Tag Archives: death

Grave Crisis

They are running out of room. At cemeteries around the world, space for burials has been a real problem. In New Orleans, the additional problem of a high water table has made it difficult to keep up with the number of graves needed. In Arlington National Cemetery, more plots are needed to honor America’s fallen. In London, a newly instituted practice called grave sharing has been implemented. Graves are opened, caskets are removed, a deeper hole is dug, the first casket is reinterred, and the second casket is placed on top. Many countries have been dealing with this problem for over 200 years.

2000 years ago, a new tomb was needed. A wealthy man in Jerusalem owned a family plot. Someone needed a grave. A man had come to a violent end, another victim of the barbaric Roman form of execution – crucifixion. On many occasions, bodies nailed to a cross were just left there as a grim reminder to anyone who dared oppose the Empire. Sometimes the dead were thrown into the city dump, a place called Gehenna, to make room for the next condemned to die. But on this occasion, the wealthy man appealed to Roman governor Pilate. He had an unused tomb. Could he have permission to bury the battered body in his family tomb? Permission granted.

A borrowed tomb. Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb. It was  temporary loan. When you borrow something, it is expected that you return it. He wouldn’t need it for long.

From The Message: “Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Don’t you dare die!


In March, 2008, Mayor Gerard Lalanne pushed the governing council in the village of Sarpourenx (southwest France) to pass an ordinance that read in part: “All persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sarpourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish. Offenders will be severely punished.” The good folks of Sarpourenx had a problem – the town cemetery had no more room.

I’m not sure how you severely punish dead people, but perhaps the mayor had more pull than anyone realized.

I do know this. I read about a cemetery that had at least one tomb empty.

He is risen!

The Dash between the Dates

In the span of several days, death and life continue their dance. An elderly lady dies in a nursing home. A little boy enters the world, named after his uncle who died as a young man. A college friend, victimized by Alzheimer’s, passes away. I think we get it. Death is a part of life. According to statistics, one out of one of us dies. The beginning of life thrills us. The end of life humbles us, hurts us, cautions us.

We didn’t determine when we are born. We usually don’t have much to say about when we die. What we do have some control over is what happens in the dash between the dates. That’s another thing we have in common: we get to fill in the dash.

You hear it said that a person preaches his own funeral. I have been to services where the story of the life just ended inspires, comforts, and challenges. There have been other services that have carried different themes. Regret, wasted opportunities, poor choices, spiritual ambivalence, and doubt weigh heavy on family and friends alike. No life is perfect, but none of us like to think of being remembered as who we could have been or who we weren’t.

Having led several hundred such services, I know it isn’t always easy to speak the truth in love. One of my favorite stories is about two brothers who terrorized a small town with their corrupt and unethical business practices. Because of their stranglehold on the people, no one challenged their bullying tactics. One of the brothers died. The other brother went to the local pastor to make arrangements. Knowing full well his brother’s character, he tried to bribe the pastor to pay tribute to his deceased sibling. He told the young preacher that he would make a sizable donation to a struggling building fund if his brother was portrayed as a saint.

The church was packed for the funeral, not because the man had been so popular but because the townspeople wanted to hear what the preacher would say about him. When the pastor stepped to the pulpit, he took a deep breath. Looking over at the brother, he glanced down at the ornate coffin and began, “This man was a liar, a cheat, an adulterer, and a bully. He stole from hard-working people, he cheated people out of their land, he threatened people weaker than himself …”, then he paused, “but compared to his brother, he was a saint.”

I never heard what happened to that young preacher, but you have to admire his courage. Life is too precious to waste dishonoring the gift God has given. We all have our flaws, but the One who created each of us has something better in mind, no matter what the dates may say. He wants us to live abundantly, to love generously, to forgive graciously, and to serve extravagantly. We get to fill in the dash.