A grave fascination

To my eye, cemeteries have a solemn beauty. I don’t think that makes me creepy.

I will occasionally stop in one if I’m passing and have time. I did so today. This is not because tonight is Halloween, but because I was impressed by the scope of it. Just outside West Philly, it is enormous.

But, okay, I admit, Halloween was on my mind – specifically because of the neighbor of dear friends who put me up last night. I was introduced to him as he put finishing touches on his yearly display of macabre props. He talked about his dedication to the holiday. And adds more every year.

Why are we so fascinated with death and decay? It’s easy to dismiss it as the work of our enemy, but I think it’s much more significant. I think it’s a way for us to make death less foreboding. Scary movies, ghost stories, roller coasters, skydiving, walking against the light, eating too much candy corn – it’s a way for us to come face to face with our mortality and somehow walk away again. Still breathing.

The scare might have stopped our heart for a beat. But only for a beat. We laugh and poke the Grim Reaper in his pronounced ribs and quip, “But not today, big guy.”

But it’s so often just false bravado. Whistling in the dark. Because death does inevitably come to call for real. For everyone.

But then, read Paul’s words again.

            “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
              “O death, where is your victory?
               O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54–55)

There’s a bit of a taunt in those words, like a boxer standing over his fallen opponent. Is that all you got? Because of Jesus’s resurrection, death in all its gory, leering inevitability holds no real scare for us. No power over us.

You think those chains are gonna hold me in?

Scripture doesn’t downplay the pain of parting. In fact, in both the Old and New Testament, we’re told that God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes. (Is. 25:8 and Rev. 21:4) I think the statues of a mournful Jesus throughout the cemetery today are appropriate. After all, Jesus wept over the death of his friend, Lazarus.

But couldn’t just one of the statues be triumphant?

Death, is that all you got?

It’s hard for us, Lord, to come to grips with our mortality. But in you, Jesus, there is the hope and the power to live life fully, knowing that death cannot defeat us. All because of what you did.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it!

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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