At the weekend I had the chance to be in Wanganui which was the home of my paternal grandfather before he married my Christchurch grandmother and lived the rest of his life with her in Christchurch. I was able to visit two graveyards - the Heads Rd 'Old Wanganui Cemetary' and the Aramoho Cemetary - between which his parents and grandparents, and various uncles are buried.
For me that visitation was very moving. I felt reconnected with the past of my family. The gravestones, albeit a little battered and bruised by the elements, stand as they stood at the time of their erection, presumably not long after the actual burial of my ancestors. Their inscriptions reach out across time and say on behalf of the deceased, 'we are here, your past is not separated by time, or by space.' Through such knowledge of our past we gain security in our personal identity: from death comes life!
Since none of our family live in Wanganui I guess the visits by family to these graves are few and far between. (It may be 26 or so years since I visited the Aramoho grave, and its about 14 years since I visited the other graves). So for long periods of time these graves simple stand there, making no connections.
But I am grateful that they are there for the rare visit. Part of that gratitude goes to the Wanganui City Council for the care they take of their cemetaries. And I am reminded, since many churches have graveyards, that while graveyards may look lifeless, even sterile, and in this day and age offer all the 'wrong' images for the business of offering life to people ... and thus from time to time tempt us to think about whether there is a point to continuing to have graves surrounding our churches ... in fact they contain within them, let the reader understand, messages of life.
And all this reflection leads into this week's sermon on All Saints ...