Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Living in Graveyards

Graveyards are an anomaly to our way of thinking. There are times we enjoy moving through the rows of tombstones and basking in the serenity and the memories, but there are also times of terror. Who hasn't read a "ghost story" that included a graveyard?

I was taught to respect the dead in the cemetery. One of the ways was to never walk on the grave of someone buried. That leads me to a funny story I read some time ago, but gave me a whole new reason NEVER to walk on a grave. This graveyard story was written by Pastor Horace Sims in his book, Whistling at Snakes (found here with many more of his humorous stories) who wrote this about a graveyard experience he had with his family:

It was a lovely Sunday afternoon when my daughter, my son and I visited the old Presbyterian church just north of town. The old building was still open from the morning service. The custodian gave us a tour and a book of the church’s history.

One stone was inscribed: Mary Blaine, Consort of William G. Blaine. William was buried in the adjoining grave. I stepped on the grave to get a good look as I copied the word down. The grave suddenly collapsed. I sank down to my waist. I had just dropped in on Mary Blaine, unannounced. She wasn’t much to look at after 200 years.

My daughter ran for the car. My son fell to the ground in laughter. I had to pull myself from the grave without any help. My Sunday suit had mud on it from the waist down.

As we drove back to town, my son was rolling in laughter. I asked him if he really thought it was that funny.

“It will be when it is run in the newspaper,” he said.

I asked him if it would be funny news to report that I had fallen in a grave.

“Oh, no,” he said. “But when those reporters get through with it, it will read, ‘Rev. Horace Sims Buried With Consort.’”

Yikes! It might be nice to get into the headlines every now and again, but oh what the news can do with the headlines.

Truth be told, graveyards are a paradox for the living. What I mean is, we have a place that we inter people who have meant something to us in the ground waiting for their bodies to one day be resurrected. For the believer, life's great tragedy, death, has become a place of great hope. Graveyards remind us that we are awaiting our resurrection. So, we live with this paradox every time we think of or pass by a cemetery.

Without getting into all the theological ramifications of that last paragraph, I think that, for me, graveyards can be a pleasant place to visit, but I would never want to live there. There was a man in the Bible, the Gadarene demoniac, who was so possessed by demons, he only felt at home with the dead.

That makes me ask myself, as a Christian, where do I feel comfortable? If you and I live comfortably among the spiritual dead and enjoy the same sort of things the dead do, its time to examine our lives. You see, just as the disciples were rebuked for seeking "the living among the dead" (Luke 24:45) as they looked for the resurrected Jesus, my concern is that we too will be rebuked as we look for life in the old way we lived before we knew Christ. That IS the graveyard of life. As the apostle Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 2, that was the way we were before we knew Christ. That kind of life brings with it nothing but decay and rot and fear and separation... just like the graveyard. Here's what our life was:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. (Ephesians 2:1-3, HCSB)

The Greek word used for dead is "nekros" where where we get our prefix "necro" in English. It literally means dead as "in the grave." It is the word used in Luke 24:45, and here in Ephesians 2:1 and 3. Here then is what we should take from this word "dead":

1. People who are dead to Christ live that way.

2. Those kinds of activities are now dead to us.

3. We are no longer bound to live that dead kind of life.

The time has now come that we have new life in Christ... that we get out of the graveyard and... we start living heavenly Christ-filled lives. That is what we are told in that same passage:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens (Ephesians 2:4-6).

What about you? Where are you living? In the graveyard or in the heavenlies? As one of our church members tweeted during the Sunday messsage:

As a Christian look up to the Heavens for encouragement. Stop looking down in the grave. You're not that dead person anymore!

Let's live like we are alive in Christ. Let's live like we are in heaven already. Let's live with that old life in the distant past. Let's live as God intended in joy and love and peace and freedom. The graveyard is where we used to live, now we know what real living is all about. It's the only life really worth living.

Pastor Trey Rhodes, Oceanside Church, Mount Pleasant, SC

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  1. Great blog. It really brings home what we talked about on Sunday.

    One question, how could so many awesome things happen to Horace Sims?

  2. I have no idea. He definitely lived a full life.