Words from the Graveside


Today, I stood beside an open grave. The casket had been placed over it awaiting the words I would say before it was lowered and covered and we all slowly walk away. Multiple sets of eyes look at me from the faces of grieving family and friends. Not one of them planned to be here until just a day or so ago, and it is really not a comfortable place for any of us to be. In the brief moment before the committal service begins, a brief flash of clarity forces it way into my thoughts.

 I have nothing to say.

 In spite of the fact that in multiple decades of pastoral ministry I have made this trip more times than I can recount and I have done my duty. However, I am starkly aware that my mind cannot manufacture words for such an occasion. For you see my destiny is locked in the vice-grip certainty that one day it will not be me speaking over the grave; it will be my turn to occupy one. I am not in this alone. All of us gathered in this windy hillside cemetery will one day make a final return trip to a place like this. No words of my own will work.

Even without glancing down there is the comfortable reassuring feel of the leather cover of the book I hold in my hand. It is from this source that some measure of sense about the giving and losing of life can be gained. In its pages there is a recipe for the tonic of hope; there is the healing serum that can heal a broken heart. What I have to offer a tear-filled widow, dazed children, and confused grandchildren must not come from one who is simply a participant in life but from the giver of life.

With a nod from the ever-professional funeral director, I begin. I glance once more into the eyes of those who are hurting the most, then mention the name and vital facts of the person whom we have come to honor and mourn. I quickly open the compact Bible in my hands and run my fingers down the page to find the place where Jesus spoke as He approached the burial site of His friend Lazarus. I sense relief that what can be said and needs to be said has been granting comfort and hope for twenty centuries. I merely provide the vocal apparatus to give sound to the message from the One who conquered death. One who once occupied a grave and evacuated one as well. One who through His sacrifice opened the way to a permanent home on the other side. I read…

  “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)

 A few more words are spoken, a prayer is offered and the service is done. I close my Bible, I greet the family a final time, push my reading glasses into my suit pocket, walk among the previously filled graves and the ones yet to be used. I whisper a prayer of thanksgiving that because of Him, some day when someone stands beside my grave, I will live..

Jesse Waggoner  @JesseWaggoner

Originally published January 30, 2012