I stood in the cemetery, looking at the stones with the different names on them, spotting familiar last names that brought up persons whom had been distant memories. There were flags on the graves of those who had served in the military. There were flowers on the more recent ones, and down at the other end were grave markers from the 1800s. I saw years that indicated long life and years that indicated only a few months. Of course, the one place that is special to my wife is the large stone that reads “Weaver.” This is where her grandparents are buried. This is where, each year on Memorial Day her aunt sets up her music stand and plays her trumpet to songs like “Yankee Doodle” and “America the Beautiful” among other selections. I watch as others bring flowers and gather around graves…Lee; McCombie; Coble; some more Weavers, among others.
This year, for the first time, I attended a Memorial Day service featuring “Taps” and a message by a retired minister about the importance of remembering. He told a brief history of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it has been designated in the past, and then moved on to remind us of the sacrifices of soldiers and their families. He touched on the Vietnam Days and those who didn’t support the war…or the soldiers…and how that trend is thankfully changing…slowly, but it is changing.
My mind wandered a bit as he told stories, and I went to Joshua 3 where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and they were commanded to place rocks at the place where they crossed as a memorial to God’s action. This happens in several Old Testament stories, and it made me wonder if that is where we get the notion of headstones in our cemeteries. So, a quick search…
These graves were usually marked with rough stones, rocks, or wood, apparently, as a way to keep the dead from rising. (Ok...I thought this line was funny!)
They were mostly marked with the deceased’s name, age, and year of death. Gradually, churchyard burials evolved involving large, square-shaped tombstones prepared from slate (1650-1900) or sandstone (1650-1890). The inscriptions carved on slate used to be shallow yet readable.
Public cemeteries evolved in the 19th century. Eventually, people started giving importance to the gravestones, headstones, footstones, etc. as a means to memorialize the dead. (https://www.iscga.org/history-of-gravestones.html)
Interestingly enough, gravestones can be traced back to ancient civilizations like Egypt, and that could also explain the use of them as memorials by Israel. But what I thought about was not just gravestones, but remembering and how I am trained to look forward and not backwards. We don’t do much remembering or reminiscing do we?
Here I stood in the cemetery and I began to think about my own family, my grandfather who served in the Navy. I remembered, and as I did I started to tear up, longing for just one more conversation with those who in my childhood seemed so large and so wonderful. In that graveyard was the story of our families…and it is the same with all of us. It is a shame that we don’t take the time to ponder, reflect, and tear-up from time to time. Or once a year, just because we get the day off to do it. I have heard it said among Christian circles that the person is on there anyway, so why visit? Well, maybe visiting a graveyard isn’t supposed to benefit the dead, but to benefit us who are living. Maybe when we see the larger story of life, we have a better understanding of the unfolding larger story, and not just the moment.
At one point, we started talking with my mother-in-law and came to the realization that the place we were standing were actually the plots that my wife and I own…we were standing in the place of our burial. That was sobering! Shocking really…and I joked that I wanted to make sure the view was nice! WOW…awkward moment.
It made me wonder who might come and visit my headstone one day. I wonder what the name “Woodall” will mean to those who visit the cemetery and who will plant the flowers and decorate my grave, because my life meant something to them. You see, the day before my daughter and her grandmother went to put flowers on the family graves, and her artistic flare could be seen…her presence definitely known. I’m all about having a good time, enjoying family and friends, and having a great meal—but we must also learn to remember in a sobering and weighty manner that places our lives in the context of larger “Life.” If you haven’t visited a cemetery that matters to you in a while, my homework or challenge for you is to go there and sit by a headstone and remember for a few moments.
“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts….We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.” ― Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces
According to the tradition of the church, Jesus has been busy in the last few days. On Sunday he entered Jerusalem. This action is known as the “triumphal entry” as people shouted “Hosanna” and laid palm branches down as a pathway into the city. I think it is fair to assert that the crowd gathered didn’t really understand the full implications of their welcome, nor did they understand the one whom they welcomed. (That might still be true for crowds gathered to worship God on Sundays…) Yet, Jesus knew the danger of coming back to Jerusalem and He was moving towards what we refer to as “Good Friday” and then “Resurrection Day.”
Well, today is Wednesday, and here are some readings and prayers and songs that might help us focus on Christ during the day today: (These have been selected from multiple internet resources and are not original to me)
14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal for you?”
18 “As you go into the city,” he told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus told them and prepared the Passover meal there.
20 When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the Twelve. 21 While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
22 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?”
23 He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. 24 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”
25 Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?”
And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”
26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”
1 The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is also called Passover, was approaching. 2 The leading priests and teachers of religious law were plotting how to kill Jesus, but they were afraid of the people’s reaction.
3 Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, 4 and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. 5 They were delighted, and they promised to give him money. 6 So he agreed and began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around.
41 Then, surrounded by the Pharisees, Jesus asked them a question: 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
21 Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!”
22 The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. 23 The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. 24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” 25 So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. 27 When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” 28 None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. 29 Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. 30 So Judas left at once, going out into the night.
31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once.
Some Prayers to Consider:
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of humility, patience and love to your servant. Grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen
Troubled God, in every generation you call your people to contend against the brutality of sin and betrayal. Keep us steadfast even in our fear and uncertainty, that we may follow where Jesus has led the way. Amen.
My savior, do you invite me to share in the glory of the resurrection? Please stay with me as I struggle to see how accepting the crosses of my life will free me from the power of the one who wants only to destroy my love and trust in you. Help me to be humble and accepting like your son, Jesus. I want to turn to you with the same trust he had in your love. Save me, Lord. Only you can save me. Amen.
Hymns and Song Titles:
All to Jesus I Surrender
Lord, I Give You My Life
Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?
From the Inside Out
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.