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Celebrate

by Tim O'Hearn

This month I celebrate my younger son's birthday. The day before that is his wedding anniversary and the anniversary of the day we buried my father. Also this month we Irishmen celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Some celebrate Easter this month. We also celebrate the first day of Spring, when I celebrate the day of my father's death.

Some people might find that last one surprising. In the United States and much of Europe we are used to celebrating birthdays, but not death days. In that we differ from much of the world. Until recent years most Jews did not celebrate birthdays, but always recited kaddish on the yahrzeit of a parent's death. In Mexico el dio de los muertos ("the day of the dead") is one of the most popular holidays. In Japan and China there are holidays honoring the ancestors who have gone. The closest thing we have in the United States is Memorial Day, the busiest day of the year and a day of "company picnics" for most cemeteries.

For Christians the remembrance of the day of death should also be considered a birthday. What is birth but passing from existence in one "world", the womb, into another and wider existence? So it is with the death of a Christian. Paul recognized this when he said, "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." (Php 1:23-24) He further tells the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:1-3,9)

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.

Paul even uses the example of a woman in labor to describe our transition from this world to the next. "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." (Rom 8:22-23)

We who are Christians should also not think it strange that one would celebrate the death of a close relative. Some of us do not celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ. Some don't celebrate Easter specifically as a separate holy day. Most Christians don't celebrate Passover, although that might be as appropriate as celebrating Easter. Yet almost every one of us celebrates the death of Jesus, our brother. Many do so weekly; some monthly or quarterly. Each time we partake of the Lord's supper we celebrate his death and rebirth.

The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come. (1 Cor 11:23-26)

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of a child. Some of us may wish those celebrations had come less often, but we still celebrate birthdays. On the other hand, there should be nothing wrong with celebrating the death of a loved one. After all, we celebrate the death of our most beloved brother on a regular basis.