"After these things, the Lord's servant, Joshua son of Nun, died at the age of 110. They buried him in his allotted territory at Timnath-serah, in the hill country of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash. Israel worshiped Yahweh throughout Joshua's lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua and who had experienced all the works Yahweh had done for Israel. Joseph's bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the parcel of land Jacob had purchased from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, for 100 qesitahs . It was an inheritance for Joseph's descendants. And Eleazar son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, which had been given to his son Phinehas in the hill country of Ephraim." (Joshua 24:29-33 HCSB)
Have you visited the cemetery lately? For a period of over four years, it was impossible for me not to think about one everyday. In the morning, when I woke and looked out my window, I saw tombstones dotting the hillsides. We lived beside the church building where I pastored and on two sides of that old sanctuary, a huge graveyard came right up to the walls. You could know when springtime had come, as the mowing of all that grass began. The contrast between the tombstones and the green grass was at its peak. Then, there was summer and at times the sun baked the grass, turning it a bit brown and brittle. Thunderstorms would pop up some evenings, as torrential rain saturated the ground to refresh the withered lawn, lightning flashing, causing the monuments to have a ghostly appearance. Fall would send cool winds driving multi-colored leaves into the cemetery, making it look like an artist's palette. The beauty painted on the canvas of grass was yet a reminder of what was to come. Winter--and with that winter, the grass died. Sometimes the falling snow blanketed the graveyard and sat like a frozen crown atop each tombstone.
In every season, people would gather there for funerals. You might see a small child running around with a mother as she told him to stop and be quiet. There might stand a teenager, all sullen and restless, obviously made to wear a dress and attend a memorial service against her will. Young couples would walk hand in hand. Middle-aged folks would also, but their pace seemed a bit slower, their steps more measured. Then, comes a widow, leaning on the undertaker, struggling to get up the hill, tears flowing through the furrows of her face, plowed by the harrow of time.
In that graveyard were boxes of bones, containing the remains of people from every season of life. There were tiny markers--just small rocks without a name, where a large number of children had died in an epidemic that ravaged the community a century before. A marker recorded the name of a young man whose life spanned only into his teens. Was it a car accident that brought him to this resting place abruptly? The stone didn't tell.
Some did relay a story. One monument recorded that the man buried in the sod had been killed by his pet deer. There were those who died in battle. Soldiers' remains from every conflict were there--from the American Revolution to the Civil War to the great World Wars and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. On Memorial Day weekend, the graves of the veterans would feature hundreds of small flags. One tombstone was a large boulder. It marked the grave of a pastor of the church. As he traveled in his wagon down the road, engaged in spiritual service, some boys atop the hill were playing, and dislodged the massive rock to watch it tumble down the mountainside. That rock crashed into Rev. Peek, killing him, and the stone became his tombstone!
Have you visited a cemetery lately? You can tell I have had many trips. Though I no longer live beside one, as a pastor, I frequently am in one, speaking words of comfort to a grieving family. I have been there when a warm breeze gently caressed our faces, the sound of birds singing in the trees, serenading the sorrowful souls under the tent. I have stood there, when the tent swayed and had to elevate my voice to be heard over the buckets of rain pouring down and the boom of thunder. I have met families under that tent, when a chill wind matched the chill in our hearts, as the grave was ready to encase a cold corpse in the frosty ground. I have walked through snow to stand and speak to shivering people, as they said their final good-byes on earth.
Have you been to a cemetery lately? You should go. There are voices that speak from those graves--oh, not audibly--that would send us running! The voices are of memory--stories engraved in marble--lessons to be learned. Those draw us. We visit such a graveyard in the Scripture today.
Joshua has died. Eleazar is buried. Even the box of bones, carrying the remains of Joseph are finally laid to rest, carried from Egypt and deposited in the soil of the Promised Land.
Why dies God want us to visit this cemetery? Why should we care about bones?
They remind us of the past. They are monuments to the work of God. We can recall lessons learned--some of them the hard way. They are testaments to the faithfulness of God.
They point us to the future. Tombstones are stark reminders of the brevity of life and the gravity of death, also, the reality of mortality and eternity. Those are matters we don't always want to consider, but which we need to weigh.
Here is what the Scripture says, "...it is appointed for people to die once-and after this, judgment..." (Hebrews 9:27 HCSB).
You may not have visited a cemetery lately, but one day your body will be carried there. Where will you be? Heaven or hell?
Prepare to meet God. Someone may be rolling a rock on a mountainside and it may have your name on it. Leave behind a testimony of your faith in Christ that will give great hope to your family.
Here is the full context of Hebrews 9:27, "Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And just as it is appointed for people to die once-and after this, judgment- so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him." (Hebrews 9:26-28 HCSB)
Trust Him. Receive Jesus as Savior and Lord--before you visit the cemetery, too late.