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Celebrating Life and Death at Easter


This year Qingming Festival–Chinese Tomb Sweeping Day–and Easter fell on the same weekend.  While Christians around the world were celebrating an empty tomb many in China were remembering their dead and caring for tombs still filled with bones.

On this holiday Chinese traditionally return home to tend the graves of deceased relatives. Food and flowers are placed before the gravesites and various paper items such as money, cell phones and clothing are burned as a means to send gifts to the dead. For those unable to return home for the holiday, public sidewalks and traffic intersections serve as a kind of temporary graveyard.

As I walked home after dinner on Easter Sunday, I passed group after group of people bowing down to burning piles of paper. The contrast between the hopelessness of death without Christ and the hope of what I had just celebrated had never seemed so great. I wondered how many people across China were commemorating the dead in the same way.

In 1865, Hudson Taylor completed a work entitled China’s Spiritual Needs and Claims, in which he marveled at the population of China and the number of those dying without a saving faith in Christ.

Four hundred millions! What mind can grasp it? Marching in single file one yard apart they would circle the world at its equator more than ten times. Were they to march past the reader, at a rate of thirty miles a day, they would move on and on, day after day, week after week, month after month; and more than twenty-three years and a half would elapse before the last individual had passed by…Four hundred millions of souls, “having no hope, and without God in the world”…

Today, one hundred and fifty years later, Taylor’s words are no less potent. China’s population is close to 1.4 billion and the world’s population nearly 7 billion. What mind can possibly grasp it? Seven billion souls made in the image of God.

As we stop to consider such numbers, with the knowledge that many have no hope and are without Christ, may we ask the God of the harvest to send workers into the world to bring the hope of Easter to the lost. And may we pray earnestly that our hearts would be as Hudson Taylor’s–desperately burdened for the salvation of men, women and children without a saving knowledge of God.

 Image Credit: DSC_1248 by Gordon Bird, on Flickr

For a Christian response to honoring ancestors on Qingming Festival, read "Beijing Christians Celebrate Qingming Festival" on Chinese Church Voices.

Mark Totman

Mark Totman (pseudonym) is an expat with over a decade of experience living in China. He enjoys writing on a wide range of China-related subjects including language, culture and history, particularly as these subjects facilitate greater understanding of the Chinese context and encourage beneficial lives of cross-cultural service.View Full Bio


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