With All Saints Day approaching next month, I thought it might be a good time to explore Moravian theology as it relates to death and dying. Moravians over the years believe that God has blessed death as a natural part of life. Our Lord Jesus Christ was once in the grave himself, and as a result the grave became a blessed place. Moravians in the 1700’s actually thought of the grave as a bed to sleep in. As we still say in our liturgy for burial, God “raised Christ from death as the assurance that those who sleep in death will also be raised.”
Like all Christians, Moravian Christians find great comfort and hope in the resurrection. Not only is death something we must all face, but it is part of the journey Jesus already completed. As such, death is not something to be afraid of. This idea is reflected in Moravian graveyards, as all of the stones are flat on the ground. An advantage of the flat stones is that unlike upright gravestones, Moravian graves don’t cast spooky shadows at night. God’s acre isn’t a scary place but a place of peace. All of the gravestones are the same general size and shape because we are all the same in death. And Moravian gravestones face the East, because this is the direction of the sunrise. This reflects the idea that as God’s Son rose from death, we too might be raised to live a new life.
Moravians used to live in groups with people in similar life stages called choirs. When someone was dying, members of their choir would stay with the dying person, sometimes for several weeks. People would sing and talk with the dying person hoping to hear visions of heaven. While we certainly miss those who die, for the dying person death is considered a joyful thing. Death marks a transition as someone passes from one choir to the next. Those who die become a part of what we refer to as the Communion of Saints. In this way, we continue to worship with those who have gone on to be with Jesus.
This year we’ve had several members of our Friedland family who have gone on to be in the more immediate presence of Christ. Every day when I pass by God’s acre, I’m reminded of the lives they lived in service of the Lord. It is my prayer that throughout our lives we can learn from the examples of those who have gone before us living our own lives with courage and integrity until the day we also join our Savior in heaven.