Slater Cemetery, Slater, Iowa                                                      Photo Credit: K. Rummer

Splashdown at graveside

A cautionary tale

by Ken Rummer

It had been a particularly wet spring, and clouds again threatened rain as we arrived at the cemetery. An arched-top tent marked the gravesite, just down the hill. 

I took my position at the back of the hearse. The pallbearers assembled and, after a few instructions from the funeral director, they extracted the casket and took the weight of it on their best arms. 

We slow-walked it down the hill. With a little help from the gravedigger, the bearers got the casket on the rollers over the opening. 

I caught a glimpse of water in the bottom of the grave, evidence of an active side-hill seep. This is not something a family wants to think about at such a time, so I didn’t mention it and hoped no one would notice. 

With the family seated in the folding chairs, and the other mourners clustered in and around the tent, I stepped to the foot of the casket. I usually started with a few verses from scripture, like “God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1 NRSV) and “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25 NRSV). 

And somewhere along the way—it might have been during my reading of the Twenty-third Psalm—I felt the earth move, and I heard a splash. 

Suddenly I was granted a vision. I could see myself sliding down into a watery grave, mud-sliding it below the casket and wondering how to get out without spoiling the dignity of the proceedings. 

In my pastoring, I worked hard to teach that because Christ lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). That as those who are loved, forgiven, and redeemed we can face death without fear. That when Jesus comes, we can take his hand and he will bring us safely through.

I was still believing all those things, but as the ground started to give way, I found myself agreeing with Kenny Chesney when he sang “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now.” (Jim Collins and Marty Dodson).

I gingerly took a step back to what I hoped was more solid ground. After a quick inhale, I tiptoed through the prayers to the final blessing without further incident.

In the afterglow of Easter’s resurrection celebration, we Christians have been known to indulge in a little trash talk where the grave is concerned. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Corinthians 15:55 KJV).

But maybe a measure of respect is not inconsistent with faith. I’m thinking of the kind of respect that is called for around sharp tools and high-voltage electric wires. Not a cowering fear, but a paying attention.

I’ve adopted that alertness now around open graves. When called upon to lead the service, I take my stand in faith with confidence in Christ’s victory over death, and I stand a foot farther back from the edge. Just in case.

Ken Rummer, a retired Presbyterian pastor, writes about life and faith from the middle of Iowa by the High Trestle Trail. His previous posts can be found at