I was at a funeral, standing by a grave because there is so pitifully little else that I can do to help a grieving friend except to go and stand with them at the cemetery for a few minutes. So, there I was – standing, and listening politely to the preacher – when my focus shifted ever so slightly.
Over the preacher’s shoulder, was a tombstone that caught my eye. It struck me as funny, but people give you odd looks for laughing at a funeral. So, I stifled a laugh, but I decided right then that was what I want carved on my grave marker. What I saw over the preacher’s shoulder was a stone that read, “Guest.”
O.K., so that was the family name, and it probably doesn’t strike you as funny. But, it was funny to me. When it’s my time to be hauled to the cemetery, that’s how I want to be registered – as a guest! I can see my marker now: Keith Wishum - “Just visiting!”
After all, that’s what Jesus taught that his followers do when they die. They visit the cemetery for a while, but it’s not their home. They don’t stay long. "I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus declared. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).
Sure, most folks who read religious writing like this have heard that a gazillion times. And, we mostly believe it at some level. But, it’s harder to live like we are fully convinced that death is no big deal. I fear my own mortality. I worry, too, that I might lose somebody I love. It’s a challenge to believe that going to the cemetery is only like visiting Atlanta for a couple of days. It’s scary (the traffic makes that trip to the cemetery seem very close) but it doesn’t last very long and then you’re back home.
That’s how Jesus wants us to think about death and the place called heaven that waits on the other side. “I am going there to prepare a place for you,” he said. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2).
Christians get dropped off at the cemetery for a while, but they’re just a guest.