April 20, 2011

Facing the Eastern Sky

She underwent radical surgery for her malignancy. Initially the pathology report showed no evidence of the spread of the disease. For additional measure, however, her doctors put her on a series of chemotherapy. She was a registered nurse, so she knew what the prognosis was.

She had an anointing service by one of the ministers she respected and admired. She was doubtlessly hoping for a restoration of health. But more important, she desired the anointing to strengthen her confidence in the goodness of the Lord. Typical of anyone who faces the unknown, she passed through the stages of shock, denial, anger, and resignation. Throughout this painful and heart-wrenching experience she never lost her strong hold on the Lord.
2011 1511 page28With tears she asked the Lord why she had become a victim of that dreadful disease. In her frustration she raised the question: “Lord, why me?” It was possible that she expressed her frustration internally. If she did, it was never translated into body language that suggested shaking her fist in God’s face.
Her entry into the stage of resignation was a triumphant one. It was not a resignation to defeat, as if to admit that it was the end of everything. Rather, it was a reaffirmation of her total surrender to God. She did not linger long in despair. She wanted to maximize whatever time was left in strengthening her relationship with God and with her fellow human beings.
I was there. I’m writing about my mother-in-law, Hatsue Imai.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Years ago Hatsue took her nurse’s training in Shanghai Adventist Sanitarium. For a short time after her graduation she worked at that institution, and later at Tokyo Adventist Hospital. She also taught at Japan Missionary College. Many found the joy of knowing Jesus Christ through her ministry.
Several of her former students had walked away from the church, however. She longed for them to recapture their first love for the Lord. Realizing she might not be around much longer, she wrote to many of them, urging them to come back. She mentioned her wish of spending eternity with them. She also spent time exhorting the members of the church that her husband had pastored.
Less than two years after her surgery, medical follow-up showed that the disease had returned. The malignancy had spread to several parts of Hatsue’s body. Gradually her energy diminished, and before too long she was confined to bed.
Hatsue was a pragmatic woman. She knew that when death made its unwelcome entrance, in his grief her loving husband would be too emotional to carry out her wishes. So she told my wife, Darlene, and me what she wanted for her funeral.
She told us she didn’t want to be buried in a walled burial site. She wasn’t claustrophobic, but the idea that someone would have to have a key to open the gate in order to visit her grave was too troublesome and restrictive.

What Do You Think?

1. The Christian doctrine of the resurrection takes the fear out of death. Why, then, do we do everything we can to avoid dying?

2. Most of us think about death only when we have to. How much should we think about our mortality? A lot? A little? Not at all?

3. What do your preparations for the care of your remains say about your faith in Christ and His resurrection?

How do you see the return of Christ? What authors have helped you imagine the sights, sounds, and sensations of that great event?

She also had no desire to have her remains kept in a mausoleum. She was just a commoner, not a celebrity. To her, paying such an exorbitant price for the privilege of being kept in such a classy site was a misuse of money.

She then outlined for us what she wanted done regarding her interment. First, she wanted us to bury her in an open place. It didn’t matter whether it was on level ground or on the slope of a hill, so long as it was an open space. Second, there should be no building or tall trees to block her view of Jesus returning on resurrection morning. Third, her final resting place must face east.
Naturally Darlene and I were curious about the criteria she outlined.
“But Mom,” I said, “at the coming of Jesus there will be a great earthquake that will not only uproot trees but flatten buildings. You’ll surely have an unrestricted view.”
She smiled. “I know what I’m saying may sound childish to a lot of people,” she replied, “but to see Jesus coming from heaven is one of my fondest dreams. Think of my wish as something based on my childlike faith.”
Darlene inquired, “Mother, what’s the significance of facing east?”
She seemed to perk up. Then she quoted Jesus: “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:27). A minister’s wife, she enjoyed committing many scriptural passages to memory.
As if to further impress us of her conviction, she described the Second Coming based on the following quotation from Ellen G. White: “Soon there appears in the east a small black cloud, about half the size of a man’s hand. It is the cloud which surrounds the Savior and which seems in the distance to be shrouded in darkness. The people of God know this to be the sign of the Son of Man. In solemn silence they gaze upon it as it draws nearer the earth, becoming lighter and more glorious, until it is a great white cloud, its base a glory like consuming fire, and above it the rainbow of the covenant. Jesus rides forth as a mighty conqueror” (The Great Controversy, pp. 640, 641).
With a twinkle in her eyes she concluded, “If I’m facing east, I’ll be one of the first to see Jesus when He appears.”
She went to her rest waiting for the resurrection. We honored her childlike faith. Her burial site at California’s Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale is in a flat, open space with no tall trees or buildings close by. She’s facing the eastern sky.
Wellington Manullang, a lifelong Seventh-day-Adventist, is an elder at Sunnyside Seventh-day Adventist Church in Portland, Oregon. This article was published April 21, 2011.