Most of us stood in the hall making small talk. Every once in awhile, someone would enter the room quietly and return a minute later. Friends of my grandmother had come to pay their respects and view her body the day before her funeral.
Each of us in the family had taken a turn beside her casket. All of us, except for Jacob, our son. He was only nine. As we said our good byes and turned for the door, Jacob told us to wait. Then he headed into the room that held her casket.
"Do you want me to come with you?," I asked.
"No! Stay here, " he said.
I watched as he slowly walked up to her body and then he bent over like a young piece of grass, wet with dew. He began to shake from his tears. I wanted to go to him. However, I respected his wishes. I waited in pain, as my young son came to grips with her death.
I have never had the option of trying to shield my sons from death. Over 20 some years, they have already attended more memorial services and funerals than most people do in a lifetime. As infants and toddlers, they accompanied us as we mourned the death of loved ones in our congregation. As young men, they were at the services in the sound booth assisting us in celebrating the lives of those we have loved and lost.
As a young mother, I remember wondering how I would prepare them for such experiences. I soon realized that I really didn't need to worry about it. They took their cues from me. As my tears flowed, they learned theirs could too. When I rested on the promises of scripture, they did too.
Growing up in the Midwest, I was accustomed to viewing bodies the day before funerals. However, here in the Pacific Northwest, more and more families opt for no viewing, preferring a simple burial with just family present, followed by a celebration of life at the church.
One summer, when Jacob was in middle school, we hosted one of those rare funerals at Messiah in which there was an open casket in the narthex. Jacob had been asked to serve in the sound booth and I recognized that the only other dead body he had ever seen was his grandmother's. I talked to him about it before we arrived at church, not wanting him to be surprised.
When he entered the narthex, he walked right over to the casket. After pausing, he came back to me and said calmly, "He's not there... you can tell." "He's not there," I thought to myself as I sat down in my pew waiting to preach. And now I get to tell... tell everyone where he is.
Probably barefoot or sandal-footed, the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning were expecting to find the body of Jesus right where they left it. Their heads clouded with the barbaric, bloody events of the past week, they probably tried to shake the image seared into their memories of those last agonizing hours on the cross. They had come to take care of his body.
A large stone had been rolled in front of Jesus' tomb by religious leaders in order to keep Jesus body just where they thought it should be. They didn't want anyone stealing it. To make sure that didn't happen, a Roman guard of soldiers was placed in front of it and they sealed the tomb to provide an extra measure of security. As the women walked that day, they wondered who would roll away the stone for them.
Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him, the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised..." (Matt. 28:2-6a)
I know some of you are staring into some seemingly large graves and up against some very large stones in your life. You are concerned about a relationship, a loved one, your health, your future, division in our country, and much more. The story of Easter gives us the sure confidence that our God knows how to clear out large stones and raise the dead. No matter how dark the night looks, no matter how deep and wide is the stone or the grave, our God knows how to find a way to bring life, out of death. Jacob was right, "He's not there." Christ has been raised and promises the same for each one of us, new life beginning today.