW, because you only live once! Are you going to eat that donut? Or go on a diet? Or save your money? Or travel the world? Or stay home? What are you going to do? Decide NOW, because this could be the last moment you have.

The trouble, of course, is that it might not be your last moment. You might not die sitting there in the pew. You might go home and eat your Easter dinner. You might have years and years ahead of you. You do only have one life, but it might go on for a while. Imagine, for a moment, being one of the people watching Noah build his ark for hundreds of years. Back then, YOLO was not really a pressing consideration because people—like Noah—lived for what felt like forever, whole centuries, though of course, it wasn’t, eventually death did come to everyone.

Noah finally finishes his boat, which, you might remember, is built in a place where water was not abundant. He builds it on dry land. And then he fills it with stuff—food for all the animals who haven’t yet arrived—and the stuff he’ll need to be able to cope with being shut in with his family for all those days. It seems, looking back even from now, even knowing how it all turns out, to be a strange thing to do. There could have been no “common” sense to his activities. He would have appeared to be mad. Nevertheless, he carries on, hammering pieces of wood together, filling up all the rooms inside with provisions.

Now then, said the Lord to Noah, “go into the ark.” So Noah and his family and the animals, in the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, went into the ark and on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens opened.

It rained and rained and rained, and all of the people who had not really contemplated death in any meaningful sense all died. It turned out, on a corporate and grand scale, that you and I do “only live once.” We live and then we die. Though, in a curious foreshadowing, Noah and his family did not die. They lived in the ark for not just forty days, as so many children’s songs and storybooks imply, but for about a year—maybe a little more. It would be like—and just imagine with me because I know you don’t know what this is like—someone saying to you, something bad is sweeping across the earth so go inside and stay away from everyone and in fifteen days, or maybe a few months, well, really more like a year, you can come out and everything will be ok.

I read online yesterday that someone likened being in quarantine to being in a tomb—in a grave. You’re stuck. You can’t go out. You’re basically “safe” inside, but not in any life-giving sense. Everything is beyond your control. You are at the mercy of everything, including your own flood of frustration and despair.

The ark, though the people who died on the outside of it, and the people who were spared on the inside of it would not have appreciated the theological glory of the image, paints a marvelous and exhausting picture of the fact that it is not true that You Only Live Once. Noah went into the ark-like-tomb willingly. Against all sense, against all reasonableness, when the Lord told him, he went in and the Lord shut the door. And all the people to whom he had proclaimed the good, but so impossible that they did not believe it, news that if they would like to come in with him, they could, because a great flood—and who even knows what that is—was coming and they would all die, they all said no, and they did all die.

Now, after our own strange and tumultuous year, after evenfall which signals the first day of the week, sitting here together in this now brightly lit room, soaking in the redemption of the world wrought by God from that first destructive flood, through the deliverance of our ancestors by the Red Sea, past the prophets and psalmists who recorded God’s faithful love for his people. It is dark outside, and darkness, as you know, does go along with death.

Death—I’m not going to recount the number of times this last year I felt stricken by death. Not my own, though, in witnessing the death of others, both strangers and friends, it felt like dozens of small deaths. Each one felt like a slow and painful letting go of the very idea that life can ever be really ok. Though I am living, others are dying all around me. YOLO is a stupid slogan. The choices before us are all terrible. Whether we live or whether we die, what does it matter if we will never be able to have a “normal” life, or have any of the people back who have perished.

The women hurried along to the grave of their friend who, though he had said, “I will die,” they did not think would really die. The trouble…read the rest here!

Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

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