While driving through Ireland, I kept noticing what looked like a dollar sign ($) on tombstones in roadside cemeteries. Except there were three vertical lines instead of one. But just glancing quickly at them as we passed by, they looked like dollar signs to me.
This puzzled me greatly. My initial thought was that this seemed more like what one might see in America, where we seem to worship money and individuality, but not in old Irish cemeteries with weathered and tilting tombstones, not in a country where religion has the reputation of being old-fashioned and maybe even out of touch. And judging from the photos one is most likely to see in travel brochures, a country full of sheep, and rocks, and water, and wide expanses of green, and thatched huts - and so, at least in the old days when these tombstones were erected, not a particularly wealthy or money-focused country. On the other hand, we were visiting Ireland during the time when its rapidly growing economy was known as the Celtic Tiger. So perhaps this was a sign of the times.
Finally, we stopped to eat lunch near a church (at the burial place of the great poet William Butler Yeats, in Sligo, actually, where there is a lovely tearoom and gift shop) and I walked through the graveyard to have a look at the interesting headstones. Among them were several specimens of the "dollar sign" variety, and I suddenly realized that this was actually the monogram of the name of Jesus - IHS: Iesous Hominum Salavator. Jesus, the savior of humankind. Which is rather more appropos of what one might expect to find on the tombstones of Christians. The symbol of our hope of eternal life in God.
But I am more intrigued with the idea of putting dollar signs on our tombstones. The symbol of the thing we trust in, we rely on, the thing we can't live without. The symbol of what we pursue with great concentration in this life. The size and ornamentation of one's dollar sign might signify the extent of one's wealth. Or one's fascination with it, if not actual achievement of it. Or it might just serve as a reminder to one's descendants and the world that one has lived a life in a world in which money is one's ultimate concern. What would that say about us as individuals and as a society?
Or, maybe instead, we might wish to put dollar signs on our tombstones in order to signify the amount of money that one simply gave away. Perhaps even gave away in the name of Jesus. Although I think that might be a different but still rather un-tasteful sort of bragging.
We began Lent with the statement that we are dust and we shall return to dust. And all of our monuments, to ourselves, to our hope of posterity, even to our faith, will someday crumble, too. And yet we wish to mark the place, mark the life, mark the faith with signs of the hope of resurrection.
"Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?"
(Isaiah 55:1, NRSV)