It's lined with cedar wood, to protect the fabrics placed inside. And there are those. Some embroidered linens, which I sent from Europe many years ago. There’s also a battered ceramic statue of Saint Joseph, which belonged to my grandmother, and then to my aunt, until she also died. My grandfather’s shaving mug and watch. And a lot of medals, which I won in high school.
That exhausted my knowledge of the chest’s contents, so I phoned my mother, who, without opening the lid, added the following:
- Tea towels, pot holders, pillow cases, and dresser scarves, which her aunts had embroidered for her, before her marriage.
- Her wedding dress
- The night gown she wore on her wedding night.
- Pajamas and a robe sent to her by a sailor when he was on Okinawa. My father was Army, and not stationed on Okinawa. I’m still taking this in.
- Silver spoons from the births of her children.
- Her first communion candle, and those of her children.
The chest appears to be the final resting place of our family’s historical detritus, but my mother, like many others, refers to it as a hope chest.
I’ve always thought it was a wedding present, but she tells me that she bought it long before she married, so it really was used to store her hopes. Now it houses her history. And that’s who we are as human beings, histories: relationships, stories and events. Remove those, and you take everything we are, save blood and dust.
A hope chest is also a way to understand the Ascension. On this day, a human being, Christ our Lord, enters heaven, enters the Godhead itself. The Son of the Father, the Second Person of the Trinity, existed from all eternity, but the human nature that he assumed, the one he forged in history—by way of his own relationships, stories and events—enters heaven this day. Today, for the first time, our human nature, that which is created by the ever passing, becomes something that cannot perish.
This isn’t the day we lose the Lord. This is the day he carries our hopes to heaven. Hopes are slight things. Most never form into stories, and those that do fall silent all too soon. Before Christ, only we remained, with our history of hopes, until time swept us aside as well. After Christ, or rather, in Christ, our hopes enter heaven, along with his. They still strain at their tethers, pulling us forward, but now they do not weaken and fail. They need not be stored, in some chest, safe from time, because, where Christ has gone, time has blossomed, and hopes find their true home.
Acts 1: 1-11 Ephesians 1: 17-23 Matthew 28: 16-20