The Rev. Maureen Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
Easter Sunrise Service – 3-27-16
“Why Are You Weeping?”
We don’t expect to find life in a graveyard.
If you wander through the Old Burying Ground behind the town hall,
or through Meadow View Cemetery just up the road on Foundry St,
you’ll find gravestones dating back to the 1700’s.
You’ll see names like Davis, Brown, Gordon, and Atherton.
Names that were once prominent here in Amherst back in the days when people rode horses and buggies to church, and stealing a neighbor’s chicken would get you tied to the whipping post here on the village green.
In these now silent graveyards you’ll find names of local war heroes –
like Lt. Archelaus Batchelder – 1st Lt. in the 27th Continental infantry,
who was born in 1744 and lived to the ripe old age of 80,
but who would always be known as a soldier of the revolution.
And you’ll find names of those who never had a chance to make their mark on the world – like little Sally Bradley, born in 1792 and buried in October 1793; aged 15 months & 4 days.
You’ll also find colorful characters like Col. Nahum Baldwin, buried in 1788.
He was a church deacon and town selectman who was rumored to have escaped from the grasp of a hatchet wielding Indian by shimmying out of his long underwear and running naked for 12 miles across the countryside.
The epitaph on Baldwin’s gravestone reads:
Blessed is the memory of the just,
Though they be sleeping in the dust.
We don’t expect to find life in a graveyard,
but the names etched on those aging gravestones each carry a story of a life –
a life given, a life lived, and a life taken away.
Today these centuries old graves are still tended and cared for,
and marked on occasion with flowers or American flags,
even though the weeping mourners who once stood around them have long been dead themselves.
It used to be that we buried our dead right in the center of town.
Where life continued on around them.
Where families would spread picnic lunches across their loved one’s grave and include them in the festivities.
Here in Amherst our dearly departed are given a front row seat to 4th of July parades, summer concerts, Easter Egg hunts, wedding processions, and town business meetings.
(because even when you’re dead, there’s no escape from the mundane.)
But still - we don’t expect to find life in a graveyard.
Especially in the early days of our grief, when the pain is still fresh.
When the line between life and death is still a blur.
When the person we’ve lost is still very much alive in our mind and we can’t fathom how and why it is that we can no longer reach out and touch them – or hear the sound of their voice –
or see them coming through the door at the end of the day.
The Easter story is about the blurring of that line –
the line between life and death.
The point where, what once was here - and then was not here,
emerges in front of us yet again.
When Mary Magdalene came into the garden where Jesus had been laid to rest she didn’t expect to find life.
The previous 48-hours had been filled with the overwhelming heaviness of death and grief.
Which may be why she came into the garden under the cover of darkness, before the sun had risen.
Her grief wasn’t ready to be exposed to the harshness of the light of day just yet.
I imagine she felt her way along the darkened path, possibly by memory,
or by sheer will, feeling the pull of the one she loved,
whose lifeless body now rested behind a burial stone…
sealed in an earthen tomb, out of her sight, and out of her reach.
Mary was prepared to find death.
She was not prepared for what she found in its place.
We can only imagine how we might react if we came to visit our loved one’s grave only to discover that the dirt has been removed and the coffin has been opened, revealing it to be empty inside.
Our first reaction might be the same as Mary’s.
“Where have they taken our beloved, and why?”
And our second reaction might mirror Mary’s as well.
She stood outside the tomb and she wept for her loss.
All over again.
But the Easter story does not end with Mary weeping,
and our stories don’t end there either.
The sunrise reveals the empty tomb.
Standing there as a beacon of hope.
For Mary, hope came in the form of an angel, and a gardener.
Both of whom said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
The gardener of course turned out to be Jesus.
Standing upright and alive right in front of her.
Showing her that death was not the ending she thought it to be.
That death did not have the final word.
The hope that Mary found on that day is there for us as well.
The hope built on the belief – the knowing - that in God’s world every death leads to a resurrection.
Now....if the idea of a literal bodily resurrection in some heavenly realm or on some far off Day of Reckoning is too far-fetched, or too ethereal for you to conceive of, then lets bring the story back down here to earth.
Think about all the little and not so little deaths and resurrections we experience every day.
When we lose something that we’ve built our life around.
Our job, our home, our sense of security, our dream for something better.
When we have to let go of something that is slowly killing us.
Our anger, our addiction, our obsession with having and doing more,
our attachment to whatever or whoever makes us feel hollow and wounded inside.
Whether something is taken from us,
or we courageously let it go –
the loss - the death - we feel in its wake is never final.
Something always grows in its place.
This is where the Easter Story resonates with us.
The Easter story is about the grief of letting go
and the joy of discovering something new.
It is in our grief – in the midst of our loss –
that God leads us into the garden – into the graveyard –
and shows us that life can indeed be found there.
Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love, compassion, mercy, and grace.
The life he lived on this earth was meant to show us that we human beings are capable of being so much better than we are.
And in a world that seems bent on spinning off in the other direction –
prodding us to give in to the lure of fear, ignorance, hatred, and prejudice,
we could do with a resurrection right about now.
Some hope born anew right before our eyes.
The Resurrection is what drove Mary to risk her reputation and her pride and run and tell the disciples that Jesus still lived.
The Resurrection is what drove the disciples to risk their livelihood and their lives to spread the Good News of God’s unconditional love in the world.
The Resurrection is what has inspired people of faith throughout the centuries to do the same.
It inspired our Congregationalist forbearers – many of whom are buried in these graveyards - to fight against tyranny, oppression, and injustice in all forms,
to work for the abolition of slavery and to march for civil rights for all,
to speak out about the hypocrisy of a faith that preaches ‘love thy neighbor’ while denying equal access to all at God’s table.
We don’t expect to find life in a graveyard.
But every year the Easter Story reminds us just how possible it is.
Thanks be to God and Amen.