"Something by which a person or event will be remembered." That is the definition of epitaph. It is a good word. A reverent word. A word that is sometimes not well-documented in a funeral service. It is a reminder of goodness and grace and the eternal impact of love, life and God.
November 3rd shouldn't be best known for the day when (at 2 am) we set the clock back and get that extra hour of sleep. This November 3rd is All Saints Sunday when we remember names, faces, and (more importantly) lives of people who have passed away during the previous year. It is both somber and celebratory. The names will be read and at communion we will remember the greatest life ever lived, poured out for you and all who call upon the saving name of Jesus. We will have lots to remember!
In Bob Buford's book Half Time the word epitaph is used as a reflection. Buford invites each of us to ask the question, "What would we like to be remembered for?" I think of two passages when I mentally stroll down the path of reflection of my life and the lives of others. They are 1 Peter 2:5 "you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." and Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Both have lots to say as we reflect upon life and love.
We often hear these passages and apply them to the living, and I believe this is a good practice. Both verses are guidelines about how we do life. None of us fully achieve them. None of us perfectly reflect them. But all of us who claim Christ are called to these lofty life-practices.
In a private reflection I called "Left Unsaid" I reflected on a person who left us about 2 years ago. The words below never made it to the funeral and I am sad and disappointed at my inadequacy there. While in the life of David Hearndon there was incredible pain, severe depression and daily struggle, there was a goodness that transcended these debilitating difficulties. Our community was and is blessed by David's kind generosity that sought to make us all better. David loved and sought peace and loved that theme in the song Imagine. I think he struggled with the 'whys' of life but persisted through the hurt as he was a faithful friend and business partner, a person who acted with fairness and a man who loved his children and grandchildren, even when he was in unbearable pain. I remember the gentleness he expressed one evening as we sat across the table and ate fresh-caught bass and, for a few moments, escaped the struggles of life. And every time I play a song on my guitar I remember David and Maribeth's generosity as they helped significantly in replacing my guitar that was stolen (a little part of every song contains that generosity). So while that 'joy' did not come easy, David bore much fruit and he was and is a beautiful 'living stone' here in Abbeville.
In 1 Peter these two words 'living stone' are often glossed-over. But the meaning of these two words are expressed in monuments marking milestones ... even grave markers. In 1 Samuel 7:13-14 Samuel uses a stone marker to commemorate the Lord's help in the battle. God's Word says, "Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and named it ebeneezer saying, 'thus far the Lord has helped us.'" When we live life expressing the fruit of the Spirit (even when we doubt and even when life hurts) we are a living stone saying that in spite of a lost world, in spite of evil, in spite of pain, in spite of infirmity, in spite of loss, and in spite of all that evil sends against us, love, beauty, good, family, friendships, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness and God's good things can and will persist. In this life and past this life our gravestone becomes an 'ebeneezer' that God has been there to help us. For as Romans 8 proclaims, nothing (even death) will ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. AMEN