Tribalism. Revenge. Egotism. Oppression. These are a few things that Jesus’s life and death stands against.
Jesus came with all the potential power that He wanted. He used it to heal the sick, raise the dead, touch the untouchable and heal the souls of the broken. In fact, it’s not even the miracles that are amazing … what’s amazing is who he performed the miracles for. The outcast. The hated. The enemy.
Yet, He was outcast, beaten, spit on, possibly raped (if was acceptable for soldiers to rape criminals) and eventually killed at the request of those he loved. He could of … maybe even should have … destroyed His enemies … He had the power to, but He didn’t.
Sin, revenge, egotism is cyclic … but so is love. With one act of grace (“Father, forgive them”), a new narrative has been born … again and again.
That narrative was reborn at the Mt. Carmel Burying Ground.
The deceased Boston Bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was accepted by Peter Stefan, owner of the Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors. Stefan, who is seemingly putting his respect for the dead over and above his business’ prosperity, has been quoted as saying that everyone deserves a dignified burial, no matter the circumstances of their death.
As one may expect, Stefan’s funeral home has received numerous protests; and rightfully so. The body his funeral home is housing is the deceased remains of a terrorist. A terrorist whose actions injured 264 people and killed four; one of whom was a police officer, and the other a young child. Not only did he accomplish this bombing, but he planned much more violence and destruction that one can only speculate he would have accomplish had he the chance to do so.
He was our enemy. He killed an American child. A beautiful son of our country.
An enemy whose body has been rejected by all the local cemeteries. A body that has no place to rest. And for good reason. Could you imagine the grave desecration that would occur? Could you imagine the curse that will reside over the cemetery that accepts a terrorist?
From a capital standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense for the cemetery to accept his body and lose future customers. Who wants to be buried near a terrorist?
From a safety standpoint, it doesn’t make sense. Cemeteries are already subject to vandalism and desecration, what more could happen if a terrorists body was interred in a place accustom to abuses? Would the cemetery need to install security cameras? People would vandalize his grave in the name of America.
Out of respect for those already buried and the families that buried them, a cemetery has reason to reject one Tamerlan Tsarnaev. How can families feel good about the cemetery where their relatives reside when they are residing near a terrorist?
He was our enemy and must remain our outsider. “Ship him back to where he came from!!!”, said some. “Cremate his ass!” said others. Perhaps the request to bury him in an unmarked grave was the most levelheaded suggestion; but, so far, no cemeteries have offered an unmarked grave for the terrorist.
And then on Tuesday morning, this piece of news comes out. Paul Keane, the owner of a plot in the Mt. Carmel Burying Ground (and Yale Divinity graduate) wrote this on his blog:
I am willing to donate a burial plot next to my mother in Mt. Carmel Burying Ground to the Tsarnaev family if they cannot obtain a plot. The only condition is that I do it in memory of my mother who taught Sunday School at the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church for twenty years and taught me to “love thine enemy.”
I own the plot. No one can refuse me access.
So far, the response to Paul has varied between praise and protest. And so it was 2,000 years ago. Grace is always scandalous; but it’s also cyclic.
(NOTE: As of Wednesday morning, it’s still unclear whether or not the Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors has accepted Paul Keane’s offer. There is, however, an updated offer on Keane’s blog. )
Last Friday, I posted this photo on my Confessions of a Funeral Director Facebook Page.
Since I posted it, over 2,000,000 people have viewed it.
Many have asked, “Where is this gravestone located?” ”Who is the gravestone for?” And various other questions.
Here’s Matthew Stanford Robison’s “Find a Grave” page that will answer most of your questions:
|Birth:||Sep. 23, 1988|
|Death:||Feb. 21, 1999|
This unique monument shows the young boy jumping upward, out of his wheelchair. Confined to the chair most of his young life, he is now free of earthly burdens.
“And then it shall come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” Peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, February 21, 1999, our cherished son, brother and friend, Matthew Stanford Robison was received into a state of happiness, and began his rest from troubles, care, and sorrow in the arms of his Savior and friend Jesus Christ.
Matthew was a joy and inspiration to all who were privileged to know him. He was a testament to the supreme divinity of the soul and an embodiment of the completeness our spirits yearn for. The godliness of his soul inspired, influenced and blessed all who knew him. He came into this world as a miracle and left this world as a miracle.
Born with severe earthly disabilities on September 23, 1988 in Salt Lake City to Johanna (Anneke) Dame Robison and Ernest Parker Robison. At birth, Matthew’s life expectancy was anticipated to be only hours long. However, fortitude, strength, and endurance, combined with the power of God allowed Matthew to live ten and one-half years enveloped in the love of his family and friends. His family was privileged to spend time with him here upon earth, to learn from his courage and marvel at his constant joy and happiness in the face of struggle. His family will be eternally changed by his presence and temporally changed by his passing. His presence inspired all those who knew him. He opened their hearts as well as their eyes.
He is survived by his parents: Ernest and Anneke; sisters and brothers, Korrin, Marc, Jared, and Emily of Murray, Utah, and Elizabeth (Czech Prague Mission) Also, grandparents and other family members. A heartfelt thanks to his special care givers, especially Shauna Langford, and others at Liberty Elementary School.
Salt Lake City Cemetery
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake County
Here is part of Matthew’s obituary:
(This is a follow up to my post, “How Heaven Can Hurt Grief Work“. I was going to post it on Easter Sunday, but I didn’t feel like it represented what I wanted to say. After a number of revisions, I still don’t think it communicates my position all that well, so I ask for your patience. )
The problem with our dualistic approach to life and death (i.e. the separation of “this world” and the “next world”) is that it tends to create this phenomena called the “God of the gaps” or the deus ex machina.
The “God of the gaps” is when there’s a knowledge void or a valley of difficulty that we either can’t comprehend or don’t want to deal with so we simply stick God in the gap.
Question: “Why did my sister die so young?
God of the gap answer: “We can’t always understand God’s plan, but we know it’s for the best.”
Question: “What happens after we die?”
God of the gap answer: “God brings us to paradise.”
When it comes to death and the difficult journey that it produces for the living, the God of the gaps answer is simply “heaven.”
Honestly, I think Christians have a better answer than “heaven” and that is the idea of resurrection.
Today, believers tend to focus on heaven, while keeping the idea of resurrection as a tertiary sub point. But, it would seem, that it should be the other way around. Resurrection is at the center of Christian understanding, while heaven is secondary.
The idea of resurrection is that life can come out of death.
The dualistic idea of heaven has little benefit for grief work, as it expects life after this life. But, the idea of resurrection is that which is lifeless is being given new life in the here and now; not in the hereafter. That despite all the evidence to the contrary, there is hope in our grief, hope in our despair, hope for the future, hope for the present.
Resurrection takes what we have and breathes life into it. It doesn’t look to replace this world and solve all of our fears in the future; but it gets dirty, messy, now.
Every time we choose guilt, we deny the resurrection. Every time we choose bitterness towards a family member or the deceased, we deny the resurrection. Every time we choose hatred of the deceased or of ourselves for not “stopping it” or “doing more”, we deny the resurrection. Every time we choose to be guarded and elect NOT to heal, we are denying the resurrection.
Resurrection life says keep on walking through your difficulty … there’s hope.
Resurrection life says embrace your doubts, strength is in silence.
Resurrection life says it’s okay to fear, to cry, to struggle.
There is life in death.
Resurrection, though, is a not a rejection of the body for the spiritual realm, but a renewing, redeeming of the present condition. The resurrection brings heaven to earth; not earth to heaven. When we work through the here and now with love and compassion for ourselves and others, when we deal with the gap – the questions and the difficulty — we advance our grief work and bring the future to the present … we look to bring heaven to earth.
Most people only think about heaven / the afterlife during times of death. So, if you’ve had someone close to you die, you probably have strong opinions about the existence or nonexistence of the afterlife.
And, you’re opinions are probably wrong.
If heaven exists at all, it – by definition — is much different than what you or I imagine it to be. And while my religion’s scripture (Christianity) has little to say about what heaven is like, it seems that my religion’s preachers – especially the ones at funerals – know much more about it than their Bible.
So, here are eight common ideas about heaven that I think are false.
Heaven is not …
One. An opiate. Like religion, heaven has too often been used as an opiate to blind people to the dismal reality that someone is in fact dead.
Two. It’s probably not about you. It’s selfishness that has made this place so shitty. So, if heaven is better than what exists today, it will probably only happen when we are somehow drawn out of self-absorption by something greater (i.e. God).
Three. A product of subjective validation. If you find heaven meaningful, good for you. But, that doesn’t mean it exists. Just because you like the idea of an eternal life where everything is unicorns and butterflies is not proof for heaven being an actual reality.
Four. Subject to wishful thinking. “In heaven I’m going to have a Ferrari with Kathy Ireland as my wife. I’ll dress her up in My Little Pony outfits and I’ll play Black Ops all day. Oh yeah, and grandpa will be there too and we’ll fly around together on the back of my Pegasus.” Probably not.
Five. A product of communal reinforcement. If the only reason you believe in heaven is because your family believes in heaven and because everybody wants to believe in heaven, you probably haven’t thought about it too much. And any perception you have about heaven probably sucks.
Six. Escapism. Or, an excuse to trash this world because it’s going to be destroyed anyways (some evangelicals believe this.) If anything, I believe in an inaugural eschatology that is bringing heaven to earth as opposed to bringing us earthlings to heaven.
Seven. Hedonism. A place where we can do whatever the hell we want. Yeah, that place – if it exists – is called Las Vegas.
Eight. A certainty. That’s right. It’s a hope, not a certainty. It’s a valid hope during death. It has a valid place in our lives now, but you simply can’t prove its existence empirically. In some sense, we are creating heaven. We are bringing it into existence. And its creation is conditioned on us losing our egotistical outlook. Heaving is becoming, but it’s not a certainty.
The Vulnerable God
William Placher writes,
Love involves a willingness to put oneself at risk, and God is in fact vulnerable in love, vulnerable even to great suffering. God’s self-revelation is Jesus Christ, and, as readers encounter him in the biblical stories, he wanders with nowhere to lay his head, washes the feet of his disciples like a servant, and suffers and dies on a cross — condemned by the authorities of his time, undergoing great pain, “despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity”
This week we reflect on the pinnacle of the vulnerably of God … the death of Jesus.
Pulled Into the Narrative of Suffering
In Matthew 20: 20 – 23, the mother of disciples James and John asks Jesus this question, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
Jesus’ response turns the whole conversation on it’s head. James and John’s mother assumes that Jesus is coming into Jerusalem to set up his Kingdom, whereby Jesus will claim the thrown of David and push the Romans and their rule out of the land of Israel.
The disciples see Jesus’ entering Jerusalem as a power play and they want a piece of the power.
It was evident that James and John, their mother and the disciples had yet to understand the nature of the Kingdom: freedom, vulnerability, love and often suffering.
Jesus responds, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” In the Old Testament “the cup” was a metaphor for suffering … the very opposite of power. In fact, power is the human response to suffering. Power is the human response to vulnerability. Suffering is the divine response to vulnerability.
Jesus then states, “You will indeed drink from my cup ….”
And although they didn’t understand it, the disciples eventually would understand the brokenness of God over the world. They would eventually re-narrate the vulnerability of God in their own suffering … a re-narration that God invites all of his followers to embrace. As we’ve prayed so often, “Lord, break my heart with the things that break yours.”
Simon of Cyrene
Perhaps that re-narration is nowhere more visually clear than in Simon of Cyrene. It seems that Simon is actually forced into helping Jesus carry the cross to Golgotha. Mel Gibson portrayed Simon in “The Passion of the Christ” as being unwilling to carry the cross.
And I think most of us respond in the same way. When God asks us to help him carry his burdens and we realize that his burdens are the weak, the poor and the sinful, we all turn our heads in disgust.
“You mean you’re calling me to weakness?”, we ask. “I thought you saved me in order to give me strength?” we snark.
And we find ourselves like Simon of Cyrene being forced to carry a cross that isn’t ours.
“But, you’re God … why can’t you carry this on your own?” we retort. ”Aren’t you all-powerful? Aren’t you the one who created the world?”
The truth sets in.
God needs our help.
HE CAN’T CARRY THE BURDEN ALONE.
Some final thoughts from William Placher,
If God becomes human in just this way, moreover, then that tells us something about how we might seek our own fullest humanity — not in quests of power and wealth and fame but in service, solidarity with the despised and rejected, and the willingness to be vulnerable in love.
We become human when we become Simon of Cyrene and embrace the vulnerability of God by carrying his cross with Him.