My family and I serendipitously stumbled upon Trinity Church today in New York City. My mother loves walking through old cemeteries, so we stopped for a visit.
Wandering through these cemeteries, the old ones, gives me a sense of peace and a sense of perspective. These antique tombstones were custom made, and most have inscribed upon them undying confidence in eternal Life with Jesus.
For many of these people, all that remains to mark their life on earth is a simple tombstone in the churchyard. Those tombstones that proclaim their ultimate faith in Christ are all that I can use to recreate their life in my mind. I see groups of people living in New York before the Revolution, living each day with faces turned to God and hands doing His great work. Dying was just walking through the doorway that they had been approaching all their lives.
Many of the headstones are so old that nothing remains but the stone itself. No name, no date, no epitaph to identify the skull buried under it. The only clue to the person’s life is that he or she chose to be buried or had a family member choose to bury him or her at Trinity Church in New York City. What a reminder that, though many of our obligations and duties may be worthwhile, the choice for or against Jesus is the one that matters for eternity.
“She was not ashamed to confess the
faith of Christ crucified, and manfully
fought under His banner against
sin, the world, and the devil,
and continued Christ’s
faithful soldier and servant
until her life’s end.”
What an honor. I strive to make those words true about my own life.
I also love what is said on the tombstone of William Bradford.
“… and being quite worn out,
with Old age and labour , he left his
mortal State in the lively Hope of a
Reader reflect how soon you’ll quit this Stage.
You’ll find but few atain to such an Age.
Life full of Pain. Lo here’s a Place of Rest.
Prepare to meet your GOD, then you are blest.”
I especially love the phrase, “and, being quite worn out, … he left his mortal state in the lively Hope of a blessed immortality.” I read it in a very happy, light tone, as if the writer is stating something like, “And, being quite hungry, he went to the kitchen for a bit of cake.” It also sounds like Enoch, who walked with the Lord and simply was no more. Death was nothing to be feared.
How beautiful a picture of who Christ is! From the dawn of consciousness, humans have worried about death. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest recorded human story, follows Gilgamesh as he travels to the ends of the earth to find a cure for death, and subsequent literature has only continued to attempt to make sense of death. The idea revolts us. We know innately that we are meant for eternity, yet to so many people death appears to be the end of it all.
Yet Christ is Life! He comes to bring us Life, and what abundant Life it is! For His followers, death has no sting. We walk through Hades’ now-broken adamantine gates and into the arms of our souls’ One True Love. Instead of the fearful spectre that has haunted the human race for thousands of years, death is simply the gateway to True Life. Like the infant emerging from the darkness of the womb into the world, death allows us to “shuffle off this mortal coil” and proceed into true Life.
I know that when, like these tombstones, all record of my life on earth has been eroded away, my Life will be hid with Christ on high. Amen.