“After a very hard delivery, the midwife finally exclaimed, “Don’t be afraid – you have another son!” Genesis 35:17, NLT
At the funeral wake of an old friend, we met a young lady who had recently been cured of pancreatic cancer. She was a Buddhist and had been given only 2 months to live but made a complete recovery. It was a miracle of God’s healing grace through the care and expertise of her doctors. It triggered memories of Prof Cynthia Goh, one of the founders of hospice care in Singapore, who recently died from pancreatic cancer. Her death reminded me that when we follow Christ, death is also a miracle – the miracle of the triumphant crossing from death to eternal life.
When Rachel was dying while she was giving birth to Benjamin, the midwife encouraged her, “don’t be afraid” as she was going to have another son. Rachel had intense labor pains and a very difficult delivery. With her dying breath, Rachel named her baby Ben-oni which means “son of my sorrow.”
But Jacob changed the name to Benjamin which means “son of my right hand.”1 Perhaps Jacob was inspired to do so from his earlier encounter with God before he met Esau. He had then struggled with God and was given a new name, Israel, as he had prevailed.2
Jacob’s response to the death of his favorite wife and birth of his youngest son exemplifies what hospice care is all about – turning a sorrowful event into a hopeful one. Hospice care is often seen as the care of the dying when it is in fact a philosophy of care to live life more fully in the face of death. It is a ministry of comforting all those who mourn so that they can have crowns of beauty instead of ashes, oil of joy instead of tears of grief and garments of praise instead of a spirit of despair.3 In hospice care, we journey with the terminally ill and their families as they embrace their grief and change their valleys of sorrow in the night into valleys of joy in the morning.4
We are living in a death denying society for we are programmed to fear death. But it is God’s will that we choose life.5 Hence, Jesus came to show us the way to live from death to life. Jesus did not come to turn bad sinners into good saints but to raise dead sinners to be saints who are alive to God. Jesus lived a selfless, obedient life and died a selfless, obedient death to set us free from the fear of death.6 Jesus’ body was broken for us so that our broken and messy lives can be made whole.
We observe Ash Wednesday not as an act of holiness but as the remembrance of the reality that we are dust and to dust we shall return. It is a call to repentance and to believe in the Gospel. It is confronting our mortality so that we can live a more humane and humble life. When our hearts are hardened, our ears cannot hear and our eyes are closed and we cannot understand the good news of salvation and the kingdom of God:7
“But God is rich in mercy because of His great love for us. We were dead because of our failures, but He made us alive together with Christ. (It is God’s kindness that saved you).”8
It is through faith in Christ that we cross from death to life through all our “little deaths” in our losses and broken dreams each day. We can choose to release the pain in our past so that bitterness will not fill our hearts with tears of regrets. Blessed are those who mourn for it is through the tears of repentance of a broken heart that we enter God’s kingdom of love in the here and now.
God is waiting for us to return to Him so that we can have the times of refreshing that comes from the presence of the Lord.9 The way of the cross is not a journey to find God but walking with Christ in the distressing moments of life – to de-stress by resting in the refreshing showers of the Holy Spirit. It is walking with our Shepherd of love through the valley of death and fearing no evil.10 With the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, we are living in very difficult times:
“You must understand this: In the last days there will be violent periods of time. People will be selfish and love money. They will brag, be arrogant, and use abusive language. They will curse their parents, show no gratitude, have no respect for what is holy, and lack normal affection for their families. They will refuse to make peace with anyone. They will be slanderous, lack self-control, be brutal, and have no love for what is good. They will be traitors. They will be reckless and conceited. They will love pleasure rather than God. They will appear to have a godly life, but they will not let its power change them. Stay away from such people.”11
Times of darkness are times of refreshing when we return to God and give Him our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can redirect us to follow Christ to the cross. This is not seeking death but embracing death through the attitude of surrendering our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions to God so that “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”12 It is to be led by our Shepherd of love as we tread life’s dark maze surrounded by spreading griefs so that darkness will turn to day and sorrow’s tears wiped away. And with confidence we can declare:
“When ends life’s transient dream,
when death’s cold sullen stream shall o’er me roll;
blest Savior then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above,
a ransomed soul”13
Lord, help me to embrace my sorrows so that I may experience the comfort of Your Holy Spirit.
- What are the ‘little deaths” that I need to face each day?
- How does mourning help me to enter the kingdom of heaven?
- How am I to live each day so that the mystery of death will be the miracle of the triumphant crossing?
Song of praise:
My Faith Looks Up to Thee
- Genesis 35:16-18
- Genesis 32:22-32
- Isaiah 61:3
- Psalms 30:5
- Deuteronomy 30:19
- Philippians 2:7-8 MSG, James 2:14-15
- Acts 28:25-30
- Ephesians 2:4
- Acts 3:19
- Psalms 23:4
- 2 Tim 3:1-5
- Philippians 1:21
- My Faith Looks Up to Thee, Ray Palmer