Gleeful in the Graveyard
“Where, O Death, is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:55
In the middle of vacation my wife and I took our kids to my father’s grave. His headstone is modest. It sits flat on the ground in the newest part of an old rural cemetery.
Is there anything so severe as an unaged graveyard?
We visited in the midst of hikes and swimming, bike rides and board games. It was a hot afternoon. The grass around the grave was parched, the sunlight stark as it broke through thin piney shade.
Our kids carried vacation playfulness straight into the graveyard. Still in their bathing suits, they ran between the headstones laughing.
Meanwhile I stood in front of my dad’s grave trying to muster up some reverence. And then, one of our sons came racing toward my father’s grave and jumped right over it, clearing an entire generation in a single flying leap. My instinct was to grab him out of the air, teach him some respect, “No, no, no!” But I stopped myself.
As he cleared the grave he grinned. I could almost see him levitate for a second.
Years ago a great love reached down from the heavens into his grandfather’s grave and pulled the dead man’s presence up out of the earth and into paradise. As he leapt it was as if the same love caught the child and held him in mid-air for a beat, a pulse, half a second.
And the sunlight was no longer stark. The whole cemetery glowed gold and green. And my boy was laughing as he landed.
If we believe in heaven, why not be gleeful in the graveyard? Grief has its place, but eventually, if you believe in death’s destruction, grief can give way to play.
Laughing thanks to you, O Christ, for defeating death forever. Amen.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of Saint Pauls UCC in Chicago. He is also the host of the Christian Century magazine’s “Preachers on Preaching” podcast.