Epitaphs (defined as "a commemorative inscription on a tomb or mortuary monument) have always been of interest to me. Epitaphs often depict people's attitude about life after death. They may say something kind about the person who has died, perhaps pointing out how sorely that the deceased will be missed. They may express something about hope beyond the grave or some other Biblical concept. In California, a man put, "A sense of loss is mine to bear/But hers a wondrous gain" on his wife's headstone (Compare to Phil. 1:21).
Epitaphs are usually very serious, but sometimes they can be humorous, even revealing the cause of the person's death. A person named Jonathan Blake is buried in Pennsylvania. On his stone it says, "Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake/Stepped on the gas pedal/instead of the brake." William Mansbridge is buried in New Hampshire. His epitaph, obviously concocted by his survivors, reads, "Stop reader, pray and read my gate/What caused my life to terminate/For thieves by night when in my bed/Broke in my house and shot me dead." At a cemetery in Albany, New York is buried Harry Edsel Smith, and on his marker it says, "Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down/It was." "Shot in the back/by a dirty rat" is the epitaph of a man buried in British Columbia, and in New Mexico on the tombstone of a man named Johnny Yeast it says, "Here lies Johnny Yeast/Pardon me/For not rising."
Consider this rather chilling message on a stone in California. "Remember friend, as you pass by; as you are now, so once was I. As I am now soon you will be; so prepare for death and follow me." Later someone added a reply: "To follow you I'm not content, until I know which way you went!"
A member of a rock group which was popular in the 70's said that their philosophy was to "Live fast, die young, and leave a good corpse." Sadly, this statement could describe the life of many today.
When a person dies, usually, a lot of good things are said about that person. This is certainly appropriate as we reflect back on the life of an individual. Sometimes, however, the good traits of the deceased are greatly exaggerated. At a funeral many years ago, the preacher was extolling the virtues of a man who had died. The more the preacher talked, the more he embellished the man's virtues. Finally, the widow, bewildered, turned to one of her sons and said, "Son, go and look in the casket and see if that is your dad; I think we're at the wrong funeral!"
In the Bible, there are various ones whose life and character are summarized in a few words. For example, it is said of Ahab that he "did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him" (I Kgs. 16:33). In contrast, Hananiah, a ruler in Jerusalem after the return from captivity, is spoken of in a positive way. It is said of him in Nehemiah 7:2, " . . . for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many." These are just a few words, but they say much. Acts 11:24 describes Barnabas as a "good man." Many today cannot even be accurately described as a "good" person. Much could be said about Jesus our Savior. Consider, however, one of the things that Peter said about Him in Acts 10:38. He said that He"went about doing good." Many people are like this today as their lives are full of good deeds toward others.
What can accurately be said about us after we die is certainly significant. Paul, near the end of his life, wrote II Timothy. In II Timothy 4:7 he said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." This is not recorded as an epitaph of Paul, but it could have been. On another occasion, in Philippians 1:21, he said, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Hopefully, after we die these ideas can be expressed about us: "He fought a good fight, he finished his course, and he kept the faith," or "For him to live was Christ, for him to die was gain." If these few words can accurately be said, it will mean that we have died as a faithful child of God.
By Mike Johnson
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