I spent some time this Saturday at our Jackson Township Cemetery across from the church. It was a grey and cold day, drizzling rain coming down, holding my coat tightly around me. It felt like an appropriate time to be there, among the stones on this All Saint’s Weekend, remembering the many dear friends and family in my life who are now with the Lord. Saying my prayers I thanked God for all of the people who had passed away in faith and were now in glory. Walking among the gravestones, I liked to see the different symbols of Christian faith that families had engraved, from crosses and doves, little angels and little bibles. There among the stones, shedding a few tears myself, I looked up and I saw our church and on our church, that beautiful stone cross that seems to rise up from the ground lifting those gravestones up to the Lord with it. I loved how I had to raise my eyes off the ground and lift them up to the cross. What a beautiful witness that is, said in stone upon our church across from that cemetery. When other people go and visit and remember their loved ones, they can also look up from the ground and see us and when they see us they can see the cross and remember Jesus, the hope of the hopeless and the light in the darkness. When they see us they can see Jesus.
But when you are there, in the cemetery, your eyes are usually laid down upon the ground, where our loved ones remains rest. We wonder where have they gone, those people who were once so vital and alive and important in our lives, that we can’t see our touch any longer. We in ourselves, who we are, apart from God, are not eternal. God alone is the only one who is the eternal one. We are mortal and frail and limited, living in place and time, born and die. We get lost sometimes wondering about what happens to our loved ones who died in the faith. Are they lost, stuck in this world unable to move on? Are they, as they say, watching over us? Have they become a leaf in the trees or a whisper on the wind? Or simply recycled energy that goes from one state to the next? Is there anything left of them at all? When we look down all we see is the ground and the remains, what we can touch and there is no hope to be found there looking down.
But if we are not eternal in and of ourselves, eternal by our own nature or will, what hope do we have? That understanding is one of the harder ones that we have to face as Christians, that even our spirit or essence, that part of who we are that is who we are, is not eternal and has no business living past this mortal life. When God created us, He created us to be whole beings body and soul together, death takes away, who we are and without the body what is the spirit and without the spirit what is the body? There is no power within ourselves that can make ourselves sustain and live apart from the body, apart from how we were made and intended to be. Death is supposed to be the final word of a life, but its not.
Our Epistle reading today, “see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1) God’s Word affirms for us this beautiful and strange truth, when all else fails the love of God remains. God’s love remains when all human power has failed. When the body dies God’s love remains for that life that God created and loves dearly. We die and should be beyond all hope but see what kind of love the Father in heaven has given to us, though we die God does not abandon us to the grave but preserves our life in His love eternally.
When our eyes are laid down upon the ground wondering where our loved one are, in Christian faith lift up your eyes to where your help comes from, look up to the cross and see the one who is faithful to his beloved children and keeps them alive in his presence and gives to them a portion of his eternal nature so that we may be with the Lord. Whether we live or whether we die, we are His. Where they are, those who have gone before us, they are with the Lord and they serve Him day and night in His temple.
This is a beautiful and strange thought as well, but what else is God’s temple but the whole world and all of creation and what else is God’s work that we serve within but bringing hope and salvation to all of creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. So those who are with the Lord continue to serve him now as they did then, bringing hope and love to all of creation in Jesus in strange and wonderful ways that are mysterious to our eyes, but just as now we see dimly, when we are with the Lord we will see clearly. Today when we see the saints who have passed into glory, see them in our hearts and our minds, look up and see the cross and remember Jesus.
A few weeks ago I was in another cemetery, this one near my childhood home in Old Brooklyn. It was a crisp Autumn Sunday afternoon. I was with my family looking for an old Ginko tree in that cemetery that held a lot of memories for me. Barrett and I were out among the stones, looking at all of the different names and seeing the different symbols of Christian faith that families had engraved upon them, from crosses and doves, little angels and little Bibles. I started talking to Barrett about what I would like to have upon my gravestone when I am with the Lord. It wasn’t a sad or scary kind of conversation, just a father talking with his son about important things. Looking at all of those old stones and all of the different things that people wanted to be remembered by upon their stones, I told Barrett I would like a cross on my stone. Not a little cross, a big one, raised high off the ground, high enough that when people came to see my stone they wouldn’t look down at the ground but look up to the cross. My son asked me why and you know what, I didn’t have an answer right away, I guess I never consciously thought about it. But then I said, when you see me I want you to see the cross and remember Jesus.
Acknowledging our complete dependence upon God in these few short years that we have to live in this world, what do we want to do with them and what do we want to leave behind? We can spend our time and energy on so much that comes and goes like the wind. We can use our emotions and energy on fights that don’t really matter and old arguments that don’t even die with us but sadly get passed on to the next generation. Why not spend the time you have being with the one you will be with eternally, be with the Lord and know Him better in your life today. Be with the ones you love and show them the Lord today. Love the ones you don’t know today but show them the Lord and you may by the grace of God know them eternally. Leave behind in the hearts and minds of the ones you love a legacy of faith which will be the only thing out of anything else in this whole world that will remain. Leave behind Jesus.
So, when one day, on a cold and grey Saturday on all Saint’s Weekend, when they come and walk among our stones, they may see our remains there down in the ground, but then look up and see the cross and remember Jesus. Amen.