When I saw that on a sign, I knew I had to stop and take a second look.
It happened the other day when I went for a bike ride. I had gone south on Chesterville Road and then turned left on a road that would take me through a stretch of forest and around a bend that leads to Highway 6, a busy thoroughfare that carries a steady stream of traffic between Tupelo and Pontotoc and eventually on to Oxford and Batesville. I crossed Highway 6 and rode east on Bissell Road toward the Natchez Trace. When I am home during the spring and summer, I'll ride from my house to the Trace and back four or five times a week.
Sometimes when you ride the same route day after day, you don't see things around you. Not long ago I noticed a very small cemetery wedged onto a triangular piece of land next to the creek. On the other side of a well-worn chain link fence are several houses side by side. That's the south side of the road: the creek, the tiny cemetery, and two or three homes. Fields planted with various crops occupy the other side of the road.
It's an ideal road for bike riding because there isn't much traffic. Many times I have ridden on Bissell Road on my way to the Natchez Trace, usually late in the afternoon. And so it was that one day this week, sometime after 5 PM, I was riding along the road when I passed the cemetery. For some reason I glanced at the sign that stood near the gate. This is what it said:
Westmoreland Primitive Baptist
In other times I would probably think about what church the cemetery was associated with because there aren't churches nearby. But it wasn't the name that caught my attention. It was the last two words:
That set to me thinking. I don't believe I've ever seen a phrase like that associated with a cemetery before. I'm used to seeing something like "Established 1874." You usually see the word "since" associated with businesses still in operation. If I see a sign that says "Since 1911" in front of a clothing store, I assume it means that they have been in business continually since 1911 and that they are still in business today.
I kept on thinking about that and so later in the week when I rode past the cemetery again, I decided to stop and take a closer look. After leaning my bike against the chain link fence, I opened the gate (it was not locked) and walked around the cemetery. Evidently it was founded in 1874 on land donated by Mr. Westmoreland who I believe is buried in one of the few plots with headstones. There are only a handful of marked burial sites. I did notice one marker for a child with a name given and then these two words added: "Died Young." A few yards further I found a marker for a father and mother and their daughter who lived only a year or two and was buried in one of the first graves in the cemetery in the late 1870s. Then I found a grave with this touching epitaph inscribed in stone: "He died as he lived-A Christian." It is hard to think of a finer tribute than that.
Because the cemetery was so small, I finished my tour in less than ten minutes. As I rode away, I kept thinking about what I saw on the sign: Since 1874.
I finally decided that those two words, strange though they seemed, actually are quite fitting for a cemetery because they perfectly describe the true condition of the whole human race. We are a death-sentenced generation living in a dying world. As long as death reigns, we will always need undertakers and mortuaries and funeral homes and cemeteries. As long as death reigns on planet earth, there will always be an obituary section in the newspaper and there will always be a funeral somewhere.
The cemeteries are always open for business.
You can read the rest of the sermon online.
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