But seriously, Ladies and Gentlemen, they do. After all, unless our Master returns (Come, Lord Jesus), we are all headed to a cemetery for long term storage. So they do have a way of keeping you…if not grounded, then humble. You see, when pride sneaks in, cemeteries remind me that in 100+ years, no one will remember me. I can imagine my genealogy-oriented descendent: “Oh, yeah, I had a great, great grandpa, Roger Knowlton, who was in the helping professions, I think. Maybe he was a social worker?”
(By the way, tell me the name of your great, great grandpa…yeah, I thought so.)
And one more thing about cemeteries – I love to walk amidst them and read the tombstones. I like to try to discern if the dearly departed was a believer and therefore, I trust, a future friend. Of course, with the limited data of a grave marker, such discernment is admittedly a tricky proposition, but some folks have made it easier than others. Take one of my favorites: many years ago, I was walking through the cemetery in Champaign, Illinois (where I received my Business degree at the University of Illinois) and I discovered my life verse:
“Christus ist mein leben, sterben ist mein gewinn.” Philippians 1:21 (Martin Luther’s translation), translated, of course, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (ESV)
I like the starkness of the German translated literally into English: CHRIST IS MY LIFE. DEATH IS MY PROFIT.
The logic behind this verse is impeccable. First, Christ is my life, and hearing this beautiful prose, every part of me wants to scream out – “Yes, yes, by God’s grace, yes He is!” And then, in the second half of verse 21, Paul uses financial terms: Gain and forfeit, Profit and loss.
You see, the majority of people around us consider death to be a loss, and they are absolutely right. For those who do not live for Christ, dying will mean the loss of everything, the loss of family, the loss of friends, the loss of peace and pleasure and all joy. Like a car crashing headlong full-speed into a semi, life itself will be a TOTAL LOSS.
But Christians also sometimes think of death as a loss, and that’s a mistake. Of course, in a very real sense, we don’t want to die. No one wants to say goodbye to dear loved ones. No one wants to go through the pain of disease or the wasting away of the body during aging. But the lesson of Philippians 1:21 is that beyond these very hard things, death for the believer…will be gain. Not debit, but credit. Not loss, but profit, and gain…great, great gain.
It’s enough to make you want to wander around cemeteries.
For tomorrow, Wednesday, August 5th: Philippians 2