My wife and I recently celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of our marriage. We took the day off and went for a walk, ate, and chatted. But the most memorable moment of that day was the stop at the cemetery. It was as if it had happened to prepare us for something that was going to happen three days later.
Would you go to the cemetery to celebrate the anniversary of something? I would recommend it. Although, to be honest, we didn’t plan it that way – God brought us there. We were actually going to the coffee shop where our son works. But when we were passing Lakewood cemetery, my wife asked me to stop the car because she wanted to show me a little chapel there. The chapel was occupied, and we went to Joseph’s grave.
Thousands of stories set in stone
Joe was a good friend of mine; he died twenty years ago. Twenty years old. How time flies! I remember him as I do now. I remember all his jokes and sarcastic notes. I remember his beautiful bass playing closer and closer as he walked towards us. I remember his infectious faith, his unceasing praise of the Lord in his heart, and his desire that all should be as free in Christ as he was. I remember all our long, deep conversations. I had the privilege of being his best man when he married Nancy. He was only thirty-seven when his life was cut short. Since then, new people have been born and raised.
My wife and I wandered for a long time through a green field covered with tombstones with names and dates. Each stone stood in memory of someone who, like Joe, had once been full of life and excitement. Each of them was a story full of beauty, pain and sin, incomprehensible and meaningful in eternity. Each of them is a personal living story, woven into the others, for better or for worse, until death tears it apart. And now only memorial stones remain from these stories… We walked around, thought about our stories and noted how many stones with the names of both spouses at once.
Poetry in the cemetery
When the chapel for which we had originally come to the cemetery was empty, we entered it, and I sang to my wife the song I had written for her on our wedding day.:
Wake up, my Love, walk with me
The winter passed, and the rain came with the spring
Flowers and wild grapes grow
Come with me, I am very glad to see you
Let’s leave the past, now let’s move forward
The Lord is preparing a new year for life…
After thirty years of intertwining our lives into one and years of “wisdom,” these poems seem even deeper than I originally intended them to be. We have become more aware of how temporary the earth family is. No matter how beautiful it is, it is conceived as a prototype of something more beautiful, something eternal-meeting with the Groom. And we are trying to imagine what it will be like.
As we walked out of the cemetery, holding hands and wiping away our tears with our free hands, we had one thought in our heads:
“It is better to go to a house of mourning for the dead than to go to a house of feasting; for this is the end of every man, and the living will take it to heart” (Ecclesiastes Chapter 7 verse 2)
Preparing to enter the house of feasting
The best that exists is given by God. He didn’t bring us to the cemetery just to be serious on our anniversary. Three days later, our first granddaughter was born, and we were on our way to the feast house.
God, speaking through Ecclesiastes, by no means means means that celebrating is a stupid and harmful pastime. No, the same book says (Chapter 3 verse 1) that “there is a time for all things, and the time of every thing under heaven.” “He has made all things beautiful in their season, and has put peace in their hearts, though man cannot comprehend the works that God does, from beginning to end” (verse 11). And there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to lament, and a time to dance” (verse 4).
But why does God put weeping before laughter and mourning before dancing? Because “lamentation is better than laughter; for when the face is sad, the heart is made better” (Chapter 7 verse 3).
Joy through tears
There, in the cemetery, my wife and I would cry in advance, remembering someone who was immensely dear to us. But that grief was diluted with hope (1 Thessalonians 4: 13). We who live on earth knew that we were going to die, and we looked forward to the beginning of our real life. Wiping away our tears, we rejoiced in the hope that Christ gave us (1 Peter 1: 3).
This cry paved the way for our granddaughter, who was an exact copy of her mother in infancy, to be welcomed into her arms. When we cried, we drew joy from the depths; when we were grieved, we danced in the hope of something stronger than our earthly life.-James 4: 4. By anticipating the end, we understood the value of this new and beautiful beginning.
“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of gladness” (Ecclesiastes 7: 4). Why is this so? For the wise build not on sand, but on stone (Matthew 7: 24-27). Joy, unaware or unwilling to know about grief, builds its house on the sand that is destined to fall apart. The wise remember their demise and build their home on the eternal rock Of the word of Redemption.
Only when we are wise in our grief are we ready to accept the earthly joy that God gives in his own time.