"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." Joseph Smith

Monday, April 6, 2015

If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again?

Easter is a federal holiday in Hong Kong, thanks to British colonization and influence over the years. Other than not going to work, very little recognition of the "holy day" is seen.  But on the 15th day following the spring equinox, which this year is also on Easter, or April 5th, is the very popular Qing Ming Festival - or Tomb Sweeping Day.  Millions of people who have fastidiously avoided cemeteries throughout the rest of the year will gather to pay their respects on this most special day. 

Graves will be swept, weeds removed, and the family might bring paper money, cars and other items, as well as food to offer to the deceased. After the gifts have been offered, the family will often eat the food right there as at a picnic, a way to celebrating together with their loved ones.

In cultures around the world, people find ways to pay respects to their dead.  Some believe in an after-life in a glorious place.  Others believe in reincarnation.  Some do not believe in life after death. Some fear an after-life in a place of fire and demons.  

As thousands of Chinese pay their respects to loved ones carefully interred in tombs, the Easter message is about one tomb that is empty. For this we are grateful - the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that this world has a Savior, that there is a victory over death and over hell, that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was resurrected - leaving behind an empty tomb and heralding in the great answer to life's most imposing question - "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14)

We celebrate with Christians all over the world the glorious message of Easter - Click on the link He lives!  to see a video of our Easter testimony.  And because He lives, we will also live again. And on that day, all graves will be empty. 

In a part of Hong Kong called Happy Valley, cemeteries abound. The early fathers originally wanted to build a major city center there, but the swampy land was a breeding ground for malaria, and many people died.  The land was thereafter designated for cemeteries.

So one Saturday, Elder Coffey and I did the Cemetery Walking Tour – visiting the Jewish Cemetery, Hong Kong Cemetery, Parsee Cemetery, St. Michaels’ Catholic Cemetery, and the Islamic Cemetery. 

Jewish Cemetery - Many thousands of Jews were able to flee to Shanghai during World War II.  From there many eventually came to Hong Kong. As we walked the rows of graves in the Jewish Cemetery, we were intrigued about the line up or piles of little stones found on many of the graves. A little research explained that this is a tradition of ancient date.  Visitors will place a stone on the grave as a way of saying "I still remember you" or "I am thinking of you."  What
a sweet tradition, for when other visitors come, they can see the piles of stones and know that this person has not been forgotten. Jewish Cemeteries will often have a small basket filled with stones so that visitors can use them when visiting loved ones and friends.
Jewish Cemetery

Rocks are also used in Chinese cemeteries. A common tradition among many Chinese is to take paper money or "joss paper" and set it on the tomb with a rock to hold it in place.  You can find rocks on many of the tombs where last year’s offerings have worn away from rain, weather and wind. Note the rock on the top of this tomb.

Notice all the rocks with faded paper remnants under them from last years remembrances.

Today, bodies typically can only remain buried for 7 years or so.  After that, they are dug up (in the cities, professionals are called in to do this), and the remains are cremated and interred in small niches.  There isn't enough space to allow very many permanent graves, although with enough money one can still find a permanent resting spot.

In many of the temples, walls are lined with small niches where the remains of loved ones are remembered with red paper, flowers, fruit, snacks and incense.  It is believed the food and remembrances will assist their loved ones on the other side.  While many people follow this belief, many also no longer believe the spirits can use these items, but still continue to offer traditional respects.  To pay honor to your parents and ancestors is of prime importance. 

In older times, the remains of loved ones would be exhumed after the customary number of years, and the bones cleaned.  These were then placed in large urns with a lid on top, and placed where they can be venerated for years to come.  Elder Coffey and I, on a recent hike on the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail, came upon these urns on the outskirts of a very remote village.

Bones are carefully placed inside for safekeeping.  

The age old question that has haunted mankind since the dawn of civilization - "If a man die, shall he live again?" has been answered clearly and eternally.  The Savior Jesus Christ suffered for all of us, died and was resurrected - the first to break the bands of death.  And through His matchless love, He gives to every man, woman and child the free gift of immortality.  We, too, will live again.  We will at some point be resurrected, with a new, glorious, perfected body, to live forever.  And through His Atonement, that life can be a glorious one in the presence of Heavenly Father.  How grateful we are for the matchless gift of the Savior's Atonement!  Happy Easter from Hong Kong!

Parsee Cemetery:  The Parsee (or Parsi) is a group of believers from Iran who follow the Zoroastrian faith.  They emigrated to India between the 8th and 10th centuries to escape religious persecution, and a few later found their way to Hong Kong. There are only several hundred in Hong Kong today. Their belief in the eternity of the soul is reverently celebrated by the beauty of their cemetery.  

Parsee Cemetery

Hillside in the country with typical
horse-shoe shaped tomb sites.
Family paying respects to their loved ones.

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