Monday, September 29, 2008

Observations of The Final Resting Place

Three funerals in four days is a lot. As a Minister, I am in the graveyard many times. I spend time with families as they deal with the final separation from their loved ones. It comes with the occupation.

This week however it has been a bit more than usual. It just happened that way.

There have been some changes over these many years of graveside attendance that I have collected in my years of ministry. I posted some of the unusual already – i.e. the W.A. White gravestone in Lindsay, Ontario – September 18, 2008.

The one change began about 50 years ago. It was subtle but radical in a serious way. There was a great shift in society as far as “faith and knowledge” was concerned. People changed the order of placing their relative in the ground. Up to that time all Christians in the western world buried their loved ones facing East. The head of the grave was always on the west end of the grave – the foot on the east end.

In the early days of cemetery planning everyone knew that when Christ returns he would come like the Lightening(see reference below) – coming from the East and flashes to the West. If you are facing east you will be the first to see Him come. This belief was so strong that it over powered any possible aesthetics that might make more sense. Everyone in their final resting place faced east… and when they sat up suddenly they would be facing east.

There are some exceptions however, Joseph Scriven’s grave faces West. See my post of July 7, 2008 – which is odd being that he wrote the words to “What a Friend We have in Jesus” and when he died everyone else was buried facing East – including all the people that he was buried with in the small graveyard they shared with him. There may have not been more “room in the bed’ for him to face East.

50 years ago we either lost our general faith in being the first to see Jesus from our graves – or the beauty of the graveyard placement took over. The better use of the graveyard property for beauty and grounds management may have been the reason. It was all about the business of Funeral Industries.

More than 50 years ago people stopped having Crosses placed on their tombstones. The Cross up to that time was a central part of the Faith. This was no more so than in a Catholic Graveyard.

In a Catholic Graveyard near our home it is fascinating to walk through. At the east side of the Graveyard the stones are the oldest and the biggest – all with large crosses on top. Prominence and position with everybody facing East. The ones at the actual East end of the Graveyard potentially would be first to see what was going on with Christ’s return. The graves at the West end are newer, no crosses and smaller but still facing East.

In certain areas of the country - rural graveyards have another interesting aspect. The odd time there is a grave with a marker outside the graveyard…on the other side of the fence. And there may well be many graves there without markers.

When I first saw this it seemed to me that someone had made a mistake placing the fence. After some questioning I discovered that there was no mistake. The person buried there had disgraced his church and family by committing suicide. That shocking revelation proved the power of the local minister over his congregants at that time. This attempt to show the live congregants the eventual result of suicide and make it a deterrent may have failed completely – because there was more than one grave outside the fence.

However this was not always the case as a friend explained to me when I questioned him about that graveyard. Other people had children and loved ones die this way but paid big money to “someone”… and the person was included inside the fence – but not near their family… rather up against the fence on the outer edge.

Now we have another transformation taking place in the actual mini service order at the graveside itself. One of two things is happening. You now either take a flower form the large bouquet on top of the Casket – as a souvenir… or… You place another flower on top of the Casket out of your deep respect. Following that you can stand and visit at the graveside – for quite and while. Less and less people are rushing away – unless of course the weather is cold or wet.

Over these years I have witnessed some changes yet some things stay the same. I have watched the angry family finally make up over the grave. I have watched
families part with even greater resolve to never speak again. And the best part… I have watched the most wonderful joy spill out to each other at that moment of deepest grief.

A While Ago….are you ready for this…
I am not sure why I did it…but I did. My wife and daughters were with me along with another friend. I just had to do it… This story will likely be told on my final day…

We were walking near a graveyard in Hong Kong. There was a fresh grave dug not far from the place we were walking by.

To help you understand the background to this story, in Hong Kong, the space for burial is at a premium. Graves are used again and again. After about 7 years the body of your loved one is exhumed from the grave, bones are cleaned and placed carefully in a large Bone bottle. Notification is given to the family that their loved one can be moved.

This fresh grave we saw that day was ready for the next person to arrive in about an hour.

Quickly without any to do….I hopped in and laid down…looking up. It was amazing for a few minutes to sense the stillness and pause in my busy life. So this is what it is all about? This “Rest in Peace” is real. I was at that moment completely still and completely at rest. What a feeling!

If you have just picked yourself up off the floor now… I apologize. I didn’t really mean to shock you with that last revelation. But someone had to go down there and come back and tell you… didn’t they? I mean who else would do that just for you? Would you have done that? NO! So I did it for you…! Hey – It is pretty cool! Evidence of my trip is shown below….

Hey – have a wonderful week.

~ Murray Lincoln ~

Sources… on Jesus’ return….
Therefore if they say to you, "Look, He is in the desert!” do not go out; or "Look, He is in the inner rooms!” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew, 24: 26-27)

The View from My Last Resting place….

Reader Inspired suggestion... the following photo was sent to me as a further thought...

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