Not the most romantic of dates, I suppose, but it was joyful. I’d picked out spots close to the spots dear friends had chosen. My wife and I laughed as we wound our way between the tombstones and graves to our designated places along the fence. “Here’s where we’ll be. Here’s where they’ll be.”
A cemetery worker nearby setting up for an imminent burial seemed perplexed by our joviality – probably even a bit offended. But look, why kid ourselves? Short of the Parousia, we’re all going to die.
Death is the Point
Is that morbid? No. Death is the point: death to sin, death to self, dying that leads to rising and new life. Baptism is not simply a washing away of original sin, but also a sacramental entombment followed by a resurrection. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death,” St. Paul wrote the Romans, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Redeemed souls will be reunited with their bodies, and they’ll have arrived at what Myles Connolly’s character Mr. Blue described as the “Tavern at the End of the World.” They’ll gather round with the saints of their holy cards and devotions, but also all the hidden saints whose paths might’ve only glanced theirs in this life. Imagine the craic and camaraderie.
That’s the part that has me so jazzed about our grave plots and their closeness to our holy friends’ plots. I envision my wife and me greeting them as the general resurrection commences. Should St. Peter raise an eyebrow at me in hesitation, I’ll say, “But I’m with her” (pointing to my wife), “and we’re with them” (indicating our friends).
I know it doesn’t work that way. But if I do make it, I’d love to have some pals along — especially during orientation and those awkward ice-breakers.
A Grave Reservation
All kidding aside, by setting down our markers in that cemetery, we’re concretely acknowledging our mortality — to ourselves, to our kids, to the world. Making such grave reservations well before they’re needed is an implicit declaration of faith and abandonment. For my part at least, just knowing it’s there waiting for me might spur me on to “work out my own salvation” with increased diligence and fervor, as St. Paul instructed the Philippians.
I once tried to relate all this to my nursing students, but they just shook their heads. It was all too weird for them. “Now that we have our grave plots,” I casually added, “I’m going to try talking my wife into purchasing Trappist caskets. Maybe set them up at home as bookcases or end tables.”
Richard Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He serves on the nursing faculty at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. “Grave Reservations” is a shorter version of his “Shopping for a Terminal Address,” published on his weblog God-Haunted Lunatic. It appeared also on Catholic Exchange.