Cemeteries simultaneously fill me with fear and awe.

I’m not ashamed to admit that you wouldn’t find me walking alone at night in a cemetery, but I’m also not ashamed to admit I feel the presence of spirits whenever I’m near a cemetery.

There was a cemetery next to my first-call congregation. I’d look outside my office window and think about the lives of the saints who were buried there. I’d feel their presence. I’d give thanks for their lives. I’d say a prayer for the families they left behind.

Each year I’d take either our confirmation class or youth group to the cemetery. Sometimes we’d gather around the grave of a former member and listen to their family member tell us about their life and passions.

One sunny, spring morning I gathered with the students and the former pastor’s widow who remained in the congregation. We heard about the ministry of the congregation while he served as pastor and what originally brought them to this town. We listened as his wife shared about her love for her husband and her children.

Another widow who was there shared about her husband who loved to sing in the choir. I remember vividly walking with this family through sickness, death, the funeral, and life after death. I, too, could hear him singing with a joyful voice. I could feel his handshake greet me at the sanctuary door. I wondered if the confirmation students could also feel the presence of those whose stories we heard. I wondered if they intuitively knew the gift of being a part of this body of Christ, in both life and death.  

Sometimes I’d take the youth in the evenings and walk the cemetery with them while giving thanks for the communion of saints. We’d look at the names and dates on the tombstones. We’d wonder about their lives and we’d reflect on our lives. I’d encourage the youth to offer prayers of thanks for the families and communities who walked with them during their earthly life.

Sometimes I’d take the youth in the evenings and walk the cemetery with them while giving thanks for the communion of saints.

To close our time together, I would always have the group gather in a circle and share in a closing prayer. We’d offer thanks for the great cloud of witnesses who journey with us. We’d express gratitude for those who paved the way for us, for freedom, for liberty, for faith, for peace.

Ultimately, trusting that we are never alone.

Our time at the cemetery always humbling us.

Our time at the cemetery reminding us that we are all joined to Christ in life and in death.

Kimberly Knowle-Zeller
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, spouse of an ELCA pastor and co-author of The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Mo. Her website is kimberlyknowlezeller.com.

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