This morning I happened to notice a bag for holding candy. On it, created with a gel pen, was the image of a scary jack-o-lantern seated on top of a gravestone with the letters “R.I.P.” – the usual acronym that has, for many years, always put a small chill in me. But in recent years, my fear has changed into more of a reflection. I’ll get to why this is in abit, but first, let’s consider this candy bag. I’m sure many people would think of the irony that scary things are now associated with candy and events to tease little kids. After all, shady activity happens around the year, so why should Halloween be special?
I, however, was more focused on the letters “R.I.P.” than on the Jack-O-Lantern. Why should acronym invoke images of fear and terror? Perhaps people have forgotten what this acronym stands for: “Rest in Peace.” This isn’t a phrase of terror or evil. It isn’t meant to invoke images of souls being sucked from bodies. On the contrary, it’s a statement of sadness. It’s a statement of attachment. It’s a statement of love. It means that those who remain on this earth dearly miss the one who died.
When I consider it in this respect, I don’t see a dark night. I don’t see a foggy funeral. Instead, I envision a garden where people are gathered around reflecting on the memories of a cherished individual. How odd that such a phrase, which, at the time of its invention, no one would dare attach to the grave of a hated enemy, lose it’s meaning of sweetness. To tell someone to rest in peace is to wish them well.
And what peace are we wishing for them? Silence? Calm? Meaninglessness? I would not call vanishing into the oblivion of nothingness something to wish upon someone, so naturalism is to blame for the absurdity in the fear of the grave and any such idea of “resting” in the silence of dissolution of body and mind.
There’s something else written in that stone, that rock, that otherwise meaningless block of minerals that sits on top of an equally meaningless pile of hydrocarbons. The physical world is itself meaningless, including the very shapes and letters we draw all over it. And yet, we have always managed to see some kind of meaning in it. That is the entire purpose of this world – to convey relative meaning. When a person says, “I love you,” it is only sometimes necessary to understand the language in which it is said. In other cases, the meaning comes clear anyways. The idea may be spoken without the utterance of a single word.
It is this idea of love that we find engraved in the grave. Not merely the wishing of peace for the one deceased but the wishing of peace for all, the living and the dead, in hopes that in dying they will rise to new life. This was the wish that preceded our wish, the wish embedded in the mind of the one who said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
It is from this wish that there came the conquest of death and the rebirth of the entire world. The tombstone that enclosed the body of the Wisher became the door, the gate, welcoming Him into the new world. With this, we can now hope to rest in peace, knowing that the real “rest” is in fact the “peace” itself established by the King, and not the doom of being frozen in place for all eternity. One day, we will move again; one day, we can live again.
I’m reminded of the ancient Jews who, when writing out the stories that would eventually compose the early chapters of the book of Genesis, understood that the “rest” of God was the “rest” of a king. When a king was at rest, it meant that there was no war, all was well, and the king was “on his throne”, ruling over the nation. It was a delight to be in such a kingdom for there was no fear of the suffering and death of war in which entire nations might be wiped out or made slaves. Rest was a time when the king was in control.
That being said, it is thanks to my King that I no longer have a fear of death. God Almighty conquered death and allows us to have new life if we choose (of course, this choice is more involved than saying “yes”). But fear of death is not the same as fear of dying. The latter is more of a fear of injury than actual fear of separation of the soul and body. I would rather not die by being thrown down from space through the atmosphere, with or without a spacesuit. But I do know that no matter how I die, I hope to rest in peace, and I wish the same for all others as well.
Suffering and death not bad, nor should they be scary as long as you know where you are headed when you die. Perhaps my suffering and death will contribute to the sanctification I greatly need, and I’ll have something to look forward to the day and after All Hallows’ Eve as I wait for the blessed resurrection at the coming of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.