As I step into the field I step into a world of forgotten stories; stories as diverse as life itself --- and as poignant as death. All around me on a windswept hillside plaques, headstones and monuments lie neglected and weathered hinting of a yesteryear of broken hearts, treasured memories and aching voids.
To my right a weather-flayed wooden cross crooked and half-buried in long grass states, in peeling paint, “In loving memory – LUKE – Always remembered”. Visions float behind that neglected cross – visions of a proud young man, struck down by a sudden illness; of night-time vigils in a candle-lit room; of poultices and leeches and an anxious young girl kneeling by his bed. (Did she pray? Surely she would have cried out to God?) Visions of the doctor, solemn and grim looking into those anxious young eyes, a slight shake of his head shattering her dreams.
“Always remembered”. Until she could no longer remember, or was herself no longer remembered.
I walk on. Upright and clear, a headstone in high quality marble shows two hands clasped in a handshake. Below are just names. No messages of love. No epitaph.
“Reuben Payne died 1929 aged 41 years.”
And below that, “Our son Newton Payne aged 37 years.”
What buried heartache lies unspoken beneath those terse words and the formal handshake on the tombstone?
What had so stifled the deep emotions, the lost hopes and dreams in the hearts of that wealthy family that even in death they could not be expressed? I am reminded of families today whose wealth, status and self-sufficiency puts a veneer on their behaviour that forbids any hint of vulnerability.
Further on a tiny grave decorated with white pebbles and headed by a plain headstone weeps with an unadorned cross and the simple inscription, “Geoffrey Hickman 1921-1925 --- The Lord is my Shepherd.” Such a little grave. There looms an image of a young mother and father clinging to one another for support as they gaze upon the pale, still face of their little boy. Why, just a little while ago he was racing across the fields to meet his dad!
And so the forgotten tales lie submerged beneath the layers of the years, as the mortal remains lie beneath the grassy windswept soil. Hints of deepest humanity find brief expression in fading memorials.
Hints of pain and desolation: “Our dad, our baby and our dear mother” All swept away in the year of 1930.
Of courage: “Norman D’Arcy. Missing in the Battle of Messines Ridge, France 1918”
Of faith: “Thomas Wakeford – Safe in His keeping.” Beside his wife: “Abiding till He come.”
As I gaze at unkempt rows, some stones standing upright and proud, others broken and scattered and yet others tilted and half obscured, a huge snake, five feet long, shiny and black comes slithering out from behind a headstone. It rears its head at me before gliding off between the graves. What a vivid symbol of the reason for this place.
All in that field of forgotten stories had an appointment to keep. Death entered the world as Satan, embodied in a serpent, persuaded the first man, Adam, to sin. God’s judgement on sin, as He had warned him, was death.
“It is appointed to man to die once and after that comes judgement.”(Heb.9:27). God makes an appointment for us. It is an appointment with death which none escapes. As I wander through that desolate place I wonder how many there knew that after death they would face the judgement of a holy God? And how many knew that, though we still die physically, God has made a way for us to escape His judgement? Jesus, too, made an appointment with death. Unlike us, who have no choice, He chose death for our sakes. In sinless perfection, He represented us before His holy Father and took the punishment for our sin nullifying the sentence to eternal damnation. Now our appointment with death can be one that ushers us into the glory of our heavenly Father. There, our stories are not forgotten. They just begin. This is why Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one else offers us a free passage past the penalties that come with death. What will be your untold story that is hinted at on your headstone? As you commit your life into the hands of Jesus it could be “Through death into an appointment to Glory.”
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