"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." (1st Corinthians 15:26)
That has probably never been chosen as anyone's "life verse," yet is there a truth any nearer and dearer to our existence than this?
Death is our enemy.
Paul softened the blow with his words in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-14, "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him."
THEY are just sleeping.
THEY will be back.
Yes. Thank you, Paul! Indeed. True. Hallelujah! But THEY still aren't here. And WE still weren't ready to let them go. Our sorrow is not a hopeless sorrow, but it is still sorrow. And, it is deep.
"O death, I will be your plagues; O grave, I will be your destruction..." (Hosea 13:14)
"O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?" (1st Corinthians 15:55)
But that day is not yet here. This comfort is truly anticipated, but not yet realized.
I often heard John Donne's sonnet recited in speech and literature classes.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
True. Gloriously true.
Yet, why exactly does it resonate so powerfully with us? If death is indeed to be laughed at, then why pay any attention to it at all?
Because for now, it has a hold on us. The warning in the garden has become the reality of our existence. The whole of our experience in this life is suffocated by the substantiality of death. Every autumn, every splatter of a bug on the windshield in spring, every strip of bacon, every shred of clipped grass in summer, every callous on the bottom of our feet: death. It's everywhere.
It's in the news. It's in our memories. It's in our dreams and in our nightmares. It is both our dread and sometimes our imagined savior. And, I hate it.
Death is an end. It is an exit. It is a departure. Though we know (for the believer) it is temporary, the cold finality of it still overwhelms us. Words are infinitely inadequate to set our minds at ease again.
Death, be not proud?
Someday, "God will wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither will there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
Be we aren't there yet, are we!
Jesus stood outside of Lazarus' tomb and wept. Moments before raising him back to life; He wept. He who is the resurrection and the life, stood and cried. If Lazarus hadn't died, Jesus wouldn't have cried.
This same Jesus also faced the curse of death Himself. And, it brought Him very low. "He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy." (Matthew 26:3)
We know that He prayed until He was sweating. He strained under the weight of the anticipation of His own death until apparently the capillaries under the skin in His face ruptured and His holy blood dripped with the sweat to the ground in the garden of Gethsemane.
We know that—as He faced death—He prayed with strong crying and tears (Hebrews 5:7) and we even know what He said: "Let this cup pass from Me!" Translation, "Deliver Me from death."
And, He WAS delivered. But not immediately. His deliverance came through and AFTER His death, not from and AWAY from death itself.
He tasted death (Hebrews 2:9).
We know what death looks like. We know what it sounds like. We don't want to admit it, but we even know what it smells like. But Jesus has tasted it. He took it to Himself and embraced it.
Isaiah 53:8, 12, "He was cut off out of the land of the living ... He has poured out His soul unto death..."
God warned Adam: "Eat, and you will die."
He ate. He died.
And... we are Adam. We are all Adam. Adam is us. In Adam all die (1st Corinthians 15:22).
Good news, of course. We can now eat* and live. Jesus said that if we will eat THIS bread and drink THIS cup, then we will have life in ourselves. Even if we die, yet we will live. He is the Bread of Life. In Christ we are made alive; now and forever.
Still, our body is not yet saved. It is dying. It will die. Baring the rapture, you will die. I will die. It won't be pleasant. It will be precious, but not pleasant. Death is our enemy.
It is well with my soul. Not always so with my spirit. And not at all with my body; at least not yet. Not until the resurrection.
And so, the whole of creation groans and travails in pain together until now. We await our redemption; our adoption. (Luke 21:28, Romans 8:23, Ephesians 4:30).
We are cursed still. And we curse. Even if we never utter an offensive word or phrase, still we curse the darkness. Death knocks and we are expected to express anger and annoyance. To be frustrated, to be saddened, to be distressed, and driven to anguish is to curse the curse of death.
Death be damned.
Jesus' voice echos from the cross, "Why? Forsaken?" Then, "Tetelestai! It is finished!" What was finished? Well, His life. His work. His sacrifice. His acceptance of the curse. He was finished. He then "gave up the ghost," and died.
The Son of God was dead.
The sun of heaven was refusing to shine. The earth shook. Rocks exploded. The veil in the temple split in two of its own accord.
All because of death.
So, when Donne's prophecy is fulfilled and death dies, I will shout. I will smile, laugh, cry, sing, hug strangers, clap, jump up and down, and experiment with ecstatic utterances. I'm tired of death. I'm weary of it. I'm mad at the devil. I'm sad for my friends and loved ones who are now alone.
I hate death. It is my enemy.
Someday, death will die. And then, I will celebrate.