This cemetery is about a mile down a country road from where Cheryl grew up in southern Indiana on the Ohio River. It’s quietly laid out behind Shiloh Methodist Church, built in 1872. Nearly each time that we visit my father and mother-in-law, Cheryl and I take a long walk and make our way through this graveyard. Why? Because it does the heart good in a way that is better than a mild cardiovascular workout – and you get to see the backside of Jesus and sneak up on him!
There he is with arms patiently stretched to catch the deceased on Resurrection ‘morn. All the grave stones are facing East because Jesus does not like traveling into the sun – he wants it at his back.
But these poor souls will not get very far – Jesus has no hands to catch the dearly departed: one Jesus has one hand and the other has none. Poor Jesus has no hands – what good is he then?
There’s always something sobering about seeing names and dates on a weathered tombstone. This person was born before the Civil War started. I know that an engraving of a deceased person over 100 years ago is nothing compared to the ancient catacombs of Egypt – but still, you simply can’t shrug off the weight of this: enough time has passed that odds are, you are forgotten. They’re gone and so are the stories, the memories, the first-hand accounts of a life . . . gone. That gulp in your throat . . . yes, that one . . . you’re next . . . it’s just a matter of time. And with enough time – almost no one on earth will know that you lived. Unless you were famous – but so what?
These are Cheryl’s grandparents. I cherish the memories of visiting them . . . the old smoke house . . . flowers and shrubs and rocks collected from various places around the United States – all scattered around the old home place . . . the wooden rocking chairs . . . the screechy screened door on the back porch where we hand-churned homemade ice cream . . . into the kitchen where the old wood stove was situated in the center . . . it smells old, really old . . . into the dining room and then the living room where pictures years-gone-by of family decorate the walls. I can see grandma’s collection of ‘Occupied Japan’ china and vintage pink and green “Depression Glass” ornately stationed in the antique hutch. It’s Sunday afternoon, a delicious meal down the hatchet, whipped up by an 85 year old grandma that had her wits about her until she died at 99 years of age. Grandpa in his gravity shaped to-the-body chair with one leg over the edge – head back . . . mouth opened for catching flies – hear them saws a buzz’n. Sweet dreams! I miss you both very much – we all do.
I dread this day when the engraving is finished. Like my parents who already have their gravestone partially finished, the bodies of Cheryl’s parents will come to rest here where their names, birth date, and marriage date are etched in stone. Cheryl and I stop talking and just go silent. Ssshhhhhh. Quiet. The air is thick – I feel heavy. Hypnotized. Paralyzed. “I hate death.” Memories flood our souls. We cry. We thank God for our parents – we still have them both. We hear the sweet command: “Honor Your Parents” – and that we will do with all our hearts, by God’s grace! But then we move on and turn to see the other side:
I don’t want to see my wife’s name on a gravestone – not even on the backside! But why not? What is it about death that infuriates us? It is because we all know that this is not right. No one is a true Darwinian when they bury a loved one: “The fittest survive – more food for me.” No, we hate this. Which is why I joyfully mock death along with the apostle Paul:
“Death is swallowed up in victory” O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin [sin’s consequence], and the power of sin is the law [the law says that I must die since I sinned against God] But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ [Jesus lived a perfect sinless life in my place according to the law – which is why sin’s punishment, death, could not hold his body down. Now all who are in Christ by faith will be raised again like our Lord]. 1 Corinthians 15:54b-57
“Therefore [because death will not have the last word – my life is hidden in Christ], my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” – vs. 58
Our hearts are strong!