It’s funny the things you remember. The first time I went up close and personal to a dead body was in 1968, when I was in Form (Secondary) Two. My grandma (dad’s mum) had died and all her children and grandchildren had to help put on her funeral clothes. I was given the privilege of buttoning the uppermost button, the one highest on her collar. She looked as though she was sleeping. I cried when they were about to close the coffin over her for the last time, not because I was grieving for her but because it was the first time I saw my father weeping openly.
When my father’s body came home from the mortuary, I noted that he didn’t have his dentures on. That meant his face looked more shrunken than it should. I thought that my dental training should count for something. And he was a handsome devil in his younger days. He should look as good as possible in death. But rigour had set in and it was hard to manoeuvre the dentures in his mouth. I only managed to get in the upper denture. Still, it was better than nothing. Up till today, I still look up whenever I drive by the Penang General Hospital where he had spent his last days, and remember again that he is no longer there.
The first night of Hee Ling’s death (my first wife) it suddenly struck me that we had left her with her watch on but the coffin had been sealed for the evening. This disturbed me deeply because the watch had an alarm that was set to beep every three hours. That was when she had to wake up to take her morphine. I used to hate giving the morphine to her though I knew it made her struggle with end stage lung cancer more bearable. I thought, she doesn’t have to take that poison any more. She no longer needed to have her sleep interrupted every three hours. She could have a proper rest now. But the watch didn’t beep. Perhaps the intense cold of the ice had deactivated it. It’s funny the things you remember.
To grow up is to learn about the reality of death, about its power to take away the people you love, about its finality, about the sorrow it brings, and about the fact that it is the one sure thing about being human. Death is the human universal. Therefore if anyone comes up to our door, candidating to be our Lord and Saviour, my first question will be: What do you know about death? How can you help me unless you know something about death?
Then, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not stay on the crosses on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was an especially important one), the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to have the victims’ legs broken and the bodies taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who had been crucified with Jesus, first the one and then the other. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. (John 19:31-34 NET)
Tomorrow (Good Friday) I will be preaching from this passage. I will share that Jesus’ death cleansed away our sin, hence the blood, and that Jesus’ death gives us life, hence the water. But today I want to focus on one thing — the fact that Jesus died. Of course He did more than that. On the third day He rose again, unique testament that He had accomplished what he had set out to do. But the starting point of His journey to life was the same as ours. It has to be the same as ours. Jesus died. The path to Easter goes through Good Friday.
And so today, as I remember again the many dear ones in my life who have passed on (the list keeps getting longer), as I think of the millions who have lived and have died, and the millions more who will live and die, as I think of my own death, twenty five years more is it? I am comforted that I follow a Saviour who knows the pain of death, and who has walked through the darkest valley (Psalm 23:4) and who is now my sure guide through life and death and life.