Are you into epitaphs? Cemeteries are not my favourite places but I do visit them, and not only for professional reasons! Old cemeteries especially are often repositories of thoughtful reminders of the fragility of life and good advice on how to live life better. All this is in the epitaphs inscribed on cemetery headstones, whether those epitaphs were written by the people who now lie beneath them or by others who want them remembered well.
It is well known that there is no certainty about the location of the tomb in which the body of Jesus lay for brief time after his death, so there is no headstone and epitaph for him which the interested passer-by could contemplate. Indeed, if his tomb could be located, its very emptiness might be a pretty good epitaph for him, as if to say: “I tried this once but then decided to move on.”
Nevertheless, there is a kind of epitaph written for him in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. You can read it in John 1.14 – here is that verse in full: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And the epitaph, if John had needed to write it? I imagine it would have read: “Here lies Jesus of Nazareth, a man full of grace and truth.”
It’s remarkable comment about a remarkable man. Usually, human beings come with an emphasis on either grace or truth. We could do with many more grace-filled people in public life, in our communities, in our families. Our reputation as a nation full of tall poppy haters is well known and justly deserved, but it has to be said that a surfeit of grace can quickly descend into mere sentimentality. Likewise, we need truth tellers and not just in print and on our telly screens. Most of our relationships could do with a stiff dose of honest truth more often than we are prepared to admit. But graceless truth can be a cruel weapon in the hands of the vindictive and self-righteous.
Remarkably, John remembers Jesus as full of both grace and truth – a man others soon learned they could trust and from whom those who needed him had nothing to fear. Indeed, John tells us that the glory people saw in Jesus was not like the loud and brash display that passes for glory these days but the weighty presence of a man who pulled no punches but who at the same time made it clear that he was ready to give everything for those he met along the path of life.