Cemeteries help keep life in proper perspective

Curtis K. Shelburne

I’m weird, and I know it. But I sort of enjoy spending some time in cemeteries. I’m talking, of course, about the times when I want to be there, not the times when I have to be. Big difference. There’s been way too much of the latter recently, it seems to me.

But I find cemeteries peaceful and interesting. Strolling among the tombstones (since I don’t have to mow around them, I much prefer the standing ones), you get the chance to play Sherlock Holmes and deduce all sorts of life stories from all sorts of inscriptions.

Some cemeteries are quite beautiful with well-kept shrubs and trees and grass. And, if I may say so, the folks who populate cemeteries tend to be incredibly easy to get along with.

Since I’ve been a pastor in my community for over twenty-five years, more than a few of the names I see on the stones in our area cemeteries are connected with lives and stories that I know. I stood at the heads of quite a few of those graves and spoke words I hoped would point to the Author of Life just before the earth’s blanket was rolled over those remains.

When I think of my life and the life of our community, it’s hard for me to visualize life without many of the folks I’ve just mentioned. I no longer bump into them at worship or at the coffee shop or wave at them as we pass on the street. I miss that.

But they are still very much a part of me. A part of us. And that’s especially true if they were part of the community of faith. They may or may not have been part of my congregation or my denomination, but so what? Christ’s church is so much larger than the fences we build to try to keep God all tied up and tamed. Thank God indeed, God won’t be shut up in anybody’s box, and he has never been willing to be successfully tamed.

Death is the harshest reminder of all that we’ll never get even this world tamed, much less its Creator. We may not look long upon those boxes that we bury, but they are nonetheless a constant reminder that life can’t be successfully controlled.

Cemeteries help put our lives in perspective. The “drop dead” date for filing federal taxes is almost upon us. (Yes, I was that late this year.) But dead people care not at all. Life’s cost is almost certainly increasing at a steadier clip than your paycheck, but once your heart stops the meter quits running, too. Perspective.

Cemeteries help us divide what really matters from what really does not. What matters most is who we chose to ultimately trust in this life—ourselves or our Creator. That’s a serious decision.

But once that decision’s made, cemeteries also remind us that life is far too precious to be taken too seriously. God is the God of all joy. Those who love him can dance in his presence both here and hereafter. They know better than to think that love and laughter and beauty cease on the other side of the tombstone.