During the Lunar New Year period (it officially lasts 15 days) you are not supposed to talk about or think about negative things. It might jinx you for the rest of the year. But this year I keep thinking about death. On the 29th of Jan I received news that a friend named Ranjan had passed away. I have not had any contact with Ranjan since university days so I was surprised that the news of his death struck me as hard as it did. I first met him when we were residents of KE Hall, University of Singapore, in the 70s. One year my senior, he was a medical student and I was studying dentistry. We bonded because we were in the college band. Perhaps his memory triggered memories of a special time in my life. I believe he was Catholic. I was sad when I heard about his death.
Yesterday I heard that a dear friend, Neil Rode, had passed away. He and his family were dear friends of me and mine. Our families have shared much joy and pain together. He was in KL and I was in Singapore so I had hardly seen him in recent times. Here was a humble gentle servant of the Lord. He had been ailing for some time, but I have long discovered that even if a death is “expected” it still catches you by surprise. I saw the news of his death on Facebook. I was ambushed by deep sadness. I am confident he is with his Lord, but grief is grief.
And if I needed more reminders of mortality, later the same day, we heard that Michael Green, key Christian leader and writer who did so much to promote revival and evangelism in the church, had passed on too.
This Lunar New Year was also special in that it was the first time we did not celebrate the New Year’s Eve family gathering in mum’s home in Penang. Since last October, mum has been staying in a nursing home. She needed constant medical care after she fell and broke her hip. Praise God that with a wheel chair, we were able to get her out for a reunion lunch at a restaurant. Very grateful to my sister Sandy and her husband Jimmy, and their three girls, for arranging the lunch and getting mum to the restaurant.
Bernice or I will come back to Penang at least once a month to visit mum and to see to her needs. For some time now, I have wondered if each visit will be my last. This year, the question has loomed even larger.
Then there was the matter of who is missing from the reunion meals. In a lovely reunion dinner with Bernice’s side of the family, somewhere at the back of our minds was the reminder of who was not at the table, including the husband of one of Bernice’s cousins who died in a horrific traffic accident last year.
There were many happy reunions this Lunar New Year but the soundtrack of the hour was in a minor key.
I have always been intrigued though by how one of the key metaphors of the new heavens and the new earth is a great banquet.
People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29 NIV)
And that banquet will take place at a time when:
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4b NIV)
One aspect of that time is that it will be a great reunion with God and with God’s people (1 Thessalonians 4: 16–17).
We learn that all good things in life are samples and pointers to something far greater. Our reunion feasts here on earth will never be perfect, never be fully free of sorrow and reminders of death. That is because they are only reminders of the perfect reunion feast that awaits. And that gives us strength and courage to press on in the meantime.
If we know a story has a happy ending it stops us from giving up when we read sad and scary chapters. So this Lunar New Year I am gripped by mixed feelings. But we have yet to feast at the final banquet. So we get on with life till then.