“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. “
–1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NIV
Weddings are times for celebration, not for mourning. But the sudden death of a friend’s father a month before her wedding brought an unbearable despair to her life. A young believer, our friend shared her new-found faith in Jesus with her parents but was dismissed by her father as “silly and illogical.” The day that should have been marked with lightness and joy had a somber tone that could not be shaken off.
I’ve been thinking about death more these days as my own father is approaching the end of his life. In his late 80’s, he has battled cancer on and off now for 20 years. He is weak and weary of this world. His passing will not be a surprise or bring unbearable despair to our family. He provided for our family well and gave us something many fathers do not – he loved our mother, cherishing her for their 60+ years of marriage. The end, while not a shock, will still be sorrowful. As much as death can be anticipated as a part of the human condition, it can never be fully felt until it finally happens.
That “finality” catches up with us, takes us off guard and stops us in our tracks. Whatever we were meant to be here on earth, whatever we were meant to accomplish, death removes the ultimate dividing line between the “now” and the “not yet.” And while you and I may have journeyed with someone dear to us as they experienced their “not yet” become their “now,” we can not know what our own passing will be like when it finally comes.
What does that day hold in store for you?
To the believers in Thessalonica, Paul wrote that although we grieve death, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Death is a part of the human condition ever since sin entered the world through the first Adam. The astonishing thing is that the second Adam, Jesus, brought victory to us through His experience of death and resurrection.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that this perishable body wrapped in mortality must one day face death and perish. But our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. When the perishable is transformed into the imperishable, and mortality into immortality, then death will be swallowed up in victory. And when our “not yet” becomes our “now,” what we once held by faith we will behold by sight – the One who, when we had come to the end of our rope and all of our hope was gone, held out His hands and offered us peace … and righteousness … and justification … and love.
Death can seem untimely – but it never takes the Lord by surprise.
ACTION: Are you experiencing death in some way these days? Is there anyone close to you who is nearing the end of this world or perhaps is in a “death struggle” with some relationship or circumstance? What might “being present” with them look like for you? How can you anchor yourself in the hope of Christ and journey with them? Is there anything that ultimately scares you about passing from this life to the next? What might it look like to face your fears with Him?
Addendum: A few days after writing this blog I received a call from my sisters saying that dad had taken a turn for the worse. The eight-hour drive up to my hometown was a long one. “Please Lord, please don’t take him before I get to see him one more time.” I walked in the door and saw him immediately, as they had set up the hospital bed in the living room. He recognized me that night … I’m not sure he did either of the following two days.
I’ve never seen someone die, never been with them as life ebbs and the body slowly dials all the way down. But this experience was one I will never forget as my mom, sisters, and I and all of our spouses sat with dad, talking with him, recounting family lore, and praying with him. As the end came, we all gathered around and prayed, releasing him from this realm into the next. There was (and is) a lot of sadness, tears and grieving, but also joy and peace and relief that he is no longer in pain. Death has come, but it has not won; Jesus is the Victor.