Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter—it’s all about living fully here and now and beyond the grave. Allow me a few memories of cemeteries to help explain.

On a get-away weekend to see bluebonnets, we walked through the La Grange, Texas “Old City Cemetery.” We’d driven by many times, and each time, we’d say, “One day we’ll stop and look around.” On that trip we did.

Most compelling to passers by is an angel statuette, human-sized, standing guard over a headstone. Great sorrow exudes from the angel. Head bowed. Full-length wings droop. Established in the 1840s, the cemetery contains mass graves of victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1867.

In the 1870s, the first cemetery association in the state of Texas formed to care for this site. Other Italian marble statuaries—genuine art—also grace this old burial ground. Many forgotten human stories marked by stones.

On a trip through Dublin, Texas, my eyes were drawn to a low-walled cemetery. As we neared, I saw a young adult male kneeling on a grassy grave near the front. In obvious grief, he rocked himself back and forth. On that day, my husband and I glimpsed a human story marked not by stone, but by the person left behind.

On another journey, I played a favorite CD titled “Resurrection,” when I drove up behind a slow moving line of cars. Ahead, I saw in a curve of the road that a hearse led the procession. I slowed to a courteous distance and watched as respectful oncoming drivers pulled onto the shoulder of the road. At that moment, I trailed the final earth-chapter of a human story.

Slowly I proceeded while resurrection-song lyrics played. I especially remember the lyrics from “Arise, My Love.” The words describe: A risen Savior. The trembling earth. A shaken tomb. The return of life. The grave stone removed.

Jesus was familiar with cemeteries, too and had dear friends pass over. His devoted friend Lazarus died, but Jesus didn’t arrive at his tomb until four days later. His sisters Mary and Martha were in the throes of mourning when Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” She misunderstood Jesus to mean that her brother’s spirit would return on judgment day.

But Jesus visited the cemetery and commanded life to return to Lazarus immediately and that day his sisters clasped his warm hands. The Creator and Sustainer of life demanded death’s claiming fingers lift from Lazarus.

Lazarus’ resurrection—like a movie trailer—gave a glimpse of the ultimate resurrection, release date to be announced by trumpets. On the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion, women brought spices to his burial place. Upon arrival, they saw the tomb’s large closure-stone rolled to the side, where angels declared to them, “He has risen!” (Mark 16:6).

Later, Peter wrote, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24).

Christmas celebrates the beginning of an eternal salvation story. Easter celebrates the culmination of Jesus’ work as deity on earth—his righteous living, his sacrifice for all, his defeat of death.

Most of us have seen too many cemeteries. But Christ-followers await the best and final chapter of life when Jesus will return and death will no longer be part of life.

When the time is right, God will once again step into all our human stories with a command to arise. Come, Lord Jesus—topple the stones. Roll them away.

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