Then I thought in my heart, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said in my heart, “This too is meaningless.” For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die! Ecclesiastes 2, verses 15 and 16.
Here in Minnesota there are cemeteries everywhere. Every town has at least one, and they seem to be in the middle of town. That’s actually a sign of progress, if you think about it. It’s a sign of growth because cemeteries are usually located on the outskirts of town; health and emotional reasons, I suspect. When the town grows, it grows past the cemetery fence so that it seems they’re in the middle of the city when, in fact, the city has simply expanded.
On my way into work I drove by a few. One was a Jewish cemetery, several were Lutheran and I couldn’t tell with others. They’re full of markers and monuments, some plain and some tall. You’ve seen them. Some are ostentatious, showy; some are nothing more than a plaque in the ground. Over at Fort Snelling there is a national cemetery with row on row of those simple white markers. The dead are organized and lined up as they served in real life: in dignified military formation.
I didn’t realize it until I started writing but these verses really do segue well for the Friday before Memorial Day.
Will your holiday be the start of summer, a weekend of relaxation? Will it be an extra day off, a chance to do some home improvement? Will it be a barbecue and the Indy 500; a family fight or a movie with the wife and kids? Maybe a day at the pool or a chance to sleep in and catch up on some well-earned rest?
You and I are food for the grave. One day we will end up in the ground, perhaps with some stone marker to show where we are buried. Perhaps for a few years, maybe a generation or two, our family will come to visit us, remember us, maybe tend to our plot. Time will change that, though. In time, our wisdom and our foolishness along with the ties that bind us to immediate family will be forgotten when those who remember us join us in the grave. In time, our markers will be just like the rest of them in those cemeteries I drove by this week: just another in the group. They’ll be curious mementos left to mark our existence containing faceless names to signify a lifetime of memories and things that nobody else will likely recall.
Like I said, there seem to be cemeteries everywhere. That isn’t the case where I live in North Texas. There, it seems you need to look for them because the places where we bury our dead there are remote, away from the population. The dead are where they belong, and that isn’t in the place of the living.
What will your monument be? Will you have that simple marble marker in line with all the others, so that people can plant a flag on national holidays to memorialize you? Will your marker be that ostentatious obelisk that stands taller than the other granite around it, or will it be a simple stone with your name? Will your marker be a ground-level plaque or a headstone to mark your family plot?
…Maybe your monument will be something better, a monument for the living. Maybe your monument will be alive in the love of your family and the security, the home in the heart, the liberty you provide for them. Perhaps your monument will be the memories and the lessons and the good times as well as the bad. Your monument will be in flesh, blood and spirit, and in the words imprinted on their hearts. More than any of this, perhaps your monument will be the faith you infused into their lives as you lived out your own, blessed by God and using the talents He gives you to make a life that can be remembered by more than just stone.
That’s what Solomon was referring to. He has been gone for nearly 3000 years. Tradition tells us a few things, but in reality we don’t really even know where he is buried. We don’t need to. His inspired words live on. His faith and his wisdom are recorded for the ages as part of God’s holy Scripture. His monument is one we can contemplate, admire and use today as we journey through the land of the living. We do not need to dwell long in the plot of the dead.
This weekend is indeed Memorial Day weekend. I would be remiss without recalling that the purpose of this holiday is to remember our war dead, to remember how good men and women died in America’s wars to preserve our liberties. They didn’t do so at the time thinking it was a noble calling or a higher ideal. I’m betting they didn’t even want to die; who does? Yet they gave their all and you and I are here to remember that, to contemplate those reminders they left behind. We have those stone monuments, you know, reminders of the fool and wise men who gave of themselves so that others would not have to. Here in Minnesota, there seem to be cemeteries everywhere. They’re the last resting place for all of us, the only real estate in which we spend considerable time. Chances are there is one near where you are today. This weekend, take a few minutes out of your well-deserved break and go place a flag on the grave of a veteran, and say a prayer of thanks that their real monument isn’t marble, granite or brass. Their real monument, their real remembrance from God, is the life you live today.