By DANNY MINTON
As strange as it may sound, or maybe I should say morbid, I find cemeteries interesting places to visit. As I walk through one, I think of the lives that must have been lived by those buried beneath the six feet of soil and grass. Sometimes I stop and pause as I read one where the dates show a short-lived life and wonder why this young boy or girl passed too soon.
I pass graves with flowers, freshly placed in vases, and again by others with empty vases from years gone by without a visit. On one is a cross leaning against the cold stone, and on another, several smooth river rocks lay. Sometimes I pass a teddy bear or a toy, and my heart melts for the parents who must have placed it upon the grave with heavy grief.
Most tombstones have dates, although a few are worn and hard to read anymore. The double headstones often have three dates, two for birth and one for death, with a blank space waiting to be filled by someone’s loss yet to come. I’ve read where the dash in the date represents the life they lived, but it’s just a dash. As I stand before the granite memorial, I see nothing of the life they lived. Very few headstones tell you the story of the person it honors. They lived and died, and that is all I know about most of them.
I stand before the memorial, having no idea of the skin color of the person buried below. I don’t know how strong their faith may have been or if they served the Lord valiantly. In most cases, I do not know if they were loved or hated or if they died with family or alone and cold.
I do not know if they went to worship on a Sunday, read their Bible, played a sport, or had a hobby. Walking through row upon row of people who have left this earth, I mostly only see names and dates. It is a cemetery, and a cemetery is a place for dead people’s bodies.
I was not at most services held for those in the caskets buried below. I did not hear the accolades of a preacher or the family memories shared by those that loved them. I did not see the tears or the weeping as the families said their goodbyes. I’m sure there were many shed for most, but for me strolling through the rows of granite, there are no tears, no stories, nor knowledge about who they were and how they lived.
I believe it is unfortunate that many people walk through life like walking through a cemetery. They see people but never take the time to know them and their stories. They pass by them daily and know little except their appearance and name. To those that treat the world as a cemetery, it is a dreary place.
It’s easy for a congregation to become a cemetery if one is not careful. When “church” is simply a building to attend worship, it can become cold and empty. When people don’t take the time to know and care for each other, a “church” can be as cold as the graveyards and cemeteries I walk through.
When is the last time you have gone through your church directory? Try it sometime. Go to the beginning, view the list of names, and look at the pictures of individuals and families. Are they only names and numbers to you, or do you know their story? Do you know their struggles, hopes, dreams, and ambitions?
It’s, of course, impossible in a congregation to know everyone. However, as we go through the names and pictures, we want to remember that they are not just names and dates but friends and fellow Christians we know, people with those struggles, hopes, dreams, and ambitions. Their names are not carved in granite in a lonely cemetery, and there is only one date by their name, today’s date.
We are walking through the rows of the living, those who have a life ahead of them. To know our fellow Christian brothers and sisters is to have knowledge of them and what they are going through. The aisle’s we walk, the hallways we pace, and the rooms we visit are full of the living, and the living need us to be part of their lives.
We should all walk through the painted hallways to notice the living and talk with them. We should take the time to hear their needs and encourage them when they are down. We should always let them know that we love and care for them. They are alive, and their lives are not yet over. We should never be in such a hurry that we cannot take the time to invest in the living.
When a congregation fails to invest in the living, it runs the danger of turning a “church” into a graveyard. Graveyards, as we are reminded, are full of dead men’s bones. They are okay to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Matthew 23:27
Danny Minton is a former Elder and minister at Southern Hills Church of Christ
I share your thoughts about the stories untold in cemeteries.