By Rev Fr Amobi Chukwuma
The wise Preacher uses a simple but resounding word to describe the emptiness of human life. Here it goes: Vanity of vanities … vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4). Similarly the Psalmist asks God, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?”(Ps. 8:4).
It is from the dust of the earth that man was molded by the hand of the Creator. Hence, on Ash Wednesday during the administering of dust on each person’s forehead, the minister says, ‘You are dust; unto dust thou shall return again.’ In other words, a human being is an animated cluster of dust. There was a dramatic episode few years ago during the administering of ashes on the forehead of a mentally deranged man.
Immediately the officiating priest said, “You are dust,” the mentally deranged reacted fiercely by pushing the priest down and then shouted, “Na lie! I am not dust! Are you mad?!” There was commotion among the congregation. Five hefty men ceased the mentally deranged man and bundled him out of the church. Normalcy returned after about thirty minutes. That is one of the hazards of being a priest.
In short, God breathed life into the dust he moulded, which became a human being. So, when you want to sit down, there is no need of wiping off the dust on the seat, since we are made from it. Dust and duster are siblings. They are our brother and sister from another mother.
By the way, where am I going? Some days ago, I found myself, not as a corpse but as a visitor, in a modern Mortuary at Onitsha in Anambra State. The one-storey modern edifice housing the dead is magnificent. It looks like a building found in the land of the living. From the entrance gate I perceived the horrific odour of spirits. It was a sign that I have crossed the boundary between the living and the dead. I soliloquized, “One day I shall be here.”
Then I added, “But I am not in a hurry to come.” A voice from nowhere shouted, “I was like you yesterday, but today I am here! Therefore, get ready at every moment to join us!” On hearing this terrifying voice, I made the Sign of the Cross in front and at the back as a sign of divine protection from evil forces hovering around the mortuary.
As soon as I entered the mortuary compound my heart sank. I saw newly deposited corpses lying at a corner. Beside them were gallons of formalin, which is a powerful chemical for preservation of dead bodies. I stood still and held my breath for some minutes. Also I observed five minutes prayerful silence for the repose of the souls of the lifeless bodies.
One of the morticians shook hands with me, though I hesitated. I felt the cold hands of death imprinted on his palms. He lives and works among the dead. Therefore he is conversant with death. The state governors should urgently appoint Commissioner for the dead. Also, the President should urgently designate Minister for the dead. He should include him or her in the list of Ministers and send to the National Assembly for screening. It is pertinent that the Commissioner or Minister in question should be picked among the morticians. Efficiency is the watch-word here.
Death is the lowest common factor (LCF) for all living things. We are all subjected to the Law of Mortality. Among the corpses lying helplessly in the mortuary were men of timber and caliber during their earthly lives. Death makes all corpses to be equal. It is difficult to distinguish between the dead bodies of the rich and the poor in the mortuary. Some years ago, an influential man in my parish of apostolate died.
His remains were deposited in the morgue, waiting for the so-called befitting burial day. A gossiper reported to me that the departed affluent man was evil and that his corpse was causing nuisance in the mortuary where it was deposited. According to the unverified report, the corpse of the influential man drove away all the other corpses from the mortuary each night, so that he stayed alone inside the mortuary like a dead king.
Each morning, the morticians had to convey the driven corpses back into the mortuary. Conclusively, the gossiper told me that the evil influential man did not merit any form of Christian burial. As a philosopher and a theologian, I received the report with doubt.
Even though I was born on April Fool’s Day, I didn’t want to be fooled. Therefore I went to the concerned mortuary to make an investigation from the morticians who were presumed to be the eye-witnesses of the powerful corpse’s menace. The morticians laughed and told me that there was never such occurrence there. They said it was a myth by the gossiper himself.
When I came back, I sent for the rumour monger. He told me on phone that he travelled to an unknown destination and promised to see me when he returns. Till today he is still at large. All said and done, we buried the remains of the alleged evil affluent dead man without any reaction from his alleged powerful evil corpse during and after the burial. However, I didn’t take chances. I was spiritually prepared to confront the said evil corpse in case it makes any disturbance in the church or at the grave side.
Today, death is no more frightening. The other day, I was casually walking through a busy casket market. One of the sellers beckoned at me to come and patronize him. I pretended not hearing him. Could you believe that there are precious caskets now available in the market for the dead? If you happen to see one, you will desire for death. I wanted to purchase it and sleep inside it till daybreak.
At a second thought, my mind discouraged me. Nowadays making of caskets is a thriving business. The makers and sellers pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Their prayers are efficacious these days because of incessant death cases. In a recent viral video, a Pentecostal believer sowed seed in his pastor’s spiritual farm in expectation of a miracle.
He complained to the pastor that his business was no longer booming as before. The pastor asked him, “What business do you do?” With tears he replied, “Man of God, I am a hardworking casket maker.” The Man of God shouted, “Oh my God! What? Do you want me to pray for people to die in dozens every day? Okay, let me begin from your family.” The seed sower shouted, “God forbid! I have a precious wife and five prosperous children.
Instead of them to die, I prefer to change my business.” The Man of God and the congregants could not control their laughter. Before the pastor could look up, the casket maker has disappeared.
At the entrance of a cemetery is written: “What you are today, we were yesterday. What we are today you will be tomorrow.” It is highly recommended that we visit mortuary or cemetery once in a while. Such visit humbles the proud hearted. According to Euripides, “No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” Temporal sleep is a foretaste of death.
When we die, we sleep eternally. Death is the end of a new beginning. Human life is changed and not ended. Eternal life or eternal damnation awaits us. We shall reap over there what we sowed down here. Death comes unawares, but let us not be taken unaware. You will hear again from me tomorrow, if the Lord does not come before then. Live in peace!!! (L.I.P).