People have been preoccupied with death lately. There was Terri Schiavo, and the school shootings in Minnesota, and the courthouse shootings in Atlanta. Mel Gibson re-released a slightly less gory version of The Passion of the Christ, just in time for Holy Week and Good Friday.
And just when we were scheduled to celebrate Easter and new life, the death watch on the Pope began, followed by the mourning and the funeral.
John Paul II was a fine man and a good Pope. I admired him. But it's time to come out of the tomb.
At Mass last Sunday, looking up at the enormous tableaux of the crucifixion behind the altar at Ascension Church, I wondered how the crucifix became the universal symbol of Christianity. Why not the open tomb? The resurrection is the main event, but Christians seem crucifixated on the suffering and death.
That's what viewers liked so much about The Passion?#34;it made Christ's suffering and death so real. That's what people said they admired about the Pope's waning days?#34;he modeled the suffering and death of Jesus.
Maybe the cross is the symbol because it's easier to visualize and manufacture than an open tomb. But the inevitable result is that we focus more on death than conquering death.
We are in love with death, fascinated by it. Death dominates our films and TV and video games. We glorify war and our warriors. The Pope's death and funeral held millions in thrall?#34;many of whom weren't even Catholic.
We worship death, not the resurrection. If we truly believed death had been defeated, we would live differently, worship differently. We wouldn't pray to crucifixes inside buildings that resemble?#34;more than anything else?#34;a tomb.
Why isn't the open tomb, rock rolled away, the universal symbol of Christianity? Yes, one must die in order to be reborn. But it's the rebirth we should be celebrating, not death. We're missing the point. It's the open tomb, not the cross.
We live inside tombs, large and small. I just finished my major project of the year, editing Answer Book, which consumes my life for two full weeks, including weekends. And we just finished the grueling marathon of covering local elections. I feel like I've just emerged from a tomb.
I had to get past Illinois' loss in the NCAA finals. And I'm moving on after the horrid results of the November election.
And, of course, there's spring, leaving the tomb of winter.
We leave a tomb every morning when we work up the courage to get out of bed and leave our homes to face the world. We leave a tomb every time we forgive, try something new, take on a challenge that scares us (to death?). Every time we take a leap and love, overcome a bias or withhold a reflex judgment, genuinely listen to someone, allow ourselves to feel joy, overcome an inhibition, think outside the box.
Or think outside the tomb.
A friend recently reminded me of a Sidney Harris column that suggested all of human evolution has only gotten us to the mouth of the cave. We have yet to step outside. We (humanity, that is) feel secure inside the cave of our collective womb-tomb. We have our grudges, our addictions, our self-loathing, our self-defeatism, our suffering. We carry our tombs with us because we believe death is our destiny, our just dessert.
Yet, we've been told, the rock has been rolled away. The kingdom of heaven is before us, beckoning. The only thing blocking our way is the cross.
At the very least, the crucifix should have a jagged hole where the beams intersect, so we can see through to the light shining behind it. The hole represents the open tomb.
It's spring. Come on out. The weather's fine.