A little less than a year ago I moved to a sweet little town in Northern Missouri. It is the kind of place where idyllic life still happens. We have (multiple) parades each year that shut down the main road, people raise a hand and say hi when they pass, and the yearly Christmas display at the park makes my childhood heart happy.
In our time here I have had only two complaints. One, I miss Aldi’s. Because…Aldi’s. And two, I wanted someplace to walk. Not on a track or at the park where I felt like a hamster going in circles but something long. And meandering. And away from humanity.
Y’all, I found it. It’s the cemetery.
That’s right. Tucked in behind the First Baptist Church is a huge, very old cemetery with undulating hills, wandering paths, and giant canopied trees. It’s the kind of cemetery you find in historic towns where the tombstones don’t match and some are so old and worn by wind and weather that you can’t read the inscription anymore.
While my children were amusingly distressed that I am walking alone in a cemetery, I find it peaceful. Cemeteries are stories. Stone tributes dot the hillsides, giving names and dates to the human experience. I discover new treasures each time I go. I have been struck by the graves of all the children. Infants with one date listed, having left for Home the same day they arrived. And children who lived only a few years, some with siblings who did the same. Oh, how time and medicine have changed our experience of childbearing.
Today I thanked God for a woman named “Rebeca”. Her stone is uneven, resting slightly askew and was clearly hand carved. Someone had little money but enough heart to mark her name for posterity. I wondered who loved her. And I found a couple whose last name was “Waffle”. I think we would have been friends because you can’t have the last name Waffle and not be fun people.
Young people and old people. Veterans and homemakers. Acre after acre of people who lived their stories. As I rounded the last winding path I had the thought, “They all lived but now here they all are, lying in their graves.”
And then I laughed. Out loud. It was only one quick giggle but it bubbled up out of nowhere, surprising me. I am certain if anyone heard me I would have sounded like a callous, irreverent fool.
I laughed because as soon as I finished the thought, “…here they all are, lying in their graves…” God interjected, “Except Me!”
Of course! That’s right! He’s not in His grave. He is risen, alive and well, living alongside us every day. While all of our bodies eventually give out, He beat death and is hanging out ready to welcome us Home. It was a funny moment of joy in a place that has known so much sadness. But isn’t it just like God? He owns the original design for turning sorrow into joy.
I’ve been walking among the dead with the One who lives. What a gift.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” Matthew 28:5-6