“Sweet Emily, Talitha Cumi”

Along with many of you, the writers of Reformed Margins were following Emily Choi’s story and are heavy-hearted over her passing. Upon hearing the news, my initial impulse was to respond in silent grief (and also anger if I’m honest). Continuing to write about Emily, the Chois, and suffering seemed exploitative and inappropriate. The last thing the Chois need is a “miserable comforter.” Besides, what could I possibly offer other than prayer and platitudes?

Over the past couple days, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about Emily, the Chois, and one particular image inspired by the gospels. So with the blessing of Emily’s 아빠 (Appa/Daddy), and in addition to unceasing prayer, I want to share this image.

41 And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.
Mark 5:41 (KJV)

Notice the tenderness in Jesus’ touch and in Jesus’ words.

While Jairus is undoubtedly laden with despair and the rest of the world laughs at Jesus for interpreting the little girl’s death as but a nightmare, Jesus moves toward her. He moves toward death. And he does so as Almighty God, a compassionate Shepherd, and tender Father. With a perfect harmony of power and gentleness, the Lord of Creation and New Creation takes her hand in his. He physically comes into contact with death.

This intimate yet excruciating experience is something that I cannot pretend to understand – to hold the hand of my lifeless little girl. I cannot fathom the anguish. Nor can I grasp the challenge of letting this hand go and physically leaving my departed child’s side. But Tina and Aaron Choi can. Who will hold their daughter’s hand in death?

I often wonder if Jairus’ daughter felt Jesus’ hand right upon contact, like when I woke up every morning growing up at my mother’s gentle touch. Or maybe she woke up to find a firm hand wrapped around her own. Regardless, Jairus’ daughter woke up into the reality of the Almighty’s secure grasp. Her nightmare was over, and her hand was held.

I think this applies to Emily too. Physical contact with this sassy and adorable little girl will definitely be missed. But her hand is still being held, more firmly, and more securely than it ever had been. In paradise, a nail-polished hand is currently held by a nail-pierced hand.

nail polish

One can’t help but notice how matter-of-factly Jesus speaks to Jairus’ beloved daughter. Talitha means ‘lamb.’ Jesus was essentially saying, “Wake up, little lamb.” He’s a gentle father, completely in control of the situation. He is not grieved as one without hope, but introduces a taste of resurrection life to the world. “Wake up, sweetheart.”

Talitha Cumi” is his word to Emily too. He undoubtedly grieves and fumes over her death, but more importantly, he whispers into her ear with great delight. “There is an end to your nightmare, sweet Emily. Wake up, little lamb.” I imagine Emily getting a kick out of this. If you knew Emily, you knew that “Sheepy” (a lamb head sewn onto a blankie) was her comfort. But as much as Emily might delight in being called “little lamb” in paradise, so much more does it delight the Father to whisper such sweet assurances to his children and to see them rise.

nail polish and sheepy

I hesitate to share all this because, unlike Jairus’ little princess, Tina and Aaron’s has not (yet) woken up. Still, the good news of Jesus Christ is that I can insert “yet” into the previous sentence. The good news of Jesus Christ is that his whisper, “Talitha cumi” (“Princess, Little Lamb, it’s time to get up, sweetheart”), extends to Emily’s ear as well. Her hand is held tightly as her heavenly Father, whispers sweetly into her ear. She will awake. She will arise. Jesus wakes us from all our nightmares. Soon and very soon.

Until the final Talitha Cumi, keep singing, Sweet Emily.

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Romans 14:7-8 (ESV)

Please continue praying for the Choi family.

Andrew Ong

Andrew is a third-generation, San Francisco Bay Area ABC (American Born Chinese). He and his third-gen wife have two daughters and still live in the East Bay. After graduating from the University of California Irvine and Westminster Theological Seminary, he completed his PhD in World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, researching Chinese American evangelicals and Neo-Calvinist theology. He presently serves on staff at Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, California. Andrew's a simple guy whose passions include: sushi, pizza, nachos, and the Golden State Warriors. On his less sanctified days he lives by the maxim: #ballislife.

6 thoughts on ““Sweet Emily, Talitha Cumi”

  • August 9, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Great post brother! Let us all eagerly await the coming of our Lord, riding on a cloud in consummate and final victory!

  • August 9, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks Andrew- for pointing us to Christ & his promises while grieving with the Chois.

  • August 10, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Thank you for this. Your words will help other parents that are going thru the loss of a precious child.

  • August 11, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Great post, Andrew. May God uphold this family by His grace as He holds their daughter Emily in His arms.

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