It's not as odd as it sounds...

Prayer happens everywhere, even in the tanning bed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

To live is Christ, To die is gain.

In Philippians 1:21 Paul told the church that for him "To live was Christ and to die was gain". It wasn't really hard for me to understand what he meant once I understood what the abundant life in Christ was and then even more-so grasped the joy of Heaven. It took on another face to me when I stepped foot into God's Acre, a Moravian graveyard, one of the first in this country in Winston-Salem, NC just last week. (you can read more about them here ).  

The entrance to "God's Acre" Old Salem.

Michael and I were surprised to see a grave yard with acres and acres of white marble (or granite) stones. All the same, nothing different except the names on the stones. 
Actually, there is more to it than that. The Moravians believe their cemetary should reflect heaven. In that case there is nothing to show rich or poor, white or black, and the only separation is the separation that took place in their Sunday School "choir". A Choir in a Moravian church is a set apart group of people. The women from the men, the married from the unmarried, the children from the adults. That is how they are buried. Each "acre" has a group of people segregated not by their family but by their choir.

They understood clearly that in Heaven there is no need for marriage. Family units will not hold the level of importance that they do here.

I have to admit though, I almost gasped when I realized that families weren't buried together. 

I first fell in love with cemeteries after Rebekah died. Yes, I said I was in love with them. I used to walk around her cemetery for hours just reading the head stones trying to put pieces together. Who belonged to whom and what may have happened to cause their death.  Never once did I ask myself "I wonder what their life was like?"

Walking through God's Acre that is really the only question that you want to ask. The reason is that almost all the headstones have Scripture verses on them. Most of them aren't the typical verses that you would see on a headstone. I found a couple young married men who died before their 30th birthday. One of their stones had Job 1:21 on it. Typical, really, for a family to put atop the stone of a young father leaving behind a grieving wife and parents. I would suppose the wife chose that verse. It probably helped her as much as anything else would have to stand up under her circumstances. 

I loved the one of  Mrs. Ivory Ayers. She must have been a very simple woman who put her faith into practice in very obvious and practical ways. After all, what is more simple and practical than
 "Only Sleeping"

And how much more correct could she be?

John Oakley's stone had a bit more information. His told us that he was a Father. Of course the Moravians would have known that by where he was buried. I found it interesting that some of the other headstones of women not only mentioned the woman's name but stated under it "the wife of:" and gave her husband's name as well. 

Mr. Oakley's scripture verse is Isa 26:3. He knew that not only HE would be kept in perfect peace but so would that of his loved ones as he waited for them in paradise. 


Here's my question. What was it about their lives that prompted the verses or words that were placed on their headstones? 

I don't know if they instructed their families in what was to be put on their stones or if their wives or children or parents chose the verses for them. Surely, though, the verses on their headstones must have some reflection on the lives they led. 

At least, I am convinced that is true. One stone that I am sad I didn't have a picture of was of a woman with three very Gospel spreading verses. I knew she HAD to have been on fire for the Lord and MUST have shared Him with everyone she knew in life, she certainly was insistant upon continuing to share in her death. 

I didn't really want to leave. There were more stones to read. More images to plant in my mind of who all these people were and how all these people lived. 

I suddenly wanted to stay. Just for about six months. I knew there were grandchildren and great grandchildren and maybe even great - great grandchildren that had memories of these people buried in God's Acre. There must have been stories told even records kept that I could get some insight from. Can you imagine reading a story about M. Rosco Sigeloff and to learn that he had a personal impact on every person he knew. That the message he left on his stone was powerful because no one that knew him came away from an encounter with him the same. 

I do have a writer's heart, I really do. I don't have the time to be one, unfortunately, but this time, more than ever, I am pulled by a desire to meet these families and know these men and women and to learn what it was about their lives that are reflected in their death. These words are the ONLY thing these people have left to speak. There are powerful reasons why these are the words that they want associated with them. 

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't reflect myself. 

I will tell you a secret - I have planned my funeral. Well, most of it. And I've planned Michael's too (only he doesn't know it and may be a bit creeped out by that fact... or maybe he'll begin to sleep with one eye open). When Rebekah died I realized what a vulnerable state almost everyone is in that sit in a funeral home or church sanctuary or grave side. Even those who don't believe in God or refuse to acknowledge him, while looking at the casket of someone they have some semblance of relationship with, contemplate their own eternity. It's imperative that in death, we leave something behind. Something of meaning, something of ourselves for those who are left behind to grasp on to and to run with. Every person who loved one of these in God's Acre have that. A Bible verse, a wise saying, a written memory. They have a statement from that person that confirms for their loved one that IT is not over. Life goes on, not just for those left behind but for those who are no longer greeting them at the door or kissing them goodnight. That death is just a temporary thing and through Jesus Christ they will all, one day, be rejoicing together in Heaven. What better gift can a dying father, mother, husband, wife, or child give to those they leave behind. 

And then I saw it. Revelation 21:4 "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away." That is Rebekah Joy's verse. It's on her headstone in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Very far from her mommy and daddy and yet with just a flip of a few pages she's right there with us. It is so, the verses, the sayings, the words on that block of stone. They reflect the lives of those who have gone on but just as Rev 21:4 brings warmth to our hearts and loving tears to our eyes, those words on the stones do just the same for those who are left behind in Winston-Salem, NC.