Walking in the Cemetery
I just returned from walking in the cemetery. It is the largest graveyard in the city, with acres upon acres of land where tens of thousands of people are buried. Years ago I regularly walked at this solemn spot and found spiritual enrichment in the experience. You may think that this is unusual, particularly in an age in which popular entertainment places are the rage. Most people of the world would rather resort to the amusement parks, the lake, the swimming pools, the movie theaters, or the sports stadiums than be reminded of their demise. As for the matter of death and dying, they would rather not think about such morose topics—until they happen to lose a loved one or are forced to face their own inevitable death.
However, as a follower of Christ, I have found walking in a cemetery spiritual enriching. What do I mean? Here are a few of the things that come to mind.
First, at such a location, one can sense the presence of God in a particularly meaningful way. Of course, I know that God is found on the Interstate highway, in the workplace, in the home, and in the shopping mall. We cannot escape His omnipresence (Psalm 139:7-12). But at the cemetery, where death is very visible, one becomes aware as never before of God’s presence. We need these reminders in our busy world. God is with us (if we belong to Him) wherever we are—but sometimes we need to be totally conscious of Him and delight in His presence. The psalmist rightly said, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
Second, at the cemetery we can see through the artificial elements, the distractions, and the things that cloud our vision of what is really important in life. The movie star will one day die and her beautiful body will rot in the ground. The politician, who received the acclaim of man, will one day be buried six feet under the sod. Death puts us on the same level. The wealthy and the poor; the white, black, Oriental, and Hispanic; the attractive and unattractive, both male and female—all will one day die. All will one day be buried (or cremated). “It is appointed for men to die once,” declares God (Heb. 9:27). This includes you and it includes me.
Third, at a graveyard, one can be reminded of the purpose of life. Among the tens of thousands of people whose graves are there, surely the vast, vast majority lived for themselves. They did what they wanted to do, went where they wanted to go, married the one they wanted to marry, worked at what they wanted to work at, lived where they wanted to live, and spent money the way they wanted to spend money. While some were churchgoers, still the great majority were living for themselves. And what did it really get them? They died. The one who lived for himself on earth now knows that this was not the way to live. Paul the apostle wrote of believers: “They who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:15). We must live for Jesus with all of our heart and do His will rather than living for ourselves if we expect to be blessed after death.
Fourth, when we visit a cemetery, we can see something of where our values should lie. Life does not consist in accumulating possessions, trying to get as much pleasure out of life as possible, gratifying our senses, or “finding fulfillment” in this passing life. While most of those who are buried in a cemetery lived in sin and lived for sin, this really is not wise. Paul warns, “She who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:6). Jesus warned, “You will die in your sins” (John 8:24). This is a tragedy! To die in sin is to die without hope. It is to die without a blessed future. Sin cannot enter heaven, thus we must be forgiven of sin here—while we are alive on earth—if we expect to enter that blessed place of sinlessness and dwell with our perfect and sinless God in heaven. Paul put it this way: “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Fifth, as I visit a cemetery and walk among the gravestones, I am reminded of the fact that these were people like I am. They were living, breathing, communicating people. They laughed and cried, they worked and played, rested and ate. They saw the sunrise and heard the birds and received God’s good gifts each day. And now they are dead. Someone put this on his gravestone:
Dear friend, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I;
As I am now, so you will be;
Prepare for death and follow me.
Yes, we who are presently alive will one day die and our bodies will be buried. If Christ does not come soon, our bodies will decay and turn to dust (Genesis 3:19). So it is totally illogical—even spiritually insane—to live for this world and this age and this life, with no thought of eternity. We must lift our eyes to something higher and something more enduring and eternal! Those who live for this world will one day be sadly disappointed.
Sixth, I am reminded of the extreme importance of preparing for eternity now. All of the people buried at the cemetery have had their lifetime opportunity. They are now gone. The vast majority of them are, no doubt, in torment in the flames of hades, in agony and pain, without hope (Luke 16:23-26; Eph. 2:12). One day, the lake of fire will be their doom (Rev. 20:11-15; 21:8). But those who are alive now may still come to Christ and seek His forgiveness. They may be totally cleansed from all unrighteousness (John 1:29; 1 John 1:7; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Acts 22:16). There is no need for anyone to live here and die and face God in judgment, and be separated from Him for eternity (2 Thess. 1:7-10). No, God offers His complete acceptance for those who will humble themselves in repentance, renouncing all known sin, to live in purity and holiness before Him (Heb. 12:14; 2 Cor. 7:1).
Seventh, I was struck today as I noticed the Bible verses inscribed on the tombstones and over the doorways in the mausoleum. They were beautiful, comforting, and hope-filled passages or lines. I had to think of how people often neglect God’s Word during their life but how they want to cite the Bible in death. This is not only hypocritical, it simply will not do. Someone has said, “As we live, so shall we die.” If we live apart from God’s Word, we will die without His Word. If we live in submission to His Word, we have a right to hope in His Word in death. Jesus declared, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The Scriptures were meant to lead us to salvation now (2 Timothy 3:15), nourish faith now (John 20:30-31), and instruct us how to live now (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Only the one who has lived by the Word of God in life can rightfully find comfort in that Word in death (1 Thess. 4:18).
Finally, as I walk among the gravestones and realize that there are thousands of people buried there, I know that one day all of them will stand before God in Judgment (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 4:5; Rev. 20:11-12). Everyone will rise from their graves. Jesus said, “An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). The vast majority will hear the solemn words: “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). But a few will hear the welcome words: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (v. 34; 7:13-14). The song says it well: “There’s a great day coming . . . when the saints and the sinners will be parted right and left; are you ready for that day to come?” Although it is too late for those now dead, we may still reach those who are alive. We must warn them while we can of the eternal tragedy that awaits them if they die in their sins without Christ. Surely a consuming passion in life should be to rescue as many as possible—our family, friends, and others.
I am instructed in God’s wisdom as I walk and think in the cemetery. I do a lot of praying, a lot of weeping, and a lot of praising the God of my salvation. One of the tombstones has this inscription: “In His will is our peace; in His mercy is our hope.” We can only find God’s peace if we are walking in His will. We can only have hope as we depend on His mercy given to us through the person, the saving death, and the life-giving resurrection of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Sometime I hope that you will walk in your local cemetery. It may be a small country graveyard or it may be a vast city “memorial park.” Go alone or with a loved one. Walk and pray and think and lift your heart to heaven. Escape the artificiality of modern life and open your eyes to reality. May God bless us as we seek Him and His will—and find comfort in the eternal life that He has promised through Jesus Christ, His beloved Son (John 11:25-26).