Chinese Church Voices

Easter—the Way Out from Qingming

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In this article from Territory, Yan Xing writes about the hope that Christians find in Easter through Jesus’ resurrection. Yan remarks that, while the Qingming Festival leaves observers with only death, Easter opens the way for life through the work of Jesus Christ.

Easter Is the Way Out from Qingming

Why seek the living among the dead? The tomb is not the place to search for life. The death conveyed by Qingming and the life conveyed by Easter represent the despair of the world and the hope of the Christian faith. Because of Jesus, death is dead! If not for the resurrection, the philosophy, science, history, politics, economics of humanity . . . are all vanity, because death ultimately refutes all the illusions these display before humanity.

Why seek the living among the dead?

Every year there are two important festivals during March and April—the Chinese Qingming Festival and the Christian Easter.

 Qingming [or Tomb-sweeping Festival] is a festival with over 2,500 years of history. It was one of the earliest folk festivals in China. And it is a festival about death.

The northern and southern hills hold many tombs, and are bustling during Qingming observances.
Ashes fly like white butterflies, and tears of blood dye the Azalea red. . .

These are lines from the poem Qingming written by Song Dynasty poet Gao Zhu. They describe the scene of people sweeping the graves and convey their feelings of anguish. The silent tombs, the people hurrying to and fro, the floating ashes of burnt paper, and the low and continuous sobs . . . Such a scene, and such a great contrast with spring’s fragrance of peaches and pears, and willow shades and bright flowers. On the one side is fervent life; on the other side is sunless death.

“The dead are long gone,” what can the living do? The tomb not only conveys that the departed cannot return, but it also reminds the living of the inevitable end. Qingming, the most beautiful season in the year, is long tied to sorrow. Inevitably we think of the Bible’s sigh, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Yet the Christian Easter is a joyful festival. In the light of spring that refreshes all, believers celebrate that Jesus is resurrected from the dead, has ascended to heaven in all glory, and is seated at the Father’s right hand.

Like the dead that Chinese Qingming reverences, Jesus Christ has also died. But the difference is, he is the savior that became flesh in order to save people from the fate of inevitable death. Although he had no sin, he was willing to be nailed to the cross, using his sinless death to defeat death itself! Therefore, our Lord Jesus cannot be bound by death. He descended to hell, entered the tomb, and three days later, he was resurrected! Therefore, the day that Jesus Christ was resurrected has become a festival that believers throughout the world celebrate. For the past 2,000 years, they have sung praises this day, and their hearts are filled with an evidenced hope.

Therefore, Christians never weep at the tomb of our Lord Jesus, because the tomb is already empty. The angels said to the women who had come to seek the Lord, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5-6)

People might ask, how is this possible?

Admittedly, “resurrection” is something that cannot be fathomed based on our experience or based on our knowledge and reason. And yet, the baffling thing is that when we open the pages of human history, we can clearly see that for the past several thousand years, people have been desperately seeking, hoping precisely that “life” can overcome “death.” They hope to be immortal; they hope for eternal life! However, people’s sin and limitations have caused them to wrongly “seek the living among the dead.”

Before Easter, the world was guided by Qingming.

In all great religions, all great cultures, all great philosophical thought, there is inevitably an essential element, that is, the discussion of “eternal” and “immortal.” The desire to overcome limits, to overcome death, forms the most intrinsic existence of humanity, and is what differentiates us from animals.

Nobody can truly explain the source of this motivation. It certainly does not come from some outer temptation, but from humanity’s inner potential—it comes from the God who created humans. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart.”

This is the only explanation for the difference between humans and all animals, and is the best refutation against the error of evolution. The words “glorious and immortal” on memorials are sufficient to bankrupt the philosophy of materialism. They prove the existence of the soul is greater than material existence. “Eternal” expresses the desire to “transcend time”; while “immortal” expresses the hope to “transcend life.” These are humanity’s ultimate pursuits, and are humanity’s unavoidable inner needs.

Philosopher Zhou Guo-ping said, “death, just like the sun, cannot be looked at directly.” Even so, an inner motivation still urges people to go against the current. Over thousands of years, the journey of “seeking up and down, upon the long and murky road,” can be traced in a long line to the tomb: Socrates, Plato, Zhuangzi, Heidegger, Camus . . . one after another, all these have fallen dead here, leaving behind their extraordinary musings. They looked at death through difference perspectives, and caused the philosophers who followed them to continue “seeking the living among the dead.”

For Chinese people, this pursuit is not so much expressed in thought and philosophy, but in the folk practices of ancestor worship. Ancestor worship is being thoughtful of the end and honoring the ancestors; sweeping the graves on Qingming is to show our remembrance of our forefathers. It is on the one hand showing sincere respect, and on the other hand a way of settling with death—deifying ancestors and giving them the ability to watch over descendants, so as to achieve peace and success in reality.

Chinese culture lacks the Western philosophical consciousness of death. Confucius’ line, “not knowing life, how can we know death?” represents Chinese people’s realist attitude. Ancestor worship is the typical pragmatist application taken by Chinese culture toward “immortality.”

Pragmatic goals are limited, such that even “being thoughtful of the end” and “honoring ancestors” in ancestor worship have only a shallow reach. Neither can get to the bottom of things, and at neither end can God be seen. “Being thoughtful of the end” is not followed through to the end, to discover the kingdom of heaven; “honoring ancestors” cannot reach to the first ancestors, to understand that humans are made by God. “Being thoughtful of the end and honoring ancestors” is formalism given up half way.

The result is simply that people arbitrarily choose to commemorate ancestors closer in relation to themselves, and so seek a peace of heart. This shows the problem of ancestor worship: that a sinful, limited person can join the “ancestors” simply on basis of death, and become an object of worship—how is this persuasive?

The death conveyed by Qingming, and the life conveyed by Easter, respectively represent the despair of the world and the hope of the Christian faith. Before Easter, this world had always been guided by Qingming. But because of Christ’s resurrection, this situation has been utterly defeated.

Because of Jesus, death has died!

“Resurrection” is not thought up by humans. The philosopher’s rumination cannot arrive at it. Ancient culture cannot evolve to it. Even in religion, whether Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism . . . there is no doctrine of resurrection. The concept of resurrection does not come out of Ancient Egypt, or Ancient Greece, or Ancient Rome. Nor does it come out of traditional Chinese culture. Solely in God’s revelation do we see that only the Christian faith has a concept of “resurrection.”

1 Corinthians 15 of the New Testament tells us, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” This answers the reason that every generation of humanity ends in death, and is the premise of Qingming Festival’s existence. All people are descendants of Adam, who was made by God. Adam’s rebellion against God caused sin to enter his heart, and caused all his descendants to be fallen in sin, and to die in sin.

There is no power on earth that can overcome death. No matter how hard people try to actualize the meaning of life through their own efforts, they cannot fill the regrets of death. Whether it is “leaving behind a red heart to shine on history,” or “scholars dying to admonish the court, generals dying in battle,” or deaths as heavy as a mountain or light as a feather, or whether it is dying for the sake of righteousness . . . In the end, “Who can tell the wise from the foolish of the past thousand years? I see only that they share mounds full of crown daisies”! Because we cannot overcome sin, we cannot overcome death. So, all those who are great and mighty heroes in the eyes of people, whose names are remembered throughout the ages, are no more than a sinner before God, and must die in sin.

Sin is the origin of death. Death is the result of sin. This cycle of cause and effect seems to have no end. Then where is hope of breaking free of the bonds of death, and entering into eternal life? Where is resurrection? If there has never been resurrection, never been eternal life, why do people have this inextinguishable desire in the depths of their hearts? If resurrection is possible, then who is the sinless person who can avoid death?

The answer is in John 3:16 in the Bible: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus Christ came for this. He died for this. And he was resurrected for this. And all this—Jesus’ salvation and resurrection—is God’s great plan from before the creation of the world, is God’s careful arrangement. Biblical truth is revealed to humanity: human life is not accidental; death is not accidental; and resurrection is not reasonless.

The death that Adam brought has been defeated because of Christ’s resurrection. Because of Jesus, death is dead! Just a 1 Corinthians says, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Christ’s death solved the problem of sin, and his resurrection solved the problem of death. He shed his precious blood on the cross, washing away sin. He was resurrected after three days, so that people who believe in him are justified, and forever live in righteousness, live in a life of glory.

Resurrection is the way forward in life! Every person who hopes to overcome death and find eternal life, has only to believe in the Lord Jesus, believe that his salvation can also save you, believe that he was nailed to the cross and resurrected for you, and you will find this resurrected life! This religion was especially prepared by God for humanity, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Resurrection is a mystery humans do not understand. Resurrection is also God’s great grace. Grace can be freely received, as long as you are willing to acknowledge him as the lord of your life! For the Lord Jesus has said, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

Is not Confucius’ tomb in the Kong Forest of Qufu? Are not Gautama Buddha’s relics stored in many different temples? Is not Socrates buried in Athens? Stop looking for clues of eternal life among these dead people. They are dead themselves, how can they grant eternal life to others?

The greatest irony is that the living look for life among the tombs, and do not listen closely to that voice that truly comes from the kingdom of heaven, the Lord Jesus tenderly admonishing people, “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40).

Do not be afraid, because he lives and wins back hearts

Resurrection is the foundation of Christian faith. Easter is not without cause.

Life, death, and resurrection—these three questions are the core that all philosophy, religion, and culture focus on. But for thousands of years, neither philosophy, religion, nor culture have been able to find an accurate answer to any one of these questions. That is because these are questions humans cannot answer, but which can only be revealed by God. The Bible informs humanity, life is created by God, death is the result of sin, and resurrection is God’s great power!

Resurrection is the most difficult thing in the universe.

The opening of Genesis in the Old Testament is God creating the world. The birth of the universe, such a magnificent and shocking event, is described with very calm words by the Bible. There is utterly no mention of words like “power” or “might”, only that God “said” (used speech), and it was accomplished. In other words, God gave a command, “and it was so.” When God said there was, there was; when he ordered it, it was accomplished. Everything was very straightforward.

However, when the New Testament in the Bible discusses the event of the “resurrection,” it repeatedly mentions that God used his “great might.” The book of Ephesians clearly mentions that after the Lord Jesus died on the cross and descended into hell, God “according to the working of his great might. . .  worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). Every believer who is saved and receives a new life likewise depends on this “great might.” This is the gospel, just as the book of Romans says, “the gospel . . . is the power of God.”

The greatest gift that God gives the people he has created is “free will.” This is God’s riskiest act. Because once people have free will, they have the right to choose, and will one day be caught in the conflict between choosing to submit to God’s will or choosing to follow their own desires, and will then choose to reject God. This is the inescapable Murphy’s Law: people will sooner or later depart from God and favor their own will. Sure enough, this is where Adam failed. God had his only beloved Son become flesh to complete this mission that humans cannot complete—to win back human hearts.

Through his complete submission to God, Jesus reversed the tendency Adam passed down of rebelling against God. He also enabled all who believe in him to overcome, by the strength he gives, the tendency in their old life of wrestling with God. Thereby they are willing to lay themselves down because of their love for God, and become a person who submits to God’s will.

There is an old Chinese saying, “It is easier for the rivers and mountains to change, than to change a person’s character!” No matter how weak or insignificant someone might look, even if it is a young child, his will is not something that can be changed by force. It is exactly such a great work—far greater than even the creation—that God’s gospel does on a person. Therefore, the Bible calls Christians who have believed in the Lord and live a renewed life God’s “new creation.” This is God’s work of creation once again! What Adam had lost, God has reclaimed through Jesus Christ. Adam, who rebelled against God, has died; and Jesus, who submits to God, lives! The entire Bible is telling people such beautiful truth, such amazing grace!

The resurrection is necessarily a fact. If there is no resurrection, not only does the world have no hope, but all of humanity’s philosophy, religion, science, history, politics, economics . . . all would be vanity. Because death ultimately refutes all the illusion these display before humanity. Paul said, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” He further said, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

Where there is death, there is despair; where there is resurrection, only there will be hope. Therefore, Jesus’ resurrection is the core of Christian faith. The song Because He Lives sings of the true strength brought by true faith: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because he lives.”

Why seek the living among the dead? The tomb is not the place to search for life. The new life that comes from God does not belong here. From the day one believes, he has entered eternal life. Jesus calls, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

It is so simple! As long as you “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Easter will clearly tell you this gospel.

Easter is the way out from Qingming.

Original Article: 复活节是清明节的出路, Territory
Translated, edited and reposted with permission.

Image Credit: Emmanuel Mendez from Pixabay

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