The angel on the tombstone.

I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone.

Jen Hatmaker

This last Sunday morning I had “coffee bar duty,” at my church – which basically means brewing 4 1/2 gallons of coffee and 3 gallons of hot water so that folks can grab coffee or tea or hot chocolate in between morning services. It always means showing up early to get the serving table set up and the coffee made and transferred to large cambros so it will stay hot and fresh.

This last Sunday I shared prep space with an elderly gentleman who was setting up for his Sunday School class, which meets in a large room just off the big kitchen we were in. I think was dumping out grounds from gallon #2 when I noticed he was unfolding a paper tablecloth to drape across the counter they serve their own coffee and donuts off of. It was white, and covered with silver and pink and red hearts. I smiled and said, “Your cloth there is quite festive.” He grinned, shook his head and said, “Well. My wife said we had to do Valentine’s Day today. So here I am, doing Valentine’s Day.” I laughed, and so did he, and then we both went about our tasks.

It struck me that I’d been privy to in the exchange was a man honoring both his wife and his faith community with deep care and real commitment. I rolled my eyes inwardly at how much I’d loathed getting up that morning, and here was this man, bent with age and moving at less than half the speed I was, and yet still doing the job he’d said he’d do. And then I made the choice to be thankful I was there, with him, bearing witness. Suddenly, my own morning became about service over chore, fellowship over task, connection over how much I’d wanted to stay in bed.


We welcomed to Louisville several weeks ago four generations of a family from El Salvador, United Nations sanctioned refugees. They are deeply faithful people, and I first knew this when my dad, who was part of the team that helped get them settled, told me how the matriarch of the family wanted to pray when they arrived at their apartment, and wanted everyone to know how grateful to God she was for their safe arrival.

Sunday they worshipped with us. Their English is scant, and so a team of folks worked to have our worship service streamed to them on a laptop with Spanish subtitles. They all sat on the front row, my dad and some others surrounding them as a sign of welcome and support.

Second song in, our worship music team did something that I am still marveling at – they chose a song in our congregation’s music canon that many of us know. It gets sung on mission trips and at camp a lot, and it’s a song that is traditionally sung in Spanish. Its roots are Argentinian, but it’s been very popular in United States churches for some time. I first learned it at the Lujano Presbyterian Church in Havana, Cuba, in March of 1998, while on a study trip there with fellow grad students.

It goes like this:

Santo, santo, santo. 
Mi corazon te adora! 
Mi corazon te sabe decir: 
Santo eres, Dios! 

Holy, holy, holy.
My heart, my heart adores you!
My heart knows how to say to you:
You are holy, Lord!

From where I was sitting Sunday morning, I had a straight line of vision to the end of the pew where our El Salvadoran family was sitting. And I will not forget, for a very long time, perhaps ever, watching the physical change that came over the face of the eldest man in the family as all the American voices around him began singing, “Santo, santo, santo….” The side of his face curved into a grin, his shoulders raised a bit, and his mouth opened, and he sang.

He. Sang.

And my heart almost exploded with the pure joy of it.


I cannot explain it. Not by a longshot. But both my kitchen friend and the El Salvadoran were, for me, this week, angels on a tombstone.

Out of the darkness of a world gone entirely mad; out of conflict, out of war, out of chronic or terminal illness, soaring egg prices and, as Don Henley once sang, “crooked politicians and crime in the street,”; out of hate and anger and pain and grief searching blindly for places to go and be made well; out of all that destroys us, leaves us with ragged breath and strikes fear in our hearts…

…out of all these things, these two men came walking into the same space as me and offered light, simply by being who they were in the moment. They could not be more different – different nationalities, different languages, different races, different sorrows, different statuses…different everything.

And yet, they both spoke hope to me.


I have written here before that I’ve oft been accused of rose-colored glasses, of insisting on rainbows when there are none. But know this – when I speak of hope, however much or little I might have available on any given day, I speak of it out of a deep conviction that death does not ever get the last word.

And I hold this conviction because I know what it is to somehow survive, even if on my knees and just barely, Friday and Saturday – and then to watch Sunday show up, the early light of its merciful dawn making the angel perched on that tombstone unmistakable.

As I’ve said, I cannot explain it.

And I say it holding in my heart all that hurts, in my own life, and in the lives of those I love: death – of a person, of a dream, of a life, of a way of being – does not get the last word.

The angel on the tombstone is waiting – with life.

5 thoughts on “The angel on the tombstone.

  1. WOW! Blown over again by your sharing. No matter what happens in this world, there is ALWAYS HOPE. God bless you for your ability to write my thoughts on this blog!


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