As I recently reflected on the Easter celebration, I speculated that if Jesus had needed an epitaph for the three days he was in the tomb, it could have possibly been his victory shout, “It Is Finished,” those three words that shook the earth, split rocks, opened graves, and ripped the heavy temple curtain and gained access into God’s holy presence for humanity.
An epitaph, the inscription on a gravestone, affords an opportunity to leave a testimony of one’s faith.
My wife and I spent some of our leisure summers exploring old cemeteries. We enjoyed reading epitaphs to learn about the individuals, especially about their faith. One of the most humorous ones was the couplet: “As I am now, so you must be; / Therefore, prepare to follow me,” to which another couplet had been added:“ To follow you I’m not content, / Unless I know which way you went.” One, on a child’s gravestone, might seem sentimental to a modern mind, but struck us as appropriate: “Home in the Arms of the Good Shepherd.” A very sobering one was: “Life is a cobweb, / though youth shines like day, / yet death is a broom / who sweeps us all away.” But the most tragic was this one: “I’m already five minutes late for the office.” What a sad way to be remembered–that one’s time at the office seems more important than living life.
During one of those cemetery explorations, we discussed writing our epitaphs. Emily remembered as a new Christian memorizing the seven I AM Scriptures in John, so hers evolved from those Scriptures: “I am with that I AM.” I found it hard to top that one, but I came up with “Gone Home.”
As I reflected on our cemetery visits, it occurred to me that if Jesus walked through the cemetery where I will be buried, I would like for him to carve an epitaph on my gravestone: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23, NIV). I know he could speak it and the words would appear on my stone, but I would like to think he chiseled it himself. That’s the testimony I want. As I read other epitaphs that declare definitive evidence of hope, I pray mine will inspire and encourage others.
When we use and develop what we have been given, Jesus’ hand written words will be the ticket into “the Lord’s joy,” an exuberant dance with pleasure to share to the limits of each faithful servant’s capacity.
Even though time and weather will efface granite memorial stones, the Lord’s epitaphs will not be altered by time, weather, or human effort. Therefore, we live to be faithful so we can anticipate that prayed-for applause, “Good work. You did your job well. From now on be my partner.” (Matthew 25:23, MSG)