His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.
– “The Dead” by James Joyce
On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, they went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but on entering discovered that the body of the Lord Jesus was not there. As they stood there not knowing what to think, two men in brilliant clothes suddenly appeared at their side. Terrified, the women lowered their eyes. But the two men said to them, “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?”
– Luke 24:1-5
As the snow falls over Gabriel’s beloved Ireland, and over his own life as well, in the haunting final lines of Joyce’s short story “The Dead”, the reader is perhaps inevitably swept along with the imagery and the emotion to Gabriel’s own “swoon”, the sense that the boundary between life and death has become porous, but not because we have reached paradise.
As I write, we are moving swiftly towards Holy Week, and snow falls over England and Ireland, and over the United States as well, our Lenten observance tinged with a bit more of winter’s cold silence than one might prefer. We find ourselves yearning for spring, for its promise of the sun’s warming rays and of the green shoots that tell of new life rising up.
These final days of Lent come to us as a valuable gift, with their powerful and affecting invitation to walk the final days and moments with the Lord – with the fickle sunshine of Palm Sunday’s festive procession soon to give way to the stark darkness of the Passion. Can we keep these hours with Him? Haven’t we had enough of our own cold, and of our own dying?
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