Pamplin Media Group – FAITH: A graveyard visit and a penetrating question


Each tombstone bears witness to someone who held a place in space and time here on planet Earth

On the north side of the road and just beyond the Ochoco Reservoir on Hwy 26 is an old cemetery. It only makes sense that before Prineville was a community, that area to the east of town was settled first. It is right at the confluence of Mill Creek and Ochoco Creek where settlers landed to set up camp and establish their farms in the high desert of Oregon Territory. The cemetery is not visible from the road, but a sign points the way. It’s not far from the highway and it’s easy to find. It’s called Mill Creek Cemetery and there are several dozen graves in a fenced compound.

After driving a few times, last week I decided to stop and check it out. I have long had a fascination with cemeteries and have been known to stop at random spots when I pass them on the road. If you pay attention, cemeteries tell stories, and Mill Creek Cemetery is no different. There are a few more recent graves, but many of the graves are nearly 150 years old. Some are adorned with granite tombstones. Some are simple and say nothing at all. There is a grave (Mr. Macy) that shows a death date of 1872. There is no first name. There is no day of death. There are no other details other than these words, “First Burial” and the year of death. I assume that Mr. Macy was the first to be buried in Mill Creek Cemetery long before the cemetery was recognized as such. We don’t know anything about Mr. Macy. who was he? Where does it come from and how did it get here? How old was he when he died? What did he do? Was he a saint or a villain? Did he have a family? Was he a beloved father or grandfather? We just don’t know.

Each headstone represents a life lived. Each headstone bears witness to someone who held a place in space and time here on planet Earth. Some tombstones indicate a life of only a few months (like Baby Birdsong), while others mark a long period between birth and death. Some headstones showed military service and others showed the deceased’s love for sports, horses, or family. Cemeteries tell stories.

It seems that during and after each visit to the cemetery, I think about the headstones and the lives they represented. It’s sobering, and each visit serves as a reminder that one day my name will be on a headstone with two dates and a hyphen in between.

In the New Testament, the writer James asks a penetrating question, then follows up with a sobering statement. He asks, “What is your life? Because you are a fog that appears for a little while and then disappears. – James 4:14

James asks the question: What is your life like? Even though now in her 60s, life seems short. James describes our lives analogously to a vapor – here and then all too soon gone. But how should we think about our lives? What should frame our thoughts as we reflect on our brief time here on Earth? If we have wasted our life and are not careful, regret can consume us. If we think this life is all there is, we can be overwhelmed with the feeling of our own impending death…and then nothing.

This is where the Word of God gives hope. The Bible teaches that the time between our birth and our death is not everything. A tombstone may be a marker for the here and now, but there is more life – eternal life – beyond the grave. The Bible teaches that Jesus himself experienced death, and an obituary could have been written — save for an important footnote — God raised him from the dead. And for this reason, our lives are not limited to two meetings on a tombstone. We too will be resurrected. Cemeteries tell stories, but they don’t tell the whole story.

The Bible calls us to trust what God has done through his Son, Jesus Christ. Thanks to Jesus, I can implore God for his grace to redeem my life, not only now but also for all eternity. The Bible announces good news, and in that news forgiven sinners can see and experience the redeeming grace brought into the shortness of life where we live. Even the ruthless tyrant of time must bow before the Lord of eternity.

In the Bible, the Psalmist writes: “Teach us therefore to number our days, that we may have a heart full of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12). Let this be our prayer: “Lord, teach me to count the days of my life that remain to me, and may You redeem them, that You may be glorified above all things.”

What is your life like?

Dan and Judy Morse live east of Prineville near the Ochoco Reservoir. Dan recently pastored an ethnic congregation in Portland, Oregon and now serves with InFaith, a ministry that helps small rural churches. He can be reached at This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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