So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. Matt. 27: 59-61
There is a wall in the garden at my church that has dozens of new tombs. Outside in the garden, modern-day Marys visit the tombs where their loved ones rest. There is a clear demarcation between the living on one side of the wall, the dead on the other. These are tiny versions of the tomb in which Jesus was laid, each with a little door instead of stones to close them.
There is a chance that we don’t know what goes on behind those little doors, or what went on behind the great stone that enclosed Jesus’ body. The Collect for Holy Saturday says that on this day Jesus observed a Sabbath rest. While most Sabbaths begin with a convivial family meal, this one seems lonely, dark, and quiet.
When I first learned about this type of burial place, a columbarium, I was fascinated by the name. It comes from the Latin word columba, which means dove or pigeon. So this place where we lay our loved ones is a nesting place, not just a resting place. I loved imagining the remains of a loved one as one of those birds, symbols of spirit.
Recently, I was at a neighbor’s house to pick up my daughter. When no one answered the front door, I walked to the back and came upon a dovecote. A columbarium full of columbas.
It was as unlike the columbarium at my church as you could imagine. The birds were on one side, I on the other, but they were not still and silent at all. They were not isolated in niches with doors. These birds were cooing and flying, socializing and preening.
Seeing those birds, those lively spirits, allowed me to think of a columbarium – and indeed of Jesus’ tomb – in a different way. I am still like those Marys on the living side of the wall, yet behind the stone or the little doors I can now imagine there is something going on. It isn’t dead space, it isn’t dead time.
Today, we associate a columbarium with death, but it also means dovecote. It is a place where doves and pigeons, symbols of spirit, can rest. Resting is not the same as doing nothing! The birds in my neighbor’s columbarium are not still. They are constantly on the move and socializing. These birds are having continual Sabbath on their side of the wall.
This is what I like to think happens behind the closed doors of the columbarium niches and behind the stone covering Jesus’ tomb. The body rests and the soul finds its kin. While we gather and prepare on one side of the wall, they gather and commune on the other. It is what I imagine Jesus’ Sabbath after Good Friday might have been like, resting from the week that passed and resting for the resurrection to come.