The last time I went home was in early spring. It had become increasingly obvious that it wasn't feasible for us to keep the property any longer. After all, there was nothing on it anymore.
My husband and I drove down the familiar dirt road in silence until we came to the mailbox I had passed a million times throughout my life. But that's where the familiarity ended. When we turned in the driveway, I was met with… nothing. That place where the log house my dad built stood nestled in pines like a postcard was now empty. It looked like a hockey player's mouth where the front teeth had been knocked out.
I slowly got out of the car and walked over to where the front door had been. I stood there, in that gaping black hole surrounded by emptiness and burnt trees.
I remember falling to the ground and crying, running my hands through the dirt hoping to find anything that was left – anything I could recognize as having been from home. At that moment, I would have preferred the twisted, deformed debris to the suffocating sense of emptiness.
Only a few months before, there was a log cabin and a man in red flannel chopping wood out by the porch; just weeks before, there was rubble and a body marred beyond recognition.
Now, there was nothing.
All the remnants of our life, of dad, had been removed by an excavator. And I felt like my heart had been dug out and disposed of along with it.
In my soul, I felt that I was robbed of the chance to say goodbye. There was no warning on the day the house went up in flames, no last words or "I love you". There wasn't even a body to see – he was just gone. I didn't get to take anything that reminded me of him, or my wedding dress hung in the closet, or any of the countless treasures from home. And now even the remains of the house were wiped away.
As I sat there and wept in the most profound sense of absence I'd ever known, I couldn't help but think of Mary at the tomb of Jesus.
Just days before she had sat with him, talked with him; then she was robbed of the chance to say goodbye. There was no warning on the day he was arrested and taken to trial. No way she could have known he would be beaten to the point that "his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness" (Isaiah 52:14). That he would be murdered.
And then when she went to the tomb to anoint what little was left of his body with oil, there wasn't even a body to see – he was just gone.
"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don't know where they have moved him!' … Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying."— John 20: 1-2,11
Mary knew what it was to lose the one she loved most in a sudden and brutal way. She knew what it was to sit in a gaping black hole of emptiness and sift through the dirt for anything that might remain. And I'm willing to bet, that at that moment she would have preferred the twisted, deformed debris of Jesus' body in the tomb to the suffocating sense of emptiness, the profound absence of her Lord.
"But as she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, 'Woman, why are you crying?' 'They have taken my Lord away', she said, 'and I don't know where they have put him'"— John 20: 11b-13
As I slowly stood up and began my final walk around the perimeter of the property, I bent over and found something surprising: where at first I assumed there were only dead trees and plants – shriveled from the heat and smoke of the fire - there was a low lying, thick blanket of forget-me-not flowers.
These delicate blooms in white and blue were seated where my dad's body had been. They seemed to say to me, "Woman, why are you crying?"
I thought again of Mary, weeping over the emptiness; surprised by these messengers in white, promising something so much better than the ugly remains of death.
"The [angels] said to them, 'why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!"— Luke 24:5-6
And in that moment, looking at those impossible forget-me-nots in the ash, I knew I was being given a promise of something so much better than the remains of a burnt up house. I was being promised eternity. As if God sent down these little flowers to say, "Forget me not child. Forget not the empty tomb. Forget not my risen son. Forget not my promise of everlasting life. Stop looking for the living among the dead."
We live our lives on earth as if in a perpetual Good Friday, a series of robbed lives and emptiness. But are we not Easter people? Are we not the ones who know the empty tomb is not an absence of life but the very promise of it?
"For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not parish, but have everlasting life."— John 3: 16
Easter always makes me miss my dad – the sermon's he preached each Easter Sunday, the liver and onion he ordered once a year on this day, the way he laughed and greeted every person who walked in our church doors. I still feel like I was robbed of the chance to say goodbye. But I also know that it would have been a temporary sentiment because I am certain that, like our Lord, his proverbial tomb is empty. And someday, I will have the chance to hug my dad on the shores of eternity.
"I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. "— Philippians 3: 10-11