Post by Pastor Tim – Easter Sunday fell right in between our study of two different Works of Mercy, so we did something that you might consider strange. I’ll cut right to the chase . . . we had our Easter service in a graveyard. Not our sunrise service, but our regular 10:30 AM service among the tombs. Why?
We did this for a number of reasons, and I assure you that one of those reasons was not to be on the cutting edge of some new church growth trends.
- This is where the early church worshipped! In the Roman Empire, Christianity was still an illegal sect and quite often they would gather together in cemeteries. One reason why they worshipped in a graveyard was that in doing so, they were surrounding themselves with a “great cloud of witnesses” that had died before them as martyrs. For the early church, this wasn’t simply a history lesson, as the martyrs in the cemetery were their family, friends and fellow church members.
- Also, this was one place where people could gather together without suspicion as it was fairly common to go to a cemetery to honor the dead. We experienced this on Easter morning as well. No one stopped to ask us what we were doing and I didn’t even see any cars slowing down to watch. Granted we had a small gathering on Easter morning, but it wasn’t really strange to see a group of about 15 people gathered around a grave stone. After a while though, not even the graveyard was completely safe for the early Christians. A 1993 article in Christianity Today says,
Christians worshiped in suburban cemeteries also because of the practical concern to keep out of sight of imperial and local authorities inside the cities. In many places, even these meetings came to official notice. We find the imperial prefect in Alexandria (c. 258) proclaiming: “It shall by no means be permitted you or any others either to hold assemblies or to enter into the so-called cemeteries.”
- The message of Easter finds a fitting context in a cemetery. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 says, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are often reminded of the finality of death when we visit a cemetery, but in light of Christ’s victory over the grave, we should instead be reminded that death isn’t final, but as Paul said, it is simply temporary like sleep. On Easter Sunday, we studied Matthew 28:1-10, and it was fitting to be in a cemetery as we read about the women visiting Christ’s empty tomb!
- A cemetery is filled with Christian symbols and reminders of Christ’s resurrection. There are many symbols which hold deep significance of which you may have never realized. For example, most graves in a cemetery face east because of the Scripture that says that Christ will return from the East. Clergy members were often buried facing west though, as they needed to be facing their congregation to lead them, when Christ returned. This wasn’t done exclusively in cemeteries, but also in churches with the pews built so that worshippers would face east as they looked to the altar. Additionally, it is interesting to search the gravestones for crosses, Bible verses, prayers and remembrances of a strong faith in Christ.
Even in Christian circles, cemeteries are equally associated with sadness and spookiness. But whether you hold your regular church service in a cemetery or not, it should be a place of worship and a reminder of the hope of eternal life that we have in Jesus Christ.