Imagining The Stories Of The Dead

I like to take pictures. I like to capture stories. I like to spend the day in
underpopulated places and photograph everything that catches my eye so that later I can stare at these pictures and place myself inside their history.

This past weekend, I visited Bellefontaine Cemetery. It is a historic cemetery in North
St. Louis. This cemetery is the final resting place to many historic figures such as
William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) and Adolphus Busch (of Anheuser Busch fame). During the Autumn months, this cemetery is simply beautiful. For lack of a better term, it seems to come alive.

As I wandered through the cemetery shooting pictures, I couldn’t help but think of each
individual life buried there. There are countless stories of joy and of woe. There are
tragedies, fortunes and fame. But in the end there is one thing that binds them all
together into one simple package… They all lost their battle with death.

As I walked past each monument and each grave stone, I thought about that person’s last
moment. That moment where their soul separated from their body and they suddenly knew the truths that I can only believe in. Certainly, some of them were not prepared to meet that truth and probably experienced an incomprehensible hopelessness. Others entered into the eternal joy of being with their Savior.

I began to marvel at the fact that every single one of these graves represents a person who
has experienced human trials, tribulations, joys, victories, love, strife, stress, hope,
disappointment and… death. One by one I put myself into their graves and imagined the
love and the heartache or the success and failure of each person. But those imagined roads
all came down to one reality… They all faced death. And they all lost the battle.

Certainly we who are in Christ do not consider death to be some daunting end game that
closes the book on our soul. But as one of my friends said, “Death is for the living”.
It’s for those of us who walk through a graveyard or stand at a casket of a loved one.
It’s the living who feel the loss and the vacuum created by the literal evaporation of a
fellow soul.

So we have our faith. We know that I Corinthians 15:54-56 tells us:

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.”

We who are in Christ are promised that we will get to trade this corruptible shell for an
incorruptible one. Death will be swallowed up in victory. So really only the corruptible
shell loses the battle with death. At that moment though, we are clothed in incorruptible
immortality. Praise be to God.

Yet we who are yet alive sit in wonder at this process. We certainly feel the loss of a loved one. We comfort ourselves with Scriptures like the one above. But we have no experience to guide us through the unknowable moment. So we must cling to our faith.

We must remind ourselves that death entered into this world because of our sin and we are made aware of our sin by the law. The law allowed us to see our hopeless condition. The disease of sin has one and only one prognosis… death. But He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we can be made the righteousness of God. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12)

I want to be the righteousness of God. I want that peace and assurance that all of my
earthly troubles are but temporary. I want to be reconciled with God. I want to say that
I don’t fear death… and mean it.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

So these grave markers are for the living. As we live, we wish to remember those who have died. We hope that we are remembered. So I travel through that grave yard remembering the lives of those that I never met. I imagine some of their history and marvel that it’s really no different than any of ours. But those souls who died as followers of Christ have put on immortal incorruptible shells. They have been through a transformation and entered into the presence of the Lord.

I really do long for this transformation. However, I confess that I still feel that tightness of anxiety in my gut when thoughts of my own transformation come about. Perhaps my faith is weak or perhaps it is sin in my life. I will continue to meditate on the Scriptures above and pray for the peace of God. I could use an extra helping of His peace and His mercy.

If you are inclined to look through some of the pictures that I shot in Bellefontaine Cemetery, they are in three sets – here here and here.

You can also visit the Bellefontaine Cemetery website at