“For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6
Being in quarantine after three members of my family were tested positive for COVID 19 was a time in a spiritual cocoon. It brought to mind the “white funeral” described by Oswald Chambers in his January 15th devotional that I read in 2007 when I was on holiday in Ho Chi Minh city:
“There must be a “white funeral,” a death with only one resurrection – a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. Nothing can defeat a life like this. It has oneness with God for only one purpose – to be a witness for Him.”
We were visiting the Cha Tam church in Cholon and found a group of eight ladies chanting choruses in Vietnamese. Their angelic voices brought a sense of peace to me and right in front of the church there was a white figure of Christ hanging on a white cross. It was a sign of my need for a “white funeral.” Without a “white funeral”, I cannot be raised from the dead and be seated in the heavenly realm with Christ.
It is not just thinking about coming to our last days but to truly experience them. It is to stop being the intensely striving kind of Christian. To follow Christ is not putting on a performance of trying to be a good Christian to earn a place in heaven. To be a follower of Christ is to journey to the cross and dying to our false self. It is being “baptized into His death (Romans 6:3)” – to be crucified with Christ so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). It is living out the truth that for me to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
But we are tempted and misled into trying to work out our salvation by “performing” for God through church activities, rituals and good works. Our pride keeps us from abiding in Christ and living out the beautiful promise that we have been raised from the dead with Christ and is seated in the heavenly realm with Christ. Our spiritual heart are full of worms which needed to be replaced by the wonderful and beautiful love messages from God. Only then can church activities, rituals and good works be the fruit of humility, faithfulness, patience and compassion of God’s seed of love in our hearts.
We cannot bear the fruit of transformation when our hearts are the roads for our pride or when they are hardened into stony soil by resentment or turned into a garden of weeds by the worries and the pleasures of life. We cannot live a life of grace by trying harder – it is only by coming to the end of ourselves and surrendering our will to God. Dr David Kyle Foster rightly pointed out that true and lasting transformation of life cannot take place without the supernatural restoration of union with God through genuine repentance:
“We have become masters at cosmetic salvation, where only the appearance is changed, but not the heart. And so we fool ourselves. Televised crusades have taught us how to act repentant, but they have not necessarily conveyed the heart of repentance. Like so many actors who have portrayed Jesus on the screen, they have provided the lines to read, but have not always changed the character of the one who delivers them.”
The truth is that we are all “sin addicts” who need to confess our addiction to the need for control that keeps us from desiring God. Only then can we live out the wisdom of the first 3 steps of the Twelve Step program of the Alcoholics Anonymous adapted by Katie Brazelton and be delivered from our sin addiction by the Holy Spirit:
Step 1: I admit that I’m powerless over my dependencies and that my life has become unmanageable.
Step 2: I believe that God can restore me to sanity and help me follow his plan.
Step 3: I turn my will and life to God’s care.
We need the grace of God to go through a “white funeral” – to die to our own ways so that God can have His way with us. Unfortunately, many of us will only do so when we undergo great suffering to be awakened spiritually. Thomas Keating reminds us that God doesn’t send sufferings – they arise spontaneously out of a world that functions on free choice with the people living apart from God and His will. When we take our lives for granted, God allows the storms of life to take away our comfort so that we will hunger and thirst for His loving presence. The pain of remaining where we are must be greater than the pain to undertake the journey back home to God.
The white funeral is to remind us that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Another way of spiritual awakening is to examine our hearts daily and to bring our imperfections and flaws to the cross of Christ in prayer. It is the spiritual journey of living in two worlds at the same time with the joy of being in God’s presence. It is to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection in our pain and suffering. My “white funeral” helped me to understand the path of contemplative prayer as my act of worship as I offer myself as a living sacrifice:
“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2, ESV
It is impossible to live as a pilgrim of heaven in this world of sin without the grace of God. We will encounter trials as well as blessings every day. We have to choose what we want to pay attention to – our problems or the promises of God. We can complain to God about our problems or we can use our problems to decorate the walls of our heart with the wonderful and beautiful promises of God’s everlasting love by meditating on God’s Word through silence.
Contemplative prayer leads us to the truth of what it means to be seated with Christ Jesus in the heavenly realm. It is not to enjoy heavenly bliss but to feel the heart breaks of our Father in heaven over the mess humankind has made in the world as well as the wrath of God. It is to drive us to the horror of sin and evil as well as to the awesome and merciful love of God. Henri Nouwen challenges us to plunge right into the heart of God’s endless mercy by being baptized in powerlessness and moving towards the poor who do not have such power. Then we are free to reenter our world with the divine power of Jesus and to walk in the valley of darkness and tears with unceasing communion with God by standing confidently under the cross of Christ. It is a call to be fearless saints by being a voice in the wilderness:
“It is this power that enables us to talk straight and without hesitation about sharing money with those who have financial resources, to call men and women to radical service, to challenge people to make long-term commitments in the world of human services, and to keep announcing the good news everywhere at all times.”
When we abide in Christ we will see life from heaven’s perspective. With Christ as our fresh bubbling spring of eternal live (John 4:14), streams of living water bringing love, joy, and peace will flow from us to a broken, fearful, and confused world. The prayer of Jesus is that the love of God will dwell in us as Christ dwell in us (John 17: 26). So may the word of Christ dwell in us richly so that we may teach and admonish one another in all wisdom as we sing spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God (Colossians 3:16):
“No fate I dread, I know I am forgiven,
The future sure, the price it has been paid.
For Jesus bled and suffered for my pardon
And He was raised to overthrow the grave.
To this I hold, my sin has been defeated
Jesus now and ever is my plea
Oh the chains are released, I can sing; I am free!
Yet, not I, but through Christ in me.