by Sadiri Joy Tira
Graveyards and tombs can have significant and life-changing impact. Visiting these places remind us of the past, present, and future realities of life. They can also point us to our eternal destiny.
I have seen many tombs and graveyards. I visited Mother Teresa’s grave in Kolkata, where thousands of pilgrims visit each year to honour her memory. During the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I stood in front of Martin Luther and Phillipp Melanchthon’s graves inside the Castle Church of Wittenberg (Germany). There, my faith in Christ was rejuvenated, and I walked out with courage and hope for world evangelization.
But I have been inspired at the tombs of many others.
During my days off while serving as a pastor in my home city of Edmonton, Alberta (Canada), I would visit several cemeteries simply to walk in solace and read what was written on the grave markers. I left these cemeteries counting how many were resting in the everlasting arms of their Creator, and singing some of my favourite hymns, including “Face to Face,” “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling,” and “Rescue the Perishing Care for the Dying” to myself.
On March 2, 2018, in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was privileged to read the inscriptions on Billy and Ruth Graham’s grave markers.
“While riding down the highway years ago, Ruth noticed a sign beside the road: ‘End of construction — Thank you for your patience.’ With a smile, she said that these were the words she wanted on her gravestone.”
“When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he replied simply as his gravestone states: ‘a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.’ Echoing the words of D.L. Moody, he once said: ‘Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you ever believe a word of it! I shall be more alive then than I am now … I will have gone into the presence of God.”
The Grahams’ gravestones brought to mind my visit to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, Israel in the 1990s. Our study group was informed that many Christian archaeologists and historians believed that the Garden Tomb is where the Master Jesus was buried and resurrected.
Our group recounted how Mary came looking for Jesus, only to discover an empty tomb (John 20:1-23). When she told the frightened disciples, they too visited the tomb but were met by the angels and the Living Christ, who pronounced, “Peace be with you!”
Would you believe that I have at times taken close friends and relatives for walks in cemeteries and graveyards? There, I read the Scriptures, pray for them, and introduce them to Jesus Christ. Some friends have cried aloud, and with deep remorse, have confessed their sins to ask God to forgive them, ultimately surrendering their lives to the Saviour and Judge.
My friend, Paul, was one of these friends. After he was diagnosed with cancer, the two of us visited his own waiting tomb plot. There, standing over his waiting tomb, Paul prayed to accept Jesus Christ as his Redeemer. He prayed: “Lord Jesus, in Heaven, you will wipe away my tears and I will be completely healed. Today, I give my life and remaining days to you!”
Cemeteries, tombs, and graveyards are not just for the dead, but are for the living — those of us living at the front door of eternity. What a joy for the gospel of hope and eternal life and peace with God! “Peace be with you!” must be pronounced beyond the tomb, and into our troubled days.
Sadiri Joy Tira is senior associate for diasporas with Lausanne and diaspora missiology specialist with the Jaffray Centre for Global Initiativesat Ambrose University and Seminary (Calgary, AB, Canada).