Many of you will share my fascination with churchyards and cemeteries. To wander through an overgrown graveyard and to pause and read the epitaphs inscribed on the tilting gravestones is both instructive and sobering. Recently, visiting the graveyard of St Michael's Church, Dumfries, I came across an epitaph both beautiful and tragic. Some of you will recognise my location as being the final resting place of Robert Burns, Scotland's national bard, but it was a more insignificant grave that captured my attention. On a gravestone of red sandstone, I read the following words:
The Wife of Robert Cutlar, Merchant,
Died 6 Dec. 1759, Aged 44
Pious and Devout, Friendly and Affectionate, Open and Sincere.
She passed through life under a heavy pressure of long affliction,
Cheerfully sustained in the supporting prospect of a better state.
It seems to me that these are words of poignancy and beauty. Imagine being described in such terms by those who were dear to us in this life - 'pious and devout, friendly and affectionate, open and sincere'. This woman must have been a woman of Christ-like faith who reflected in her life something of the loveliness of her saviour. Yet it is also clear that her life was marked by considerable trial which, we assume, led to her premature death. The nature of that trial is not made known to us but we are told that in the midst of her suffering she was sustained by a clear awareness that something better lay ahead - 'the prospect of a better state'. This expression echoes the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:18:
"For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us".
Sarah Cutlar, along with many men and women of faith, was aware that this life was passing and that, for the redeemed of the Lord, better times lay ahead in the glory of heaven. Perhaps as you read these words you are passing through a time of intense trial or difficulty. If Jesus Christ is your saviour and lord then you also can draw comfort from the apostle's words. Your trial is not easy but for those who have trusted in Christ for salvation the indescribable beauty and perfection of heaven lies ahead.