BY DEWEY LINVILLE |
In many Western movies there are scenes where the cowboy rides to Boot Hill on the outskirts of town to visit the grave of a friend. Boot Hill is usually a rocky area marked by an assortment of wooden crosses, many of which are marked with RIP and some with boots on the cross arms. The whole area is purely functional and not maintained. It is a desolate place, only visited when
there is a funeral or a sad cowboy is in town.
The current, well maintained, fenced God’s Acres of today, are designed as a final resting place for the departed and a peaceful reminder that our loved ones will be cared for in perpetuality. When my great grandfathers were buried in the early 20th century, our God’s Acre was young. They could not have known that today, there would be so many brothers and sisters joining them in their final rest.
“Now to the earth let these remains in hope committed be,
Until the body changed attains Blest immortality”
The space on a gravestone, is very limited. The name, date of birth and death leave little room for an epitaph. To me the question becomes, what is said, why was that chosen, and by whom. What does that mean to those of us who did not know our predecessors?
In the case of my father, who joined the brethren in the year 2000, at age 75. “Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see, believes in God,” is appropriate since he was a gardener. My mother chose this, and when I see this verse, it reminds me of the food his garden provided. More importantly, it again relates his faith that the Father provides the elements necessary to grow plants from seed.
My Grandfather joined the brethren in 1993, at the age of 97 years. “Sing Hallelujah Praise The Lord,” his favorite hymn, was chosen by him after a long life as a church musician and band director. All who knew him recognized his abiding belief that we should praise God in all of life’s situations.
“Big Willie”, my Great Grandfather, joined the brethren in 1949 at the age of 72 years. “Sleep on beloved and take thy rest, We loved thee well But Jesus loved thee best.” This is a song verse written by Sarah Doudney in 1871, “The Christians Good Night.” “Big Willie” owned a large farm where he raised twelve children, many of whom I knew. Over the years, I have seen this verse in action through his children and their love shown to others. This epitaph connects me to the love of this strong man and his belief in the teachings of Jesus.
Great Great Grandfather Joshua (pronounced Josh u way) joined the brethren in 1930 at the age of 79 years. “God gave, he took, he will restore. He doeth all things well.” This verse is a loose paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:3-13. Joshua was also the owner of a large farm. He lost a brother in the Civil War, raised many children, and donated the land on which our current church building stands. The verse recognizes that God gave us all, that when he takes from us, he will restore us to a better place, and that our lack of understanding of his grace should not stand in the way of our complete trust in our Lord.
Great Great Grandfather James joined the brethren in 1922 at the age of 74. “Dearest one thou hast left us Here thy loss we deeply feel. But tis God who have bereft us He can all our sorrows heal.” James was a farmer, who raised a family of twelve innovative children, many of whom were church musicians. This verse is believed to be written by J. R. Varner in his hymn, “We Shall Meet.” This verse acknowledges the deep sadness caused to James’ family by God calling him home, but also the promise of God’s healing to those of us who suffer loss.
This line of fathers began in the early 19th century. They were country farmers, who toiled in the fields to provide for their large families. Based on the final statements on their headstones, it isevident that they loved their families, but most importantly they believed in the inerrancy of God. They believed that God not only provides but is all powerful to both heal our sorrows and provide eternal life.
In the Oak Grove Moravian Church, God’s Acre, there are over 450 brothers and sisters at rest. There is a great variety of verses that offer glimpses into the lives of these departed souls. Whether buried from 1887 or to the present we are instructed to believe that: “Our Lamb Has Conquered, Let Us Follow Him.”
Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church 1969
“Now To The Earth”, Esslingen, (14 A) P. 120
About the Author
Dewey Linville is a member of Oak Grove Moravian Church. He has served on various Boards and Committees and been a member of the Church Band for 60 years. He can be contacted at [email protected].