Thursday, May 27, 2010


Memories of Memorial Day festivities have been flittering through my mind: picnics, playing in the park, splashing in the lake, and endless games of baseball with siblings and cousin. However, before any of that took place, we always made trips to several cemeteries. Although we barely had enough money for groceries, Momma always made sure that the grave sites of loved ones were nicely decorated.

I have pictures of my siblings, cousins and me standing in our Sunday best at the cemetery biting at the bit to change our clothes and get to the park! Walking through the cemetery searching for the family graves was like walking on egg shells and it wasn’t because momma allowed high-heels for Sunday attire! Instead, if it looked like we were even close to stepping on a grave; our arm was nearly pulled out of socket!

Many practices people preserve such as placing flowers, lights, epitaphs and pictures on frequently elaborate tomb stones remind me of a story about a young new wife who planned to fix a roast for her beloved husband. Prior to placing the roast in the pan, she cut the end of it off. When her husband questioned her about why, she responded, “I don’t know. That’s what mom always did.” When she inquired, her mother responded, “I don’t know. That’s what Gramma always did.” When the mother inquired, Gramma’s response was, “Because I didn’t have a pan big enough for the roast!”

A Sunday drive past a cemetery shortly after Memorial Day reminds us that these grave yard traditions are still held in high regard by many. In fact, the over-flowing bags of decorations my friend collects before mowing cemeteries is only a small sample of what people spend on decorating grave sites!

Please understand that I’m not criticizing the deep emotional pain and grief experienced when someone we love dies. Even Jesus experienced this (John 11:33, 35). I’m also not suggesting that it is wrong to cherish the memory of a loved one. However, referring to such practices as building elaborate monuments and decorating graves, Jesus said:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you build the tombs of the prophets
decorate the graves of the righteous, ….”
(Matt. 23:29).

I want to understand why Jesus made such a reference. We need to be careful that we do not practice traditional coping mechanisms which go beyond what pleases God.

In my efforts to learn more, I have spent several hours researching this topic and have discovered that, at least in part, “decorating graves with flowers and wreaths, alms and good deeds, were intended to shorten the time of suffering of the souls of the deceased in purgatory.” I have found that these customs have developed out of ancient pagan practices including those of the Cult of the Dead. This concerns me! I don’t want to be upholding and perpetuating anything that does not glorify my Lord, Jesus!

If you enjoy doing research or have reliable information about the history of these practices, I’d love to hear from you! Maybe the Lord will encourage me to write about this again once I’ve developed a clearer understanding.


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