Pastoral Perspectives

Living Among The Dead

Just before the start of the Holy Week Convention, I received a text from a dear friend that her husband had passed on. Her message was calm, and she wanted me to hear the news from her.

A few weeks earlier, we met and I remembered what she shared.  She said she was praying for her husband who was confined to an elderly care home. About 20 years ago, we had gone to this elderly care home for Christmas caroling together. Who would have known that one day her very own husband would end up in this very place? 

I envisaged myself going to the wake and seeing her breaking down in tears. I prepared tissues and was bracing myself for that moment. As I opened the door, I saw people scattered across the room. As I was scanning the room, I heard a loud voice, “Loli is here!” It was followed by her typical peal of laughter. I wasn’t prepared to see her in such a joyous mood at the wake of her late husband. In other words, I wasn’t prepared to see her living so joyously among the dead. But that was her.

As we sat down at the table, she reminded me that God answered all her prayers, and she was at peace. At this juncture, I must say she is almost double my age. I am neither young nor old, if you know what I mean. I am a middle-aged person. When I mingle with young people, I find them bursting with full of life and endless possibilities. We almost never talk about death and dying. It often seems distant unless someone in the family has passed on. On the other hand, when I am with the elderly, we often talk about the reality of death through the lens of their experiences and lessons learnt in life. Those who have experienced the loss of a loved one seem to have a way of understanding and looking at resurrection.

This elderly friend of mine found Christ in the most unlikely places. During her hey days, she was the second in command in the company, but she found her life meaningless. She was successful but lonely and devoid of happiness. She found her success dead in every sense of the word. She was looking for meaning and purpose elsewhere by running away from God.  When God called her down from the ladder of success, it was there that she found the living God, the source of her eternal life and joy. It was also through cancer that she would run back to God. Whenever I meet her, unbeknownst to her, she teaches me a lesson or two.

This week, I am reminded of the women who went to anoint Jesus’ body at the tomb (Luke 24:1-12). They were greeted by two men in dazzling clothes and their presence frightened them. I would be too if I had gone to a cemetery and men in dazzling clothes talked to me! The men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” This question is addressed to me and to us all too.

Where might we be looking for Jesus, for meaning and significance in life? In this time and age where everything revolves around me, myself and mine, it is easy to get trapped into climbing the ladder of narcissism. We could go on endless pursuits of happiness through activities, entertainments, recreations, families, friends and even career. The list goes on but to what end? All these in itself are not evil and are God’s gifts to us but none of these can give us eternal life. In many ways, they are dead. Only the finished work of Christ on the Cross can truly make us alive.

Interestingly, the Russian word for Sunday apparently means resurrection; to recall, to resuscitate, to recreate, to bring back to life! John Stott writes, “Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.” Truly, every Sunday is a reminder and celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Only Christ is able to recreate and make us alive. Rev 21:5 reminds us that He makes all things new. He died so that we might live. And because Christ has risen from the dead, we too can live life abundantly even in the midst of the dead.

During the Holy week, I found the living God in the most unlikely places. I found God in my daughter’s fever even as I had to leave her behind to attend to Holy Week services. I found God in the prayers lifted up for her by other believers. I found God in the company of God’s people gathered to worship together. I found God in the word of God preached through Psalm 22 & 23 that I can praise God even through pain. I found God in the company of the sick and lonely people who are suffering. I found God in a widow. I also found God in a funeral.

As I was leaving the wake, my elderly friend turned to me and said, “God is keeping me for a reason; to tell others about Christ. I have peace because He lives.” As people of the living God, may the spirit that raised Jesus from the dead raise us too from our slumber so that our lives may proclaim:

“I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today;
I know that he is living, whatever men may say;
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
And just the time I need him, he’s always near.

“He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today;
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart;
You ask me how I know he lives –
He lives within my heart!”

Pr Loliro Sani

April 11, 2021