Did you know that 151,600 people die each day globally? It is hard for large numbers to strike a chord. Death strikes home when it takes away people that we care about. Two deaths come to mind this week. One was the death of Pastor Rick Seaward. I didn’t know him personally but many of my friends did and the outpouring of grief and respect tells me that he was a very special person. I later found out that we were both born in 1955. I can’t help but think: Have I been as faithful to my calling as he has been to his?
Another death affected me deeply. This week I found out that Mabel, wife of Pastor Elijah Leong, had finally said goodbye to her battle with cancer. The Boss had given her the permission to go home. This one hit home. When I found out, my day became greyer. I didn’t shed any tears but they were there somewhere. Mabel and Elijah were this fantastic couple who cared for nothing but to obey God and to serve Him. Mabel had been fighting cancer for some time now but we saw her faith and life through it all. Indeed, as that line in the movie Braveheart (1995) goes, everybody dies but not everybody lives. She lived.
Still, there is the pain of loss. I wonder how the Seawards and the Leongs will face the events of this holy week? They would have preached and heard many sermons on the hope of Easter. How real will that hope be this time? Bernice and I lost our first spouses to cancer. I recall the immediate response of grief is a feeling of numbness. You don’t really feel very much. Besides, there are many things to attend to.
The night that Hee Ling, my first wife, passed away, I remember going to the undertaker in the middle of the night, to select a coffin. I remember going with my friends Dr Alan Tan and Pastor Don Miller. Because I was a pastor, and perhaps because I had given this undertaker substantial business, they were not going to charge me for the whole funeral. But here we were in the middle of the night, looking at various models of coffins. It was surreal.
But how real is our hope? This Sunday, and usually with much fanfare, we will declare that Jesus rose again from the dead. We will declare loudly “He is risen!” But did He? Is the resurrection some fairy tale we tell ourselves to give us some courage in the dark? After all, everyone who has died has remained dead.
Perhaps that is the point. Nobody comes back from the dead. Nobody. It is quite audacious for a bunch of Jews, 2000 years ago, to claim that Jesus rose again and came back from the dead, not as a ghost but in the flesh. By all accounts they didn’t expect this. Some of His followers, a group of women, were going to His grave on Easter morning to put more spices on His body so that it wouldn’t stink so much. Yet they and many others would testify that they met the risen Christ—an encounter that would change them to the extent that many of them were willing to suffer and die for that claim. Obviously something had happened.
Many of us are familiar with the book Who Moved the Stone, first published in 1930 by Faber and Faber. Albert Henry Ross, writing as Frank Morrison, set out to prove that the account of Jesus’s resurrection was a myth. But his research led him to conclude that the resurrection actually happened. Of course there are scholars who look at the same evidence and have come to different conclusions. I have long realised that evidence cannot compel belief. Perhaps what we can ask is, “Where does the weight of the evidence lie?” I think we should all sieve through the evidence for the resurrection and make our own calls. I have done this a few times in my life and am still of the opinion that, incredible as it may seem, Jesus did really rise again from the dead, a unique sign for a unique claim—that He is truly God’s messiah come to redeem humankind. And if Jesus did rise again, then our hope in Him is true and sure.
I don’t know how the Leongs and the Seawards will feel this Easter. I suspect there will be a rollercoaster of different emotions for some time to come. But their faith, and mine, is not based on feelings. It is based on the fact that Jesus died and rose again.
The last picture on Mabel’s Facebook timeline is a picture of a plate of Anson Chee Cheong Fun. I’ll wager good money that she is enjoying better fare right now.
. . . the early mornings belong to the Church of the risen Christ. At the break of light it remembers the morning on which death and sin lay prostrate in defeat and new life and salvation were given to mankind.
[Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954), 42.]