A cemetery is a hard place to confess. It may be an easy place to open your eyes and weep, to open your mind and reminisce, to open your arms and receive an embrace. But it is not an easy place to open your mouth and say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” A cemetery—that place is a hard place to confess. Why is that? Is it simply because our emotions get the best of us? Is it merely because we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, so we don’t say anything at all? Perhaps. But I suspect there’s more to it than that. I suspect a cemetery is a hard place to confess because that place, more than any other, seems like the enemy’s public trophy case. Every tombstone appears to be another medal on death’s uniform. There it seems that no matter how valiantly we fight for life, death always comes out on top. He always throws the knock-out punch. He always wins the gold. A cemetery is a hard place to confess because the cemetery itself seems to confess, “You, O mortal, have lost.”
That, anyway, is the way it seems to be, the way it looks to the naked human eye. Looks, however, can be quite deceiving, can’t they? The naked human eye sees the cemetery, the coffin, the corpse, and man is easily deceived into thinking death has won, once again. Ah, but therein lies the problem: the naked human eye. What that naked eye needs is clothing, the kind of clothing that will enable it to see through the deceptions of death, to see beyond the cemetery, the coffin, the corpse, to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. What that naked, human, easily-deceived eye needs is to be clothed with these words from mouth of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” A cemetery may be a hard place to confess, but with that simple confession, a cemetery is no longer seen as a place of defeat but a place of victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just ask Mary and Martha. These two sisters, both friends of our Lord, sent for Him when their brother Lazarus fell ill. They waited and they waited, and finally He came. But it was too late. Lazarus was already dead. The sickness had moved too quickly, and Jesus had moved too slowly. Or so it seemed to these two grieving sisters. Little did they know that Jesus had purposefully delayed coming until Lazarus was not only dead, but buried and in the tomb four days. Little did they know that their Lord was allowing death to suck their hearts dry, that He might fill those empty hearts with the fullness of faith in Him.
When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, it seemed that everyone was pointing an accusing finger at Him. Three times Jesus was told, “If only you had been here, Lazarus would still be alive.” First from Martha, then from Mary, and finally from their friends. Martha, at least, holds out a tiny hope that Jesus might still do something, anything, to help. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” When Jesus tells Martha that her brother shall rise again, she responds, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” In saying this, Martha confessed the truth, but she did not confess the whole truth. For the whole truth of the Christian faith is not just in something that will be, but in someone who is, not just in a distant hope but a present reality, not just a salvation of the future, but a salvation in the here-and-now. The whole truth of the Christian faith is an embodied truth, a flesh-and-blood truth in the Man who says, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
Dear Martha, for all the correctness of her confession, demonstrates the tendency that plagues us still today: the tendency to divorce Christ from His gifts. What I mean is this: all too often we think of salvation or forgiveness or resurrection as “things” that God gives to us. As a groom gives his bride a wedding ring, so God gives us the ring of salvation. He gives us a “thing,” something external to Himself, like the groom gives the ring. And, to be sure, God certainly does give us things. But the things that God gives are things like our body and soul, eyes, ears, clothing, shoes, house, home—daily-bread type things. But salvation, forgiveness, resurrection, and the like are not mere things external to God. Instead, they are God Himself. God Himself, the Man Christ Jesus, is your forgiveness; He is your salvation; He is your life; He is your resurrection. When He bestows these gifts upon you, He is not like a groom placing a ring on the finger of His bride the Church; He is rather the Groom who is giving the Bride His body. All that Christ is—your embodied salvation, your embodied forgiveness—all that Christ places within your body.
To Martha, to Mary, to their friends, and to us, who Christ is becomes abundantly clear in that cemetery near Bethany. Martha still didn’t quite get it. She didn’t want the stone rolled back; no need to let loose the stench of her brother’s decomposing body. But at Jesus’ insistence, she relents and the tomb is open. There, time ceased to matter. The Eternal One was present. There, death ceased to matter. Life Itself was present. There was no need to wait for the Last Day for the resurrection of the body, for here stood the One who is the Resurrection and Life.
Truth be told, in the midst of that crowd gathered at the cemetery, the only one who completely believed in Christ was the dead man. He alone truly heeded the voice of Christ. Mary had heard, Martha had heard, the crowd had heard, but their hearts were still crowded with doubt and grief. But the dead man, he believed; Lazarus heeded the Word of Christ. “Lazarus, come forth,” Jesus called out. And so he did. The dead man was ripped from the arms of death by the One whom death could also could not hold in the tomb. He who is the Resurrection, who is resurrected, raised Lazarus. That dead man who now lived was as a living trophy of Christ’s victory over the enemy called death.
A cemetery is a hard place to confess, unless standing beside you is the One who stands triumphant upon the neck of death. That place of graves is a hard place to confess, unless He who rose from His own grave lives within you and in the one whose body is laid to rest. And not just in the cemetery, but any place in this fallen world in which we stare the enemy face-to-face, in which we see with the naked human eye only loss, heartache, and defeat—in those places that naked, human, easily-deceived eye needs to be clothed with these words from mouth of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
He is not only the one who is crucified to earn our forgiveness, who sheds His blood to acquire our salvation, and who exits the tomb alive again to provide us with the hope of the resurrection. He is also the One who is our forgiveness, who is our salvation, and who is our resurrection. It is this One who constantly surrounds us with Himself as we face the enemies in this world. As it has been so beautifully expressed in the ancient prayer of St. Patrick:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise.
May this Christ, who the Resurrection and the Life, continue to grant you Himself now and unto all eternity.