I was struck by the unfolding drama of the unmarked graves of indigenous children sent off by the government of Canada to residential schools that, for too many, would be their last home on earth. I know that some folks have suggested that it was not the intent of the schools to watch these children die and that the residential school provided an incubator of all the things that could go wrong -- from dysentery to tuberculosis. I know that, though the graves were unmarked, many did know that they were there -- even if they did not know the full extent of their numbers. It all reminded me of the old tombstone cliche Gone but not forgotten. Well, of course, they are gone and, even with all the attention to the finding of their remains, they are forgotten. We do not know who they were. We do not know what their faces looked like or what their personalities were like or anything much about them whatsoever. We remember their tragedy but not really them. Death does that. Death steals away our identity. It is the great anonymizer, if you will permit me to coin a term. It takes all that we are and kills it, buries it in the ground, and it would all be forgotten and left their to rot except for one thing. The resurrection!
The real tragedy of the so called celebrations of life that substitute for funerals today is that the focus is on this life. This life, no matter how long or well lived, is a life lost and forgotten over time until we only dust and not even a memory anymore. Look at the antique stores and flea markets for the trinkets and treasures of someone's life now sold as yesterday's junk -- and with them the life of the person who owned them. In my own family was a great uncle and his wife who had one son who married and grew up with my mother to marry and have one son. That son died as a young man. My mother's cousin and his wife died. Their property, really quite extensive, passed to grand nieces on her side. When they came to claim what was theirs, they emptied the house where this family had lived their whole life and began to get rid of all that evidenced their lives. In a burn barrel they placed family photos and documents that had little meaning to them anymore. The whole line was dead and gone. My brother was there and reclaimed some of the photos from fire. He knew them and preserved a few of the things that testified to their lives. And then it was all bulldozed and sold until nothing remained to point to them. They are gone and forgotten -- except to the Lord. He does not remember them in way we do -- preserving an image through storytelling that passes down history. No, when the Lord remembers the earth gives up its dead and God rattles the bones of the dead and grows sinews and flesh until the dead live with such glorious life that death can trouble them no more. That is Easter's glory and the Gospel.
I was struck then, when reading Fleming Rutledge, by her assertion that without the resurrection Jesus Himself would have also been gone and forgotten. She reminds us that thousands upon thousands of individuals were crucified by Roman brutality and had not simply their lives taken from them but their very memory and existence. No one even knows who they were. And none will. Death has stolen them from their very existence and a terrible and immoral manner of death, at that. Jesus would have been among them -- lost to anonymity except for the fact that He was raised. Death could not hold Him. He vanquished the grave and forced the tomb to relinquish not only Jesus but all those who confessed Him. The resurrection is not simply the frosting on the cake but the essential lynch pin of who Jesus was and who He is. The higher critics have the same premise, according to Routledge. They all treat Jesus as if he were only a man who lived and died. But as true as it is that Jesus was a man, the God-man, and that He lived and died, what is the pivotal truth of the Gospel is that He lives! He is not still dead. It does not merely matter what Jesus said and did but what He says and does.
We confess the crucified because the crucified who died lives. Is that not the whole point of First Corinthians 15? To those who live with grief for the loss of those whom they love, we have only one thing to offer. The dead in Christ live because Christ lives. They are gone to us but not to God, not to the Christ who has power over death and who can make the earth cough up its dead at His command on the last day. We cherish our memories and they are precious to us but God has not left us with mere memories of a long-gone Savior or long-gone loved ones. Christ is Risen! We cry this out not simply on Easter but every time death claims one of Christ's own. It is part of the last words we speak as the funeral in the Church lead us out to the cemetery and it is one of the final words we speak before we leave the place of the dead to go back home. It is the Church slapping us across the face with the jarring reality of a dead Jesus who lives and of the risen Christ whose life offers rescue and hope precisely because He lives never to die again.
Listen to Fleming Rutledge and see what you think.