Monday, August 12, 2013

Dining with the Dead


Sunday, I dined in a cemetery.

Lest that conjure up gruesome images for some, let me clarify.

I spent this weekend directing a small film project for my employer. The storyline featured a widow and so we set up a few scenes at a cemetery with the widow at her husband's grave. Pressed for time trying to catch the golden hour of sunset, we grabbed our food to go and ate on tree stumps and mourning benches a few feet from the aforesaid grave.

The more time I spend in cemeteries, the more I find myself liking them. They aren't spooky to me. There is so much rich history, buried secrets, and curious epitaphs. As far as I know, we weren't breaking any rules (or any societal taboos) by eating there. The Victorians, if I recall correctly, relished in their cemetery picnics. It seemed very natural sitting among memories, some recent, some long past, enjoying our dinner. Not too different from lunching at the park. Our hosts were all very lovely. A little grey and somber. But very quiet.

Stephen Paul Bouman, bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, wrote about his experience dining among the dead a few years back. The final thoughts of his article struck me:
In the eating and drinking the church becomes the Eucharistic presence of Christ in the world. Those who have been filled with the presence of Christ in communion also see the presence of Christ in a picnic in the cemetery. The church in the world understands that the reign of God, like an early shoot from a hidden seed, is breaking out in all the dark, anonymous corners of creation.
As creation is transformed at the altar in its journey with Christ to the Creator, God’s people see all that lies before them with new eyes. The kingdom, though "not yet," is "even now." Long ago it was the fervent desire of the faithful to be buried near the graves of the martyrs. When people of means died they provided copious amounts of food to be placed on their graves, and expected the poor to visit the graves and eat and drink in the presence of the departed. It was also expected that the poor would offer prayers to the God of creation on behalf of the departed. And so -- even now -- in the eating and drinking and praying among the tombstones, life goes on, on this side of eternity and on the other.

Eating in a cemetery is an ancient Christian ritual? Who knew! If I kept a bucket list, this would have gone on it.

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