While doing missionary work in Uruguay, South America, my companion and I met a young man on the streets of Montevideo who expressed interest in our message. He gave us an address and suggested that we meet him there at a certain time the next day.
At the appointed hour, we descended from an old city bus and stared up at the address we had been given—it was posted in bold numbers at the entrance to Montevideo’s principal cemetery! Our friend was nowhere to be seen. If he were nearby, I’m sure he was having a good laugh at our expense.
Well, we decided to make the best of the situation and give ourselves a self-guided tour. What we found, almost fifty years ago, is still etched in my memory. We discovered that when Montevideans passed away, they were not buried immediately. The cemetery was surrounded by high, thick walls made of niches or cubicles just large enough to receive a casket.
The casket was placed in a cubicle and sealed long enough for the body to decompose into mostly bones and fine dust. At that point, the few fragile remains would be transferred to a metal box which was then added to any number of others in the family crypt or tomb. Crypts came in all shapes and sizes and materials. Some were relatively simple brick and stucco structures while others consisted of some of the most beautiful marble sculptures I had ever seen. I think I used up a whole roll of film on one monumental sculpture that was so stunning that I wondered what it was doing in South America instead of Greece or Rome.
There were Egyptian themes, pastoral themes with little lambs, crying angles, and ghastly scenes of the grim reaper hewing down earth’s many hapless inhabitants. In the final analysis, however, they were all similar in that, no matter what was depicted on the outside, the inside was full of “dead men’s bones.”
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” said Jesus, “for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matt.23:27 & 28)
Perhaps with the increased popularity of cremation in recent years, the customs described above may have changed. I don’t know. I know that when I pass on to the other side, I expect that my body will be buried with a simple headstone to mark the spot.
I hope, though, that when my descendants come to read the inscription, they will realize that I am not there. The headstone will mark the spot where the decrepit old house in which I used to live is buried. But, because of an empty tomb many years before, I will have moved into a better, brighter house in a much nicer neighborhood.
Because He lives, I, too, will live forever.