Dying in April, Part One: “Jesus Weeps Outside My Tomb”


Editor’s note: Jia Xuewei is a member of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. He wrote this highly poetic essay just after Easter, in April of 2019, following Pastor Wang Yi ‘s December 2018 imprisonment. In December of 2019, Wang Yi was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Since then, Jia has continued to be harassed by Chengdu officials for his involvement in ERCC.

Cold comes out of the north; rain pours from the chambers of the south. As the south wind blows, it delivers timely autumn rain to Chengdu; when the north winds rise, spring rain descends like sweet dew. God has ordained seed-time and harvest, and they never cease.

A heavy shower in the valley’s rainy season washes away the layers of dust that accumulate in Chengdu over winter and spring. The sun stares into the eyes of every city dweller, both just and unjust. The southern sun burns, scorching the skin. Amidst the baying and barking of the Shu dogs who are excited by the bright sun[1], Chengdu wakes from a long and sleepy dream, shedding the stifling congestion of a basin city, stretching her body among the blooming roses and new leaves of eucalyptus trees, watching a strange new world of life, brimming with joy.

Chengdu is beautiful to behold: a fruit pleasing to the eye, sweet yet sinful. I almost want to retrieve the letter of guarantee from the Lianxin precinct, to have it signed and to offer up my soul, then plunge into the city’s arms and kiss her, [risking all] not for the “three treasures of comfort” – hot pot, mahjong, and a bowl of tea – but to lie in peace in my two-bedroom apartment at Jiuyan Bridge and to indulge in my poison of choice.

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I rise on the wings of dawn for a morning stroll along Shuijingfang[2]. The sun radiates gold. The place is as clear as jasper and as exquisite as ancient ivory. My every breath on it is peace, and my every emotion, poetry. The grey-green brick walls are scaled by roses, aucklandia, and bougainvillea; from the other side comes chatter and laughter carried over by the spring wind. The beauty almost makes me forget that behind the walls is where the district office does its business, where administrators gather to scheme means of manipulation and control. Qizhong Yucai School[3] is also there, desirous to take children captive, spreading propaganda that claims “religions are the human brain’s distorted reflections of reality.”

Along the Shuanghuai[4] Street, sophora flowers really do drift in the air, half-dried with the light sweet scent of the north. In a black-polka-dotted white blouse, the florist’s shop-girl is arranging garden furniture on the green brick floor. A lighted cigarette in one hand and an open book in the other, she buries her head in her book, unaware of the falling blooms on her blouse and the tables and chairs. Her face looks slightly pale from late nights, half hidden, yet emitting radiance under the lights and shadows of April clouds, showing the peace and quiet of a heart finding its comfort. I secretly sense that she is here, not to shop-keep, but to find a reason to linger around this place, a broken life needing restoration, seeking revival from tired nights in the sunlight, laying her city-busyness to rest in nature, and finding relief from the exhaustion of reality in the history of her surroundings.

A wind rose, bringing with it the smell of fermentation from the wine trough – strong, sour, thick, and rich. Another two days of good southern weather and the last ounce of sweetness will distill into the rich liquor. This was the pleasure of the ancients, filled with the unspoken joy of bringing in grain, new wine, and oil. This was the comfort of travelers, journeying 3,000 miles across Mount Ba in Qinling, leaving Changan[5] lost in the horizon: “Chengdu keeps her own great wines, no less than that sold by Zhuo Wenjun.[6] Silently smiling, the lifelong vagabond found his home with the pass of a cup.

Perhaps I am drunk.

If not that, then why, if everything has been made beautiful in its time, is there still a flavor of anxiety in the air, seeping into my heart, rousing subtle fear? I grew up in the village, soaked in familiarity with the sun, rain, soil, and grass. Life was unrefined and perhaps ignorant, yet simple, honest. This is why I have always kept my distance from city life. A bit of space eases my mind. But now cracks are appearing everywhere. The world I have known is falling apart. One ages with each passing day, but there is nothing on which one can depend.

It is like the sun inevitably sinking at dusk, the twilight scattered among the closing darkness and between buildings, leaving the city with its last color and temperature – beautiful and sad. As it lingers, the last shimmer of light disappears from the waters in Jinjiang[7]. With a cry, a large white bird flies off like an irretrievable shadow. The sun vanishes. The sky is painted with huge swathes of red, like fire rising from a blood pool at the altar of sacrifice. A scene of unknown extravagance and prosperity startles me: indeed, the heart cannot discern every vision.

Chengdu is about to enter a deep sleep. Suddenly, a terrible, overwhelming darkness falls upon her.

The night turns thick and cold, and darkness envelops everything – every color, every breeze, every smell, every leaf, every flower – nothing shines as it does in daylight. The wine is finished, the book shut, the shop-girl gone. As heaven and earth are all but vanity, so also the hearts of men are endless emptiness. Pleasure and happiness are the shameful foams of the raging sea, slowly dissipating. Everything our hand can grasp slips, like wandering stars, into pitch-black darkness.  

Chengdu looks as though she has moved to another world: she appears as her true self, with all her sins, lies, persecutions, confinements, separations, weeping, tears… At this moment, I live at once in a world of suffering and a world of resurrection. The place where I stand is a point of wonder for the soul. I can see the full panorama of time. Stretching out my left hand, I find the beginning and the cause; stretching out my right hand, I touch the future and the end.

The angel of death roams the city, killing all the firstborn, from Pithom to Raamses, from Jinjiang to Wuhou[8]. The lamb is led to the slaughter, yet he is silent and opens not his mouth. The blood poured out is smeared on the doorposts, and seeing it, the angel passes them by. Thus the Israelite slaves were saved from the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt.

Jesus weeps, not for the fated death of the lamb; rather, he weeps outside my tomb. I have been dead for four days: while living there was no hope, I was enslaved to passions and death; in death I have gone down to Hades, already putrid and rotting away, my world foul, and my eyes covered in layers of shrouds. All I see is a land of darkness, the valley of the shadow of death, without any ray of hope. At this moment, he is weeping somewhere in the world, not without reason, but for me. Right now, he is walking in some place on earth, not without direction, but toward me. He died on the cross of Calvary, not an aimless death, but looking at me.

He went down to Hades, the place that should have been my eternal abode; he walked out of the grave, the prison from which I would never have been capable of escaping.

But he called out my name, and there came a loud noise, and the grave shook. My bones came together, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them. Breath from the four winds came into me and I came alive. I stood and walked out of my grave, took off the pieces of shrouds covering my limbs and my face, put on the linen garments of righteousness, and saw a new and beautiful world – new life, new creation, new history, new beginning, new generation, new kingdom, new hope. Sitting on his throne, the risen Lord declares, “Behold, I am making all things new. All of these have been given to me.”

April is indeed is a month of death and resurrection. Pastor Wang Yi said to us in his sermon: “Is the resurrection of Christ unequivocally true of you? If so, go and die!”

This saying is difficult.

[1] A Chinese idiom. Sichuan was Shu in ancient times. The dogs in Sichuan do not often see the sun because of the humid climate of the basin region, resulting in an often-overcast sky. The phrase is used to ridicule those who lack life experiences and get easily excited over the ordinary.

[2] Shuijingfang is a historical site in downtown Chengdu. It is the world’s most ancient distillery-turned-museum, surrounded by shops more than 600 hundred years old.

[3] “Yucai” means the fostering or development of talents.

[4] Double sophora

[5] The ancient capital of China, where Xian is today.

[6] Two ancient verses that refer to Chengdu being famous for its sweet wines & culture, so captivating that they cure travelers even from their homesickness. Zhuo Wenjun, a Chengdu native living during the Western Han Dynasty, was a talented and beautiful poetess from a prominent family who eloped with Sima Xiangru, a poor scholar. Husband and wife made a living running a travelers’ inn, famously selling wine.

[7] Jinjiang is one of the nine districts of Chengdu. The Jin River flows through it.

[8] Jinjiang and Wuhou are two districts in central Chengdu.

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