Friday, June 18, 2010

Why Do You Search For the Living Among the Dead?

In my hometown, a huge controversy is afoot. In short, our city council, over the course of a few months, voted on new rules at the cemetery where the placement of vases and flowers and toys and other misc. items has been restricted. When the new rules were passed, nobody protested until a few weeks later when the cemetery staff actually started removing the items which were now forbidden by the city's new regulations.

Now, here is where the point I wish to make comes into play. Now that the items in question are being removed and the cemetery is being "cleaned up" as it were, people are coming raging out of the wood-work. Many of the citizens in this town are furious that these graves which they apparently visit on a week-by-week, day-by-day basis aren't arranged in just the way that they want. These people are screaming that the sextant - a good friend of mine - be fired or forced to replace everybody's items out of his own pocket. The mayor himself has come forward and said, "Look; I voted for this. If you are out for blood, then have me removed from office."

So the people are angry because their shrines of worship to their dead loved ones have been desecrated. It should be apparent at this point that I don't have the compassion of a pastor or the cleverness of a politician. I am not sympathetic to somebody exploding because their shrine has been disturbed, and my reasons are primarily theological.

This person whose grave you are standing at - is gone. They're gone. Their body is buried here in the ground, but they are now present with the Lord or suffering in perdition, far away from this plot of land.

My father died ten years ago. I have been to his grave twice. Somebody may ask why? Why wouldn't you visit your own father's grave and obsess over it? Why not bring him a new wreath of flowers every two weeks or get mad if the cemetery staff nicks the edge of his headstone with the lawn mower? Why don't you patrol the cemetery like these obsessed citizens in McPherson, KS? It is because my father is now present with the Lord. When I visit his grave, I am looking at a marker. That's it. He has no spiritual presence there. It's been ten years - there is almost no physical presence remaining, either.

Five years ago, my wife and I had premature twin babies who died. We buried them at a cemetery in Phoenix. Even when I visit Phoenix, I have no compelling reason to visit the grave marker. Because they are gone, now. They are in the presence of God and couldn't care less how their body is laying or whether daddy brought a wreath or a toy truck to place on the headstone.

Angels met the visitors outside Jesus' tomb on the morning of the resurrection, and the angels asked the question of them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

I want to ask this same question of the citizens of my town for whom the graves of their loved ones are so important that they cannot face the reality of what the grave is. It reveals an underlying unbelief, in my opinion. Admittedly, they are not all Christians, but what I am saying is that a professing Christian should not have this sort of rage or anger over changes in cemetery policy like this. One factor is that there probably just aren't enough problems in a quiet little corner of the world like this place where I live, and people are always in need of drama and excitement. If I don't have an oil spill to be angry over, then I at least need to call for the sextant's job because he moved my three-foot tall flower pot.

Now, given the outrage being expressed, the city council may, in fact, need to change those policies back. I'm not defending the citizens or the city. What I'm trying to say is, there is no theological basis for this obsession with the gravesites that this fiasco has revealed.

We're all immortal (our passed on loved ones included), and when we die we leave our body behind until the resurrection. You may grieve the loss of your loved ones, but you may not obsess over your loved ones, because that is idolatry.

Edited 6/19/10:
Let me just say something that my blog did not originally make clear. I am not opposed to taking flowers to the grave, or visiting your loved ones' grave. In a sense, I am critical of that way of grieving, but I understand it. What I am talking about is the headhunting that is going on over a simple change in the rules. My issue is, what would drive a person to the point of insane rage, calling for peoples' jobs, talking about suing the sextant personally, calling the man a grave robbing criminal, etc...? There is a motive that is deeper than anger. There is a worshipful attitude towards the grave which, if somebody is a Christian, I am claiming they should not have. I just wanted to be clear that I'm cynical, but not completely opposed to leaving flowers or memorials.

1 comment:

  1. ...or driving by the Sextant's house to see if he is home to ask for an apology...


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