A few years ago, a friend and I visited her late husband’s grave in a central Pennsylvania cemetery — a location so rural that farm animals were pastured on two sides of the neat rows of markers.
Miles away from the city, our eyes drank in the late morning sky, unbroken by high-rise buildings. A brief rain had freshened the breeze; the mountains silently swelled around us, and though a misty grief still enfolded my friend’s heart, her quirky wit broke through in occasional quips and chuckles. After her spouse’s long years of illness, and thanks to her deep faith, she had learned to entrust her burden of sorrow to mightier Hands.
Scanning the view, she said with a wink, “This looks like something out of a movie. I half expect to see Julie Andrews dancing down the hillside.”
My friend was of course referencing one of Hollywood’s most iconic scenes: the opening sequence of “The Sound of Music,” in which Andrews, portraying singer and author Maria von Trapp, twirls atop a mountain meadow while performing the musical’s initial number. (For you classic cinema buffs, the difficult shot was actually filmed via helicopter in the German, not Austrian, Alps — and it took about a week to capture the footage, with the actress repeatedly falling over from the helicopter’s downdrafts.)
I smiled at my friend’s remark, and then found myself walking toward the crest of a ridge, past a few of the larger monuments. Flinging my arms wide, I began to spin around.
“The hills are alive,” I sang, as my friend burst into a gale of laughter.
After a few bars of the tune, I scurried down the slope and we headed to the car. A pang of remorse seized me, and I apologized to her (and, silently, to the deceased souls) for being so flippant at a place of burial.
“Don’t be sorry,” my friend smiled. “It’s all right to dance in the face of death.”
Her simple theology was quite profound, and perfectly aligned with the message of Jesus’ resurrection. I sometimes wonder if, after the unfathomable agony of his passion, the warrior Christ didn’t indulge himself in a few lilting steps as he left the tomb — maybe even humming while he was at it.
Surely the joy of the crippled man healed by Peter and John (Acts 3:1-10) reflects that glorious triumph. Having been “made strong” through “faith in (Jesus’) name” (Acts 3:16), the man “leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God” (Acts 3:8). Would that we entered our churches with such exultation!
Because of Christ’s resurrection, Paul could quote the ancient verses of Hosea anew: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55)
In and through Christ, the Lord has indeed “changed (our) mourning into dancing” (Ps 30:12). Though we rightly “weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15) over the ending of our mortal lives, “(our) faith is vain” and indeed of no use to us or the world “if Christ has not been raised” (1 Cor 15:17).
And that hope sustains us at every graveside in our lives, including the loss of relationships, employment, home and health. Amid our anguished cries, may we always hear the music of a better and more beautiful realm, where a waiting Lord reaches through time and space to grasp our hands and lead us in his everlasting dance of love.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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