As the winds blow and the gray skies unleash freezing rain in what weather people so blithely call a “wintry mix,” this “cold Ohio morning” (thank you, Michael Stanley) seems a bit colder because of the very “Cleveland” conclusion to the Guardians’ dream season. It is therefore quite appropriate that today my Christian Manhood classes begin with the viewing of the image of what has come to be known as “The Haserot Angel” but is really titled The Angel of Death Victorious.
Lake View Cemetery is filled with beautiful and meaningful graveside statues, but to my mind none is more awe inspiring than The Angel of Death Victorious. As with so many things that we hold to be of great value, this statue has become more magnificent with age. The original statue, sculpted in 1924 by notable Cleveland artist Herman Matzen, was, I am sure, impressive. But, because of what years of “wintry mix” and other Cleveland meteorological gifts can do to bronze, the statue has taken on its iconic green patina. In addition, there are streaks of black that make the angel appear to be weeping.
Without the wear of weather and age the face of the angel would have appeared to be almost expressionless, maybe even placid. The impression - sans patina - is of a celestial being simply taking a moment to sit and bask in the satisfaction of a job well done. He rests his hands on the end of the upside-down and extinguished torch of the life of Francis Haserot, eyes half-closed, possibly pondering the fate of the next member of the Haserot family to join the patriarch in Lot 14 of Section 9.
We can wonder what the “tears” of this angel might represent, but for me they are a response not to death, but to a life not lived to the fullest. Leaving the actual fate of Mr. Haserot out of it, the tears can be a sign to those of us still alive that when the clock goes to triple zeros we must stand before God and make an account of how well our torch burned while we were here.
In class the image of the Haserot Angel is always accompanied by the song “Time” by Pink Floyd. In the lyrics of this masterpiece within a masterpiece (being the fourth song on Dark Side of the Moon) a young Roger Waters warns his listeners that tempus fugit - time flees (NOT time flies) - as he sings “You run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking,” and “The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older - shorter of breath and one day closer to death.”
Earlier in the song he describes a typically adolescent way of approaching time: “Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day - fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way…You are young, and life is long, and there is time to kill today.” One can’t help but be reminded of the words of the king in Shakespeare’s Richard II: “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”
When we tick away the moments of our dull days we need to look in the mirror and ask, “Is it the day that is dull or is it I?” St. Paul teaches us on several occasions to “redeem the time” that the Lord has given to us. Sadly, the approved translation of that phrase is “make the most of the opportunity,” which drains it of all of its sacred beauty and turns it merely into a Pauline version of carpe diem.
I am not denying that there would be something poignant in standing at the Haserot family plot in weather like this - hands shoved in pockets, collar pulled up as a defense against the elements, staring into the eyes of the Angel of Death Victorious who, impervious to the pummelings of the wind and sleet, gazes back without emotion, yet with tears. The film used to capture this moment must, obviously, be black and white.
But, this attempt to seize the day has no definitive context - it could be an attempt to grapple with the meaning of life within reality of death, but it could also be the last moment in the life of a nihilist whose only meaning is found in the lure to death found in the eyes of that angel.
As followers of the One Who made that angel, we are called to the Haserot grave not in an attempt to seize the day that is fleeing our pursuits, but to peer into the eyes of an angelic manifestation of that eternal life for which we all hope. That angel staring back at us amidst the “wintry mix” of our lives beckons us to catch and control time in the only way possible - by redeeming it.