And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NLT)
Some Christians have used passages like the one above to draw up elaborate timetables for the return of Christ. Such exercises may miss the main points of what the Scriptures are trying to teach us: that the dead in Christ are with the Lord (Philippians 1:23), and that all followers of Jesus will meet again in the new heaven and the new earth. Most of us at Toong Yin’s funeral service tonight know this. It takes the edge off our grief a little. But we will still grieve, something that Paul allows, even though we grieve with hope.
It is the hard finality of it that hits you. Even if a death is expected, it always comes as a surprise because of the unchangeable finality of it all. There is nothing more to be done, nothing more to say. She is with the Lord. Only the body remains; cold, silent. So we look forward to that great reunion. But we are also grateful for the chance to look back, and to remember her life, and her smiles, especially the smiles, even on the toughest days of her last fight with cancer. The smiles.
I first met Toong Yin in 1985. I was starting my first pastorate with Georgetown Baptist Church. Hwa Chih was on the pastoral staff of St. George’s Anglican Church. I dropped by for a visit and Toong Yin was not feeling well that day. Awkwardly, I asked permission to pray for her as I was leaving. Chih and Toong Yin looked bemused and gave me the privilege of praying for her.
Hwa Chih’s and Toong Yin’s lives would intertwine with mine many times in the years that followed. She was a member of First Baptist Church PJ for a time when I was there as pastor. She was even on staff for a while serving as a counsellor. Always passionate about her walk with the Lord, she touched many lives and made many friends. It was also in First Baptist that my first wife had cancer and died. Hwa Chih, Toong Yin and I have walked through joy and tears through the years.
A recent memory of Toong Yin was when she attended my Spiritual Friendship workshop at the 2011 IDMC (Intentional Disciple Making Church conference run by Covenant Evangelical Free Church). The group was big. I was nervous and, at the back of my mind, thinking that Toong Yin shouldn’t be taking this workshop. She should be giving it. But she smiled (always the smiles), and she prayed and she affirmed. The humility of the truly great. We gave her a ride back after the workshop and we talked and laughed.
I didn’t see her that often when she moved into Dover Park Hospice. Bernice was there often and her grief will be deeper. I did see her a few times, and again the smiles. There was a crisis about a week ago when the doctor expected her to die. But she held on and only passed on on 2 July 2012. Toong Yin was tough and stubborn. She would exit when she was well and ready. But exited she has.
So we grieve, with hope yes, but we grieve. We will not see that smile for a while. The vacuum left by her going is large and disturbing. May it disturb us to recommit our lives to live for the Lord and for others, like she did. I think that will make her smile. Or … smile more. She is with Jesus.