Last month our nation observed Memorial Day, a time to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country. Perhaps on that day you visited the grave of one killed in action, or the burial plot of a beloved family member. Maybe you just strolled through the cemetery thinking about those who had lived and are now at rest. You noticed the setting, observed the beauty, and placed a flower on a stone.
Mary Oliver conveys in poetry this experience.
“When I think of death
it is a bright enough city,
and every year more faces there
but not a single one
though I long for it,
and when they talk together,
which they do
it’s in an unknowable language—
I can catch the tone
But understand not a single word—
And when I open my eyes
There’s the mysterious field, the beautiful trees.
There are the stones.
I have officiated at numerous burial services and have spent personal time reflecting on the lives of my family whose graves date back to the late 18th Century. Many generations of my family are buried in the same cemetery. Whether I am participating in the burial of a recently departed person or reflecting on the lives of the departed in a meditative walk, something within me seems to say, “It is okay.” It’s a blessed gift that these people lived and are now at rest. It seems particularly okay and comforting to remember those who lived their lives in the Lord and who have died in the Lord. In the words of a burial service, “For none of us has life in himself, and none becomes his own master when he dies. For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So, then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession. Happy from now on are those who die in the Lord! So it is, says the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.”
At the time of a death we feel grief and loss. But in periods of reflection we can remember that we are part of a bigger picture. We are part of the Mystery of God both in life and in death. So whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.