There is something about digging in the earth, sowing seed and burying plants in the freshly turned soil. It is an act of faith, of hope and expectation. It is an ancient ritual of believing. It is a way of interacting with life’s mysterious miracle. When I was in Minnesota, I wrote a poem about the experience.
I have bedded them,
laid them down to sleep,
dug shallow graves
and buried them
beneath soft soil,
dark, moist, rich dirt,
gently padded and patted.
They have been accepted
by the earth,
their burial signified by stick-markers
on which are written their names,
not in remembrance but in expectation,
waiting for them to wake,
to spring from dormant death into full flower:
pink and red and lavender,
yellow and white
the funeral-ritual of spring.
Cemeteries are like gardens, the name markers signifying the faith and hope with which the bodies of those who have gone on before were laid to rest. What is buried appears to be dead and lifeless. But is it?
A few years ago I visited a cemetery in old Boston where the tombstones date back to some of the earliest residents of The Colonies. Those grave markers erected before 1730 bore skulls and cross bones. They were the picture of death and despair. The markers erected after 1740 bore the images of angels and cherubim and were often inscribed with verses about heaven. The only event that could have made such a difference in the Boston markers is the Great Awakening that swept the Colonies in the 1730s. Benjamin Franklin wrote of the Awakening that there was a “wonderful change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. … so that one could not walk thro' the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street."
"I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ … thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:37-54).