August 3, 2009
“Whistling Past the Graveyard”
by Pastor George Van Alstine
Early in Jesus ministry he and his disciples had a scary experience near a graveyard:
“When he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.” (Mark 5:2-5)
There’s something about the darkness in a lost human soul that finds comfort in the shadows of a cemetery. We all experience an eerie attraction/repulsion when we watch horror movies about zombies and other beings we imagine might exist on the borderline between life and death. Somehow, the graveyard symbolizes this. On a sunny afternoon, Forest Lawn is a beautifully manicured park, but when the sun goes down, it becomes the haunted shadowy kingdom of our worst imaginings.
That’s where the phrase “whistling past the graveyard” comes from. It’s late evening, and you’re walking home. You pass by some stores, then a few houses. All of a sudden, the environment changes dramatically, because your sidewalk goes right by an old cemetery. Everything is darker, because the cemetery has no lights. And everything is quiet, too quiet, deathly quiet.
So, you whistle! You whistle to break up the silence. Your whistling also covers up some other imagined sounds, like ghostly whispers and fluttering bat wings. And you whistle to show how courageous you are (You’re not!) And how totally unafraid (You’re really scared!). Rodgers and Hammerstein captured this kind of whistling in their “My Fair Lady” song:
“Whenever I feel afraid,
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect I’m afraid.”
The Bible doesn’t talk about whistling, but it does confront the issue our graveyard whistling is trying to deal with. The author of Hebrews talks about the powerful impact Jesus’ love and forgiveness can have on our emotional lives:
“He shared our flesh and blood, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
This means that when we “whistle a happy tune,” it’s not to create an artificial courage, as in the “My Fair Lady” song:
“The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well.”
No, the “happy tune” reminds us of the truth—because Jesus has gone before us past this graveyard, we have no reason to be afraid of death!
Maybe our graveyard happy tune should be “Jesus Love Me, This I Know.” Let’s whistle it right now. Ready, begin . . . .