Even as we eagerly await the rains, which have so far been insufficient and irregular, those curses delivered in Eden are on my mind. Even with the modern conveniences of tractors and fertilizer, we still fight with the soil to get it to yield its fruit. Without rain, thorns and thistles are the only produce that is really thriving.
But of course, thorns and thistles are but one of the sweeping changes brought about by Adam’s original sin. The proscription against reaching out our hands to the Tree of Life is this week weighing on one of our members and my good friend, Lodim Thomas. On Monday morning, we received the report that his brother had died in Tokora and so I drove him there to pick up the body from the hospital. It is given to Karimojong men to be stoic in the face of death, and so on the way we discussed the particulars of his sickness and death with little discernable distress.
At the hospital, we met his father and other attendants who helped to load the body, wrapped in a blanket, but dripping some sort of fluid, into the vehicle. The odor, even for me sitting next to the open window, was overwhelming. This sort of decay is talked about in several places in the Bible as “corruption,” which is a relatively sanitary, if not altogether positively connoted, word in modern English. Nor do American funeral practices prepare one for the experience of a dead body left in the open equatorial air of a rural African hospital for upwards of eighteen hours. Paul talks about the “fragrance from death to death”. Surely he was intimately acquainted with this reality of a world under the curse of sin.
As we unloaded the body and carried it into the village, the women of the family began to wail and throw themselves on the ground. That is the part given to the women. The men remained calm in their efforts to calm the women, but their grief spilled over in the handkerchief upon the eyes, in the restrained yet urgent violence to pry open the broken door to the dead man’s home in order to place the body inside.
Having accomplished my aim, I returned to the mission, but when we returned in the afternoon for the burial service, we were not greeted. Chairs were brought and we sat. Everyone had calmed down, and so we sat in silence for some time. These people were not in a hurry to get over their grief, to move on with life, to start the healing process. They are as dumbfounded by death as we, and they give voice—silently—to their bewilderment.
Paul says in that same passage, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” Wherever that stench of death is—wherever the Fall is felt—we who are saved ought to be there covering it over with the aroma of the knowledge of Christ. Our faith compels us to this end.