Walks in the cemetery
(and four weird things about that)
Covid-19 has me self quarantined in my home practicing social distancing and working from home. My home is a house built in 1940 in the downtown of a sleepy little rural community. I have an office set up in my basement. It is cool and damp and I feel a little weird working from 6 feet underground.
I take a walk on my work breaks. Within a 2 minute walk I can reach 3 church buildings. Within a 5 minute walk I can reach a cemetery. During my work breaks walks I have been walking through the cemetery. I read once that a cemetery is a good place for a writer to gather names for fictional characters. (It’s true, i found the name James Bond on a head stone. Do you suppose Ian Fleming walked through this cemetery?) So as I walk I’ve been reading the names and also noting the dates of life. The oldest death dates I’ve seen so far are from 1918 and I wonder if they were victims of the Spanish flu. That would be ironic for me to visit a grave of a victim of a flu pandemic because I am home, isolating myself, trying to avoid a flu pandemic.
Another irony that I saw in this cemetery is a man with the last name Wood that has a giant cedar tree growing out of his gravesite. Really has nothing to do with the topic, just a fun fact.
I am avoiding sickness and death by visiting the repository of a town’s dead. Weird thing one. Avoiding sickness and death by visiting a cemetery which is a collection of death sites.
We’ve been watching a TV series where the main character doesn’t believe in an afterlife. We meet him because he is avenging the murder of his wife and daughter. His job before their murders was as a spiritist or a psychic, faking connections and deceiving people into thinking they were conversing with their dead loved ones. His supporting character is a believer in the afterlife. She wears a cross. The main character frequently states, “there is no such thing as a psychic”. In his view there can’t be because there is no afterlife. You can’t talk to the dead, they are dead.
Then there’s the cemetery. His wife and daughters remains rest, slowly decaying in the ground. The last couple of episodes of the series he loses a friend and co-worker to a gun shot wound. She is laid to rest in a cemetery. Weird thing two. People who don’t believe in an afterlife.
Back in reality, in our real world, If we’re lucky we will end up in a grave with a grave stone. I read a story about New York City’s Covid 19 victims. They are dying so fast that they can’t do individual graves. The unclaimed bodies have been unceremoniously dumped in a trench in a “potter’s field”. No gravestones, no funerals, no mourners. Weird thing 3. Death.
Speaking of mourning, but the other kind, This morning my suggested bible reading guide took me to Isaiah chapter 26. Isaiah the prophet believed in a God who offered an afterlife.
“Lord, they came to you in their distress; when you disciplined them, they could barely whisper a prayer. As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, Lord. We were with child, we writhed in labor, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life. But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”
Isaiah 26:16-19 – NIV
Believers in the God of the Bible believe that death is not the end. We believe that God is the God who gives life to the dead.
During Jesus’ time on earth he was questioned by the Sadducees. They did not believe in life after death and they brought Jesus a question that they thought proved their point.
“That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
Matthew 22:23-33 – NIV
In Jesus’ answer notice the tense of the verb. “I am”, am being the present tense of to be. In contrast God did not say “I was” as in “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ” but he said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. Abraham Isaac and Jacob died and yet continue to exist.
I serve a God who gives away eternal life. Of all the gifts a person could get, eternal life is like way up there, top ten for sure. I joke, it is the ultimate gift. He also gives another gift which is a tie for ultimate gift-ness, and it has to be given first. That gift may not seem as big of a deal but it’s required that we get it before we can get the gift of eternal life and that gift is? Complete and total forgiveness. Past and present and future sins forgiven upon confession. What an awesome gift. For those of us who have the attitude of “I ain’t so bad…never killed anyone…” We will discuss this more in the future but everyone is guilty of killing at least one person. That one person? Jesus. I killed Jesus. You killed Jesus. How? It was our sin that brought Jesus to the cross. For my sins Jesus died. Still feel like you ain’t so bad? It’s probably who we compare ourselves to that gives us the smugness and feeling of superiority. “I ain’t as bad as my neighbors.” “I ain’t as bad as Fill in the blank”. Let’s just switch the focus off of known sinners and all compare ourselves to the true standard. The standard is Jesus. He is the spotless lamb of God. Sinless and perfect in every way! Next to him my merit badges seem to disappear. Weird thing 4. God loves me enough to allow his son to die for me.
I need forgiveness. I want every lasting life.
So here I am, sheltering in place in my basement. Already 6 feet under. (In my basement). And yet I am alive. Visiting a cemetery to avoid death, knowing some people believe death is the end even if God said it isn’t, just knowing death will eventually grab me, but having confidence that my sin is forgiven because I killed a guy, who in turn forgave me and gifted me with eternity with him.
Make sense of this if you can. Be encouraged if you will. Be forgiven and gifted with eternity if you want.