The graveyard is also a “crisis point” in the New Testament. Mary of Magdala shows up, discovers the body of Christ is missing and two angels—not unlike Dickens’ three interlocutors heavy with helpful exposition—give her the explanation which will be repeated to the Apostles: “…go to my brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”
The empty tomb becomes the theological pivot point for a whole new soteriology. In Matthew (28:5-8) others are encouraged to come to the tomb and see for themselves. “Come, see the place where the Lord lay, and go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead…”
I do not know why our conversation has had a synchronicity with your own life, why you should simultaneously be engaged in my Reflections Upon a Hawaiian Graveyard and the passing of your own mother five decades ago, but your thoughts are so utterly and nakedly human as to bring you to the big questions about life’s purpose and death’s function. And in your speculations you remind me of Campbell himself, at once open to genuine transcendence, a universe in which nothing is lost, nothing is wasted and who, later on, will be dismissive of any sentimental notions that he will in some way survive death. On the one hand he will say, “Myth induces a realization that behind the surface phenomenology of the world, there is a transcendent mystery source. Through this vitalizing mystical function, the universe becomes a holy picture.”
A “transcendent mystery source?” It borders on the acknowledgement of a universe in which the sacred and profane are two sides of a shared coin. Both are real. Then he turns around and says he’s actually never had a mystical experience in his life. Remember that? Kind of shocking. It was in an interview with Jeffrey Mishlove: “I’m not a mystic, in that I don’t practice any austerities, an I’ve never had a mystical experience. So I’m not a mystic. I’m a scholar and that’s all I’m doing.”
Not a hint of regret. He reacted to the Abyss more with curiosity than terror.
I remember sitting across the table from my wife and asking what I thought was a rhetorical question: How come people don’t wake up every morning and just start tearing their hair out when they realize they are going to die? And she said, “Because we’re a reproductive species.” And then she asked if I wanted more mashed potatoes. It’s that kind of marriage.
We are a reproductive species. And we are very brave and have been notable for our bravery ever since we first turned to the graveyard as a way to respond to the inevitable and frame it in terms we find palatable.
Mary of Magdala went to the tomb and walked away with a whole new church in her clutch. Your brother will return from his visit to the grave of your mother and perhaps he, too, will have something new to contemplate and perhaps even to share.