Our church owns and maintains a cemetery that was established over 100 years ago. Surrounding the sloping two-acre plot is a chain-link fence and lots of trees beyond that. Every year in June, a group of volunteers from our congregation come with rakes and work gloves to gather up the leaves that accumulate along the fence. We briskly rake them onto plastic tarps and haul them to the back of the church property, dumping them over a hill. This annual cemetery clean-up takes a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. I show up because I like the people and the exercise.
That morning, I briefly pulled away from raking to explore the monuments marking the graves of people who once lived. The oldest couple I could find buried there was David and Katharyn Yoost. He was born in 1795 and dies in 1871 after 74 years of living. She was born in 1805 and died in 1859 at a much younger age of 54. I naturally started to wonder about them. How well did he do for those 20 years without her? Did they have a big family? What disease took her life so soon? Did he think about her every day and weep privately? I’ll never know.
The most recent headstone I found was from 2013, marking the grave of the church organist. How old was she when she learned how to play the organ? Did she have a fulfilling career in music? Did the congregation appreciate her and turn out for her funeral? I won’t know that either.
I kept strolling among the tombstones. I recognized the last names of people who had streets in the area named after them. Were they leaders in the community who sold off large tracts of land for subdivisions and shopping centers?
I noticed people who had fought in wars and were designated as revered veterans. One man fought in the War of 1812. Astounding! Other inscriptions were written in German, leaving me guessing what the family wanted to convey.
Finally, I spotted three rectangular brick-sized headstones. One was marked “Father,” the next one, “Mother,” and the next one “Baby.” I flinched as I realized this couple had lost a child as a baby. How sad and unsettling. The grief that people face, as collectively represented by that graveyard, can be overwhelming.
Going back to raking with my group, a volunteer raised her voice for us to come look at something. Outside the fence was a fawn curled up and asleep in the shade of a large tree. There were no other deer in sight, but I’m sure the mother would be back to take care of her baby.
Undisturbed by our presence, the baby deer slept peacefully. The scene offered some symbolism of new life as we worked within the bounds of the cemetery. Alongside a field of death was a baby deer ready to embark on its life adventure, living by its instincts to stay alive.
Here is my takeaway from the day. New life does not replace death, i.e., this one replaces that one. Nor does it come forth from death, like soil provides the substance for plants to sprout and grow. Instead, new life exists alongside death, like the fawn outside the cemetery. We have them both in this present age. When Jesus returns to earth, He will abolish death forever and we will only have life. Until then, we can have new life in the Spirit, which is eternal life that starts now.
Here is how that is possible. The Bible tells of a man who lived among the tombs in a cemetery. He was painfully demon-possessed, crying and cutting himself with stones. “And constantly night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out and gashing himself with stones.” (Mark 5:5) The demons gave him no rest and drove people away wo tried to help him.
When the man saw Jesus from a distance, he ran to Him. Jesus took authority over all the demons, for there were many, and cast them into a herd of pigs. The pigs reacted and rushed down a steep bank and into the sea.
People of the town, who knew of the man living among the tombs, came out and saw Jesus with the man. He was now calm, fully clothed and in his right mind because of Jesus. They were frightened from the incident and begged Jesus to leave. Before He left, Jesus told the healed man to tell people about the new life that God gave him.
Later in Church history after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Apostles were performing miraculous healings in Jesus’ name. The Sadducees were jealous of them as the crowd brought sick people to be healed. Those religious leaders had the Apostles arrested and thrown in jail. During the night, the Lord sent an angel to unlock the prison doors to release them. “But an angel of the Lord during the night opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, ‘Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this New Life.” (Acts 5:19-20)
Here is the full message of new life that the angel spoke of. Like the demon-possess man, a life of sin is a dark, difficult, unhappy way to live. Seeing Jesus and running to Him as Savior extracts us from our bondage to sin. The realm on earth called “new life” is afforded by Jesus and energized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus administers heaven’s help and healing to us in His name. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3: 6-7)
How can we have the “new life” that Jesus avails to us? This blessing from God comes when you stop trusting solely in yourself, have faith in Jesus, renounce your sin, and ask Him to take control of your life. He will do that by His Spirit. You can be “born-again” into God’s realm of eternal life on earth.
Like those monuments rising up from the cemetery grounds, there are three pillars of new life, ageless as those granite stones.) Desire God to speak to you, 2) Hear what He tells you and 3) Do what He says. If you live with these three pillars in place, you will cross over to the other side of death and be on the side of life.