by John C. Odean

In the past two weeks our family experienced the death of my wife’s father, Dr. Hilary T. S. O’Herlihy, and the loss of our dear friend, parishioner Carolynn Kendall. So during these two days that we observe All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day I find myself pondering both the brevity of life (“You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” – James 4:14) and conversely, the eternity that we will step into at the end of our brief lives in order to be forever with Christ.

Since my earliest remembrances I have been fascinated by cemeteries. To this day, as I travel the world, I will often stop in a city’s cemetery to see the finality of the ‘circle of life.’ By that, I mean I will find myself in a section of a graveyard where an entire family has been buried. I will stand before the graves of a mother or father – and next to them is a small child of theirs that died at a very young age. I imagine the procession of family and friends who, a hundred or two hundred years before, came to the very spot at which I now stand. I imagine them wild with grief – not knowing how they would make it through the rest of their lives – the pain seemed just too much to bear. And looking up a row and over a couple of graves, I see a brother – he predeceased his parents too – and I imagine his burial procession a couple years following the younger child. There has been a lot of pain in this spot. I look at the dates on the tombstones and see that a few years later Mama passed – and several years later, Daddy died. And as I look around me, I identify all of the children…and how they grew…and how their spouses are here now…and their children as well. All of them eventually showed up to this earthly final family gathering. Every person lived, got up, went to school – then worked – likely got married – had children – with no regard to one day spilling into another until they ran out of days. For the most part none knew the amount of days that were given them to live before it was over. Of course these are the musings of philosophers, poets and playwrights like Thornton Wilder. They’ve pondered life and eternity for centuries. And from my earliest years, so have I. That is why I visit cemeteries around the world.

There is a certain peace and knowledge I take away from those monuments to earth’s long forgotten citizens. For all their rushing through life, enjoying the moments of joy, loathing the mundane, and staggering under the seasons of grief… after a brief run, the ending is the same for all. Life on earth will end for everyone – witnessed by the years of silence as wind whispers its loneliness over the very spot where people brought their anguish and suffering so long ago. There no longer is wild grief here – it passed as those who suffered its pain themselves passed from these earthly portals. Time is the great equalizer of things deemed unfair, or premature. 

As Wilder writes: “We all know that something is eternal…all the greatest people who ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.” 

And so for me, that’s what visiting cemeteries is all about – and that is what this Week of Remembrance points me towards (All Saints, All Souls). Eternity. These experiences point me toward the reality that the Apostle Paul hearkened us towards: 

“In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”  – 2 Tim. 4:8. 

Indeed, I do love the fact that He will one day appear for me. I also love the life that He has granted me to live right now.  But as deep calls to deep – there is something eternal within me that calls out for fulfillment – to be forever with Him.  This longing and aching has been with me all of my life – I liken it to the feeling of ‘homesickness’, which makes sense as the Bible tells us we are strangers and foreigners in this world, citizens of another Kingdom. Paul spoke of that kind of longing when he wrote of wanting to be with Christ forever, as did many other Bible writers. Believers down through the ages opine this ‘ache’ for face-to-face fellowship with Christ.  And to you, in this Week of Remembrance, I acknowledge to you this longing I have carried for as long as I can remember. 

“To see His face, this is my goal;  
The deepest longing of my soul;  
Through storm and stress my path I’ll trace  
Till, satisfied, I see His face!”  

As we continue through these All Saints’ and All Souls’ days, I wanted to leave you with a favorite hymn of mine which deals with the brevity of life, and who/what we tether ourselves to. I present to you – I Believe In A Hill Called Mount Calvary by Sam Robson.