Chapter 27 – Forlorn Funerals and Fishermen Fables

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Note: The recording starts at the second story “Fishermen Fables.”

Forlorn funerals

Life is a winding road filled with dips and dives, bumps and turns. On the highest points we bask in the picturesque glory of a wooded hillside stretching toward the horizon. When night closes in on us and the wind whistles in the valley, it is not the joyous call of a sparrow but the scratching of ghoulish wooden limbs cackling. In those hilltop moments we forget trees, seeing only forest; when the trees are dense and closing in, we can’t see the Creator’s glory.

There are moments when the darkness overwhelms us. Perhaps the car runs out of gas, or our eye lids droop with the weight of the day’s events. It has been raining all night and the morning dew is a reminder of the tears which soaked our pillow. Maybe the loss of a loved one causes us to scratch their names in the dust. Perhaps a bad diagnosis is a boulder in our otherwise clear lane. Maybe it’s just the little things, one rock at a time scattering our path until we can’t take a step without falling.

In the morning we rise, trying desperately to pick up the pieces of where we have been. A shipwrecked passenger after the storm. A car crash victim barely escaping with our life. An apocalypse survivor drudging through the wasteland of our new life after the destruction, darkness, and death.

This scene is not unfamiliar to the followers of Christ in the wake of his death. It is dark, but not just because of those storm clouds that hung over the limp form of their saviour. No, this is a deeper darkness: darkness of the soul. The morning dew doesn’t feel like a new day, just a continuation of the last, reminder of the past. As Mary walks through the garden, she doesn’t notice the flowers, fails to hear the birds. She doesn’t feel the warmth of the rising sun, only the cold death of her saviour and friend.

Suddenly the earth begins to shake. Those clouds overhead rumble and the sky splits open with blinding light. Mary, sorrow turning to fear, rushes for the tomb. It is as if the lightning gathered together atop the stone outside Jesus’ resting place. The glory of God radiates so brightly from the now open tomb that the guards fall over as if dead. The angelic presence of a lightning storm shakes Mary from her pain and declares, “today is a new day! The alive lay on the ground as if dead, and the dead have risen! Jesus, the Son of God, is alive!”

How should we react when a lightning storm speaks, invading the quiet depression of the dark road before us? What if that immovable boulder that sealed our way was cracked open by a great spectacle of God. What if, in the midst of the death all around, Life showed up. Oh, how it would shake the scene, cause the proud trees to be laid low and raise up the hearts of those down in the dust. Imagine: life coming out of death. This truly is a new day.

Fisherman fables

We don’t know how long the hill is until we start to climb. The journey is long; our legs are tired; our hearts are worn out. The climb is the hardest part, but it must be done to get out of the valley of the shadow of death. No, not just the death of a friend, but a leader. That man who hung on the cross was a hero to all who knew him, and we know what it feels like to cheer for the losing side.

You catch up to me, another weary traveller on this lonely road. You spot the heavy falls of my feet and the words I share with my travelling friend. To make good conversation, I suppose, you ask what we are talking about.

Beneath that hood I cannot tell if you are joking or truly unaware. How could you not know! Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God is dead. The words are almost out of my mouth, but then I stop. No. I shake my head. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” I declare, feeling ashamed. I want to speak of my teacher, my friend, my Saviour… but cannot get the words past my cracked and bleeding lips. “He was a prophet,” I say, defeated by the truth. Just a prophet. “We had hoped…” I cannot finish. What use is hope in the past tense?

My brother picks up the tune, trying to stay strong for the both of us, “We thought he was the Messiah. We had hoped we would bring Israel back into right standing with God and men, save us from the Romans.”

I shake my head again, gaining courage. “The man is dead.” The man. Not the Son of God. Just a prophet. A man. A failed revolutionary.

Laughter strikes my heart like a bell. Who is this stranger to laugh at my pain! I search for menacing eyes beneath that hood but find only a smile. “Don’t you know he had to die? Didn’t he tell you, and before him all the prophets spoke of it? Even Moses, the Father of Law, said his piece.”

I was too stunned to speak. All I could do was walk and wonder, plod and ponder. The stranger went on to show us what he meant. He was more knowledgeable than I expected, and even bolder than Peter—my brother who ran before he knew how to walk.

As the stranger talked, the road stretched on for lifetimes. The hill peaked somewhere in the heavens, an infinitesimal point between the shimmering stars now emerging from the darkness beyond. God, are you there? My heart ached, too filled with shame and sorrow for philosophy. The stranger’s words bounced off me, background noise to my heartache. Soon it would be night—one more day finished with the colour of death. I could go on, and the stranger would go on… and on… and on too excited about… what? How could he be so alive on this road of ruin?

“Come, friend,” I said, not truly feeling what I was doing. “Stay with us for a meal before you go on. Who knows what lies ahead of us all?”

The stranger replied with a quirk of his lips and twinkle in his eye that seemed to say he did.

As my brother stoked a fire to life, I prepared the bread for the evening meal. It wasn’t much, but empty hearts find twins in appetite. The stranger pulled back his hood kneeling before the fire. There was something different in his eyes, something… greater. He had life. Not just joy and happiness, but as if the spirit of the universe was crammed inside his head. I had only seen such mystery and wonder once before, when looking into the face of the Son of God… but God was dead now.

The stranger asked if he could bless the meal. Usually we got Peter to do this, but not even he was feeling up to the task, and me… I wondered if such prayers were only offered to the wind and carried off to die.

I handed over the bread.

The stranger took the offering, held it above his head, and broke it.

Images came swirling back to me, ghosts of a man who once walked among us, broke bread at our meals, taught us with a boldness greater than Peter—pictures of God who walked with us. Could it be?

“Dear Lord!” my brother cried, eyes bright. I was quick to query and slow to speak, still pondering if this was truly him… if it was possible. What would that mean? Peter didn’t question or care. He raised his arms and shouted, “Jesus! You are here! Praise be!”

As if his words scared the poor man away, the figure of the Son of God disappeared into the smoke. He was here. I thought. God was with us. I looked up at the stars, such small specks of light surrounded by darkness… but they never go out. The Light never leaves. Even during the day the stars shine in the heavens above, but at night—in the dark—I can truly see God.

~~~

“A ghost.” The laughter scraped hope from my heart. “How much wine did you have with that meal?” Laughter again. I called these men brothers—the Eleven—but they didn’t feel like brothers now.

“Look,” John said, “I miss him too. We all do.” He spoke with his hands, silencing the laughter. “Stories might help you deal with the pain, brother, but it’s best you keep them to yourself.”

Nods and grunts agree.

“Keep working on it. We may need your stories in the age to come, lest we forget him.”
I stay silent, wishing to leave. The darkness creeps in again, and the low light of early morning seems to hang like a mere wish of the day, a ghost to scare away the night for but a time. Perhaps… “Brother, you saw him too.” I turn to Peter, wondering at his silence.

“I see ghosts.” He sounds unnatural. This is not the declaration of a bold brother, but the near silent babbling of a fool. “I hear the rooster every morning. One. Two. Three. The whip cracks. I see the Lord.” His eyes grow wide and distant.

We have all heard the night babbling. This man who was once so eloquent, so bold, so full of passion now smoldered like an empty hearth. We all faced our ghosts, all left you that day, all ran. Was there something in the stars that night? I felt your presence. You talked with us on the road… but as quickly as you came you were no more. The smoke took you like the spectre you were. A trick of the firelight. Hope sparked by my wild imagination. That is all.

Silence. Memories filled our heads, each one pulling our favourite moments with you from the closet of the past, trying to wash away the stain that your blood left on our minds. My heart waged war with my mind, questioning all that I once believed in this present darkness.

“Peace be with you.” At first I thought it was one of the Eleven sharing the common phrase of our Lord, common greeting of us all. Perhaps it was some vain attempt to bring us out of our corporate sorrow. Looking up, I saw otherwise.

There you were, in our midst, the one which we pondered. Eleven crying hearts poured out their wishes to the cosmos and she answered. We entered into another world, one of dreams, of hopes, of ghosts. But, the spectral presence brought no hope or peace, only fear. Fear that the spirits had such control to steer us all into a state of insanity. Such is the way when we are left without direction, drowning in this sea of mixed emotion without our Lord to calm the storm.

“Why do you doubt? Do memories have bodies? Do ghosts have wounds? Look at my hands and my feet.” You spoke right to me, eyes fixed on mine—eyes filled with a swirling mass of spiritual energy so great I had to look away. I saw your hands, your feet, your side: the wounds. It was uncanny.

“What devilry is this!” One of the Eleven cried while the rest of us waited in rapture to see the nature of the trick revealed. Soon the curtain would be drawn back to reveal the secret… but no. The curtain had already been torn in two.

“I am more than a haunting memory. I am with you in a greater measure of life than I even was before when I walked among you.” With this declaration, you look a portion of the meal that we were eating and ate it. Your hand, so close to me I could almost touch you… but no. Would I be sucked into this dream-state forever if I did? God only knows… God… with us.

Before any of us could say anything you were gone again, but something was left behind. Something greater than your ghost. Something grander than a spectral spirit. My eyes were fixed on the spot where the fish once was, that morsel of life that you ate. Substance met substance, not spirit.

“Surely God is with us.”

~~~

The thing about memories is they often fail us. The fresh falls and doubts arise. Was it you with us that day? When I looked up at the stars did I see you? How could you still be here with such pain all around? How could you leave us in the dark?

Such are the questions of the inquisitive mind. Fish don’t know any different. They swim one way then the next, directed by the spirit of the waves, the lord of storms—that great god of the deep. He directs them from our nets, warns them of the dangers. Such a god seems to care more for those in his care than the great El Shaddai. We put our trust in him yet remain in suffering. I put my hope in his son, a son who he couldn’t even keep from the grave. What more is there for us than to return to the fish, go back to who we were before Jesus came: friendless and fruitless. Empty nets in the vast oceans of life.

The clouds parted, a new day dawning on the distant horizon: so distant that it seemed an age away. There are no new days for simple fisherman, no new ways for tax collectors, no hope for a brotherhood slowly drifting apart—the one who once held us together drowned beneath the waves of life which he once calmed.

“This is not the way.” A voice whispers.

Here come the ghosts again. But in the silence of the pre-dawn day, I am forced to listen.
“I didn’t come to expel the darkness but to be the stars lighting up sky. I didn’t come to calm every storm but to be in the boat with you. (Perhaps you’ll even find me sleeping). I didn’t come to answer all the questions but pose new ones, ones that don’t necessarily have answers. I didn’t come to sing you songs of hope but to be your ever-song. I didn’t come to bring you freedom from your pain but to be your freedom amidst the pain. I didn’t come to live once and die, but to die once and live.

“Can’t you see me? Don’t you feel me? I am in the rising sun, casting new life and light into the darkness. I am in the wind whispering between the gossiping gain stalks. I am with you. You cannot see me because I am everywhere. You cannot hear me because I speak to all of Creation at once. You cannot know me fully because I am partially known by all. I am the breath in your lungs, the beat of your heart, the life in your limbs. I am the wingspan of an eagle and wriggle of the worm. I am the colour of spring in the flowers and the touch of autumn cushioning leaves as they fall. I am with you always, even until the ends of the age.”

“Friends, haven’t you caught anything?” A voice cries out from the shore. Probably a hungry beggar, but you sound different.

“No,” My brothers answer, not hearing that it is you.

“Perhaps if you had been looking for me, you would have found me. The fish do not rest on the side of labour, the side of the boat which you have weighed down. Instead, they find the spaces you have not already filled. If only you would cast the nets on the other side, then you would catch what you are looking for.”

And we did. The fish flooded those nets so much that we could not drag them in to shore. It didn’t help matters that Peter jumped into the water and swam. He was so desperate to be with you that he forgot what he was doing. He wanted to be right beside you without realizing that you were already right beside him.

There is so much more I could write, but the light is failing now. Soon the moon will rise to reflect the ghosts of yesterday onto the pages of my life. Even so, I look forward to the rising him. However, in the space between I finish this tale. More ghosts could be captured here. More memories. There were more sightings of you from one horizon to the next than even all the books in the world could not hold them.

I still see you. Everyday. In everything. When the nights are dark, and my eyes are failing, sometimes I have to squint to see the stars… but you are there. When the new day rises your light is too great too contain. You are truly alive today and forever, and your life is the light of all.

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