We meet in the slightly chill air of an overcast morning … twenty or twenty-five of us. Most of us have come right from church service. We stand on a brick walkway or in the mulch or atop a few cement steps. Trees surround our gathering area, though not entirely. Those who pass by on the nearby busy road will notice our modest assembly.
For we have come together to entrust a beloved wife, mother, friend and companion in life back into God’s hands. We have already done this once before in recent weeks, in a much larger and formal gathering in the church sanctuary as we celebrated the resurrection to new life which every funeral service in fact is. Today we ritualize our penultimate act of returning earth to earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust … literally. For we have gathered in our church meditation and memorial garden for an interment service … the liturgical companion to our earlier funeral liturgy. We place the ashes of our beloved sister into the ground, and scatter a few around the memorial garden also as a reminder that our bodies return to the earth when death visits us … but also as a reminder that this is not God’s last word upon our life. We trust and hope in God’s promise to raise up of all life at the end of days.
When we discussed where our Memorial Garden should be located on our church property, we considered a couple of locations. We considered the spaces on either side of our main entrance, as a visual reminder of the rhythm of life and death that is one of the heartbeats of the Christian faith. We considered our “green acre”. The grassy space behind the church sheds. That spot is quieter and off the beaten path, so to speak, and we had all the space we could need or want. But we ended up using the grassy area to the immediate north of the original church sanctuary (now our FLC and New day worship venue). We had a number of discussions on the pros and cons, but in the end agreed it was the right spot. Part of the beauty of the spot is that our loved ones cremains reside right next to a room in which our congregation has worshipped for soon to be 150 years. I love that reality. But I am equally excited by the fact that every time we have a committal service there, it is in full view of our neighbors and whomever else is either walking or driving up and down Delp Road, and even Lititz Pike (although, if you’re watching us instead of the road on Lititz Pike, you risk becoming an intimate part of our Memorial Garden much sooner than you think).
Immersed in a world that makes believe we will never die … either mocking it, glorifying it, denying it or caricaturizing it … we have the privilege of lifting up one of our core beliefs about life. Namely, that this isn’t our last rodeo. We love life and strive to live it fully and faithfully. But we also believe God’s promise that there is an even greater life awaiting us following our earthly days. I can think of no better witness from the Christian church to a world that denies it’s mortality, than a healthy engagement of life and death … and yes, life again. Our Memorial Garden location may be a small effort in speaking to that healthy and faithful view of human life in all its fullness. But it was the power to witness to those who may never, ever engage in that kind of thinking on their own. Yes … it is a different kind of witness … but I would suggest to you, a powerful one, too.
So this week, in your prayer and meditation time, consider God’s promises that surround life and death and life again. Ponder how that future hope of the Kingdom of God transforms your present hope in the world in which we live. How do God’s promises to you, free you to do things which the fear of death might prohibit? How can it shape your relationships with those you love, and help you engage your grief when you lose some of them? Remember, we are all witnesses to our God who champions life over death, and that witnessing is seen by how others see us living our lives.