Easter Morning


One of the rather busy streets in my city bisects a cemetery. Both to the right and left are numerous burial plots that are part of the “municipal” cemetery. The areas are easily visible from the street, with only a low wooden fence separating them from the road. Within the boundaries and a radius of fifteen miles of the city are nineteen cemeteries. Not all of them are as obvious as this one.

I had a friend who lived for some years in the Northeast part of the country. He was a kind of “artsy” guy and was attracted to the many old and elaborate cemeteries in his area. He thought it seemed as if cemeteries were “everywhere.” He later moved to Southern California and noted that cemeteries seemed rare. Being not only artsy but also cynical, he remarked that “Maybe no one dies in California.”

I occasionally visit cemeteries. These visits are not just cemeteries where a family or friend is buried, but any cemetery. After all, everybody in a cemetery has family and friends.

Walking in this municipal cemetery is a generally quiet experience, even with the cars zooming by on the road. The cemetery’s website has a somewhat critical comment describing it as a “small, crowded cemetery,” but cemeteries do not have a minimum size. The Bible describes burials in various places, including caves, even if only used for three days.

This municipal cemetery has some memorial stones that are flat to the ground, but many of them are concrete pillars standing tall. It looks like a nightmare to the one responsible for mowing the grass around them.

Whatever their shape, the memorial stones hint at some mysteries understandable only to a select few. Besides birth and death dates, frequently phrases appear. “At rest with God.” “She died to save me.” “Love you, Dad.” Flowers (real or artificial) are common, as are various memorabilia such as weathered photos, plastic trinkets such as footballs, and stuffed animals.

There are all kinds of stories arising from a cemetery. 

Customs and history of burials and cemeteries vary with era and geography. Probably each of us could start the quotation of the first verse of Genesis (“In the beginning . . . “). What does the last verse of Genesis read? “And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.” Before that explanation, Joseph had already prophesied to his brothers that they would take his bones from that initial place to the promised land, a place Joseph only believes in. We follow Joseph’s bones in the books of Exodus and Joshua where Moses carries them to the promised land, to a grave originally purchased by his father, Jacob. Joseph’s death and first burial were the beginning of a journey that he, in life, believed in and hoped for. He was carried there by hands he did not see; he was carried by faith.

During the COVID pandemic, I was hesitant to gather with large groups. Even attending a public worship service gave me enough concern that I avoided attendance. Then Easter Sunday came.

I got up early and drove to the municipal cemetery. It was just dawn. Traffic was so light that it was almost non-existent. I bought a doughnut and a bottle of orange juice on the way; it was the only store open. I was alone in the cemetery. It was typically breezy for the season and a few pieces of trash blew by. 

The gravestones appeared a bit different in the half-light compared to when I was usually there. As I wandered through with my doughnut, the names on the stones called out to me about joy and grief from those populating the area. There had been sadness in this cemetery; there probably still was from some visitors. On the other hand, I am sure that some spiritual joys have occurred too.

We followers of God are caught in dilemmas that we cannot totally solve. We find ourselves repeating the cry of the father (“I believe, help my unbelief”— Mark 9). An Easter morning in the cemetery is a serious place.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain

One comment

  • Studying the inscriptions on headstones can be so interesting and moving. Some of the really old ones hint at epidemics, death during childbirth, multiple losses within families within short periods of time. They all have stories to tell.


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