New Life From Death
Masaaki noticed that most funerals involved great sadness and weeping, but Christians tempered their sorrow with hope.
As a mortician in Japan, I am surrounded by death every day as I prepare bodies for burial and direct funerals. For years I have watched people mourn the death of a loved one and go through the ceremonies their religion requires in order to assure that the deceased have a peaceful and speedy journey from this life to the next.
Fearing the Spirits
Japan is largely secular, but most people honor their ancestors by prayers, elaborate ceremonies, and worship rituals. Most believe that the deceased person’s spirit doesn’t go directly to the afterlife, but resides in its former home for up to seven weeks after death. The family avoids leaving their home, fearing that it will offend the spirit of their loved one.
During this time the family performs ceremonies that they believe will help the deceased move on to the next realm of reincarnation. The mourners pay their priest to perform a ceremony during which he gives their loved one a special name that will ensure entry into the afterlife. Only then can the spirit leave its former home and enter the afterlife to be reincarnated as a human or animal or even an insect, depending upon the person’s deeds during the life they have just left. People are resigned to enduring many lifetimes before they will finally build up enough good works to merit paradise.
Which Way After Death?
As I watched leaders of various religions conduct funeral ceremonies, I noticed that most funerals involved great sadness and weeping, but Christians tempered their sorrow with hope. They seemed to have faith that they would see their loved ones again. No such hope existed for most people.
I began watching Christians more closely, examining the differences between their beliefs and those I had known since childhood. Christians faced death with a deep-rooted faith in their God. Their pastors showed great compassion toward the grieving family and spoke of the hope of seeing their loved one again.
One day I was in charge of a funeral in an Adventist church. After my preparations were completed, I sat down alone in the empty church and let the peacefulness of the sanctuary wrap around me. I thought about when death had come close to me—the time when I almost drowned in the ocean, and the time I should have died in a terrible motorcycle accident. As I remembered these near-death experiences, I was surprised that instead of feeling fear, I felt a deep peace. I sensed at that moment that I was not alone.
A few nights later I dreamed about Jesus. I awoke thinking about Him, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. The next morning I visited the Adventist pastor. We talked about God for quite some time. The pastor assured me that Jesus wanted to be part of my life. I asked him to help me learn the principles of Christianity. I was eager to know how the Christian faith could give its followers such hope. We started with the basics, for I knew almost nothing.
I was amazed to learn that the same God who created the earth, came here to live and die so that fallen human beings could live with Him forever. I had never heard of such love!
I thought of the sinful things I had done, and rejoiced that I could ask Jesus Christ to forgive my sins and accept me as His own. I prayed my first prayer to the God of Creation, and He filled my heart with a peace and joy I had never known.
Sharing the Faith
I wasn’t sure how to tell my family about my new faith, so at first I said nothing. Soon I realized that I didn’t have to tell them; they saw the changes in my life. Happiness shone on my face and in my expressions. They noticed that I no longer drank alcohol, and they saw other bad habits slip away.
To my surprise, my family supported me. They attended my baptism and rejoiced with me in my new-found faith in God. My colleagues and friends noticed the differences too, and asked what had happened. I told them that I had met the living God, Jesus Christ, and had accepted His gift of salvation
Now when I conduct a funeral for someone who isn’t a Christian, I want the grieving family to notice a difference in my life. Some people do notice, and they ask what makes the difference. I tell them I’m a Christian, and God has given me peace. I continue studying the Bible so I can answer people who ask about my faith, and to better know how to encourage the sad families I meet every day.