“Eli, Eli lama sabachthani? My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
These were the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew (Matthew 27:46). Even to date, Christians remembering Jesus’s last words continue to be inspired 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 words of George Floyd were “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 decided to ride his motorcycle in an inebriated state after drinking an excessive amount of alcohol. Since he was struggling to keep his balance, his friends told him 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. 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.” Imagine the last words of a person being murdered or dying. Some of the last words we often hear … “Oh 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.” … “Take care of your mother.” Last words are always remembered!
REST IN PEACE
After a person’s passing, the community typically 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, neighbors, 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 honor and respect. The last rite, though tearful, is the most memorable moment. In silence, the loved ones say, “May their soul rest in eternal peace.”
LEAVING THE WORLD WITHOUT THE LAST WORDS
It can be 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. 227,898 people were swept away into the ocean by a super tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004. Cyclone Nargis killed 138,373 people in Myanmar in 2007, 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. The genocide committed against indigenous people and the millions of innocent people killed during the slave trade, conflicts, and wars in Vietnam, the Middle East, Kenya, Congo, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Korea, China, Cambodia, Taiwan, and many other countries – all without having the opportunity to say their last word to their loved ones. Many pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, 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?”
COVID-19 DENIES THE LAST WORDS
COVID-19 has killed thousands of people, not allowing the victims to impart their last words to their loved ones. At the time of writing this article, 2,403,253 (February 2021) people have died across the globe due to the coronavirus. Many of the deceased 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. Friends, neighbors, 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 laid unclaimed for days in the hospital, on the railway platforms, and in public places. We have also seen the poor 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 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 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?” 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.
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?” COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to review our life in silence and a time to repent of our sins that destroy lives. Let us choose life, protect the precious, give of body, but not destruction.
For Reflection and Discussion:
- What do you hope your last words will be?
- How can the church help families who have not been able to hear their loved one’s last words?
- How has the pandemic changed funerals in your community?
- How are you choosing life today?