Ip Man was a Wing Chun martial arts grandmaster, the teacher of Bruce Lee; full of grace, poise, fortitude, and honour. He reminds me a lot of Jesus. He carried himself with the utmost of dignity, but was incredibly humble and wise, always seeking to put humanity first and to stand for what is right and just. He displayed self-discipline and control, along with patience, kindness, and love. He walked with a certain peace about him, a peace that expressed his acceptance of himself and those around him.
In the most recent Wilson Yip film documenting his life (Ip Man 3), his wife, Mrs. Ip, becomes ill, unto death. During a scene, Ip Man and Mrs. Ip are discussing life, and Mrs. Ip says, ‘I never used to understand the old saying that life is yours, and yet it does not belong to you. I am now beginning to understand.’
Ip Man walked courageously with his wife as she faced death, seeking ways that he could bring her joy in her last days. He learned to dance (thanks, Bruce Lee), he protected her continually; he spoon-fed her soup when she no longer had the strength, and he comforted her. He served her with love and laid down his dreams to meet hers.
I awoke recently to the news that an old family friend had passed away. In the days that followed, I found myself coming back to this news, that someone we knew and loved had taken leave of this world and now rests in eternity. That others are left behind to mourn and grieve, and look ahead at the chapters of their lives minus a major character.
I was immediately reminded of Mrs. Ip’s statement and considered how our lives are ours, but they do not belong to us. We understand, as Christians, that our lives belong to God. He formed us from dust, breathed his life into us, and as Sovereign, knows our beginning from our end. He writes our name in the Book of Life. The comfort that our names are written in eternity is the joy and hope we have to hang on to when we face death.
A framed graphic on my wall reminds me of Isaiah 40:7-8:
“The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the LORD. And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”
As all creation is at the mercy of God, so too are people. We are as the grass and the flower; everything we are and have depends on this gift of life that God Himself has given us. Yes, He has given us free will to choose His gift of eternal life, but as created beings, we are ‘beneath’ Him. In His love and grace, He has generously given us all that is beautiful to enjoy and in which to flourish. He loves us and wants what is best for us, but we must remember that ultimately He alone is God.
While we live on earth, our time here is fleeting. When we are caught up in our daily grind, it is easy for us to forget that our life is a gift. None of us know when that time will come to an end.
It can be confronting to stare our mortality in the face. To ask ourselves, ‘What is this for? How have I lived?’ Have I contributed, experienced, loved, adventured, grown, and given all I could? We each have our questions, and sometimes our answers of how we make sense of this thing we call LIFE.
What Isaiah reminds us, though, is that GOD is in control. He knows our end from our beginning. And it is His Word, it is He, that is eternal. He blows on the grass; He allows the flower to fade; He holds life in His hand. The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, He is everlasting unto everlasting.
While we have this snapshot of life on earth, we have the opportunity to remember that of the dust we are formed and to the dust we will return, but with His life and Spirit in us, we can live forever in eternity. We do not pass away, but we pass over, from this life to life eternal.
The hope we have is that Christ is eternal and in Him we have eternal life. When we face our eternity, we can know that because of His loving arms, faithful obedience, and death on the cross, we who were once in darkness have seen a great light. That light is Jesus, the eternal, everlasting Word of God, who never fades and never fails.
To know Jesus, and life eternal, is the greatest gift humankind can receive. To personally receive Jesus into our hearts, that eternal Spirit, whom death could no longer hold down, is to know without a doubt, that when our lives on this earth end, we leave to be with Him, in eternity. This brings us joy and celebration.
For those left behind, we have this momentary time left, to grieve and mourn and yet to remember, that we will again see the faces of those we love, of our brothers and sisters in Christ and we will have no pain, suffering or sorrow; no tears or grief.
During the fleeting moment, though, that is life on earth, we are implored to share with others this gift of eternity, the joy that comes from a glimpse of forever. Having shared this joy, and receiving it, makes the whisking away of death, just a little easier to reconcile. Just as Ip Man sat, gazing at his wife’s photo with hopeful longing, we too can be hopeful that it is moments until we are again reconciled with those lost and loved.