Cemeteries: Signs of Faith and of Civilization

I lived a good many years in the middle of a cemetery. Seeing gravestones was a part of everyday life for our family. My children were not prone to whistle in the dark. They were acquainted with the graves of children who had died in an epidemic. They marveled at a beautiful sculpted angel and were touched when I translated the German inscriptions on all four sides of the gravestone. It was a deep expression of trust that God who had let His holy angels watch over us would let those angels carry us to His presence even as the final enemy was faced. Joseph Bottum has written a thoughtful article at First Things. It is interesting to ponder how our funerals and our cemeteries express our faith and our culture.

I am also struck by the change in funeral culture over the past twenty years. More and more it seems to be about a sort of mini-celebrity affair. The whole balloon release, flower bedighted accident sites, made-for-media atmosphere is crowding out our Christian witness.

I am reminded of the funeral of an uncle a few years back. His widow hire a Methodist pastor to conduct a service at the funeral home. It lasted 1 1/2 hours. It included the pastor vested in cowboy garb singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and a smorgasbord of inanities and tastelessness. It has remained in my mind as an example of a loss of faith and a decline in civilization.

Funerals are quickly going the way of weddings. I used to say I would rather hold ten funerals than one wedding. I think the ratio has decreased as funerals have become points of conflict between what is Christian and our crypto-pagan culture.


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