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No Grave Can Hold us Down

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“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”

E.E. Cummings

While visiting Paris a few years ago, my wife and I ducked into a small cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Not a typical stop for tourists but we heard from locals that it was a beautiful place to take a walk and there were several prominent people buried in this cemetery. As we perused the gravestones silently, we found the final resting place of the great artist Edgar Degas, the scientist Foucault, and Charles Henri Sanson (the executioner of Louis XVI…thanks Wikipedia). There was a strange calm in this cemetery amidst the bustling city of Paris. You could feel the history...the grand stone mausoleums that held the bones of these incredibly meaningful figures. There was a finality to it all - this is where they were laid to rest.

There’s not much else I can think of in our human experience that feels more final than death. And yet, the season of Easter is the promise that there isn’t a grave that will hold our bodies once Christ returns. I was reminded of this hearing the old American gospel song ‘Ain’t No Grave’ by Claude Ely (famously sung by Johnny Cash) where the opening of the song states 'There ain't no grave can hold my body down.'

The Graves We Enter

So what do we allow to hold us down now? What graves have you willingly entered this month? I wouldn’t phrase it this way every day, but generally I choose ‘death’ - I make choices that lead me to the grave over life. Life is too real, too exposed, there’s too many chances to get hurt and really be seen. I choose the grave hoping it’s going to be a little more cozy, easier...maybe I can climb out when I want...maybe it’s not so bad in the long run. I slowly choose death.

A caveat: I’m not saying everything we do that leads to death is a willing choice toward that end...I recognize that many struggles are results of unconscious factors, some forces outside of our control, patterns that have developed over time, and even historical family dynamics! Also, I want to be careful that my words don’t sound like the ‘try harder’ psychology that pervades a lot of teaching. The grave can’t hold us down not because of anything we do, but because of Christ’s power in rising from the dead.

The Finality of the Resurrection

I had a friend recently call me and say they wanted to make a change in their life. Some of the words they used indicated a sense of freedom in how they thought about these changes. It was moving beyond a simple ‘hey, I want to change my behavior’ into a real belief that they could actually be different. They were realizing that there is no grave that can hold them down.

It’s the freedom of the resurrection. It’s the promise that what Christ accomplished is real, and we live in the fruits of that labor.

I wrestle to believe this for myself...for people I love...and for my clients sometimes. Change is incredibly hard and takes a lot of effort, facing your fears, and a willingness to get dirty. The lie of the grave is really enticing to me - it’s easy...it’s accessible...it doesn’t take a lot of work. In fact, I can just give up and I’ve got it. But I’ve found if I don’t start with acknowledging that the graves in my life no longer hold ultimate power over me, I’ll simply be making changes inside of them. Instead of finding I can climb out, I spend my time tidying up the dirt, re-arranging the flowers - I believe the grave is my final place.

So how do we work against this belief? I think we have to do two things: we have to be willing to enter others' graves, but enter them knowing it’s not their final resting place. So often we stand next to the grave asking them to crawl out (“have you tried this yet?”) other times we climb in and forget the hope we have (“this place sucks...hope it gets better…”). The second thing we have to do is challenge our belief daily. Tim Keller says to ‘doubt your doubts’ - it’s a philosophy that has driven me out of darkness many times in my life. Who says this belief in the power of darkness gets to be the final word? Why am I believing this grave will absolutely hold me down?

This takes faith. It also takes community. We do such a good job talking about our personal relationship with Jesus...we do a less-than-good job talking about our corporate relationship with Jesus. I need help being reminded that the grave I’m lying in is not my final resting place. We live in the power of the resurrected Christ, no grave can hold us down.

Where are we, as communities, not addressing the graves we all lie in believing they are our homes?