This Easter, before assembling with other believers, I did something that I had never done before.
I visited Joshua’s grave.
For me visiting graves has rarely been comforting. In fact, it was the opposite. The graveyard seemed too permanent. It contained too many granite stones which testified to both the pervasiveness and intransigence of death.
I have found in recent years that visiting graves is good grief therapy for me. It can become a moment of spiritual encounter with God as I learn to face the grief and live through it rather than avoid it.
As I drove to the grave on Sunday morning early, I listed to some lament Psalms (including several musical versions of Psalm 13). I imagined the journey of the women to the grave that morning. I felt the lament, the sadness, and the disappointment (lost years, what could have been, he’d be 28 now). The women and I shared something.
At the grave I remembered, prayed and protested.
But the grave does not have the final word. It seems like it does. Death overwhelms us–it looks permanent, immutable, and hopeless.
But that is why I assemble with believers on Easter (but also every Resurrection day, every Sunday). When we assemble, we profess our hope, encourage each other, and draw near to God. We encounter the living God who is (yet still, even now, and forevermore) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The hope of the resurrection is a future one. God did not leave us without a witness to the future. The resurrection of Jesus is our resurrection. His victory is our hope. His empty tomb is the promise of our own.
That hope, for me, is experienced not so much at the grave (though God may be encountered there as well), but in the assembly. When I assemble with other believers to praise, pray, and profess. In that moment the assembly of believers becomes one–one with the past, present and future, heaven and earth become one, and God loves on those gathered. In that moment, I stand to praise with Joshua rather than without him; we are one for that moment at least.
We continue to lament–both Joshua and I. We both yearn for the new heavens and new earth. We both pray for the day, like the souls under the altar in Revelation 6, when God will put things back to right and make everything new.
But for now the journey from the grave to the assembly is no easy one. It is filled with obstacles. Faith is a struggle and the walk is arduous. But at the end of the journey is an empty grave rather than a filled one.