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Unmarked Graves

Unmarked Graves

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 – Proper 25, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) // 49, [53] (evening)

Ecclesiasticus 28:14-26

Revelation 21:1-6

Luke 11:37-52

With Halloween right around the corner, I’m particularly attuned to the haunting images from today’s gospel. Jesus makes an unnerving analogy for the Pharisees: “you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.” The fear of treading on unmarked graves is the premise of many a horror film! If we came across, or walked right over, any unmarked graves today, how would we know?

I don’t quite think that Jesus meant for us to walk around in fear or judgment on the internal state of everyone else. However, as the cultural observance of Halloween reminds us, there may be some use for heightening our fears of graveyards, ghosts, and zombies from time to time. At any moment, we could be in the presence of someone, or something, who walks and talks on the outside, but who is dead . . . and deadly! . . . on the inside.

The fear of unmarked graves, or of the walking dead, reminds us that the forces of death aren’t always clearly labeled. Something that appears clean, pious, or respectable might, on the inside, be “full of greed and wickedness,” or might “neglect justice and the love of God,” or might simply “love to have the seat of honor . . . and to be greeted with respect.” Without realizing it, we might be treading on deadly ground.

In fact, Jesus goes on to criticize the deadly tendencies of a religion led by people who are unmarked graves. That religion’s leaders “load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.” For example, these leaders might impose moral demands on others without taking on obligations themselves, or without addressing the social contexts that could make fulfilling those demands a little bit easier.

Not only are such a religion’s leaders unmarked graves, but the religion itself is nothing but an elaborate tomb for prophets who are safely dead. As Jesus says, “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed.” Such a religion wants to honor the people who spoke and acted boldly for God’s vision of justice, as long as they’ve been dead for a few generations.

Jesus warns us all about a religion led by unmarked graves, burdensome to the living, and focused on building tombs rather than enacting a living, breathing vision of God’s kingdom. The prospect of living our lives among unmarked graves and the walking dead should give us chills. Tread carefully today.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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