extraordinary family reunion

Toward the end of a recent family vacation my grandmother and I went to an unexpected family reunion. People from all over central and eastern Kentucky had gathered for the occasion. My grandfather, great grandparents, great uncles and aunts, many cousins, and my great great grandparents were all present. It was an extraordinary occasion, and I was unquestionably the youngest person in attendance. Of course this wasn’t a typical family reunion like a picnic in the park or a party at a relative’s home. Instead, my family had assembled years earlier at the Winchester Cemetery in Winchester, Kentucky.

Cemeteries are like forgotten perennials appearing faithfully year after year while receiving only slight attention. They are too often neglected acres surrounded by burgeoning development and busy roads, or they are isolated to distant churchyards in the countryside. Small grave plots, marked by grand monuments, simple etched stones, or gentle earthen depressions, are usually neglected by all but the closest relatives and the dutiful groundskeepers. In a cemetery time moves unhurriedly, providing space to reflect on life’s brevity and significance. It’s while walking among the dead that you remember that your days, months, and years on this earth are finite.

When grandma and I turned our car into the Winchester Cemetery, we merely aimed to visit grandpa’s grave and see a few other relatives. Yet, what struck me as we slowly drove down the winding roads and carefully walked the neatly mown lawns is how often I neglect the past. The cemetery is far removed from my daily routine, and my deceased relatives rarely invade a day’s thoughts. In the swiftness of every day living, I often fail to remember how imminent and unavoidable death is. All of us, no matter our heritage, hubris, or humility have a pending appointment with a grave, marked by a stone, and soon forgotten by the living.

The Winchester Cemetery, which opened in 1854, memorializes several thousand lives. Beneath the wavy green grass, the brightly colored flowers, and the weathered burial markers lay people with unique lives. Some enjoyed wealth, notoriety and power. Others suffered in poverty, obscurity, and drudgery. Some lived for decades, and others lived a few days. Most of the deceased had married, raised children, welcomed grandchildren, and buried their loved ones. All of them went through life’s joys and sorrows. Now, in spite of all their personal experiences and accomplishments, they each lay lifeless—made equal in death, covered by the earth, and surrounded by relatives—unknown and unnoticed by their descendants.

Yet, for all of the solemnity that a cemetery summons, it can also be a place of renewed faith and hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Son of God took on human form, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and rose from the grave, making resurrection and life possible for repentant sinners. One gravestone inscribed this Bible hope, inviting me, grandma, and others to believe Jesus. “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). For Christians, then, death is not the end of life. It simply gives way to living eternally. So grandma and I, along with all Christians (buried, living and future), will one day gather—not in a cemetery—but at a banquet table in heaven for an extraordinary family reunion.

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