My grandparents walked to church on Sunday morning while listening to beckoning church bells, but they never entered the doors before first having strolled past the saints whose rest is won. The cemetery provided a silent pre-sermon for the faithful—and more importantly the not so faithful—that “a generation goes, and a generation comes” and each man and woman has “a time to be born and a time to die.” They believed in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body, ideas our culture laughs to scorn. Or do they?
Maybe the mirror has supplanted the bells, with each glance proving one more knell pronouncing the inevitable—to dust we will all return. But how frantic we are to slow the clock. The faces change but the pitch remains the same—delay and deny. Are any of us unaware of the advertising dollars flowing into the coffers of talented agents whose sales copy can veil our mortality? It’s a ceaseless process of linguistic legerdemain. Fear of lost youthfulness, fear of fading attractiveness, fear of irrelevancy all conspire to drive us onward in our quest for the illusive fountain of youth, now packaged and sold in a two-ounce bottle.
Are you ever amazed at the exotic ingredients necessary to win this race against time? Apparently it’s not enough to include plain ingredients in the recipes for anti-aging; no, it must be Imperial peony from China and manuka honey from New Zealand and red ginseng root from South Korea. Why can’t it be peonies, honey, or ginseng from Western North Carolina? We were continually escorting trespassers to the curb in Asheville, men searching for ginseng roots in our patch of the woods, sans paying for it. No global ring to it, I suppose.
Of course, you can bypass the messiness of renewing creams and just dive straight into the para-scientific pool of human growth hormone injections, blood transfusions (from teenagers), and cryonics. The pretense of euphemisms are all checked at the gate for this litany of horrors, giving deeper understanding to our life-long subjection to slavery via the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). While sensing the slow fade, we try to convince ourselves that we can scratch our way back to years gone by and grasp the immortality for which we so desperately long.
“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,” says the Preacher. Unlike my grandparents, I don’t pass through a cemetery on my way to worship each Sunday. Instead, my evening walk takes me by a long forgotten plot of weather-worn stones, standing lopsided and confused among fiddleneck, smutgrass, and dandelions. As if embarrassed by their neglect, they hide themselves behind a low stone wall that snakes its way around the edge of a corner. Even the entrance is hidden from view, facing the river rather than the newly constructed park that envelopes it.
Sometimes I venture into the melancholy little closure and attempt to read the headstones. There’s a Susan buried near the back that either died in 1832 or was born that year. I can’t make out the details. Edward lies a few yards away, keeping the secret of his birthdate hidden but revealing 1872 as the year of his death. All of the other stones give testimony to life as a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away, with names and dates erased by decades of eroding wind, rain, sleet, and snow.
As I stand over their graves, I wonder: Did Susan believe that Jesus came out of the tomb alive on the third day? Did she number her days and return to God a heart of wisdom? Did her children rise up and call her blessed? Or did she occupy her time with vain pursuits.
And what about Edward. Was he a wise son who made his father’s heart glad? Did he live for Christ and consider death gain? Or did he believe life was a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? What would these two long-forgotten souls say to me if they could return to this globe for an hour? Actually, I think I already know how that conversation would go (1 Corinthians 2:19; Luke 16:19-31).
Christians are able to face the facts of death because the cross and resurrection stands at the center of history. In the resurrection, we have a demonstration of the verity of all Christ’s claims and the trustworthiness of all God’s promises to us. This makes all the difference in the world regarding how we live and how we die.
Sadly, so many today simply want a better life now and lackadaisically float in and out of any spiritual movement that promises to plug the holes of their leaking existence. They’re like Alice in Wonderland, asking the Cheshire cat for directions.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.
“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.
But we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation (Hebrews 6:9). Though the clock is ticking along with our heartbeats, God is renewing us day by day in the inner man. Rather than focusing on the ephemeral, we take God at His word and place our hope in Jesus Christ, the One who defeated death and offers us eternal life.
And we will not be disappointed.
Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.