Pastoral Perspectives

A Time To Live And Die

It was an eventful week as I pondered over three deaths. The first happened some 2000 years ago in Jerusalem and there was drama as people gathered one morning to witness the trial and crucifixion of an innocent man named Jesus while choosing to free a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. Jesus’ followers thought that their hope had been crushed and sealed off for good by the stone covering the tomb. But little did they expect to find the stone rolled away and the body no longer there. Their grief was short-lived because Jesus rose from the dead and so the church celebrates Easter Sunday with joy and anticipation of his coming again. And it was so during this Easter period that I read about the other two deaths.

One happened in Malaysia on the third day after we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection and it was eventful because the man had died a second time. For he had been rushed to the hospital some twelve days earlier when his breathing stopped and doctors could not revive him and so pronounced him dead. But he started breathing again some three hours later. He was believed to be Malaysia’s first person to have the rare Lazarus phenomenon, i.e. named after the biblical Lazarus who was raised to life by Jesus in the gospel according to John. But Lazarus was dead for four days and buried in a tomb with hands, feet and face all wrapped up. What John was trying to say is that Lazarus was really dead and his coming back to life was indeed a supernatural miracle performed by the Son of God. This man however was pronounced dead for about two to three hours and was still lying on the hospital bed when he started breathing again. Thankfully he had not been taken to the mortuary yet. The family was overjoyed by the news of his revival and after spending some time in the hospital he was finally discharged and allowed to go home. But alas their joy was short-lived when he died shortly after coming home. And it seems that this time round his death is for real.

The other was better known as Sai Baba, which roughly means ‘divine father’. He claimed to be the reincarnation of the original Sai Baba of Shirdi who died in 1918. And there was drama too as many of his followers stood by him while he lay dying. Sadly Jesus’ disciples had mostly deserted him while he was left hanging. Sai Baba’s followers include politicians and celebrities who mourned his death and so his funeral was conducted with full state honour. But such people in Jesus’ days were clamouring for his death and so gave him the most severe capital punishment possible. Sai Baba’s death brought grief to the nation and to millions of devotees all over the world. Jesus’ death however brought relief to the local and religious authorities but confusion to the handful who had believed that he was their Messiah. Finally Sai Baba left behind a huge fortune that had been donated to support his cause and it is now up to his followers to use it to carry on his work. Jesus left nothing much except the promise of the Holy Spirit and a Great Commission, which his followers had since faithfully sought to fulfill until he returns again.

I read of how one of Sai Baba’s followers had claimed that the master had said he would eventually die at the age of 95 or 96 and since he was only 84, he strongly believed that his master would recover and live on for another decade more. But his master did not recover and died on the same day Christians celebrate the resurrection of their Lord and Saviour. Then another follower claimed that her master had appeared in her dream saying that he would resurrect again in 41 days and so went on a hunger strike to protest against plans to bury him. So we will know by Pentecost if Sai Baba would indeed resurrect as claimed. But I sincerely doubt so because the master himself had claimed to be the reincarnation of the one before him, and to be consistent with his own teachings, his devotees should expect his reincarnation instead. But I guess history will eventually reveal if Sai Baba was indeed the ‘divine father’ as claimed and whether his followers will use his huge but exhaustible fortune to propagate his teachings until someone comes along and claims to be the next Sai Baba.

So here are three people and their deaths over an eventful week. One was an ordinary folk who came back to life but only to die again, like Lazarus himself. The lesson for us is that no one can escape death. We will all die some day and so let us not live as if we are not going to die. The other was not much different to another person whose life had also touched and inspired many and whose death was also mourned and grieved by many all over the world. The only difference was that Mother Teresa drew all attention to her Lord and did all things for his glory. And I suppose they are not the last people on earth whose lives will impact many others, whether it is for their own cause or for the Master whom they serve. The lesson here is about how we live this one precious life before we finally die. Will we touch and inspire other lives for Christ’s sake such that many would also mourn our death and thank God for our lives?

So this brings me finally to the first death that happened in Jerusalem. Jesus died and rose again, not to his old self but in a new resurrected body that will never perish nor taste death again. And the most wonderful thing about this truth is found in his reply to Lazarus’ sister before he raised him from the dead. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Do you believe this? I suppose history will eventually reveal if this claim is also true as well. The only problem is that it will be too late to believe then. As for the rest of us who believe, we should therefore not give up for whatever reasons or lose the will to live because life is meaningless or unfair. If Sai Baba’s followers can continue to face life by drawing inspirations from his teachings, surely we can do likewise and much better, knowing that we have the Holy Spirit helping us until we meet our Lord again. And if the Great Commission is the goal for our lives, surely we can also touch and inspire many for the glory of the kingdom.

Ps Ronnie

May 8, 2011