Of all my favorite prayers, praises and phrases in the Book of Common Prayer, there is a line in the burial office that I think is at the top of my list when it comes to phrases that inspire and encourage me. It’s found near the end of the liturgy in the commendation when we hear these words, “You only are immortal, the creator and maker of humankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, "You are dust, and to dust, you shall return." All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
“And yet even at the grave, we make our song. Alleluia." This is the essence of our Easter faith - that in the midst of the experience of death, the agonizing pain that death inflicts, and the deafening silence that lingers after death, there is a song to be sung. And that song is the song of Easter. It is a song of life, of love, of hope. It is the song that declares to the world that death is not the final judgment. And love never ends.
We have all stood at the grave. And over the last few years, many of us have stood at that brink too many times, literally and figuratively. The grave happens more than once in this journey of life. And with it, there is trauma, grief, despair, anger.
And yet, even then there is a song of hope and life to sing into these moments of death and despair. And occasionally you even hear that song reverberating in the darkest of moments.
I am thinking of 7-year-old Amelia Anisovych who was captured in a video that has gone viral singing the song “Let it Go.” Did you see it? She sang to people huddled together in the dark damp subway tunnel under Kyiv Ukraine, a place that must have felt like a tomb. It was not a stunt or spectacle. Watch the faces of the people as she sings. “Even at the grave, we sing.”
Amelia is not the only one I have recently heard sing at the grave. Last week I was at one of our churches and in my homily, I told a story I often tell from John Claypool. He was once asked if and when he knew God’s presence during the agonizing illness and death of his daughter from Leukemia. Claypool thought about it, and he replied he knew God’s power when he stood by her bed as she was in agonizing pain. With everything in his being tugging at him to run away, he was able to stand at her side. Such strength, he said, came from God.
After the service, a man approached me, put his arm around my shoulder, and he leaned into me as if to tell me a secret. And he began to tell me of the day his son died of cancer. He prefaced the story by saying, “I don’t tell this too much, but your sermon got me stirred up.” He told me the story of being with his son some 10 years ago as his son was dying. He was at his side when his son opened his eyes and asked his father who the man at the end of the bed was. “Dad, he has a beard just like you.” But when this father looked around, as far as he could tell, he was the only one in the room. “Dad, he wants me to go with him.”
And that is when I heard the song. “My son died minutes later. It hurt. But because of that moment, no one will ever convince me that there is not a God.” Even at the grave, we make our song.
Such stories are all over the place, we just don’t sing of them as much as we should. So if you have a story of mystery and miracle, please do not keep it to yourself, but share it and sing your song.
People are singing, even at the grave, they are singing. Because they sing, we can sing too.
Like Amelia, let’s stand up in the face of war, violence and injustice and sing a song of the peace of God. Like the father who sang to me of that mystical moment, let's sing our own stories of mystery and hope into this skeptical and cynical world.
All of us will stand at the grave. Even still, amidst all the sorrow and sadness in life, there is a reason for us to sing our song of life and love and hope. Why? Because Christ is risen.
A blessed Easter to you. May you listen for that song in your life. And may you find that song sounding forth in you. Alleluia. Our Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.