DEAD flower garlands and bouquets surround the Dead Christ inside a glass casket. Stationary and with very few devotees except on very special occasions, Christ’s figure is in the helpless posture of a body without a soul.

Just like Alfredo Makabangon who, even now in his own home, cannot take a stroll. He looks at the image through the open door of his room as if looking into a mirror. These days, not one of his limbs can move and he eats through a tube in his stomach. “What a way to spend my last years,” he thinks to himself.

“Here we go, Kapitan,” says his nurse Susan as she approaches the 73-year-old man. “Time for some powder on your back before your nap,” she curses between her teeth as she finds that half her breath and strength is inadequate to bring her patient from sitting to supine position.

Alfredo finds it astonishing to hear what people have to say when they think you are too dumb to even understand. Perhaps it’s a reason why praying is so popular, because God is so quiet, he opines.

Outside the room he can see Melissa, 12, his granddaughter. She opens the casket of the Dead Christ, and removes the flowers for new ones. “Hello, lolo!” exclaims Melissa to her grandfather, who can only respond with a smile. “My, she’s grown a lot. And it seems her sisters are here too. It must be the procession,” he says to himself.

Seeing his grandchild coming over to continue a ritual he can no longer join pains him. He feels so much like the wooden depiction of the Dead Christ. Although utterly motionless, Christ’s earthly body in its post-crucifixion slumber, with eyelids half-open and mouth agape, still manages to promise the world a new life on the third day.

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The Dead Christ has found a new home with the young Iglesia Filipina Independiente, yet his presence is still prepared in the same way, in the manner passed from one generation to the next. Alfredo recalls his healthier days when he showed Melissa how to oil the false tresses so that it would not be tangled with the clothing. “You first put the oil on your hands, and then you run your fingers through the hair,” he once told her.

A face ever-young in death’s caress is wiped and perfumed just like the rest of the body. Even treated with greater care are the holy wounds: painted holes that remind the would-be venerators of the pain of Christ. Two layers of textile with an ornate crimson blanket embroidered with gold leaves, together with vines and flowers, devour the Christ’s lowly nakedness.

Young Melissa intently watches now as the body is lowered into a grand casket with walls of glass and pillars of sculpted timber, hoping that the statue’s hair doesn’t get too rattled later, for it is all that her stunted height can see during processions.

At three in the afternoon on Good Friday, the casket aboard its carriage is pulled into the church to await the setting of the sun—an opportune time to begin the procession.

Carriage-born images, dressed to the teeth with every blossom imaginable, sail like ships above the sea of candle-bearing worshippers. Dust and sand are roused to the beat of the Stabat Mater, as aging singers brought up to know every Latin prayer and song in the holy canon fan themselves under the deepening night.

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Right after the procession, Melissa and her sisters scurry back to the house to tend to the guests, while they await the return of the Dead Christ. Eventually, the front yard fills with a whirlwind of people trying to get flowers and other mementos from the image as it is parked into the front yard of the Makabangon ancestral property. In time, guests return to their homes, while relatives stay to gossip beneath the humming of insects. The night passes, and so does the next day, in a combination of boredom and reverence. But a stirring in the wind rises anew as darkness falls.

It is Saturday, and Alfredo cannot sleep tonight; when all along his problem is not being able to stay awake long enough to taste a sunny day.

It isn’t such a bad ending after all, he says to himself. Someone gets to continue the tradition. I guess my only problem is this itch I can’t get to.

He strains to look at the clock above the door. It is about to approach the fourth hour of a new Easter and the nurse is deep asleep. He feels his breath take to a crescendo, and then descend to a slow and long sort of trudging in the chest. Then, he tries to speak, “Into Thy hands I commend—me.”

Upstairs, Melissa is still awake, all evening browsing through her grandfather’s personal library. In one encyclopedia, from a series of illustrations, she learns for the first time that sand can turn into glass when subjected to extremely high temperature, a phenomenon observed after lightning batters a sand bar. She realizes that it is a permanent transition, like the cycle of reverence her grandfather taught them about the Christ in the glass. Roman Carlo R. Loveria

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