Is it more proof of the general resurrection to come, the presence of outhouses in cemeteries? It was a beautiful day when I went searching for a small out of the way Lutheran cemetery in the middle of Sherman County Nebraska. Finding the plots took some time but worth it to view a relatively old prairie cemetery that is still being used. Beside the typical 1800 style tombstones that stand as mossy, morose monuments of man’s mortality there were the more modern, shiny stones proclaiming more recent demises. Then, near the back fence of the small area, there was an old outhouse standing.
For those who may be ignorant of such things, outhouses were the ancestors of modern plumbing and bathrooms. The ambiance was something less than you would find at a Hilton, or even a Motel 6. They were set apart from the main house because they smelled like the north end of a skunk walking south. They were generally made of wood and had the look a Barbie Dream House that had fallen on hard times and was now haunted. Indeed, these outdoor privies were usually haunted in the warmer months by wasps, hornets, bees and the occasional snake who had to answer the call of nature. The presence of stinging insects generally made a case for speed if you were indulging in a sit down transaction. Nevertheless, what was one doing in a cemetery?
Thinking that the Lutherans had great faith in the general resurrection if they’re installing comfort stations in cemeteries, I discovered another nearby town that had an outdoor privy in the town owned cemetery. That led me to believe that the old “one-holer” was for something other than a religious purpose; or else the presence of such a small building in a secular graveyard was akin to placing a nativity scene in front of the courthouse (Please don’t call the ACLU). Again, I discovered another outdoor privy in the National Bohemian Catholic cemetery not far from one of my parishes. What do the people that founded these cemeteries know that we don’t? Oh sure, larger cemeteries such as Arlington will have modern restrooms with plumbing, but they get a lot of visitors each day. There is also the factor of the employees who keep the place looking neat, but prairie plots are small and have minimal upkeep. Could this indeed have something to do with the afterlife? Will we really need toilet paper, the Sears catalogue or old corn cobs on the day of judgment?
The short answer is: We don’t know, and I don’t know why the old wood latrines grace with their presence some graveyards around here. We celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration this Sunday. In the readings we hear of the glory of God and Jesus reveals His glory to Peter, James and John and instructs them not to reveal what has happened until after His resurrection. Recall that Jesus is the First Born from the Dead, not the only. We are also to be raised on the last day and share in the glory of God, by our reception of the Sacraments, our lives of charity and most of all because of His Mercy. We are to be part of the glory that the Scripture today foreshadows. Until then, we continue to “Walk by faith…” trusting that Jesus walks with us (hopefully upwind of any outhouse).