It's a tragic scene I have seen in many places around the world, so I was not surprised to see it here in South Texas: a roadside cross, bouquets of flowers, perhaps some candles, a stuffed animal or a jersey from the local high school or there's a hand-painted placard with a name and a date, or even a picture.
I drive by and get a mere glance, but I know there was a moment on this highway or road when something horrific happened and a person or persons lost their lives. Unfortunately, highway deaths and roadside memorials or Descanso from the Spanish word meaning “to rest” are common. There is a human need to split memory in half: honoring the painful experiences of those who suffered while keeping a memory alive. Memorials whether at a park, cemetery, or on a roadside assert that this schism cannot be made whole again; grief must be lived with or the memory will fade.
For example, Joyce Keeler knows the pain of losing a loved one in a tragic automobile accident. Nearly 30 years ago, her son lost his life on a rural road in Delaware. For Joyce, driving by the site of the accident is still too painful. She avoids it, even all these years later.
Instead, Joyce goes to the Delaware Highway Memorial Garden at the Smyrna Rest Area near her home because you see, not every state allows roadside memorials. Instead, among the trees, shrubs and flowering plants, is a pathway lined with memorial bricks that bear the names of those who have lost their lives on the roads of Delaware. To honor the memory of her son, Joyce sits quietly near the brick that bears his name.
Delaware as well as several other states prohibit roadside memorials because they consider roadside memorials to be a dangerous distraction to drivers, and put those who maintain them in harm's way. Therefore, in those states, Descanso’s are illegal. In response to our very human need, some states have implemented sign programs or set aside memorial parks that offer a safer option to mark the site of a crash. Others have adopted laws limiting the time a memorial can remain on the side of the road or allow the planting of memorial trees at the sites of fatal accidents --- for our very human need to bridge grief with memory.
Why I bring this up is that long ago, a mother lost a son. It's not likely, however, that she ever went back to the place where he died. At least we have no record of Mary, the mother of Jesus returning to the site of the crucifixion. I suspect that Mary did not want to sit by a cross. I also suspect that the Roman occupation did not allow --- as the State of Texas does not allow --- memorials to be established at the death penalty chamber in Huntsville.
But I wonder during her grief, did she want to erect a memorial? Did Mary want some place she could visit and just think about her son, a stone bridge from grief and memory? Did she want to erect a pillar of stones in his memory in his hometown, Nazareth? Did Mary want to post a sign at the site of some of his most famous miracles? Did she want his followers to turn the home of Jesus’ good friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus into a shrine or museum in his honor?
After all, humans have a strong desire to build memorials, to leave a mark. This human need for memorials goes back to the beginning of human evolution just think of the cave paintings in Lascaux, France. Or think back to the Old Testament, when the patriarch Jacob set up memorials to mark decisive events in his life, as did Joshua after crossing the Jordan. Surely, the thought crossed Mary’s mind: “How can I remember my son?”
Perhaps, she was there or heard from one of the followers that on the night before her son died, even he, even Jesus had talked about being remembered! They had been celebrating the annual Passover meal, eating and in fellowship, when, suddenly, Jesus put aside the Passover meal customs, took some bread and gave all the disciples a piece, said a brief prayer of thanks, and then told them to take it and eat it. “This is my body, which is given for you,” he said. “Do this in remembrance of me.”
But, of course we are only speculating. Nonetheless, for those who have lost a child, we certainly have a sense of what Mary was feeling. Even the care Mary received from the “beloved disciple,” John, her son's best friend among the larger set of disciples, could not alleviate the sadness.
While Mary, Jesus' mother, may not have felt like she needed to go to the memorial tomb that first Easter morning, it is recorded in our Gospel that two other Mary’s did so. Because, the very same instinct that drives people to set up memorials at the site of a crash carried Mary Magdalene, a close disciple of Jesus, and another Mary, traditionally identified as the same woman from a few verses earlier as the mother of James and Joseph, to the tomb early in the morning.
They came not with a handmade cross and flowers, but with oils and spices. They came to care for the body of the one they followed, the one who loved and accepted them as no one else did. They came prepared to repeat the journey, as many of us do, when we return to a memorial cemetery to visit the grave of a loved one. These two Mary’s came prepared to do the only thing they could think of to help them bridge this schism between grief and memory.
At this point you may be wondering --- this is all beside the point, because we know the rest of the story! The memorial tomb was empty! Because of Easter, no one would ever need to visit a cross or stop by a stone marked Jesus lies here! Because of Easter, no one would ever need to erect a pile of stones, set up a memorial or museum in honor of Jesus. Because of Easter, no one would ever need to maintain a Descanso on Mt. Calvary! Because of Easter, no one would ever need to plant a garden or plant a tree in the Garden of Gethsemane!
Because of Easter, the Mary’s never get to undo their spice bag for they are greeted by an angel who tells them to so would be waste of their time. Jesus, the one who was crucified, has been raised from the dead. A tomb, a stone, is no longer needed, because Jesus has been resurrected.
In their confusion, the Mary’s run to tell others what they have seen and heard. Along the journey, they are met by none other than the resurrected Jesus, affirming that memorials are no longer necessary. Instead Jesus instructs them to find the others and tell them to meet him in Galilee. The one these two thought was in his final resting place is instead on the move. Jesus is still calling them to follow him.
Today and every day, Easter goes against our very human inclinations, our needs and desires and our experiences and runs counter to every cemetery around the world. Easter goes in, with and through our human instinct to work through our schisms of memory and grief, and our need to bridge crisis and life-changing events with stones.
We have memorials for countless people and purposes from war heroes to wooden crosses for gun slingers in Tombstone. We have memorials from personal tattoos to large museums open to the public. But we do not have and we do not need Easter memorials. Mary’s son who was dead was --- is in fact --- alive! He is alive! The first of all!
Marking places are significant. Marking life-altering events is an ancient practice. From Stonehenge to Jacob’s stone pillow after a dream of a staircase between heaven and earth, people want to remember what had happened there, just as the people who place stones upright in countless cultures have done and still do.
Mary A and Mary B went to the tomb of Jesus to mark the spot of grief and memory. They like us want to remember and honor the those who had so significantly altered the trajectory of their lives. Likewise, families and friends erect and care for roadside memorials at crash sites to mark the spot where their lives changed in an instant. We all seek to honor and remember those we have loved.
On Easter, we, too, come to remember the moment when life changed forever --- but we do not come to a Descanso or memorial. We do not mark Easter with upturned stone or cave painting. Rather, we come to remember that Jesus, the one who cares for us, who loves and accepts us even when it seems no one else does, has been raised from the dead and has bridged forever this chasm, this schism between death and memory. Christ is alive! Death has been defeated. Life wins!
No memorials are needed --- except one. Our lives. By following in grace, we are living “memorials” to and about Easter. The Apostle Paul wrote to believers in Rome who were following Jesus and reminded them, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God -- what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
That charge from Paul was not a reminder to join Gold’s Gym. Rather, for the ancient followers, following Jesus did not end at the cross or at the memorial tomb; they followed Jesus to Galilee --- from their home base, to feed the flock, to baptize and make disciples --- no gardens, buildings or memorials needed or wanted. We have no need to return to any park, Descanso or cemetery.
We memorialize Easter at work, at school, with our families, in conversation with our friends and in ministry to our communities. The one who has shown us resurrected life calls us to share that new life with others. We are to tell others about what God has done in, with and through Jesus for us and to offer as much as we can the same love, grace and healing we have received from God.
To honor, to remember, to bridge the schism between grief and memory in Easter no memorial is needed rather it is to be lived. Easter is a daily celebration that death has been defeated. So, how do we remember Easter --- within our lives! No memorials, tombs or stones needed because what God has done is alive. Amen.
 Genesis 28; Joshua 3, 4
 Luke 22:19
 Romans 12:1-2