“But God raised Jesus up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” – Acts 2:24 (NRSV)
On a hill just outside Ithaca, NY, there is a meadow. It looks like a nature preserve: a couple chunky, rustic benches, some wandering paths. If you start walking and look closer, you will see here and there large stones in the ground that look native to the site, irregular but carefully flush-mounted. They’re carved with names, dates, epitaphs.
This is Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve, one of a growing number of natural burial grounds in the green burial movement. No chemicals added to bodies to make them last (and leech into the earth around them in the process). No metal or concrete enclosures or boxes. No wood that has been treated, painted, glued, or dyed. Just bodies, natural-fiber shrouds, cardboard cartons, maybe a rough box of native pine if someone felt fancy. Stuff that disappears. No traditional headstones; few even of those flat fieldstones. Wildflowers and native groundcover made of molecules returned from human borrowing seem a better memorial in the eyes of your average Greensprings resident.
Jesus knocked the door off his tomb; many of us are still planning to be buried in one.
Jesus insisted on being set free; many of us are still planning to one day be put inside boxes inside boxes inside boxes.
Death could not contain Jesus; many of us are still working hard to allow death to entrap our bodies forever.
But on a hill just outside Ithaca, and in places like it all over the world, there’s a meadow full of flowers, and trails, and grass, and death slowly being freed back into life.
Thank you for the loan of these molecules, God. I promise I’ll return them when I’m done. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Chaplain of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.