by R.T. Apraim, Maramon
I am a cancer patient. I am seventy seven years old. This is my testimony how God prepared me in my sick bed for facing restlessness, pain and even death. I do not claim that anything special has happened to me. But I want to testify that I received from my Lord the grace to look forward to death and eternal life with great joy and hope. I am happy if these lines encourage all those who are struggling with similar situations.
In December 1998, the day after Christmas I collapsed. Upon investigation, it was found out that I had a blood clot in my brain. I was operated upon. But after two weeks, on the day of my discharge from the hospital, I collapsed again. Scanning showed another blood-clot. The doctor recommended immediate surgery. To have two brain operations in two weeks-time was risky. Every one knew that the case was serious. Still I submitted to the suggestion of the doctor. Thinking that my end was near, I received the Holy Communion in the recovery room itself. I thought that it was my last Lord’s Table. I started communing with my Lord. I received Him in my heart in a special way. I saw with my spiritual eyes the crucified Jesus in the midst of two thieves. I talked to Him just like the thief on the right hand side. I prayed the same words of the thief, “Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom”. (Luke 23: 42) Then I waited to hear the same answer of Jesus,” Today you shall be with me in paradise”.(vs. 43) I was thinking that I would not get another chance to mediate and pray if I would be unconscious. I waited for my end. Nothing disturbed my mind. Neither the thoughts of worldly things nor of my wife and children worried me. This was a great blessing. But God did not take me. I came home after a few days.
As I was recouping my health, I had to undergo a third operation, this time for stomach cancer, in September 2000.A tumor of one and a half kilo grams and some parts of my stomach were removed in a five and a half hour long operation. I was in the intensive care unit for one whole week. My whole body was entangled with tubes and cords of different pieces of equipment. I could not move or take in anything by mouth and I was in great pain. In spite of this I was not disheartened. I was always meditating on the Christ crucified.
I am grateful to God for enabling me to identify myself in a small way with pains that the Son of God went through. I am delighted and indebted to God the Holy Spirit for giving this serenity in my mind. I started again preparing for my end just like last time. But I was praying that God might prepare me this time much better than last time. When ever I was awake, I was only thinking of the crucified God. After one month I was discharged. Still I continue with my treatment.
Whenever I am in pain and restless, I cherish to meditate on the cross and the Savior on it. From my experience I can testify gladly that the Lord who forgave a terrible sinner like that thief on the cross will forgive our sins also if we repent and pray that simple prayer. We have very clear messages about death and the life to come in the Holy Bible. Let us see some of them. “What no eye has seen nor ear heard nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1Corintians 2:9) “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied”. (1 Corintians15: 19). “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2Corintians 4:16, 17) “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven. Here indeed we groan and long to put on our heavenly dwelling.”(2 Corinthians 5: 12) “My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:23) “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge will award to me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearance.” (2 Timothy 4: 6-8) These passages reveal how comforting the thoughts about the death and the life to come.
We see death as despairing. Even the disciples saw the death of their Master very much so. Those who went to Emmaus were perplexed. Peter went back to fishing with his friends. These people who were with Jesus for more than three years lost their hope in spite of listening to and learning about the mystery of the Kingdom of God directly from their Master. They could not understand that his death was a victory over Satan and death. They were in despair and fear until they received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Jesus said,” If any one desires to follow me, let him take his own cross and follow me.” (Mathew 16:24) If we really love him, we must be ready to bear our own crosses with patience and joy and be willing to die with Him. The death of Jesus who is the head of the church has become the means of salvation of the whole world. In the same way our body, which is part of Christ and which bears the cross and death, if offered together with the death of Christ to God the Father, will become the precious jewel of salvation for others. Thus we will also become co-workers with Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:9) This is the greatest blessing one can think of. Thus when we offer ourselves just like Jesus, for the salvation of the world, irrespective of their caste and creed and even for those who persecute us, we are fulfilling only our duty as the royal priesthood.( 1 Peter 2:9) This is the greatest service that we can do for the Kingdom of God along with our Lord Jesus Christ. This service becomes all the more precious when we do it in our trials, sickness and even in the time of our death. Meditating on the cross of Christ gives us strength to be able to do this. It increases our faith to bear our cross patiently till the end.
The great work of our savior was not when he went about in Palestine preaching, healing and performing miracles, but when hanging on the cross in agony committed Himself to His Father saying, “Father, in to your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) In fact, His life was a commitment from His birth itself to His Father in heaven. It must be an example and inspiration for us who profess as Christians. His commitment was for the world. He prayed for His enemies as well. It is our duty also to imitate our Savior and pray for others.
Many a time our attitude to life after death shows that we Christians do not have as much hope and expectation as our non-Christian brethren. When I was in Nigeria, I saw them having funeral rites in a very festive mood. They sang with musical instrument, danced and even served alcohol. When I asked them whether it was not against the spirit of mourning, they in return asked me whether we should not rejoice that their souls rejoin with their ancestors in the heavenly bliss! If we do not have so much hope and happiness as the pagans have, then what is the depth of our faith?
It is a joy and not sorrow for a Christian to know that his life on the earth is closing. The thought that we are entering into the fellowship with our crucified Savior is much more important than the thought that we are departing from our dear ones. It is not the time to mourn but the precious opportunity to repent of our sins and pray for the grace of forgiveness. Every one may not get this chance. We must thank God that we are blessed with the opportunity to be prepared to become the acceptable bride for the wedding with great joy and attention. The more we are beautified, the better we appear and are accepted. How happy we should be that unworthy sinners like us are made worthy to be heavenly bride by redeeming us with His precious blood shed on the cross. We must be in the expectation of this union. We can achieve this with a simple prayer, “God, be merciful on me a sinner” (Luke 18:3). The reward for this simple prayer is the invaluable gift of eternal life. So let us wait like a bride who longs for that blessed day!
R.T. Apraim, Maramon.