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  Thursday April 24th, 2014    

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Saints, cemeteries and tombstones (10/27/2013)
From: T.M. Schoewe

Another Halloween (Holy Eve) or “All Saints Day” is at hand. Back in our day there was nothing holy or hallowed about it. When we grew up in Plainview circa 1920-30, it was “wicked” with no thought about saints; it was about witches and goblins. We soaped store windows, carried corn shocks from farmers’ fields and stacked them around the public school building. Outhouses were tipped over. There were pranks with limburger cheese on door knobs. These rowdy acts were gradually replaced with the traditional “trick or treat.” And still there’s not much thought about saints, rather pumpkins seem more popular.

So we were thinking about those saints, those that have gone before, which somehow reminded of tombstones. Did anyone ever ask what you wanted to have on your tombstone? We read of a man who was getting old and wasn’t well, who bought a cemetery lot then took a lawn chair and sat there for a week and reflected on his life to see how the choices or decisions he made looked under the eye of God and whether there was any ultimate hope and reliance on Almighty God’s mercy for mankind. It probably also provided him time to think about what he might like his tombstone to say.

Permit some observations about a few cemeteries in France, in Massachusetts and Minnesota. We were fortunate to live in Brittany for a couple years. That’s northwest France. It was shortly after WWII and there were few cars. Bicycles were the chief transportation. On the eve of All Saints Day and on the day itself, the narrow roads filled with French ladies dressed in black, wearing laced head pieces, carrying red geraniums to cemeteries very much like those we have in our rural areas. And there are the large military cemeteries of Omaha and Utah beach, and just south of Cherbourg, the St James cemetery. These cemeteries are unbelievably large: thousands of acres filled with hundreds of lines of marble crosses, all dressed in perfect formation on the green grass like companies of soldiers in standing in ranks at attention one next to the other. 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 could not tell from our viewing, 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 bluff where Sugar Loaf stands. Many acres are covered with brown crosses of wood. It represents the great cost of the long, war of WWI.

Now we go to Concord, Mass. 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 humus, 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, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Sounds like humility, and of one surrendered to God.

Let’s go quickly to our Woodlawn Cemetery in Winona. It is really special and in many ways spectacular with a great variety of tombstones meandering along the bluff overlooking Lake Winona. 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, in the front row of stones a little ways to the west of the main gate, 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.

There are many styles of tombstones but actually only two classes. One is just about YOU. The other is just you (without God’s breath), dust, and maybe a symbol of hope. Because you said with David “Thou art with me.” Or with John who recognized the “thou art” saying “I am the resurrection and the Life.” So much for the news on your tombstone, that is really just for others to remember you by. The news should not be about YOU, but the news about God, Who is still with you! 

 

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