From: T.M. Schoewe
Another Halloween (that is Holy Eve), which means “All Saints Day,” will be at hand next week. Actually it was nothing holy or hallowed when we grew up in Plainview circa 1920-30. As matter of fact it was “wicked” and without any thought about saints. Rather it was about witches and goblins. We soaped store windows, carried corn shocks from the farmer’s fields and stacked them around the public school building. Outhouses were always tipped over. Then the other pranks with limburger cheese that we used to pull. These rowdy acts were gradually replaced with the traditional “trick or treat” that we are all familiar with today. And even to this day there is still not much thought about saints, rather pumpkins seem the most popular. But let’s get back to “All Saints Day.”
When we think about saints we think about all those that have gone before. And it just so too happens, that we have been reading and thinking about tombstones. That is what some old people do. So, did anyone ever ask what you would like to have said on your tombstone? We just read of a man who was getting old and not too well. He bought a cemetery lot and took a lawn chair and went and sat on that lot for a week. Why? To see what his life looked like from the point of death. Probably not too bad of an idea he had to look back and see what choices or decisions or life style were under the eye of God, and if there is indeed ultimate hope and reliance on Almighty God’s mercy to mankind. And perhaps it also provided him the time to reflect about just how he would like his tombstone to sum it all up.
Speaking of tombstones, let’s go for a few minutes to cemeteries in France, in Massachusetts and Minnesota. On France, by divine providence, we were fortunate to live a couple of years in Brittany (N.W. France). It was just shortly after WWII. There were very few cars and bicycles were the chief mode of transportation. And on the eve of All Saints Day (and that very day itself), the narrow roads in Brittany were filled mostly with French ladies dressed in black and wearing lacey head pieces, who were carrying red geraniums to cemeteries that were very much like those we have in rural S.E. Minnesota. Then there are the large military cemeteries of Omaha and Utah beach, and just south of Cherbourg, is the St. James cemetery. They are large, filled with thousands of marble crosses, each of which is lined up perfectly like soldiers at attention on the green grass. Intermingled amongst the crosses are tablets of the Ten Commandments. It is awesome as you look at the simplicity of the lines in such great numbers with the blue Atlantic in the background. How many thousands we do not know, but what a great price was made by Americans to free Europe from the hellish Hitler and that regime! If you go to Verdun you will see another cemetery that takes your breath away. It is on a hillside several times larger than our local Sugar Loaf. Many acres are covered with brown crosses of wood. It represents the great cost of the long, long war of WWI.
Now we go to Concord, Massachusetts. It is called “Authors Ridge,” where many early American writers and philosophers are buried. Ralph Waldo Emerson, probably the most known philosopher in our country’s earlier days, has an immense stone of white quartz with a large bronze plaque saying “passive Master in the hands of the Over Soul,” which we don’t quite understand. Not far away is the headstone of Henry David Thoreau. It simply says, “Henry.” We like that stone. It is saying, “here we are without the breathe of God, just hummus, earth, dust!” No baggage, just dust. We sense his humility. As you may have read, he wrote to Americans saying, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” There are a couple other stones we find interesting, one for a doctor and another for a pastor. The doctor’s reddish headstone is the size of a small billboard and it lists all his accomplishments and the organizations he worked for. It reads like a resume. What is one to make of it? What is he bowing down to? Then there is that one for the pastor. It is simple and small, and has an inscription from Micah to “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Sounds like humility, and of one surrendered to God.
Let’s go quickly to Woodlawn Cemetery in our city of Winona. It is really special and in many ways spectacular with a great variety of tombstone meandering along the bluff overlooking Winona lake. This is where one maybe should go on “All Saints Day.” Many just go to church. Go to the cemetery too! Observe and meditate a bit, and ponder what you may want your tombstone to say. We did and decided. And if you drive slowly along the road in front of Woodlawn going east, you might spy a broken tombstone with the sailor’s cross on it. It is an anchor which is tied into the last two phrases of the third article of our Christian faith, expressing Hope. There is also a reference to Hebrews 4.