Occasionally, I will walk through a cemetery and examine the headstones. It’s very calming, there is not a lot happening there as a general rule.
A cemetery is a good place to think and to consider. Reading the headstones is fascinating, and if you are good at reading between the lines, you can discover things that are not stated. I have heard it said that the “dash” between dates on our headstone speaks volumes.
For some, the dash is all too brief; for others, it is a long road. For everyone, it’s a string of minutes, hours and days; all in a row comprising what is called “life.”
And there is no substitute for it, it is our opportunity to “really” live.
In the book of Ecclesiastes the writer says “... the day you die is better than the day you are born ... the living should always remind themselves that death is waiting for us all.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2 GNT).
The full breadth of the dash between our dates only God knows, but the inevitable is coming, and no one can prevent it.
When I stand before the grave of my parents, I think of all the questions I failed to ask when they were living. I am also thankful for life they gave me, the things they taught me and the heritage they left me.
I am reminded of the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” A good life lived generously toward others is a fulfillment, at least in part, of this commandment.
We had no choice in where we were born or who our parents were or the color of our skin, but we do have a choice in what we do with the opportunities we are given, in how we respond to conditions forced upon us.
Occasionally, I meet a person who is so bitter and down on life that everything and everyone around them is just an object of their negativity and cynicism.
I’m reminded of what Allan Morris Brandt, a historian of medicine and the Amalie Kass Professor of History of Medicine and Professor of History of Science at Harvard University says: “Resentment, they say, is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
I made a decision a long time ago that I was not going to waste my life holding a grudge or seeking revenge, and as a result, a number of people who have set themselves up as enemies have become allies.
In a recent visit to a local cemetery, I was surprised by a couple of headstone inscriptions that I had not seen before. One simply said “Mother,” no name inscribed and no date. It gave me pause because I could not help but think there was much unsaid.
The other stone that caught my attention simply said “unknown child.” There must be a very sad story behind that inscription. Both remind me of the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
And also from 1 Corinthians 15:53-57:
“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Be of good cheer today. He knows your name and is with you in the “dash” and beyond.
Rev. Tim Barton is lead pastor of Wallowa Assembly of God Church in Wallowa.