My Granddaddy’s brother and sister in law lived on the edge of a Mayberryesque town in the foot hills of the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas. DeQueen is an unmemorable place. There is really absolutely nothing special that makes it stand out from all the other sleepy one stoplight towns across the south. Well, unless your great uncle and aunt lived there in a small wood frame house a block away from a creepy old cemetery. Here, where I live, most cemeteries in town are beautiful. They have lush well manicured lawns and are shaded by ample large oak trees. They are very well maintained places that a person can go and feel peaceful and comfortable visiting the resting place of a loved one. The cemetery near my aunt and uncles house was not like that. It always seemed … dead. The grass was dry and brown and crunched under foot. There were many large trees scattered throughout: Oak, pecan, sour gum and others. It seemed they had more leaves on the ground than on their branches. It was an older cemetery and had many grand tomb stones. Some were large gray lifeless memorials to people no one remembered. Perfect for some boogie monster or ax murderer to hide behind waiting for an innocent child to wander by and become their prey. Here and there on a crooked branch high in a cottonwood or perched atop a towering monolith would be a plump, foreboding crow. And at the least appropriate moment he would holler out a raspy, slightly off key, “Caw, caw, caw!”
On the occasions my uncles accompanied us on our annual summer treks to Arkansas, they always seemed to think it a great idea to take my brothers and me to visit that scariest of graveyards. We would walk the block or so down a worn asphalt road lined with uncut grass and adorned with various blue and yellow wild flowers. Then as we passed under the cemetery sign proudly arched across the entrance drive, it seemed the sky instantly clouded and the air chilled with a brisk breeze. As we approached the back side my uncles would convince us younger and much less devious boys that this would be a great place, if not the perfect place, to play hide and seek. After much prodding and persuading, all but one of us would hide. “It” would sit behind a large old grave marker, close his eyes and begin counting. Once the uncles were sure everyone was hiding and not looking, they would swiftly run back to our aunt and uncles house leaving us alone to fend for ourselves against whatever evil might be waiting. This was one of the most frightening things in my life.
I’ve preached several funerals over the years. The graveside service is always the hardest and most emotional part. It’s there that we realize our loved one is really dead. We are surrounded by so many graves and markers. Theirs right in front of us. It seems so final… so permanent. It’s during these moments I’m able to share the reality found in scripture that if Jesus has redeemed us, our loved one, that this, here, is not the end. Unlike I was left in the cemetery by my uncles, we will not be left by our Father. I share these words from 1 Corinthians 15:
We will not all fall asleep,
but we will all be changed,
52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye,
at the last trumpet.
For the trumpet will sound,
and the dead will be raised incorruptible,
and we will be changed.
53 For this corruptible must be clothed
and this mortal must be clothed
54 When this corruptible is clothed
and this mortal is clothed
then the saying that is written will take place:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
55 Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?
56 Now the sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ!