Just across the street from our church campus is an old community cemetery that our church adopted years ago in order to better manage it and increase the appearance which has a direct reflection upon our church. On a regular basis, I walk through the cemetery on my way to the convenience store in order to buy a drink and perhaps a snack (Butterfinger).
This cemetery is where my grandfather, great-grandfather, and other family members are buried. Since my time as pastor of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church where I grew up as a boy, I have preached 20+ funerals. I have visited this cemetery many times through the years. As a boy, I would pass through with my bicycle to buy a pack of baseball cards on a hot summer’s day. In recent years, I have stood before a heartbroken family in my long black coat with an open Bible as they said goodbye to their loved one. Through the years, I have learned some important lessons in this old cemetery.
Death Is No Respecter Of Persons
As I walk through the cemetery, there is one plot where three small tombstones sit in a line that catch my attention almost every time I enter the gates of the cemetery. These tombstones commemorate three infant babies that were taken by death from one family years ago. Sometimes we forget that life is temporary and that death is no respecter of persons. As I walk through that cemetery to grab a candy bar, I often reflect upon my life. Am I prepared for my funeral? I could be buried in the old cemetery by the end of the week.
I often speak of the frailty of life in my sermons on the Lord’s day because I have learned what it’s like to preach to a person on Sunday and have their funeral on the following Friday. As a pastor, it is my duty to equip people to live and prepare people to die. What about you? Are you prepared to die?
It may be difficult to fully understand, but God is the One responsible for life and death. No person lives without God and likewise, no person dies apart from God. The elderly who go to their grave at 90+ years of age are governed by the same God who watches over the infant who dies a few days after birth. Every tomb in the old cemetery adjacent to our church campus represents a life that God gave and that God took away. As Job said, in all cases, we must learn to say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
People Need Hope In The Resurrection
Each time I stand before family members who are seated before a casket in those dreadful funeral home chairs, it’s a fresh reminder that we all need hope. I know what it’s like to look into the eyes of a child of God at the grave of a loved one and see their pain through their tear filled eyes. The hope they need to rest upon is the promise of Jesus’ return and the resurrection that will happen as Jesus reunites the souls of His children with their new bodies.
Likewise, I know what it’s like to look into the eyes of a lost person at the grave of their loved one. Their need is evident. Their pain is real. They have no hope and they need to find hope in the resurrection. In such moments, I have spoken of the spiritual resurrection that must happen at the new birth in order to find hope in the physical resurrection that will happen on God’s divine calendar.
In both cases – the resurrection of Jesus, the spiritual resurrection of the new birth, and the final physical resurrection of the new body brings hope to the broken hearted in a cold cemetery in January. Death has been defeated. Jesus will one day wipe every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more.
We Often Forget People
On my typical walk through the cemetery, I will stop and read a few of the tombstones. As I look at the names, occasionally I will recognize the family and start to make connections to the person. At that moment, I start to recall stories and connections the individual has to our church. Then I notice how the plot is unkept and obviously lacks attention. More troubling is the reminder that we often fail to remember the person, not just their cemetery plot. I often try to consider how many stories are buried in that old cemetery. Stories that would bring laughter and tears, good memories and tragic reminders.
As we press on through this temporal life, it would do us well to remember those who have gone before us. Their memory is important. Their legacy matters. For some, we can learn how to live. Others can teach us how to die. Still more can teach us lessons that will prevent tragic mistakes. Nevertheless, we should be diligent in trying to exhume the memories of friends and loved ones from the dirt of the cemetery.
As we continue learning how to live, we must prepare to die. May our legacy be so bright and full of Christ that nobody could bury it in the ground. Perhaps a man will be walking through the cemetery to buy a candy bar one day and stumble across your name on a tombstone. Hopefully your legacy will point to Jesus Christ!
John Owen reminds us, “We cannot enjoy peace in this world unless we are ready to yield to the will of God in respect of death. Our times are in His hand, at His sovereign disposal. We must accept that as best.”