by Pannir Santiago
Once again I was reminded of how often the world’s usage of words is often at odds with the Bible’s. At the funeral service last Friday, for our recently departed brother Perumal in Sg.Way, PJ, this word was everywhere. On the funeral notice, in the eulogy, and in the funeral sermon. Late. Our Late brother Perumal. Replace it with the name of any victorious Christian you know.
Were they really late? If they were, would they have caught the boat to heaven? Rather, they were “early”, leaving the rest of us straggling behind, don’t you think? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate that, the dead in the faith, the dead in Christ, should be “on time” to keep their “appointed time”? Hebrews 9:27 : “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…..” This would make those who died faithless, in apostasy, or in sin, to be the ones truly “late” in meeting their destiny. Missed the boat! With a thunderclap thud of finality, death closes the door for a change of heart.
I am thinking of the parable of the ten virgins. The five alert ones who attended the wedding, and the five lackadaisical ones who missed the party. Matthew 25:10, “And while they went to buy (the oil i.e), the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. They were LATE! The one who loses the race is late. Not the one who breasted the tape early. How interesting! The Bible portrays the Christian life as a marathon event and the winners as those who die in their faith. In their boots, basically. These brethren are hardly late. The late ones are those who die in disobedience, in sin, in apostasy, in vain. It is truly too late, at that point. Too bad, too.
In another sense, one certainly can’t be late for one’s own funeral. Obviously, we are the first one there, being the very reason for the gathering of friends and family. When our appointment with our Maker is met, it is considered, “timely”. This brings us to another difference between the modern English meaning and the Bible understanding of certain words. The English language understands death as “untimely”, “before his time”, “too soon” etc. Whereas, as we have already noted, death for a Christian, is on time, on schedule, and onward to heaven.
The current English usage defines death as a “loss”. “We have lost a great soul today”, the eulogist says. The bible, on the other hand, considers it a victory and a gain. Paul exuberates (Philippians 1:21) that to die (in Christ), “is gain.” To gain something is similar to winning. So, in 1 Corinthians 15:55, Paul exults, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (quoting Hosea 13:14). He is questioning death’s potency, and in the process broadcasting that Christ has conquered it. Consequently, we too can have that. The verse before this (1 Cor 15:54) is also an OT quote (Isaiah 25:8) – “Death is swallowed up in victory.” The death of a Christian is a victory, because it (death) couldn’t take his life!!! An ironclad irony, if there is one. The entire chapter of I Cor 15 is about victory over death. We are talking spiritual victory here, of course.
Are faithful Christians never “late”? YES! Never. But don’t stop using this term in reference to the deceased. It is acceptable as everyday English. I am just using it as a vehicle to drive home a biblical point.