In the Shadow of the Sanctuary

by DanWolgemuth on June 24, 2022

It was a trip down memory lane. But it turned out to be so much more.

At the end of a Sabbatical last September, Mary and I made a pilgrimage to some significant family sites for both of us. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan for her… Lancaster, Pennsylvania for me.

A small Brethren In Christ church in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania was on the list for me. The building in Mt. Joy was the 2.0 version of the church, but the cemetery beside it was original equipment. 

Tucked behind a wrought iron fence were aging tombstones. Several with the name WOLGEMUTH at the top. Most significant to me was the marker for Grabill and Cecelia. My dad’s parents. My grandparents.

A glance beyond my grandparent’s graves, and there was a grave marker in the cemetery with the name Daniel Wolgemuth on it. No doubt a distant relative… and a vivid wake up call.

Cemeteries beside sanctuaries. Life in proximity to death. In many rural communities, that is the norm. Or at least it was.

That’s outrageous to think about today. Imagine your local congregation embarking on a new building project that includes space for a cemetery. Yet, I can’t help but think that a departure from this norm has left a vacancy. It’s eliminated a vivid lesson. A life and death lesson.

Cemeteries remind us of the lie of Satan… “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4)

Cemeteries connect us to the fabric of community and the legacy of family.

Cemeteries constrain us to evaluate the stewardship of our lives and the quality of our living.

Cemeteries amplify the imperative of Christ. His life. His death. His victory.

I fear that the church/cemetery combo is a relic. Dismissed as quaint. Discarded as old fashioned. Demoted in the wake of changing priorities and economic realities.

Yet, the lesson should not be missed. Perhaps every church driveway should traverse a collection of tombstones. Perhaps every Sunday church gathering should contain the reminder that it took the death of Christ to make a cemetery simply a waypoint on the journey to eternity.

Inevitable. But not the final word.

Maybe, just maybe, this is my 67-year-old mind shifting gears… or perhaps it’s more than that. Perhaps it’s intended to prompt deeper gratitude for this shared journey. Through birth and death. Through tears and laughter. Through victory and loss.

Across the parking lot from the sanctuary. Inside the reach of the hymns. A cemetery is poised to teach a lesson. To ignite our worship. To amplify our adoration of the life giver.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

            “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

            “O death, where is your victory?

                        O death, where is your sting?”

            The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54)

Beside the cemetery in Mt. Joy… a sanctuary. Death, swallowed up.

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: