As a pastor, I often find myself before an open grave and before family and friends who have suffered a forever loss. Into these gaping holes, I insert the claim that, despite all appearances to the contrary, there is a power in the universe stronger than death. In our culture, where people act as though they will live forever, a witness to the resurrection should be an attempt to speak to our deep fear of death, somehow bridging that chasm between reality and perception with love and care.
How can one do this?
Barbara Brown Taylor once said, “We will hang on to each other as we walk past the tombs, telling every resurrection story we can think of.”
So here’s a resurrection story: My dad once stood before the grave of a woman who was the 10th of 11 children. There were a number of the members of her extended family present that day, including her youngest brother who sat in the row of chairs positioned directly in front of the open grave. He was in his early 80’s and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
He sat there throughout the entire service, simply (profoundly?) looking at the casket. But, after the liturgy had been prayed and the benediction pronounced, he spoke up: “May I say a word?”
Dad hesitated, as I’ve sure I would have as well. No one knows what such a man would say! But then, Dad remembered that this was a safe and holy place. And so, he invited him to go ahead, trusting that whatever he said would be fine.
The old man stood: “I’m number eleven.” Simple. Simply profound.
Here is a story of someone who saw death clearly, and from my perspective at least, he did not seem to be afraid.