Wati Longchar (Serampore)
Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time … It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other
- Leo Buscaglia
The Power of the Last Words
“Eli, Eli lama sabachthani?” – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” were the last words of Jesus recorded in the gospel according to St. Matthew (Matt. 27:46). Till today, Christians remember Jesus’ last words and continues to inspire many people to sacrifice their lives for justice. We want to hear and know the last words of loved ones when they pass away. My dad’s last words were “Take me to the village.” The last word of George Floyd was “I can’t breathe” (the experience of many indigenous people and Dalits for centuries). One of my friends told me that during the last Nagaland state election, a person after drinking an excessive amount of alcohol decided to ride his motorcycle. Since he was struggling to keep his balance, his friends told him that they would take him home. To their surprise, he threatened them saying ‘who are you? I will beat you!’ Then, he abruptly rode away. Within a few minutes, he returned to his friends and shouted at them again “Who are you? What do you want to tell me?” Then he left them again. After riding for a few meters, he lost control of his motorcycle, hit a rock, and in an instant, died on the spot where he fell. For him, “Who are you? What do you want to tell me?” were his last words. Mahatma Gandhi’s last words were “Hey Ram”. Saddam Hussein’s last words were “Down with the traitors, the Americans, the spies and the Persians”. Some of the last words we often hear are: “O Jesus” or “Oh my God”, “I do not want to die now, but I cannot endure the pain anymore. I am going”, “Thank you, all of you”, “I love you. See you in heaven”, “I will miss you forever”, “Love each other”, and “Take care of your mother”. The last words are always remembered!
Rest in Peace
After a person’s passing, the community always arranges a solemn funeral service, after which the coffin is carried to the graveyard for burial, and the procession is led by the Pastor, relatives, church members, neighbours, villagers, and friends, accompanied with flowers, singing, praying, and consoling of the loved ones. After the last prayer, the body is buried by the community in the grave with much honour and respect. The last rite, though tearful, is the most memorable moment. In silence, the loved ones say, “May the soul rest in eternal peace.”
Leaving the World without the Last Words
It is painful to leave the world without saying the last word. We can say that the greatest blessing to loved ones is the last words. Many people have died without being able to say their last blessings to their loved ones. In 2001, 20,085 people died in the Gujarat earthquake without being able to convey their last words; 2,27,898 people were swept away into the ocean by a super tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004; Cyclone Nargis killed 1,38,373 people in Myanmar in 2007; the 2011 tsunami killed 18,500 people in Japan, and 8,964 people were killed in the earthquake that shook Nepal in 2015. Many people have died in air crashes, fires, vehicle accidents, flooding, and mining tragedies all over the world. They struggled alone and died without being able to convey any last words. Millions of people have been killed during countless wars, including the First and Second World Wars. Not taking into account the genocide committed against the indigenous people and millions of innocent people killed during the slave trade, conflicts, and wars have killed hundreds of thousands in Vietnam, the Middle East, Kenya, Congo, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Korea, China, Cambodia, Taiwan, and many other countries, without having the opportunity to say their last word to their loved ones. Also, many pandemics such as HIV & AIDS, TB, and hunger continue to kill millions of people around the world. During their final moment, they all must have wept desperately like our Lord Jesus Christ, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
The Covid-19 denies the Last Words
The Covid-19 has killed thousands of people, not allowing the victims to impart their last words to their loved ones. When I was writing this article, 1,031,309 (2nd September) people had died across the globe due to the novel coronavirus. Almost all the deceased must have left the world without saying their last words to their loved ones; they were kept in an isolation ward, loved ones were not allowed to come near, and friends, neighbours, church members, and relatives were not allowed to attend the funeral service. All the deceased must have left the world without saying their last words to their loved ones. Some dead bodies lying unclaimed for days in the hospital, on the railway platforms, and in public places. We have also seen the poor people carrying the dead in cycle rickshaws due to the non-availability of ambulance services. The dead bodies covered in black plastic bags dumped in trucks and thrown into deep pits and in other places, dead bodies buried in lanes without name tags. While some were buried in mass graves, others were not allowed to be buried in public cemeteries for fear of the possibility that the virus would spread even through the soil. Those family members and people who helped in burying the dead bodies were discriminated against and isolated. Numerous people have died and will continue to die as thousands are in sickbeds unbeknownst of their future. Countless family members, church members, and friends have no words except to watch silently from a distance. Indeed, it is one of the darkest hours that humanity is facing in history. People who died of Covid-19 must have cried alone, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” with a painful heart. When they were dying, family members and friends could not be with them, but God was there. Those Palestinians, chased from home for the past 70 years, the Syrians in refugee camps, the Yemenis and Kurds displaced from their villages, and many stranded migrant workers in different cities are all pleading “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” God is the only hope.
Jesus’ Last Words in Jerusalem
The Jews thought that Jerusalem was the only holy place on earth; they believed that no one can encounter God outside of Jerusalem; it is the center of the world and it is from here that God will rule the world forever. In this magnificent city, numerous wise people, wealthy people, and religious leaders resided. The Ten Commandment of Moses was kept there and the King, Pharisees, and Sadducees were there to rule, teach, and interpret the laws. The people were proud of the prodigious city of Jerusalem and the great Temple built by King Solomon. But in this city, Jesus was betrayed, caught, beaten, tortured, and hanged on a cross. Jesus was taken to the outskirts of Jerusalem and crucified. On the Cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried in pain because the city was ruled by power mongers, money worshipers, and dishonest people. This city was full of violence because of arrogance and selfishness. Today, nations spend vast sums of money on security and defense – against whom? No numbers of arms amassed are of use against Covid-19, a stark reality check to us all! It is as if Covid-19 is telling us “Against me, you do not have the power to defend yourselves”. Now, we have all started crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Covid-19 is challenging us to choose life, protect life but not destruction.
The Covid-19 is a reminder to the world that the desire for accumulation of more wealth, weapons, technologies and power alone cannot protect life. Covid-19 challenges us to invest our resources in sustainable food security programs, health systems, and organic farming. Importantly, we are reminded that God’s land, river, ocean, mountain, trees, and all living beings must be protected and preserved. A community cannot be protected by weapons, but only by love and care, solidarity, helping hands, and most importantly, we must let justice roll like the living water in our society. Otherwise, we will cry “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” The Covid-19 gives us an opportunity to retrospect our life in silence and a time to repent our sins that destroy lives. Let us choose life, protect the precious gift of body, but not destruction.