The Gravedigger Digs in Vain

A Graveside Homily for Nettie Imogene Glodo

June 10, 2014

It seems that people in all times and all places want to lay their dead to rest in a beautiful place, whether for the scattering of ashes or for burial as we do here today. And this is a beautiful place, here on Mueller Hill. It is a place to which many of us have come in the past to mourn and for comfort. Especially in our fast-changing world, a cemetery seems an unchanging place where the past isn’t just a quickly-receding world in the rearview mirror, but rather the past is a photograph, a still image, of what once was. On a day like today we ought to be thankful for those who make and keep such a peaceful place for us.

But do you realize how temporary all this is? Did you know that a cemetery – the most final feeling place on earth – is only temporary?

Jesus said “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [my] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (Jn 5.28-29)

For those who have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, this is good news. Because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, those who put their trust in Him will be raised when He returns.  Scripture says:

 “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” (1 Cor 6.14)

“Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15.2)

Paul wrote “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Cor 15.22-23)

Because we have this hope, we are to grieve in a very different way than the world grieves. The Apostle Paul wrote

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess 4.13-18)

So we who are in Christ are to grieve, but not as those without hope. For those who die in Christ only sleep.

But the Christian hope is not only a hope for life after death. It is a hope for a changed life now. Paul also wroteWe were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6.4, 10-11)

Because of Tom and Brenda’s tireless attention to her, Mom was able to be at home when she passed away. On her second night, last Wednesday, she was restless though not in distress. For some time she spoke out “Father, have mercy!” until she fell into her final sleep. She had known the mercy of God in Christ her whole life long and so sought it with her final breaths. To know the new life of the resurrection starting today, you need to say no more than “Father, have mercy!”

From God’s perspective, all of this beautiful ground will be plowed one day. Plowed not for sowing, but for harvesting, for raising those who are asleep in Christ. There is a temporary pile of earth lying beside this open grave. It is waiting for the lowering of our dear mother, grandmother, aunt and friend. But when it fills this grave, it will be only temporary until the Lord Jesus Christ returns. The faithful gravedigger here at Mueller Hill Cemetery, as much as those who rolled the stone over the tomb of Jesus, does a necessary but a vain thing.

On the morning of Christ’s resurrection, the first Easter morning, John’s Gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus while it was still dark. But she found that the tomb was empty. Weeping she turned to see Jesus standing beside her, but she didn’t recognize him immediately because of the darkness. He asked her why she was weeping. John writes “Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).” (John 20.15-16)

The very first witness to the resurrected Christ was a solitary woman standing and weeping by his open grave. But she recognized the voice of her Good Shepherd and cried out between the empty tomb and the risen Lord “Rabboni!”, “Teacher!” What Mary witnessed that morning was not only a risen Jesus, but the ultimate futility of graves.

That same scene will be repeated one day right where we stand. For Jesus’ empty tomb was not one of a kind, rather it was the first of what will be a countless multitude when he returns. The voice of Jesus will shout as it did to Lazarus, “Come forth!” And this little lady, mother, grandmother, aunt and friend, along with her husband, will stand by fresh-opened graves and cry out in response “Rabboni!”, “Teacher!”

If you do not have Christ, you do not have this hope. But you can make it your own by calling out today “Father, have mercy.” If you will, the life of the resurrection, the new life, will come to you even in the present.

If you do have Christ, cling to that hope for comfort in the days ahead so that even when your days have ended you will one day be able to stand by an open grave and say, “Rabonni!” with Imogene Glodo, Henry Glodo and all who have died in Christ.





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