Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him. The Lord makes his face shine on her and be gracious to her. The Lord look upon him with favor and give her peace. (LBW Burial of the Dead liturgy)
I read these words three times this past week at the grave sites of persons who had been connected to our community of faith while they were living. One person was distantly connected through an active family member; one was a member who had been inactive in recent years; and one was a very active and connected person in our faith community. These words are part of the graveside liturgy of the service, and like the entire graveside rite, they are brief and tight with their language. Standing at the graveside, words are not always the most potent communicators of God’s presence.
So why such a heavy subject for reflection in the last weeks of the Easter season? Because life and death are at the heart of our Easter season. Without Jesus’ death, we have no Easter story. But we somehow want to forget that. We live in a culture that denies death at every turn, and promotes the illusion that we can avoid death, or at least delay it indefinitely. We are not immune to this denial in the church, either. We had 900 people in church this year for Easter services … and around sixty on Good Friday.
So … in these final weeks of the Easter season, try celebrating the proclamation that death has no claim over our lives. Don’t shy away from visiting your neighbor who is under Hospice care … don’t pull out your plans for a fall-out shelter the next time you read about a terrorist attack in the world … maybe lay off the makeup and Grecian Formula for Men for a few hours – just long enough to look at yourself in the mirror and admit that you are aging – and smile. The fear of death has no place in Christian life. So live like you believe that Easter proclamation. Make choices about where you direct your energy that embody that proclamation. And the next time you find yourself at a graveside service, listen … really listen to the words of the liturgy, and allow them to free your heart to our God of the empty cross and empty tomb.