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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A tale of two funerals.

There were, sadly, a lot more than two funerals taking place today - but I'm thinking of two specific ones.  The first was (and, as far as I can make out, continues to be) a state occasion as the body of Kim Jong-il, second member of the Kim 'dynasty' in North Korea, was paraded around Pyongyang with tens of thousands in attendance, displaying grief in a manner that makes one speculate as to the genuineness of it - especially as the people were aware that military figures were filming them; all to the accompaniment of sombre music played by a military band, and the tearful voice of a television commentator.  Kim Jong-il was, like his father (Kim Il-sung) before him, literally worshipped by the N.Korean population.  They had the status of 'gods' - and acted accordingly.  Unlike Paul and Barnabas in ancient Lystra (see Acts 14:8ff), they not only accepted, but also expected (if not demanded!) the homage of the ordinary people.  While their people starved - even gathering grass in an attempt to fend off hunger - they lived in the lap of decadent luxury.   They were like the rich man in the parable that Jesus told (and that may well have been more than a parable!), and that is recorded in Matt.16:19ff - although at least the beggar, Lazarus, did get the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table.

This is also a family that has been responsible for the incarceration in so-called 'labour camps' (echoes of "Arbeit macht frei" at the Nazi Concentration Camp at Dachau!), of tens of thousands of N.Korean citizens.  The country, under this family's rule, is consistently at the top of the list of those countries in which the persecution of Christians (and other minority groups) is most severe.  Those who are discovered to have disagreed with, or criticised, the authorities have a tendency to disappear - never to be seen again!

The other funeral was one, the service for which I conducted myself.  It was for a lady named Agnes Donaldson, who had been an elder in the congregation of Bellshill: St Andrew's when I arrived there, in the spring of 1976, as the new minister.  There were about forty mourners in attendance in the Crematorium Chapel - for a lady who died just a few weeks before she would have celebrated her 100th birthday anniversary, most of her contemporaries had 'gone before'!   No military band (although the organist did a very good job); no wailing; no pomp and ceremony.  Just a straightforward, simple, service as we gave thanks for one who had been all that the Kims were not; one who was a woman of presence; of passion; of prayer.  A woman who never sought the lime-light, but was always ready to help another.

There is, of course, a final reckoning.  The inspired writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus states that "... it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, ..." (Heb 9:27; RSV).  It is not up to me to pass any final judgement on Kim Jong-il, any more than on Agnes Donaldson.  However, in the Sermon on the Mount, a little after the oft-(mis)quoted words "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matt.7:1), Jesus says "... you will know them by their fruits." (7:20; RSV).

Kim Jong-il may have lived a more affluent lifestyle than Agnes - but I would far rather meet my Maker as her, than as him!

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