Sunday, 12 January 2014

Where My Body Lies

This week I have been visiting the local cemetery. The reason for my Wednesday visit was that it would have been my maternal gran's 98th birthday. I have noted all the centenaries of grandparents' birth, and it makes me feel old. And she was the last of my grandparents to be born and the only one to die when I was an adult (my paternal gran died way before I was born, I was only a baby when my maternal grandad died, and a teenager when my paternal granddad died). She is buried alongside her parents.

But I knew she was not the only gran buried there. So I contacted Southampton City Council and got the details of where my other gran is buried. And on Friday I went back to the cemetery. I had actually walked past the grave before but not noticed it. She is buried with her parents. She died not long after her mother did, while her father outlived her by 7 years.

If you walk through a cemetery, things strike you. "Titanic widow", outliving her husband by 48 years; and other people who were widowed for decades. "Daughter, wife and mother", died aged 21. Parents outliving children. Grandparents outliving grandchildren. A lady who lived 1904 - 1999, but ahead of her on the grave where she is "our mother", is "our brother" (1941 - 1999) and "our sister" (1947 - 1999). And then you realise, there are at least 2 people who in the same year, lost their brother, their sister and finally their mum.

There is one type of grave which gets my attention. That is the one where the person buried there is an immigrant. I recall one former housemate considering whether to become a missionary in Bolivia and recounting one bit of advice she had been given - she has got to be committed enough to be buried there. And for these people, being buried in Southampton is a comment - this is the city they considered their home, far away from their birthplace. Maybe there are siblings who will never be able to make the journey to their grave. To be buried somewhere, and who you are buried with, is a statement.

One part of the Bible, in the book of Ruth, gives me goosebumps:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16f.)

Ruth is talking to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Both their husbands are dead, and Ruth is a Moabitess.

She is not simply telling Naomi that she'll look after her until she pops her clogs and then go back to Moab. She isn't saying that when it's her turn to die, she wants her body taken back to Moab, back to her sibling and nieces and nephews. No, she is saying "Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried." That is her level of commitment. She makes Israel her home. She wants her corpse to end up under Israeli soil, far away from her family.

I have recounted the events that led to me becoming a Christian, and in particular how I became convinced that Jesus' tomb was empty. Luke recounts the first Easter:

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered His words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the Apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24:1 - 12)

There is no grave of Jesus to look for. He isn't there - He has risen.

When you walk round cemeteries, you see the vague hope that people who die are somehow reunited in death. That is not our hope, as the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second Man is from Heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the Man of Heaven, so also are those who are of Heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of Heaven. (I Cor. 15:35 - 49)

Our hope is not that of cartoons - that of a sort of spiritual afterlife. As Paul reminds his readers, Jesus was raised totally, with a body. His body did not lie in the tomb. And one day, we too will have our resurrection bodies.

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